Thumping Hearts & Planting Trees



Our gospel reading today shows Jesus making one of his most memorable quips. You all probable know it. It is one that has been quoted millions upon millions of times. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” It is a profound statement. It is clear where Jesus thought about the placement of our treasure. Jesus wanted his followers to place there treasures in God by giving as much as we can to God’s people, to the poor, the dispossessed, and the most vulnerable among us. Let’s be frank, few of us, really, live up to Christ’s expectations. We do our best and give what we can, but we are all works in process. Jesus knew this. He was gracious and forgiving when it came to imperfections. However, he did look to results, to the most vulnerable being taken care of. And he looked at the heart as the seedling that gets us to those results.

We should be careful to note that a treasure isn’t necessarily just financial. The treasure might include the wealth of memories, memories, for example, of times when the church was full and vibrant. The treasure might be the wealth of time people have put into building the church, growing the church, preparing the worship service or maintaining the structures.

One of the draws of a collective community like a church is that despite individuals' mortality and impermanence the collective community can live on as one generation passes on the torch to a younger generation. Human beings are meant to die. Churches are not. The next generation breathes in the last breaths of the older generation and the collective keeps breathing, keeps living, keeps doing the work of God.

Nevertheless, and I don’t need to tell you this, but churches are dying. Older generations increasingly have no younger generation to pass the torch on to.

As we ponder treasure and the heart, the older generation in the churches across the country have no younger generation to pass the treasure and the heart of the church onto.

On a practical level, at the level of leadership, I ask myself what is the graying church to do? Not only do I ask myself, others ask me for possible solutions. Of course, not all churches are struggling. Some churches see people coming in droves. Usually they are Evangelical churches that a traditional, conservative approach to theology and a contemporary, progressive approach to worship. So you have drum-thumping one hand and Bible-thumping on the other. Mainline churches do it differently though not always exactly opposite. We have traditional, conservative approach to worship and a more moderate approach to theology. There’s no drum-thumping nor Bible-thumping.

I’d suggest there needs to be some kind of thumping going on. Think of a drummer. A drummer can’t be someone committed to quiet music. A drummer is someone who likes things being loud and clear and is committed to bringing the clarity of noise! A drummer thumps on the drum because he or she must be heard. In other words, it is the conviction that the thumps the drum. A good drummer can’t be in the middle or half-hearted.

If a church is not going to have an actual drum thumping or a conservative brand of Bible-thumping, then there needs to be a different kind of thumping. There needs to be a conviction of belief one way or another. There needs to be clarity about how we approach the Bible, the faith, the world. If you embrace a progressive brand of Christianity, then be loud and clear about it. If you embrace a traditional brand of Christianity, then be loud and clear about it. If you embrace diversity of belief, then be loud and clear about it, though if you embrace diversity yet want community, you need to be loud and clear about what unites you.

It doesn’t stop there, though. For young people, especially, a self-enclosed, insular church simply will not do. For young people, a community must be active and engaged in the larger community. Of that is how young people who haven’t grown up in church find us and feel safe with us. They find us because of what we are doing in the larger community.

This is to say, looking outward is key to churches that are struggling. When there is no next generation in-house to pass on the treasure of the church to, looking out of the house for the next generation becomes necessary.

I am true believer that for churches that are struggling, finding a singular cause to support and be an active part of is vital. I am not talking a passive, financial support kind of way. I am talking an active, volunteer in the community kind of way. When people are not coming to church, you bring church to people.

Finding a niche and building on it is essential. The question then becomes what cause, what niche?

That is for you to decide, really. And maybe you have your own ideas. One idea that I’d like to offer this morning deals with a global issue that is increasingly dire, and that is climate change. I don’t want to go into whether humans are behind it though I believe the science is clear we are. The earth is now vulnerable and needing care. And our vulnerable earth means the already vulnerable among us face more immense hardship. We need solutions no matter the cause. And I want to go into possible solutions.

One big help to getting rid of the dangerous amounts of carbon in our atmosphere is planting more trees. There have been scientific studies that suggest that planting trees on a massive scale could fight back the tide of climate change. Yes, reducing carbon-producing things like polluting manufacturing plants and gas-guzzling vehicles is still necessary. However, planting trees means more carbon is being eaten.

There is a huge project that is worldwide called the Trillion Trees Project. It is devoted to planting a trillion trees as soon as possible. You can go to trilliontreecampaign.org and find more about it. You can also hit the explore tab and go to a map that shows where in the world trees are being planted as part of the campaign. There is a Middletown organization that has planted 20 trees already, the Middletown Garden Club. Maybe you know someone who is a part of that club or you yourself are a part. I haven’t been able to find contact info for the Garden Club. Maybe you have a contact. But St. Paul’s joining with them and planting trees would be a wonderful thing! A terrific niche that could serve as a model for churches like this one, aging churches that have a great deal of resources but not a great deal of young energy to utilize and enhance those resources.

As I come to a close, I go back to Jesus’ immortal words. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be. May St. Paul’s heart follow Christ’s heart of self-service and good news. May St. Paul’s heart be a heart that thumps loud enough for the larger community to hear. And may St. Paul’s thumping heart lead to thumping feet, feet that actively pounds the pavement in our larger community, bringing the church to the people in active service and engagement. And though it may not be actual trees we plant, may we plant seeds of goodness and kindness and love in the hearts we meet along our daily way. Amen.

Jesus' Paradigm of Prayer


Today I want to talk about prayer. When one considers Christian practice, what we do as a Christians, prayer is really key. It may be the central Christian practice. It is certainly foundational to worship which itself is central to the life of the church.

Prayer was central to Jesus as well. He had a rich prayer life. He is often described in the Gospels as getting away to pray. Prayer was a respite for Jesus, a time to quiet himself and nourish his heart and mind. His prayer-practice provided him sustenance and strength for the ministry he was doing and leading. Prayer grounded him and reconnected him to God, who he regularly called and understood as Father.

Jesus’ prayer-practice is one that we ourselves can incorporate into our own lives. In fact, we are called pray. It is good for us.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus introduces how we should pray. He gives us a version of the Lord’s Prayer which we pray in church weekly. Indeed, praying the Lord’s Prayer is something we should do. It goes all the way back to Jesus and his earliest disciples and so praying the prayer connects us to the lineage of Christ. We shouldn’t forget this. It is an honor to pray as Jesus taught us to pray. It is something we do that Jesus did. If we went to the Holy Land, we could walk where Christ actually walked. Well, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are paying in Christ’s own words. Granted they have been translated into English. Yet, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying the Lord’s words and meaning and truth. What a blessing!

Behind the actual words, Jesus also gives us a paradigm for how to pray. Because the rendition of the Lord’s Prayer here in Luke, as opposed to the longer rendition in the Gospel of Matthew which we know better and actually pray each Sunday, we are able to see that paradigm more clearly.

Let us go through it.

“Father,”

We begin with the invocation, the call, the naming of the one we are praying to. Jesus here uses the simple title of Father. As we know, Christ’s preferred name for God is Father. He sees God as a loving parent directly involved in his children’s lives. God for Jesus is a father who is present and active in his children’s development and growth. No, I should mention that this understanding of God and fatherhood was sort of revolutionary to those in Jesus’ day. Jesus understanding of fatherhood mirrored in many ways motherhood. For Jesus, God is just as motherly as God is fatherly. Christ’s understanding of fatherhood was way ahead of his time. He saw God as more Mr. Rogers than John Wayne. God is a a father-mother God, a loving parent. This was novel and new in Jesus’ day.  

So, God is intimately connected to us, according to Jesus. We don’t have to go searching high and low for God. We don’t need to ponder who God is or what God is like. God is the one raising us. God is the one loving us into being, as Mr. Rogers liked to say. God is the one who tucks us into bed and is there when we wake up in the morning. 

As you might notice, I like to invoke God in prayer with these words, O God who is love ever with us. It gets at the same meaning of Father, but avoids seeing God as a male being.

“hallowed be thy name.”

This is a phrase that while we know it and say it and it will never change, many don’t understand its meaning. A better translation of this phrase is “may your name be honored and glorified.” Or “Father, may your name be revered and holy.” When we pray, it is important to recognize who it is we are praying to, that the one we are praying to is holy and perfect and to be revered and offered our gratitude. By doing this, we declare what we are doing, the act of prayer, as holy work, as a sacred activity. We are naturally humbled when we do this, when we acknowledge that we are connecting to and communicating with the divine one, the Love that put it and holds it altogether.

So, we call God’s name and we honor that name. Next comes the ask. In this case, it begins with a big ask.

“Thy kingdom come.”

Basically, Jesus is praying with these three words that God’s way come and be here amongst us. Do you know the camp song, Kumbaya… Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya… Well, kumbuya comes from the African dialect. We would know Kumbaya as come by here in our dialect. It is the same idea as thy kingdom come. Come by here, Lord, and bring your kingdom with you. Bring your heaven and make it real here and now. Definitely a big ask! But an essential one. It is an ask that makes all the difference.

Jesus later in this passage makes the rather unbelievable statement, “ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open to you.” Often, we see this as Jesus making the fantastic claim that all we have to do is ask for someone to be healed, and it will happen. Or seek to be rich, and you will become rich. No, Jesus is being specific. He is referring to the big ask in the prayer he just introduced. 

In some of the ancient manuscripts, instead of thy kingdom come, it reads in translation as, “thy Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.” Our Gospel passage ends with Jesus saying that the Father, if we ask, surely gives the Holy Spirit to us.

The context, in other words, of the whole passage is the holy, the sacred, the divine, spiritual power. When we invoke the holy, when we call upon the sacred, when we invite God to be here with, in the mere invoking, calling, inviting, God is with us in this very present moment.

When Holly, who is my wife, and I were first dating, we lived in different states. I was here at college in Cedarville up the road a bit in Ohio and she was in Florida. Maybe you’ve had the experience of being apart from someone you love. When we were apart, there was a sentimental power in her name for me. I would recall her name or even say it, and I’d sense she was with me in some way. There was a song I liked at the time. It’s chorus went, When I call your name, I will never be alone… I will never lose my way.”

It is a similar idea here. Call on God to come by here, and God is here. Ask, and the Holy Spirit is received. Seek, and the Holy Spirit is found. Knock, and the door to the Holy Spirit is opened.

Does this mean we will get everything we want when we want it. No. But we will know God’s presence. And God’s presence will help us get through life’s hardships and struggles.  

Jesus is not talking about just physical needs and desires when he says, ask, and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. For Jesus, the spiritual and physical life are intertwined. Jesus is saying our spiritual life is primary. Our spiritual lives and how we respond spiritually to our life in this world with its earthly demands makes all the difference. If we focus on God’s presence, God is here with us. And the knowledge that God is with us, eases our burdens and it gives way to us getting by somehow. We see this again in the next phrase:

“Give us each day our daily bread”

Again, the daily bread Jesus is referring to is not bread we use for sandwiches only. The term daily bread in Jesus day was symbolic. Daily bread pointed to all our human needs, all that we need to get by in this world. Daily bread for Jesus and his people recalled the story in the Old Testament of the slaves in the wilderness being given manna from heaven. Give us all we need, is the plea here. Give us your presence, o God, and may your presence bring sustenance for our whole being, our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

Let’s review we come to the last couple phrases. Prayer should include

A Calling on God,
an Honoring of God,
a beckoning of God’s presence
a plea for sustenance…

There are two more pleas.

One of the most important needs we have is the need for good relationships. With God and with others. And forgiveness is vital to both our relationship with God and with others. So Jesus highlights the absolutely vital practice of forgiveness. We should recognize that forgiveness is a two way street. God forgives us as we forgive others. There is no such thing as cheap forgiveness. So Jesus says,
and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us. In other words instill in us God a spirit of forgiveness.

And lastly, is the curious phrase, “and lead us not into temptation.”

Many scholars and thinkers have suggested this is not a very good translation of the original Greek in Luke 11. Pope Francis, in fact, has made a push to change the English phrasing. He recently said, this phrase is “not a good translation… A father doesn’t ever [lead his child into temptation], a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.” Francis suggests a better translation, “leave us not when in temptation.” I am not sure if I agree with Francis. But, regardless, the point is that we need help avoiding temptation. The fundamental temptation is to not be satisfied with all we’ve been given. I think of another song lyric. “To want what we have. To take what we’re given with grace. For this I pray.” So to give Jesus last phrase in his model prayer a positive spin, Jesus is praying that God “lead us to non-temptation, lead us to the opposite of temptation, lead us to contentment.” How? By helping us to be satisfied with all we’ve be given and have.

A study of Aramaic, which Jesus would have originally spoken this prayer with, bears this understanding out. Hebrew scholar Rabbi Chaim Bentorah suggests this translation of “do not allow us to enter wrongful thinking or testing.”

So I close with Jesus’ model for prayer:

The spiritual practice of prayer means
Calling on God
Honoring God’s sacredness
Beckoning God’s sacred presence here and now
Then asking for God’s sustenance
and God’s spirit of forgiveness and contentment

Here is a prayer you might want to recite this week as a kind of meditation:

O God who is Love,
I rest in your sacred presence and honor You.
Enlighten our path.
Nourish us body, mind, and spirit.
May Your forgiveness instill in us a forgiving spirit.
Help us to want what we have
and take what we’re given with grace. 
Amen.







A Mary and Martha Church?


The question I want to begin with is this – what kind of church is St. Paul’s, a Mary kind of church or a Martha kind of church?

Now, I don’t ask this in isolation. I also ask this of the average American church. What kind of churches do you see around? Mary kind of churches or Martha kind of churches?

To really answer these questions, we need to understand what we are talking about when we say Mary kind of church and Martha kind of church. So, let’s look at the difference between Mary and Martha in our text.

Mary in Luke 10 is just sitting with Jesus and some of the disciples. While it isn’t explicit in the text, it is implied that Jesus comes to visit Martha’s house with some of his disciples. He and his disciples arrive together in town and most likely were invited together. And Jesus always does public things with some of his disciples. Mary is with Jesus and the others, enjoying stories Jesus is telling, the camaraderie being experienced, the relationships being forged. She is probably mindful that things need to be done, but for now, she is resting in the fellowship of friends, the stories passed, and the wise words of a dear soul visiting with her.

A Mary church is one that follows suit. A Mary style church is one that sees the power and poignancy of simply being together and getting to know one another. It sees the power and poignancy of fellowship, of sitting down together and sharing a meal and each other’s stories. A Mary style church is not an apathetic one. But one that knows the priority is always relationships between people, friendships, the sharing of our journeys.

Let’s meet Martha. Its Martha’s house and she welcomes Jesus and the others in. This is not a planned visit. It is important to admire her hospitality. She is doing nothing wrong here, simply making her house presentable and being hospitable to a deeply respected teacher, Jesus. This is actually very admirable, isn’t it? Her focus is on serving Jesus and his disciples and she doing it really, really well. But what is neglected in Martha’s admirable hospitality is the state of just being with Jesus and the others. What is missing are moments of simply being fully present with Jesus, her sister and the others.

She naturally gets perturbed and expresses her impatience to Jesus. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. He basically says few things in life can’t wait and we must prioritize what is most important. Jesus seems to say, “Fellowship is the priority right now.” Relationship is the ultimate path by which all other paths are taken.

So, a Martha-style church is one that is focused on doing the business of the church – fundraising, perfecting Sunday worship, being active in the community. Now these are all good things. Important things. Necessary things. But are they to always be the top priority? What is the most necessary thing for a church community? I’d suggest it depends on the needs around us.

On the deepest level, however, Jesus reminds us of this lasting truth: fellowship, communion, togetherness, sharing time and our memories with one another, hearing each other’s stories and each other’s hopes, dreams, and even our hurts.

I often think of Sunday services and what part of those services that are the most meaningful. To me, it isn’t the singing, the sermon, the ceremony. It is the time in the Sunday service when people express what makes them human, their needs, their hurts, their joys, their lives. That is the center, the heartbeat of the service in my opinion.

I offer another question to ponder. What do people need in St. Paul’s as a church? Do they need our activity or our mere presence? Or both?

Perhaps a more significant question as St. Paul’s encounters this period of transition is this: what does St. Paul’s want to be, a Mary or a Martha church? Or a nice harmony of the two?

I’d suggest that there is a time and place for both contented Mary and busy Martha’s approach. If everyone was Mary all the time, no matter the circumstances, then nothing would get done. Jesus did command us to love neighbor, and give of ourselves to the vulnerable and needy. Jesus commands us to build God’s kingdom by doing the work of compassion. This requires hard work. Sitting with Jesus and enjoying a meal together is important even necessary. But so is making the meal, serving the food, and doing the dishes for someone else.

There is a time for everything under the sun. A time to sit with Jesus and enjoy his company. And a time to do the work of building and supporting the community. What’s more, for the church, these things go together. One leads to the other. Time with Jesus energized Mary and provided her meaning and hope, meaning and hope that comes in holy relationships. With new energy and a renewed sense of meaning and hope, Mary received the sustenance she needed to do the work of building God’s kingdom in her neighborhood and community.

That is why Sunday worship is important. We need the sustenance of sitting with God, learning Christ’s way, and offering our gratitude for all the graces we know. It is spiritual food we need to partake in. However, we must leave the sanctuary here and move into the world outside these walls. We are fed and nourished here for a purpose, to do the work of God in the world.

So, we are called to be both a Martha and a Mary church. We are called to develop our spirits and our spiritual lives. We are called to grow in God and know the contentment that comes with experiencing God’s presence. Yet we are also called to from this foundation make disciples of God’s love in our communities and building people and our communities of people up.

I close with another story involving Mary, Martha, and Jesus. It comes from the Gospel of John. In this story, Mary, Martha, and Jesus are grieving. Their brother Lazarus has died. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha. In the time of grief, there is nothing one can do. Community and fellowship are all we have. Yet we Jesus there is always hope.

So, Mary and Martha in their tears and not knowing what to do, received the comfort of Jesus’ presence. And they witness the power of his presence as he raises Lazarus and breathes new life into him.

The comfort of divine presence in our hearts. The power of divine presence in the world. We need both, don’t we. Let us foster and forge Christ’s divine presence in the world as the church. Amen.

The Most Inspiring


In my high school yearbook, which I have purposefully lost, I am listed in a rundown of categorization as “the most bashful.” I have wondered about that rather unique claim to high school infamy. Most bashful. Not most likely to succeed. Not best dressed. Not most likely to be president. But most bashful. Introversion had a lot to do with it. Low self-image surely had something to do with it. Living in a rural town in the middle of nowhere also had something to do with it. Anyway, I am okay with being bashful. There’s worst things to be.

I am not sure if there is a “Most Inspiring” in high school yearbooks these days. Maybe there is. There wasn’t in mine. And if there were, I would not have been deemed Most Inspiring either, that’s for sure. I cannot think of a senior classmate who would have been deemed that. Even the cheerleaders were Gen-X cynical.

I begin with this to say I’ve been pondering the importance of being inspiring as a pastor. In the latter part of my 5 years here, I’ve been pondering this.  This is what is clear to me. One person can never, ever be the most inspiring reality. It is unfair to expect this from a person. Why? Because at its heart, inspiration comes from somewhere else. We may be conduits of inspiration. We may even be good at being conduits of inspiration. But inspiration by definition comes from a source outside of ourselves. 

So what is the most inspiring thing? The most inspiring reality is the reality at the source of all inspiration.  

The word inspiration, its etymology, helps us understand what I am saying. Inspiration literally means the state of being breathed into. Now folks often put a self-help, motivational speaker slant on this. In this idea, inspiration comes from hearing someone inspire us or from our finding it in ourselves or a combination of these two.

But inspiration in the literal sense points to breath and a source of breath. Something breathed life into us. The first book of the Bible offers an idea about who the source of our breath is.

Genesis 2:7 says this: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

This is the original inspiration, the ultimate inspiration, the inspiration that never dissipates. God breathed life into us. God literally inspired us. And in every breath in the world, not just our own which of course will end, but in every breath breathed in the world, we have evidence of God inspiring us.

So if you are having a bad day, if the world has got you down, if you come to CCNOT Sunday morning and the preacher puts you to sleep, if the next minister turns out to be as boring as I am in the end, you can find hope in this – our very breath, humanity’s breath, the earth’s breaths, is a testimony to God’s inspiration. Truly taking that in, making a practice of it, cannot help but inspire us.

Even if you doubt the existence of an external God, the reality of breaths in the world being the source of inspiration still applies. Take away all the trees in the world and what would happen? Take away all the water from the world, what would happen? Take away all the oxygen? Take any of those away, and our breath would eventually stop. Our breath relies on the breath of trees, on water, and on oxygen. The environment around us literally gives us breath.

So if you are having a bad day, if the world has got you down, you can find inspiration by doing something very simple – deeply look at the trees, at water, at our own breath, and ponder their gifts to us. The gratitude found in this simple practice will naturally lead to feeling inspired.

We are talking about inspiration in the truest sense, as connected to the breath which is born of God who Zerself is Breath (“God is Spirit or Breath”). We are talking about the breath sustained by the Community of the Earth. Yes, it helps to be reminded of these things. But there is nothing more helpful than developing your own practice of going back to your breath and appreciating what it represents. God’s ultimate gift is found in our own breath. The earth’s ultimate gift is also found in our own breath. And these are gifts that keep giving. If not to us on this earth, then to the newborns in the world taking in their first independent breath and to us in the realm of God’s very breath, heaven. What can be more inspiring than a gift that keeps giving?

What Autism Teaches Religious Communities


A religious community – what is it? A religious community is a group of people holding to religious faith that join together as a community to make the world better and to enjoy the benefits of faith and community. So there is a religious/spiritual component to religious community. There is a social component, of course. And there is an emotional component.

As you might perceive, for kids on the Spectrum, engaging these three components are not so simple. First of all, religion and spirituality. As has been noted by psychologists and people who study these things, people on the Spectrum are far more likely to be atheists. According to a survey done not too long ago, “respondents with high-functioning autism were more likely than control subjects to be atheists and less likely to belong to an organized religion… And atheists were higher on the autistic spectrum than Christians and Jews.”

Thinking about what Autism is, it is not so difficult to see why this might be so. For people on the Spectrum, it is hard to understand figurative language and anthropomorphic language, which is language that takes abstract truth and wraps it in human thinking, forms, and feelings. People on the Spectrum can get abstract concepts. Many are physics and engineers. But wrapping it in human emotions and human choices and nuance is difficult for them, usually. Often, a personal God is more difficult for ASD people than an impersonal force.

Next, is the social component. Social groups and social engagement is difficult for ASD kids. The difficulty becomes even more acute when we are talking about a large group of people. Add in religion and spirituality, which ASD kids might feel disconnection from, and the issues become more pronounced. There can be social isolation and there can be intellectual isolation involved in church.

So Corey is a great example. He has difficulty entering a social group, that is clear. School 5 days a week wears him out and there are issues almost weekly we hear about from his teachers and professionals. Corey also does not connect to ideas of God and religion. He simply doesn’t, at least not yet. He likes a good story and we focus on that. In fact, we are reading through the Old Testament together. But religious faith is hard for him. And church is all about social engagement wrapped in religious faith. So it is doubly difficult.

Lastly, there is the emotional component. Many of us have a built-in incentive to come to church. We enjoy getting with friends and people we like. We feel satisfaction in knowing we are coming together to do good in the community, for example. We enjoy feeling emotionally connected to others and to God. In other words, there is an emotional payoff to church. For many on the Spectrum, this built-in emotional incentive doesn’t exist. Emotional payoffs are simply harder to come by for ASD kids. Most people on the Spectrum have in the whole of their life just three close relationships at most. That is all that is needed. And more than that would be difficult to manage. Knowing this, you can see why church, especially large churches, would be hard. There is no emotional payoff and sometimes the opposite. There can be a real emotional drain involved.

So what does this all tell us as a religious community? What can we learn?
Well, here are some ideas as we come to a close.

Autism teaches us that a spirit of acceptance, flexibility and inclusion is fundamental. There is nothing worse than being expected to give complete conformity when complete conformity is not neurologically possible. As I said last week, diversity, including neurodiversity, diversity in how people approach the world, is a given. We should experience others and interact with others accordingly. With openness, curiosity, and nonjudgment.  

Secondly, on a very practical level, Autism teaches us the importance of routine. People on the Spectrum usually want routine. Thus, sticking with a liturgy and avoiding changing it is helpful. A regular, structured, routine Liturgy and Order of Service can be of comfort. There would be nothing worse for someone with ASD than changing the format every month with a lot of improvisation in each service.

Thirdly, again on a practical level, Autism teaches us the importance of speaking to different levels of approaching the world. People on the Spectrum think structurally and systematically and have difficulty with expressing emotion or reading emotion. Feeling inspired can come harder for them. Relating to abstract poetry or emotional stories and even nuanced jokes can be harder for them. They relate more to reasoned out thoughts and well-structured and orderly ideas. So balancing emotionality with systematic ideas in the sermon, for example, becomes crucial. Think of an engineer attending Sunday service, which many on 
the Spectrum are. How do we reach them too?

Fourth, Autism teaches us to avoid forced intimacy, which I am thankful this church does avoid. Passing the Peace type segments where people are encouraged to get up, say hello to people, and interact? That would be a no for someone on the Spectrum. Asking congregants to look at their neighbor and say I love you in the Lord as I’ve experienced in one church? That would be a no. Having folks hold hands at the end of the service and singing a closing hymn like a church I was once a part of? Again, a no. This – forced intimacy – is torture for many ASD people. They will either check out or act out.

Fifth, Autism teaches us to be mindful of sensory overload. A lot of movement, standing up, sitting down, loud music, blinking screens, over the top emotionality, this can be very counterproductive for ASD folks. Again, they will either check out or act out.

Lastly, Autism teaches us the importance of alternative formats to just Worship.  Great examples of this involve very small groups focused on areas of interest is great for ASD folks as well. For example, a Star Wars club, that would be a very ASD friendly club. Incorporating the spiritual themes of Star Wars in a natural and unforced way (pardon the pun), that is a best practice that might reap benefits.

So, I close with this. We live in a society where conformity is expected, don’t we? We live in a society where doing things the way they’ve always been done is the norm, especially when it comes to the church world. "Mind your manners," how many times have we heard and said that? But Autism reminds us that conformity, typicality, good manners are not always possible. 

And thinking about this, it is good to remember, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Maybe God is teaching us through people like Corey that the world is diverse, each human brain is different and approaches the world differently, and yet amid this diversity and difference, each human being carries God’s image and is hence beautiful. Like all of us, people on the Spectrum carry the image of God and reveal it in the world. In other words, there is a little bit of the Spectrum in God and its expressed in kids like Corey. Ponder that one for a bit.

So last week we visited Friendly’s Restaurant in Gardner. Per usual, Corey said hi to everyone on the way to being seated as well as once seated, including to the waitress, more than once. It is an example of his repetitive behaviors that are core to ASD. He was his usual extroverted, unique, 20 questions self. And in the process, in the process of breaking up the monotony plodding around that restaurant that day, Corey broke through. 

In talking with the waitress, Corey shared that he is on the Spectrum. In reply, she said, "well, you are beautiful." Corey quipped, "but I am a boy." To which she answered, "boys can be beautiful too." 

At the end of our time in a Friendly world, Corey told the waitress you’d make a great mom. She was a mom – of five kids and two grandchildren. 

As we left, the waitress stopped us and looked at Corey and said, “you made my day, Corey.” I believe she meant it. To quote a songwriter, "sometimes life can be so grand!” This is what Corey regularly teaches me.