When Does Grace End?

Social media is abuzz in the recent trial that convicted former Stanford student Brock Turner of the rape of a young woman.  What has everyone talking is the fact that the judge gave Turner a six month sentence and he might get out sooner for good behavior. To pour more gasoline on the fire, Turner’s father wrote a letter urging for leniency for what he considered “20 minutes of action.” Facebook is aflame.  Memes are going around with the young Turner’s photo calling him a rapist, others put him side by side with a poor white man who received a … Continue reading When Does Grace End?

What’s So Wrong About Being A Bivocational Pastor?

The longer I walk in church circles, the more I find pastors who are allergic to a certain turn of phrase: Bivocational clergy. The mere mention of this option curdles the face of most pastors I’ve known and read.  It’s certainly viewed in a less favorable light than full-time ministry.  People look at you funny when you say you pastor part-time.  The tone tells you that they don’t consider what you are doing real ministry. As I was finishing up seminary 10 years ago, I remember going to a seminarians conference in Nashville and hearing a Regional Minister in the … Continue reading What’s So Wrong About Being A Bivocational Pastor?

Trees. Forest. Pastor.

One of the things that is common among folks with Aspergers is that they lack executive function skills.  What’s executive function?  It’s basically being able to see the forest from the trees.  You can look at a tree in a forest and comprehend that it’s part of a greater whole.  What’s different for someone with Aspergers is that they can see a tree, and another tree, and another tree and never really think that these are part of something bigger.

This has shown itself in my own life.  I can come up with some idea and I can even execute it, but several important pieces get left out.  Before I give an example from my own life, I want to share something written by Austrailan blogger Gavin Bollard about how a decreased executive function makes itself known in a child with Aspergers:

A parent of a child with good executive functioning might expect to be able to say “get yourself ready for school” or even have their child realise that because it’s Tuesday, they need to get ready and wear their sports uniform.  This would imply self initiation of tasks.

The getting ready for school task includes sub-tasks such as;

  1. Getting your pyjamas off
  2. Putting your pyjamas under the pillow ready for “after school”
  3. Putting underpants on
  4. Deciding whether to wear a sports or normal uniform
  5. Putting pants on
  6. Putting a shirt on
  7. Putting a tie, headband, ribbons etc on
  8. Putting socks on
  9. Washing Hands
  10. Having Breakfast
  11. Washing hands and face
  12. Brushing Teeth
  13. Putting Lunch in the school bag
  14. Putting Books/Diary in the school bag
  15. Putting Shoes on
  16. Getting outside on time.

A child with poor executive functioning will see these all as entirely separate tasks.  They know that “going to school” is part of the big picture but they won’t be able to sequence the tasks and they won’t self-start or self-monitor.  If there are any distractions available they will quickly become distracted and will fail to complete the task. If anything changes, for example, if their favourite breakfast cereal isn’t available, then they will not have the flexibility to be able to cope with change. They will not be able to do tasks out of order; for example getting their bags packed before breakfast and the entire “getting ready for school” process will stop. The inflexibility may even trigger a meltdown.

The important thing here (at least in my view) is that the child sees all of these duties as separate tasks.  The child may not see that this is all part of the whole, the big picture.

So to my example.  After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I chatted with a pastor in Houston.  He said that what was needed were towels.  So, I was able to get people at my church to donate towels.  I was able to get people to come and pack the towels.  Everything seemed to be going well.  But I forgot something.  Somehow those towels had to get to Houston and someone was going to have to pay the shipping bill.  That never occurred to me.  Long story short, the office manager at the church was stuck trying to figure this all out and was a bit upset at me, for good reason.

My poor executive function skills are still a problem today and I still have a problem with seeing all the pieces of the puzzle, let alone seeing the whole puzzle.  I do work at trying to improve my skills and try to think through everything, but it’s hard- my brain is wired differently.

None of this is to excuse myself.  As a pastor, you have to be able to see the big picture and the separate pieces.  On some level, I get that.  But even when I try to slow down and plan things out and make sure to not skip something important, I can feel my brain pulling me away from that.  My brain is geared to do things in its odd way.  One can learn better executive functioning skills, but for an Apsie it’s hard work.

By the way, I’m linking to some images that explain executive function and how it plays itself out in the life of someone with Aspergers. Hopefully it will give you a good picture. Continue reading “Trees. Forest. Pastor.”

Thoughts About Young Clergy

Carol Howard Merritt has a post up about the young clergy crisis. Here’s a bit of her post: Since I’ve been chairing a national Presbyterian Church (USA) committee on the Nature of the Church for the 21st century, I’ve been gaining a different perspective on many of the larger trends of our denomination. One thing that has been difficult to realize (and equally difficult to communicate to the larger church) is the young clergy crisis. Why would I call it a crisis? We’ve known for a long time about the startling decline of young clergy. The drop-out rates don’t help … Continue reading Thoughts About Young Clergy

Notes from a Scrapper

I’ve been meaning to share this post by Carol Howard Merritt, but life has been busy and so I never did get around to it. But hearing about some fellow Disciples of Christ clergy who feel that they have no place in the church reminded me of it again. She uses the term “Scrappers” to describe a generation (or two) of folks who have worked to piece together a ministry, in this time of diminishing resources. Here’s a snippet of what she’s talking about: A Scrapper is pragmatic. We are people who have learned to work outside of institutional structures … Continue reading Notes from a Scrapper

Death Penalty PR

The following post is adapted from a post on my political blog last month. In all the hubbub surrounding the execution of Troy Davis, there was little mention of another execution taking place in Texas on the same day: As Texas prepares to execute one of his father’s killers, Ross Byrd hopes the state shows the man the mercy his father, James Byrd Jr., never got when he was dragged behind a truck to his death. “You can’t fight murder with murder,” Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters late Tuesday, the night before Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for … Continue reading Death Penalty PR

Lillian Daniel, Adam Copeland and the SBNRs

My last post created a lot of comments on Facebook.  A colleague of mine disagreed with the article and me for the attitude against those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  Actually, I was agreeing to a short article written by UCC pastor Lillian Daniel and her comments have received a bit of criticism themselves.  Here’s what Presbyterian pastor Adam Copeland had to say:

  1. Really? An airplane? Would that be first-class or coach? I meet with
    people (young adults, mostly) every week who call themselves “spiritual
    but not religious.” They tend to be underemployed, live month-to-month,
    and are doing their best to find meaning in their tumultuous lives.
    Sure, the phrase “spiritual but not religious” needs some unpacking for
    pastors whose livelihoods depend on people’s public religiosity, but
    I’ve never heard it as “rebellion against the religious status quo.”
    Rather, the phrase is more a humble testimony that they just don’t seem
    to connect with fancy churches. And who can blame them?
  2. As opposed to what Daniel suggests, the “spiritual but not religious” folks I talk to yearn for community.
    I have not found one who wants simply to have “deep thoughts all by
    oneself” as Daniel accuses. What might be true, however, is that the
    community they seek isn’t offered at most mainline churches with our
    endowment funds and dress codes and judgmental matriarchs and
    patriarchs. You see, some “spiritual but not religious” folks sense a
    certain righteous attitude from these institutions (go figure?). Many
    were once burned by hugely negative experiences with the church and
    it’ll take the church reaching out — in love, not in snark — for healing
    to begin.
  3. God is working in the lives of the “spiritual but not religious.” I
    happen to believe they have a huge amount to teach the church about
    connecting to God, supporting true community, sustaining spiritual
    practices, and living out St. Augustine’s call for a “faith seeking
    understanding.” Daniel asks, “Can I spend my time talking to someone
    brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?” I say, Yes,
    feel free to do that in your church. But also be brave enough to listen
    to those encountering God in ways you don’t fully understand. Learn from
    them.

Copeland does have some points to make, but I can’t help but agree more with Daniel’s original snarky response, than with Copeland’s defense of the SBNRs.  Maybe part of it comes from being in ministry a bit longer than Copeland.  Just a few weeks from my 42nd birthday, I’m not the angry young man I used to be.  Things that I thought were just the bees knees are now seen as sheer foolishness.  I’m not whining as much about how unfair the world is and more willing to say that we need to develop a spiritual toughness against the harshness of life.  The people inside the church are not as stupid and backward as we thought they were.  The folks outside the church are not the fonts of wisdom we once thought they were.
Continue reading “Lillian Daniel, Adam Copeland and the SBNRs”