Best Friends

Growing up in the 90’s and watching television it was impossible to see a show where the lead didn’t have a best friend or a group of close friends around them. These characters knew eachother their whole lives and did everything together. I watched and waited until I could find that. I never did. There were times I called people my “best friend” but typically they felt different. They saw me as a friend at most or just an acquaintance. Sometimes I was neither and they just were taking advantage of me. This realization left me feeling lonely. I never fit in. Not even with the outcasts. When I became a Christian I learned that community is important as well as brotherly love. We’re meant for relationship and we’re meant for friendship. My problem growing up, I’ve found, is I was trying to make friends on their terms. I was trying to be who they expected me to be but failing. I wore so many masks I didn’t know which was appropriate when. It wasn’t until I found out that I am autistic that I could take the mask off and breathe. I could be myself. My real self. It gave me permission to be who I’ve always been. Good has shown me that in spite of my efforts I couldn’t make friends on my masks as well as I can without them. I have solid friendships now. I may not have known them forever, we may not be around each other all day everyday but I know they’re rooting for men. I know they left me up. My friendships may look strange according to accepted sitcom standards but they’re genuine and they’re mine. I may not relate to the world like everyone else but God made me on purpose for a purpose with full knowledge of my autism. He shows time and again in the Bible that fellowship is sometimes awkward. Sometimes people don’t fit in together. A persecuter and killer of Christians (Paul), a tax collector(Matthew), a fisherman (Peter) a thief and a traitor (Judas), and a host of others are who Jesus used to teach about the kingdom. He didn’t choose cookie cutter men he chose the outcasts. The outcasts of outcasts. He chose people like us. I thank God that he chooses outcasts because their table looks different. Their cliques aren’t based on being best friend from birth but rather oneness that comes from Christ alone. That’s brotherly love. That’s friendship.

Autism and Church

According to the CDC 1 in 44 people is on the autism spectrum. According to other studies, the percentage of autistic children that attend church service is plummeting. I don’t think the church can afford this kind of record setting exodus and Jesus most certainly doesn’t want this. So what do we do? I’ll explain my experience with church, both good and bad, from an autistic perspective. Growing up I attended a giant megachurch in South Florida and there were a lot of things that bothered me there. One thing was the super loud music and stage lighting. I can tolerate this sometimes now if I bring earplugs such as if I went to a rock concert but I don’t think the church is too keen on earplugs during worship music. I also struggled with the amount of small talk you’re expected to have. They call this fellowship. In the same vein it seemed like every service you were asked to look someone directly in the eyes and touch them in some way either a handshake or a hug. In addition to this the church was full of people. The same people that picked on me at school only it was worse at church. I grew up thinking I’m just not made for God’s kingdom and I gave up. It was a sensory nightmare it was a den of bullying and nobody ever answered my questions about the Bible. Unless it was to say don’t question it. Now as an adult some of these dynamics are still at play but now I KNOW I am made for the kingdom of God. I just needed to learn some things. As a kid I didn’t know I was autistic. I thought I was broken. Everyone told me so. Luckilly God loves broken people. He loves those that others scoff at. He loves the misfits and the don’t fits. Now that I know I’m autistic I know I am how I’m supposed to be. I can use my uniqueness as a strength and I’ve built a ministry on that. In church I found a voice and a passion for God and realized I’m important too. In 1 Corintians 12:12-27 Paul adresses this issue. He explains the Church is the body of Christ and each part is indispensable. In fact the weaker parts and the unmentionable parts of our bodies are held in highest honor and says the same is true of the church. A pastor I had, when preaching a sermon on this, always said imagine stubbing your pinky toe in the middle of the night. You never think of your pinky toe it’s so small and insignificant. It seems to contribute nothing. In that moment, though, when you bump it in the middle of the night your entire body responds to the pain. This is what Paul says that if one member hurts we all hurt. Yet in the church we still cater to Neurotypical churchgoers. More than that some churches don’t even preach the gospel so nobody is turned away but even in those churches it’s not autism friendly. I’m not proposing a change per se but rather an acceptance. If I wear earplugs I’m not trying to block out the worship music rather I’m trying to enjoy it more. If I don’t look you in the eye and touch you I’m not saying I don’t want God or peace to be with you I’m simply overstimulated. We’re cutting off our pinky toes and our other “insignificant” parts. It’s going to hurt. Let’s learn the Bible and answer those questions. Let’s realize we can love without hugs and you may be surprised when that non- hugger hugs you one day. Let’s not judge if someone is singing or raising their hands or not. Let’s not focus so much on the kid rolling around he’s listening more than you know. Let’s love like Christ and take care of our whole body. Christ gave his life for it. All of it. We’ve got too much to lose if we don’t lose a little of our judgement.

Why (and How) I (a Protestant) Pray The Rosary

 As long as I can remember I’ve had a fascination with the rosary. It’s beauty. It’s simplicity. It can be fashioned from any material from plants to plastic, glass or gems and no matter what it’s made of everyone knows what it’s made for. I remember being drawn to images of praying hands holding a rosary between them. Though my mom’s side of the family are all Catholic in name I was never raised with any religious upbringing until a little later in my childhood and it was in a protestant church. No  rosaries between praying hands.  Prayers were said from the heart or from the pulpit not from memory. Even the prewritten prayers such as “now I lay me down to sleep” or “God is great, God is good let us thank Him for our food” were still not counted on beads. As I got older I lost my faith for a long time but never my fascination with the rosary. I kept a plastic rosary that survived a fire at the church my grandparents got married in hanging from my rearview mirror if even just to have an ironic piece to accompany the death metal blaring from my car speakers. When I came back to my faith in God I found it hard to stay focused while praying. I wanted to please God but often times I’d start praying and end up pondering the most random assortment of thoughts. I felt like a failure. I searched the web for any hints as to how to stay focused when praying. I rediscovered the rosary. I bought a small single decade chaplet and learned how to pray the holy rosary. It was an utter failure. I could focus but I wasn’t really praying. Being raised protestant I felt wrong praying a prayer to Mary far more times than the prayer Jesus himself taught. I needed to reconfigure things. I put the rosary down for a few years and found myself again yearning for focus on prayer. I had far more reasons to pray struggling with personal issues yet I still couldn’t pray. I found a book called ” A Bead and a Prayer” and with several articles online and my knowledge of the rosary already attained I had a new way to pray. I finally was able to pray. I learned how to make rosaries by hand and made myself one. I have since made and given away nearly 80. The beads help me focus. Touching something tangible as I speak helps me focus on the moment. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, so I am very tactile and easilly distracted. In order to make the rosary my personal prayer enhancer I had to tweak it for personal preference as well as theological reasons. My personal formula can also be tweaked to hopefully help someone else as well. In order to explain my process I first need to define some terms and explain the anatomy of a rosary. 

What does a rosary look like?

A Dominican rosary (the most common type) is composed of beads, chain, a centerpiece, and a crucifix. It has 5 sections of 10 small beads called “decades” simply meaning 10 separated by 2 pieces of chain and 4 larger beads called “Our Father” beads this forms a circle meeting at a centerpiece typically a saint or Mary. Mine personally is the face of Christ. At the bottom of the centerpiece attached by chain is a section of 3 smaller beads or  “Hail Mary” beads attatched between 2 “Our Father” beads and a crucifix at the bottom. My description may be terrible but bare with me. Google an image of a rosary and fill in the hard to understand parts. 

How do I use it?

The traditional method of praying the rosary is started holding the cross and going up then counterclockwise reciting the specified prayer for each bead and chain piece. I use this outline as well. I use the crucifix and first “Our Father” bead to invite God into my prayer and I typically thank Him. I use the first 3 beads for the most pressing prayers for others. The first section of the 10 beads I pray for forgiveness of my sins. The next section is for praise and gloifying God for his attributes or work in my life. The 3rd section is for personal prayers for myself and loved ones. The 4th section is for prayers for the government, community, first responders, the church, prominent atheists, and so forth. The 5th section is for thanking God for specific blessings. I then follow the rest down to the crucifix ending the prayer.

What about the mysteries?

Anyone familiar with the traditional rosary will no doubt know it’s true purpose is to meditate on certain aspects of Jesus’ and, to a lesser extent, Mary’s life. Each day of the week one of 4 segments known as mysteries are meditated on when you get to each “Our Father” bead. I do sometimes meditate on these as well changing 2 of them about Mary that I don’t believe are biblical. I change them to Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road and the verse in Revelation where the angels cry Holy, Holy, Holy. When I meditate on the mystery I also offer it as a prayer such as when I meditate on the resurrection I pray “God resurrect anything good in me that I have let die.” I’ll list the mysteries below both the original and the ones I’ve amended.

The Mysteries of the Rosary:

The Joyful Mysteries:

Mondays and Saturdays; Sundays of Advent and after Epiphany until Lent.
1. The Annunciation: when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary announcing she will be pregnant with Jesus 
2. The Visitation: Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb causing her to say Mary is blessed among women 
3. The Nativity: Jesus is born 
4. The Presentation: Mary and Joseph present the child Jesus in the Temple.
5. The Finding in the Temple: Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple preaching to the Rabbi

The Luminous Mysteries:

1. The Baptism of Jesus: Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and God says “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”
2. The Wedding Feast at Cana: Jesus turns water into wine revealing His glory
3.The Proclamation of the Kingdom: Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming ” The Kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe!”
4. The Transfiguration of Jesus: Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. He is transfigured before them with Moses and Elijah
5. The Institution of the Eucharist: while they are at supper, Jesus blesses the bread and wine saying “this is my body” “this is my blood”

The Sorrowful Mysteries:

Tuesdays and Fridays; Sundays in Lent
1. Agony in the Garden: Jesus suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane as he awaits His arrest
2. The Scourging at the Pillar: Jesus is whipped repeatedly until His body could bear no more.
3. Crowning with Thorns: Jesus is mocked and beaten as a crown of thorns is placed on His head and beaten in.
4.Carrying of the Cross: Jesus carries His cross on His shoulder to Calvary 
5. The Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross and dies after 3 hours of agony

The Glorious Mysteries:

1. The Resurrection: Jesus rises immortal and glorious after 3 days in the grave
2. The Ascension: Jesus ascends into Heaven to be at the right hand of The Father 40 days after His resurrection.
3. Descent of The Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit descends on the apostles in the upper room on Pentecost 
4.The Assumption: Mary is assumed into Heaven. I change this one to Paul’s Damascus Road experience in Acts.
5. The Coronation: Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. I change this one to the scene in Revelation where the angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy is The Lord God Almighty!”

In Conclusion:

I hope to have helped at least one person. While I may have once looked at the rosary as an ancient symbol of piety, the mark of a truly holy man of God, I simply see it now as a tool in the hands of one trying to approach the Holy One. Whether it’s through praying the rosary as it always has been or amending it as I and others have, the purpose is and always will be to grow closer to God through His Son Jesus. I think that’s the point. If I’ve offended anyone who is Catholic by butchering the rosary I sincerely apologize. Catholic or protestant we are all part of the body and bride of Christ and our differences are what makes the bride so beautiful. So full of life. When someone looks at this compilation of people who live and breathe and eat together they may scoff but to the truly seeking heart this mod podge of broken sinners saved by Grace is like a spring where one can see themselves on the surface and quench their thirst for the One who died to save them. If to one man this reads like the scribblings of a heretic I pray to another it looks like words of hope and an answer to their own struggles with prayer. 

Christ and Autism: My Strange Road to Redemption

In my early years when I was first introduced to Christianity it was in a massive Church (the building and the body). In those doors I learnt of Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, Abraham, and Jesus. I knew it was important so I tried to learn all I could. I put up with the belittling jokes and jeers of my peers. The bullying the name calling. Just like school only the school kids were nicer. I did this to learn what I was told was the most important thing ever. The way I learn is to read and ask questions. I fact check and analyze and this is the most important thing EVER! I don’t skimp. What I learned above all was that it seemed many people didn’t know very much at all about this all important thing. The alienation, the questions, the misunderstanding of what is literal and what isn’t lead me to atheism and addiction. I wanted to find answers and I wanted to stop feeling like an alien. This path solved neither but it made me numb. In this time I would take my first glimpses into understanding but only in brief fleeting flashes of clarity. In this dark time I read about Asperger’s syndrome after I related to a character on television and felt like I may have found a clue to my weirdness. With Autism Speaks being the only game in town, however, I thought “that can’t be me. I do want to have friends (well, not like all the time but when I’m lonely) and I do care if other people are upset or don’t like me (though I could rarely tell when either of those were happening)” so I just put the thought to the side. I also heard my first coherent argument for Christianity while watching Bill Maher’s “Religulous” of all things but I saved that one too. Years later I came to a worse place I had been outcast by the only friends I did make and the girl I was engaged to. My mask slipped off as it always does and they knew I was different. I became suicidal. After attempting suicide and taking a few steps forward and a few back I ended up in Pennsylvania across the country from my Florida home. It’s here that God started knocking. I went to a therapist who in turn sent me to rehab. I got to choose which one I went to from a few pamphlets. I chose the one with a golf course and pool. When I arrived I found out the pool was filled in in the ’70’s yet still graces their pamphlet covers and the golf course is adjacent to, not part of, the facility. I say facility but what I mean is an old repurposed hotel, an administration building, a lecture hall, cafeteria, and an old repurposed Amish barn whose wooden rafters were bowed down about 2 feet in the center, creaked and dropped mortar which was now just sand. This is where God really knocked. As I learned the 12 steps I kept coming back to the idea of God being the most important thing again. Everyone said it but these people knew more about God than anyone in that megachurch. As I struggled with believing I remember reading a personal story in “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” and the writer said of himself “who are you to say there’s no God?” I looked around, saw my  surroundings, and felt a feeling I had never felt. I read on in the story to find the writer described that same feeling and said it was God and he prayed. I kneeled in that dusty old wooden barn and did the same. I’d like to say I became an instant saint right then but no. Not even an instant theist. I did save that memory for later. After realizing even in my weirdness people had to listen to me at meetings and sometimes even WANTED to listen I went everyday after I left rehab. Still the partial believer. After several disagreements with my family I stayed with there with and several unfortunate events I took a bus back to Florida. Here I met my wife who lead me to God and then to Christ. I was not an instant Christian. I remembed “Religulous” and the fact there were arguments for Christianity. As I asked questions I found so many scholars whose books I devoured until the day I went to a small dusty church reminiscent of the old barn and gave my life to Christ. Realizing I was still different I remembered the Asperger’s thing. At the same time my local Christian station started airing “The Brant Hansen Show” and as I heard him and recognized myself I knew I was autistic. I told my wife my suspicions but only after taking no less than 25 tests online which all said I definitely had Aspergers. She was hesitant at first to listen. I typically belittle myself and she was worried I was doing that again but no. I was ecstatic. I felt empowered. I finally felt like I belonged. I was terrified I was wrong, though. After another couple of years I told my wife I wanted to get tested by a professional. She found one and I was diagnosed with Aspergers which is now simply autism. After my diagnosis I immersed myself in autistic culture and learned all I could. I realized all of the things I have ever liked about myself as well as all of the things that make me “weird” are all autistic. God made me as I am for a purpose. All of the good and bad that I’ve experienced by being autistic have all been the very things that made me come to faith and build it on strong foundations. When I thank God for of all of the things that he has given me I thank him for my autism too. I thank him for making me unique enough or “weird” enough to make a difference. My prayer is that all “weird” people have the opportunity to see just how much God loves them and just how important they are. God loves weird people. Just look at who he chose to be disciples.