Lessons From Autism: #1

Prior to meeting my wife, Kerri, I had limited exposure to Autism.  Sure, there were students with Autism on the campus where I taught English at the time. I’d see the them in the hallway or stop by their classroom to say “hello,” but that’s about all I knew.

When Kerri and I began writing back and forth via an online dating website it was clear there was a connection between the two of us.  The writing went on longer than I experienced as typical [typical: I’ll return to this word often].  Anyhow. ..I began to wonder if things would ever progress to a phone call.

“She’s hiding something. . .I know it!” I thought.  Hmmm.

AS205So, I nudged. And still she held out on giving out her phone number.   “I get it,” I thought. She’s a single mom of two. . .doesn’t want to jump in to things.   But there was a connection!  Why the hesitation? Surely this is worth of a phone conversation. So, I twisted her arm in a virtual sense and, finally, the digits.

Several conversations later, Kerri took a significant personal risk and told me about her son with Autism. This, I later learned, went against the advice of her friends.  To my own surprise I didn’t flinch.  I wanted to hear about him. The connect only grew stronger and I could explain why. Little did I know I was standing a the two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.

After that conversation, I had multiple epiphanies.  This was a big deal for Kerri.  It’s kind of disclosure that results in a great deal of vulnerability.  And it’s the kind of information  would cause the recipient to bow out and move on. This is a real fear of many single parents with Autistic children…”Will the person I’ve grown to love leave?”

I’ll be honest.  If I had met Kerri a few years earlier I might have been that person to take my first exit.  But I was experiencing something I hadn’t in a long time.   My spiritual, emotional, and mental heath had simultaneously found a calm place.  The time was right for, not just any relationship, but one that would involve anything but the typical state of affairs.

I’ve learned a great deal about life in the past two years.  There have been, and will continue to be, frustrations that challenge every ounce of human patience.  Likewise, there are moments that reach the peak of joy.  And there is literally every emotion in between.  Autism, like other disabilities, brings perspective to life.  There is little energy to spend on matters that are  of little consequence (and those matters differ from person to person).

One of the many lessons I have learned thus far is to challenge people  who say, “I couldn’t do what you do.”  My response?  “Yes, you can, and someday you likely will.”  It might be caring for a child with a disability, a parent that develops Alzheimer’s, a sibling who suddenly needs lifelong care, or a spouse that one day needs you to feed them.

Sure, there will always be those who cut and run because they are too afraid to come out of their narcissism.  For the most of us, however, love and compassion will prevail.  And we will deepen our understanding what it means to be human.

 

 

One Christian’s Voting Guide

imagesChristian bloggers, clergy, and laypeople everywhere are blowing up social media with angst over which candidate to vote for in the upcoming general election.

But people make it more complicated than it needs to be. Part of the problem is many Christians limit their criteria to one or two wedge issues that are never even mentioned by Jesus.

Make is easy. Open up to Matthew 25 and get reacquainted with the works of mercy that, according to Matthew, Jesus uses as criteria for the Last Judgment:

  • Feed the hungry: Which political candidate is about food safety and security for all?
  • Give drink to the thirsty: What about the indefensible water crisis in Flint, Michigan?  How about the rest of the U.S. water supply?  Which candidates are fighting fracking and the pollution of ground water?   Which candidates are fighting to make safe this necessary compound for sustaining all of life?
  • Clothe the naked: How about a wage fair enough to buy some clothes? How about Oregon and that $14.75 minimum wage? That’s economic justice.
  • Shelter the homeless: Don’t complain about Section 8 housing if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Jesus.  Even the least of these deserve a roof over their heads. Which candidate supports such endeavors? For this issues one must turn to local leaders.  For example, look for local candidates advocating for the homeless.  There many creative initiatives seeking to alleviate this chronic issue, such as the tiny home village taking shape in Dallas, Texas.
  • Take care of the sick: Healthcare and all that that implies. For all.  That means everyone. This is a no brainer.
  • Welcome the stranger: For Jesus this included the foreigner and the “other.” Xenophobia has no place in the heart or actions of a Christian.  Study the candidates.  Which ones display xenophobia and bigotry, or worse, stirs the “shit pot of hate?” Don’t vote for that one. Period.
  • Visit the imprisoned: The U.S. has one of largest populations of incarcerated people worldwide. This is a human rights issue. Further, the high school to prison pipeline remains fully supplied by dropouts, fostered by a less than engaging education system.  Which candidates offer a plan to simultaneously fight poverty and improve education.

A lot of Christians like restrict these marks of faithfulness to the work of individual congregations, contending that the government should play no part in such matters.  I suspect that argument is popular for these Christians because Matthew 25 doesn’t play into their efforts to legislate an ideological, and unbiblical, morality, forcing it onto the wider population. But this has only created animosity toward Christianity.

The acts of mercy in Matthew 25 are inconvenient for sure, even for those who try to live them out faithfully. Individual congregations cannot afford, due to dwindling giving and church participation in the U.S., to realize these acts in a vacuum that transforms the wider culture. There has to be a partnership with other faiths, and even secular institutions.  That’s why it important for Christians to vote and keep in mind the matters that Jesus declare to be most crucial.

It’s fine if one disagrees that Matthew 25 should inform a Christian voter.  Just don’t claim to be casting a vote in the name of Jesus, otherwise.

“Damn, Daniel,” I can’t compete with you.

Like many fellow teachers, I struggle to find what will motivate students to take ownership of their learning. You know . . .so they can hopefully make something of themselves and contribute to society.

But when I’m competing with the notion that all one has to do is produce a viral video featuring nothing of any consequence, nor offers anything productive to society, I realize what I’m selling is no match for it.  “Damn, Daniel!”  You got free Vans for life.  You win.

Pope Francis on Walls and being Christian

Today Pope Francis reminded the world that building walls isn’t Christian.  Donald Trump took this personally.  But Pope Francis got it right.  The Judeo- Christian texts are filled with instances of God breaking down walls, removing barriers, and lifting veils.  Nothing- not even the powers-that-be, as the Apostle Paul reminds us-  can separate us from the love of God.  This is not metaphorical for Paul.  The Christian faith is about community.  We can’t have authentic community when barriers stand between us, especially those built by fear mongering politicians.  Putting up a wall between nations, especially in the 21st century, runs counter to all our ancient texts proclaim.

For centuries, political hopefuls have co-opted the Good News, corrupted it, disembodied it, and gutted it of its economic and social implications in order to posture themselves for more power.  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are merely the latest in a long line of offenders.  But they didn’t get where they are on their own. They had help.  They have been aided and abetted by “Christian” leaders and their followers for a very long time.

The Gospel of Jesus is, both, spiritual and social.  They cannot be separated. God’s justice is for all. It is distributive. It is not limited one faith over another.  And it certainly isn’t about this business of building walls.

If the question is whether or not Pope Francis as any business calling out potential world leaders for misrepresenting the Christian faith, the answer is: absolutely he does.  In fact, a leader in his position had better call them out or further risk the integrity of the church universal.

There are seismic shifts occurring in religious communities everywhere.  People of all faiths are tired of their religion being used as a justification for terrorism, or a shield for some to stand behind, while they deny the civil rights of other, or as an excuse to carry out xenophobic and oppressive policies.

So, a word of gratitude for Pope Francis and those like him who muster the courage to spoke for the voiceless in our world and calling out those who misrepresent the Good News.

**I recognize the Pope lives behind walls as do many people.  The point is that bridges send an entirely different signal than barriers.  Our world needs a different kind of leadership.  I think the Pope is expressing, in part, what that kind of leadership looks like. 

 

The Mystery of Death: Lent 2016

We don’t like to ponder our own death. In fact, our culture makes every effort to defy that all of us will die. I believe this denial is toxic to our lives.

Several years ago I went on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani Monastery, which rests in the bluegrass hills of Kentucky.  At the time I was struggling with my own faith, with my belief in the resurrection, and with my direction in life.  The community homilist at the time,  the late Fr. Matthew Kelty, took time to listen to my story. So, he invited me to the funeral mass of a fellow monk who died same week I was on retreat.  He said “it would do me some good.” 

That night I sat in the balcony of the sanctuary  into the early morning hours before the funeral mass.  I listened as the Brothers prayed the Psalms in tandem over the deceased, whose body lie resting in the center aisle of the nave.  I was moved to tears by the time the deceased was laid to rest.

Fr. Matthew was right.  I can’t really explain it, but one of my most profound encounters with God took place at the funeral of a Cistercian monk I never knew. 

Fr. Matthew said death is the ultimate mystery.  He writes about that mystery in this way:

“For birth and death are perhaps, indeed undoubtedly, the most profound of human experiences. And there is no getting used to them.  We come and we go. Where did we come from? Where are we going? The sort of questions children ask. And everyone with children knows that they can be profound, deep, upsetting.  Hence, being a Christian, being a person of faith, enables us to answer the child, to respond to a sudden encounter, or an anticipated joy, the ultimate.

We come from God and we go to God.

It’s as simple as that. And as beautiful. As profound. It is not only the usual answer.   It is the answer.”

Allow the ritual of Ash Wednesday to linger during Lent. It is a powerful reminder that we only have a limited time in which to experience the creation that surrounds and and the beautiful people that enrich our lives. Be humbled and give in to love. In the words of Ansarit of Herat:

Would you become a pilgrim
on the road to Love?
The first condition is that
you make yourself
humble as dust and ashes.

Mortal Flesh and Ash

dust-from-hand

Ash Wednesday. There is no other day like Ash Wednesday. The proud and the meek, the arrogant and the humble all made equal on Ash Wednesday. The healthy and the sick, the assured and the sick in spirit, all make their way to church in the gray morning or in the dusty afternoon. They line up silently, eyes downcast, bony fingers counting the beads of the rosary, lips mumbling prayers. All are repentant, all are preparing themselves for the shock of the laying of the ashes on the forehead and the priest’s agonizing words, “Thou dust, and to dust thou shalt return .”

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Rumi: On Jesus

Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic.  A poet. A theologian.  A Muslim.  I’ve often thought he understood Jesus and the task of the church better than most 21st century Christians.  These words from Rumi about Jesus are among my favorite:

IMG_0368

“Where Jesus is the great-hearted gather.

We are a door that’s never locked.

If you are suffering any kind of pain, stay near this door. Open it”

The Essential Rumi, Trans., Coleman Barks