If you heard my sermon from last week, you know I talked a bit about how we have been church in these last few months. The coronavirus has forced us to move the church into a virtual model. We are learning how to use technology for worship, fellowship, and coming soon, Bible Study.
While I know many of you would like things to go back to normal, that isn’t happening any time soon. As long as COVID-19 is still not under control, it is hard for us to get back into our building without putting people at high risk.
So, what is God calling us to do in this place at this time? Because, while we can’t worship together, we are still a church. But how do we do that?
As we head into fall, our new worship theme will be “The Church Has Left the Building: Love God, Love Church, Love Neighbors.” We are focusing on Matthew 16:13-20 where Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ.
First Christian Church of St. Paul isn’t closed. Instead, the church has been dispersed throughout the Twin Cities Metro area. So how can this church that is without a building remain faithful to God and serving our sisters and brothers? How do we live out our confession as Jesus being the Christ?
During the fall we will look at how to love God, love church, and love neighbors during this time apart. How do we fellowship during this time? How do we pray for each other? How do we continue to give our offering not simply to meet the budget, but as part of our discipleship to God? How do we help our neighbors who are suffering from lack of food or housing at this time? How are we a witness of inclusion and love in a time when we are so divided?
We will try to answer those questions and more starting on September 13. This fall we will be reminded that the building isn’t First Christian Church of St. Paul. We are.
Anger and I have always had a strange relationship.
Throughout my life, the message has always been that I can’t be angry. If I respond angrily to something, people get upset or think something is wrong with me. The end result is that I learn to bury my anger. To not show people when I feel they let me down. To not express my exasperation plans go awry. To not demonstrate when people I care about seem to not give a damn about something. Other people can get angry, they can get angry at me, but I can’t get angry.
I sometimes wonder if that has anything to do with the fear people have of angry black men. Of course, not everything in this world is racial.
I don’t think it’s good to hide your anger. I wish I could be angry and the first thing people do is not react angrily to my anger. I wish they understood how I feel before rushing to defend themselves.
But maybe at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter how others feel. If they are offended, oh well. If they want to break off a friendship, then maybe they weren’t my friend, to begin with. If they are hurt that I got angry at them, big whoop.
Because I’m tired of hiding my anger. Doing that is just taking poison into your soul.
Early this morning, I woke up with a thought in my head:
Why do people hate me?
I know that not everyone hates me. But I know that in the recent past I’ve encounter people in my worklife who are furious with me on one matter or another. Having autism means that work is already difficult and of course it shows itself at work. Most colleagues and supervisors don’t understand so they respond in anger telling you how you are lazy or uncaring. They never see how hard to you try to do your best and they never really acknowledge when you do good work. When it seems like everyone at work starts to yell at you, you start to wonder if you really are bad. You wonder if you are truly incompetent. You can feel the contempt for workmates or supervisors. Even worse is when people think you don’t shouldn’t even be doing what your doing. Maybe you shouldn’t be a pastor. This writing thing really isn’t for you. When you look for work, and see a job that you are interested in, you start to wonder if you should even bother trying. Maybe you should just work at flipping burgers.
But the thing is, I know that I am talented. All I have to do is look at my portfolio and remember my experiences. I know that I make mistakes. I know that I might not always meet people’s standards. But I also know that I’m not just a f*uckup either. Most people with autism or ADHD or dyslexia are talented. But people don’t understand, or don’t care to understand about hidden disabilities. They don’t have time to learn. But they do have time to criticize people and tell them they aren’t wanted in their workplace.
What I wish more people in work environments did is do more encouraging instead of looking down at people or letting them go because you don’t think they measure up. People who are neurodiverse hear that they are failures all the time, they really don’t need to have their bosses doing it. Maybe managers or coworkers think this holding someone’s hand who is an adult. Yes, it is. What the hell is wrong with that?
We’ve made work into some kind of Darwinian race where only the most talented or the best at hiding their problems are the ones that advance in their careers. Work is not some goddamn prize for the best people. It is a place that allows people to make their way in the world. If we can’t offer some help to those that need a little bit of help to get by, what kind of workplace are you?
I know I have my issues. I know that I can be frustrating to others. If you think you are frustrated, know that it is hard being in this skin. Start thinking about how the person you are talking to feels, because 9 times out of ten, they are frustrated with themselves.
I want to be in a place where I am encouraged and not always treated like I just murdered puppies for fun. So does a lot of neurodiverse people. We have a lot to offer if you stop thinking about yourselves and thinking about your wayward employee.
I don’t know why people hate me. And I’m learning to not care. I just wish I could hear more about why I’m valued and matter.
Ever since I turned 50 last October, I’ve been wondering if I am where I should be. What I mean is, am I doing serious work for serious pay? Am I even acting like a serious adult?
I’ve been dealing with those questions a lot over the last few months, but they went into overdrive after my most recent loss of a job. When you are let go of a job, you deal with a lot of guilt. If I had tried harder, then things would be different. I know that Aspergers and ADHD have something to do with my tumultuous career, but I still think I should have tried harder. As I said in a previous post, trying harder wasn’t going to change things. I probably would have failed even more spectacularly.
But when you have a neurological disability AND you’re fifty, you start to wonder if it’s time to try something new.
Now, I should add, I love the other part of my career, that of being a pastor. It’s not always easy, but I love what I do in that arena. But the pay right now isn’t enough to pay my way. I also want to do more than the pastor gig.
Usually, when I’ve lost a job, I’m looking at the job boards. I’ve focused mostly on nonprofits to find a position. But when you’re on the spectrum, working at a nonprofit is not always the best environment to be in. They don’t have the time or patience to work with you, and sometimes they don’t have the space to allow you to be creative. None of this is to say nonprofits are bad or the ones where I worked were bad. They just weren’t places where I could grow, or grow in my own way.
I’ve started to toy with looking for work sideways. Instead of looking for a job and sending in a resume, I’m looking at more freelance positions and I’m interested in positions and opportunities that are off the beaten path. I have enough communication skills to be able to hire myself out. I can write, I’m good with graphics and these last few months of online worship, sharpened my video editing skills.
I could see myself doing some freelancing, writing about politics or religion, or maybe cars. I could also work on websites and social media strategy. I’ve been interested in working on a team that produces a podcast or even create a podcast or YouTube Channel.
The challenge is trying to start. Most people say I have to do a lot of networking, which to be honest I really, hate. I know it is needed, but it feels fake to me. I also have to learn how to be a salesperson, which is also something I don’t like. I will have to learn how to do both in a way that I can tolerate.
So turning 50 might mean doing something new. Heck, I might find a “regular” job but find it in a different way.
If you know of any avenues I should give a look-see, please let me know. Of to find a new adventure.
Comfort foods. We all have them. We have something that we like to eat that makes us feel good inside. When you’re having a terrible day or you feel under the weather, having your favorite meal or drink can be a bit of a pick-me-up.
My comfort food is shrimp fried rice. I think I love it because it harkens back to simpler days when I was young. I remember eating shrimp fried rice as a kid and the best place to go get that dish was a Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Flint, Michgan called Kenjo’s. It was just at the edge of downtown and I remember we would go there at times to have lunch after church.
These days when I have a bad day, I will still order shrimp fried rice. At the age of 50, life is not as carefree as it was when I was 10. Getting a good dish of Shrimp Fried Rice especially when life seems to be going sideways, makes me feel good.
Comfort food makes us feel good. Comfort food is….comfortable.
Sometimes in life we need comfort when we feel beaten up by life. Or when we are grieving the loss of a loved one. Comfort is even found in the Bible. Comfort, comfort my people, God says to the people of Israel in Isaiah. That message is a balm to the Israelites who at the time of the writing are in exile, far away from their homeland.
But for Christians, comfort can be something that keeps us from taking part in God’s work in the world.
It’s so easy to want church to be comfortable. We want to meet our friends and listen to the choir or even sit in our favorite pew. As humans, we love the familiar. We don’t want to have to face our fears. We don’t want to fail. It’s much easier for us to stay in our comfort zones where things are familiar and things are safe. But is that what God wants for us? Did Jesus stay in a comfort zone?
In the tenth chapter of the book of Acts, Peter is called to go and preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, a gentile named Corneilus. At first, he isn’t crazy about this. He believed the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all was a message that was for Jews and not for Gentiles like Corneilus. God had to show him in a dream that yes, going into all the world preaching the good news and making disciples to was something God wanted shared with everybody. None of this was in Peter’s plans. But he listened to God and decided to go and visit Cornielus. Peter had to get out of his comfort zone and it’s a good thing he did. His message to Cornielius touched the Roman and his household and the Spirit moved among them. Peter realizes that the gospel belonged to these Gentiles as much as it ever did to him.
Peter got out of his comfort zone. What about us? A friend shared a quote attributed to Pope Francis that I’d like to share:
“The Holy Spirit annoys us. The Spirit moves us, makes us walk, pushes the church to move forward. [But] we want the Holy Spirit to calm down. We want to tame the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do. The Holy Spirit gives us consolation and the strength to move forward and the moving forward part is what can be such a bother. People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit brings.”
The Holy Spirit comes to our lives and communities of faith in wind and fire and as comfort food. And that terrifies us. We don’t want the Holy Spirit sending us to do unfamiliar things. In some ways we want to be like Bilbo Baggins, the famous hobbit in JRR Tokien’s novels who was content to live a simple and comfortable life. But then life comes crashing in literally and he is pressed into service because the world was in danger and his help was needed.
Our own world is in danger. We have a pandemic that is flaring up again putting millions in danger. We are dealing with the long history of police going after people of color. Race relations are at a low ebb. What is God calling us to do? And are we willing to follow even when we don’t want to and wish the Holy Spirit would shut up every one in a while?
Comfort is great when it comes to food. When it comes to churches? Not so much.
Since there isn’t a lot to do in these days of COVID, my husband Daniel and I went for a walk Sunday. We walked up and down one of Minneapolis’ many parkways. We were walking back towards our car and past a number of houses on the parkway. Maybe a block or two from our car, we saw someone- probably a child- wrote in chalk on the sidewalk. The writings were all positive sayings that really spoke to the times. One of them seemed bold in saying “brighter days ahead.”
It was an interesting saying to make at this time. All around us, it feels like brighter days are never coming again. All around us, we hear people getting sick and people dying and dying and dying. We have no idea when this crisis will end. We have no idea how long we have to keep our distance from each other. We don’t know when the virus will dissipate. In my own life, I had just heard a few hours prior of the surprising death of young colleague in Oregon, who died of a heart attack. It didn’t feel like brighter days ahead.
I think about trips to the grocery store or Target and seeing the bare shelves. People are taking toilet paper, eggs, and bread because they don’t know if there will be a time when they can’t leave their houses. The people don’t think there are brighter days ahead, those empty shelves are a sign of fear.
When I was in college, my church group would sing a song that began, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” I didn’t know it then, but the phrase was from Lamentations 3:21-23. Lamentations is an interesting book because it is written after a devastating event. The writer searches for God in the midst of the chaos and they move from utter helplessness to a sense of hope. Things are still horrible, but they have hope. They trust God is faithful and never gives up. They believe even though the environment around them is bleak.
Daniel showed me a performance of the St. Olaf Choir in Norway. They sang a song by Kim André Arnesen called “Even When He is Silent.” The text was found at a concentration camp after World War II:
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining. I believe in love, even when I feel it not. I believe in God, even when He is silent.
Someone who very well may have faced death at a concentration camp still believed in God even though life would tell you God isn’t there. That’s hope.
I think that is what we have to have these days. Brighter days ahead is not a nicety to make us feel better when life is crappy. It is lighting a candle in the darkness, believing that whatever evil seems ascendant and in control will not ever have the last word.
We believe in life even when there is death all around. Because we believe that in Christ there are brighter days ahead.
There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Beverly Crusher notices people on the Enterprise are vanishing. She learns that she has been zapped into some kind of pocket universe that is collapsing around her. She has to find a way of getting out of this dying universe before it was too late.
As Americans adjust to this altered life in the shadow of the coronavirus, I feel at times as if the world I knew, the world all of us knew until a few days ago is collapsing around us. Little by little, we can’t watch our favorite sports team, or go to church or even go to our job. My husband asked me a few nights ago when do I think we will forced to “shelter in place” as people in the Bay Area are having to do. In normal times, I would have said that won’t happen to us. I can’t say that now. In a few days we could be forced to just stay in our homes.
All of that brings about a strange feeling; a feeling I couldn’t initially put my finger on. But then it hit me: it felt like I was being buried. First government authorities said no gatherings under 500. Then 250. Then 50. Then 10. Some parts of the United States are now under lockdown. People can’t leave their houses except to get groceries or gas. I get it that this is needed. I know we need to do this to “flatten the curve.”
And yet I am filled with sadness. People are shut up in their homes. Businesses stop. Jobs lost. People die.
It’s not the end of the world, but the end a world. It’s the end of the world we used to know and it feels like…death. We are buried.
It is interesting that the COVID-19 outbreak is happen during the season of Lent, those six weeks where we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where he will be totured and executed by the state. Being buried feels like it would have on that dark Friday we call good so long ago. You feel the coffin sealing shut and being lowered into the ground. You can hear the dirt piling on top of the coffin, telling you that you are not ever getting out.
In Scripture, Jesus’ body was placed in tomb and the stone rolled in front of the tomb. There was no way of getting out now.
I think about the disciples in the days following Christ’s death. In Luke 24, the Risen Christ meets two disciples who still believed Jesus was in the tomb. They didn’t have any hope that they would see Jesus ever again. They had to feel a sense of hopelessness. Nothing good was coming around the corner.
Right now, I know no one can tell us that things will turn out fine. They won’t. At least not for a while. There is no vaccine. No treatment. It won’t be over in a few days or weeks. It could be months. Maybe even a year. There is no way to be optimistic here at all. It is bad news all the way down. We are buruied and we aren’t going to get back up.
So no, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful.
I have hope because even though Jesus was buried, shut up in a tomb, we know Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and defeated death. The loss we feel, the sense of death is not forever. No virus can win forever. We have hope in Jesus Christ and we believe death will never have the last word-even when we are shut up in our homes, even when it feels like death is on the prowl. It is that hope that we must hold on to even when our world slowly dies. We can rest in the hope that death can’t win. Colossians 2:12 remind us that we are buried like Christ and like Christ we are raised. Baptism is a reminder of this. When we feel buried, we know that Christ was buried.
We need that hope because we need to share it with others who are not just losing their “freedom,” but losing their jobs because of the coronavirus and the economic harm that is coming will be brutal. We need hope because there are dark, dark clouds on the horizon.
My mother loves the hymn “Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither. It might seem a bit syrupy, but I think the chorus speaks to me right now:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!
Tomorrow is not looking great. But the Christ that was buried arose from the dead. At a time like this, that is the hope I hold on to.
This morning, a visitor showed up for worship. During the passing of the peace, I came over and introduced myself. By the time the sermon began, the visitor was gone. I realized how he talked about church made me think he was planning to worship with the church that rents out space with us, which is a bit more conservative.
But I still felt bothered that this man left. It reminded me of the visitors that have come to the church and then never decides to become a part of our congregation. In both cases, I blame myself. I start to wonder if I wasn’t nice enough or not friendly enough. I even wonder if I am bad luck for the congregation since we have not had visitors that want to stay and be a part of our community. I try to write letters to let them know I enjoyed visiting them and that I truly care.
But I’m starting to think this really isn’t on me after all.
I know my aspergers can make me come accross as uncaring at times, but I’ve worked hard to be caring and respectful. I’ve done what I can to welcome people. At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for how they respond. I can trust that God will work with them, but I can’t change their mind unless they are willing to change things.
I tend to make myself responsible for everything and everybody. But I can’t change people-unless they want to be changed. I’ve been trying to meet with a friend who says they want to get together to chat. I’ve contacted the person with dates to meet more than once and I never heard back from this person. This has happened to me with other people again and again. People seem to “ghost” me a lot. I do get upset about that. At the end of the day, however, they have to make the decision to contact me; it is up to them. If they want to meet with me, great. But, they have to have to the balls to contact me. That’s what grownups do.
For a long time, I’ve blamed myself for visitors not staying at church or letting friend take advantage of me. I can’t allow that to happen anymore.
One of my most memorable experiences in seminary was taking a class on the book of Job. That book has always fascinated me in the fact that Job loses so much in what seems like a short period. He loses his fortune and more tragically, he loses his children and his health. His friends came by and they all have a debate on why all of this was happening. Did he do something wrong? Where was God in all of this? Why did this happen?
There was a tragic sense of irony in that the professor who taught us had to deal with the death of his wife after a long illness during the class. As we were learning about Job’s questioning, the professor had to face his own tragedy as well.
I’ve been thinking about the “hows and whys” we all deal with in our lives. Why did he get cancer? Why did she die? Why did they lose their baby? We can’t help but ask why tragedies happen and no matter what, we wonder why bad things happen to you and the people close to you.
Suffering is a part of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean we never ask why suffering exists. I think the question is also part of the human experience.
I’ve been thinking about this in light ofthe recent news of the death of Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Known as one of the best drummers ever, his death from brain cancer was especially tragic because he had already suffered such profound loss in his life. Within the space of a year, Peart lost his daughter in car accident in 1997 and then lost his wife to cancer months later. He retired from drumming in 2015 only to discover his diagnosis of brain cancer months later.
Peart was known for incredibly profound lyrics, which was a welcome oddity in the rock world. One of those profound lyrics is the 1991 single “Roll the Bones” from the album of the same name. The point of the song is that bad things happen, they just do. Life is random. We never know when our luck will run out so Roll the Bones, take a chance at living. “We go out in the world and take our chances, fate is just a weight of circumstances, that’s the way that lady luck dances, roll the bones.”
When I was younger, I would have been bothered by that line of thinking believing it was godless. But age has made me think life is far more random than we want to believe. I think God is present and moves in our lives, but God is not a master puppeteer making sure everything works out. Because life is random and circumstantial, we might not want to take risks. Why should we try to live in this very scary world where your plane can get hit by a rocket?
But we are called to live our lives. As people of faith we know that we are profoundly loved by God, no matter what happens in our lives.
Which reminds me of the obituary of one Ken Fuson. Fuson was a journalist who worked for many media including the Des Moines Register. He died on January 3 at the age of 63 from cirrohsis of the liver. He wrote his own obituary which included a ton of wry humor. But midway through the obituary, he talks about his gambling addiction and his faith in a world where he dealt with pain and illness. But instead of railing against the unfairness, he expressed the presence of the love of God:
For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound. Ken’s pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you. Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything. For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn’t read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God’s love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We’ll wait. Ken’s not going anywhere.
Despite all the sadness in his life, he had a sense of joy that seemed to withstand what life threw at him. It was unfair to get a liver disease even when he didn’t abuse alcohol. But instead, he witnessed the incredible of love and grace of God. He rolled the bones and let life happen, good and bad, knowing that God was with him and loved him.
Job never got answer from God about his suffering. But he knew God was present. So we should the life God gave us with boldness and be willing to take chances, knowing that whatever happens, we are loved by God.
Why does it happen? Because it happens. Roll the bones.
Two years ago, I wrote that I was ready to write about religion again. But I don’t think I was ready yet because I didn’t write as much. I had also wrote less about politics for a long time.
I tend to be someone that is hypoemotional, meaning I don’t always feel emotions, even though my body is emotional, if that makes sense. I’ve gone through traumatic experiences and yet appear calm and in control. Over a few years, I went through a number of traumatic experiences that really left me afraid to express what I was thinking. It even affected my writing of sermons, leaving it really hard to write a sermon. I just lost the joy of writing and looking back, it felt as though someone had stole that joy and in some ways that is exactly what happened.
But something has happened as of late. Turning 50 last October made me start thinking about making changes. I feel more like writing about everything. I’m still not totally back to form like I was six or seven years ago, but I feel like I’m moving towards some emotional healing. I’ve been able to do some writing beyond blogging, doing some freelance writing. I even want to do a podcast on politics or religion or even both.
I’m not going to say everything is back to normal, because it isn’t. There is still some fear about writing. There is still emotional pain. But I think healing is happening, letter by letter and word by word.