Sensing Too Much – Spiritual Autism. Or why churches should be careful of pastors who would flunk monastery!

I love “inputs.” If you imagined me with lots of electronic outlets and inputs that wires get plugged into, that would be about right.

It’s not noise that I need. I need to be sensing, wondering, thinking, “what iffying.” A lot of the time, this gets me into trouble because in my heart and mind I am always moving on. I can do routine, at least to some degree. Most of the things of life I manage to some degree of acceptability. Never had a bank overdraft. I change my car oil on time, before time. I can’t remember being late for a meeting. I am one of those “better two hours early than five minutes late” whackos. Don’t know where it came from. I think it mostly had to do with being an early morning paper route kid from age 12 to 18. Never had the teenage syndrome of sleeping in til 1 pm. A couple of times waking up late and dealing with seniors who didn’t have their newspaper on time cured me of tardiness. I still wake up at 4:30am or before, even if I don’t get out of bed, though mostly I do.

But I digress.

One of the things that I regularly run into in ministry is people who don’t love “inputs.” Not the “I don’t want to do anything for Jesus” kind of people. But the people who are looking for safe places, natural rhythms, predictable zones. Sensing too much going on gets them hyped and they start feeling out of place. They are lost when it comes to plugging into the moving escalator of ministry programming and getting it all done.

I think there are lots of these people. When I was doing recovery work with Celebrate Recovery, I ran into whole groups with this kind of issue. Easily overloaded. Not sure where it comes from. But life gets overwhelming awful quick for lots of people. they shrink, retreat, hide – but try to connect.

This link to a posting by Andrew Sullivan calls to mind how much many people have to struggle with sensory overload at the level of autism. It has a great video capturing how the “normal” world feels to a person who is autistic. But I think it relates to a broader spectrum than we might first imagine.

I find myself to be the kind of person these kind of people stay away from. I overload them. Loading is not what it is about for them. They seek good things like love, trust, safety, loyalty, honor and reciprocity. I seek those things, too. (I think!!) But not in a way that slows things down but speeds them up. CR is where things had to slow down so that connection could speed up. If you go to any recovery meeting, the routine is predictable. Almost like the Mass at a Roman Catholic church. It’s about not getting confused, staying focused, using ritual to make it through because it is so easy to wander.

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, speaks of this phenomenon in the RC church. A short, predictable embodiment of spiritual focus is much more effective, he asserts, in keeping an addict in the now of recovery. Keep the ritual going! As soon as you introduce elements of surprise, creativity, and spontaneous human invention, the mind and spirit are destabilized. This is my phrasing, but I think I am faithful to Rolheiser’s point.

It takes a certain amount of faith to do church this way in my Evangelical tradition. We were taught early on that it is about getting so many rears into so many seats and getting so many responses. The Pastor is program leader and cheerleader. Rah, rah, rah. It works!! And immediately, too. So immediately that you think it will last forever. It doesn’t. Because what you get them to attend for you must continue to give them. Or, as they say, what you win them with you must keep them with. No game changing. Churches that “bait and switch” create a lot of “customers” who are always looking for the next best bait. And soon every week as to be “better” than the last week. And when it doesn’t, the customers get restless.

I am wandering a bit myself here, but I wonder if the church as I know it creates too much stuff, always treating people like walking input devices into which the church is trying to stick wires. More people than we know refuse this. We don’t know because they are not there. Maybe there is more spiritual autism out there than we have thought about, more ADHD.

Maybe extroverted, hyped up and overextended pastors are not the solution to much of anything. Maybe a longer stint in a monastery for a while would do the pastors and the churches they serve some good. Being all present to the parishioners in the now of today rather than cooking up five year plans might do more good in twenty years than four 5 year plans. I wonder who has the courage.

Critiques of The Shack continue to roll in – this time Randy Alcorn pitches in

Here is Alcorn’s critique.

I continue to have serious disagreement with those who take The Shack too seriously and hold it responsible for teaching a full-orbed and balanced Doctrine of God. They expect it to do more heavy lifting than I think it can do, or should do.

I need to go back, read it again, enjoy it again and critique the critiques more knowledgeably. ┬áThere is a lot I have forgotten. But the one thing I have not forgotten is that the picture of inter-Trinitarian love and fellowship taught me more about the nature of God than I ever learned in seminary. Yes, I know there are pieces missing. But I buy into the joy!! I buy into the delight of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in each other. The Shack fills in that picture in a way that seminary can’t touch, or didn’t.

I buy into the priority of love. Evangelicals always want us to balance the holiness and love of God. Fair. But there is no doubt in my mind that in the final analysis, it is love that endures to the end. The Revelation certainly gives a picture of worship of the holy. That is never a missing piece. But it is the Immanuel Principle which is at the heart of the covenants – God with us.

All writers who come close to the love of God and sense its power struggle with universalism. In the final analysis it must be rejected because the Bible rejects it. But the heart of the saint is so moved by the love of God that it is seen as the final force of the universe. To read their writings is to feel them saying “don’t you wish it was true?” Love can have such power and dynamism that evil at times seems as the nothing it is – a mere absence, hollowness, per Augustine. Evil is not so much an “is” as an “is not.” Of course, this is not to deny the realities of the Holocaust, the 20 million deaths under Stalin or 60 million under Mao in China. But is a recognition that once one is thoroughly encased in Romans 8, the love of God is the Final Solution.

Alcorn’s concerns are valid. The problem is that novels are not written for the purpose of balance. Perhaps the only solution is never to write a novel that has God as a character. But this would be more a loss than a gain.

I haven’t listened to these lectures on the end times but you should

I grew up in a church where the end times was part and parcel to each Sunday’s worship. I think I am the better off for it! It taught me that alertness and vigilance are at the root of the drama, not some sleepy liturgical mantra. It was all heart and soul. I never really understood or cared much for the charts and exact dating. Even as a child I knew that this added some fizz for some but it felt bizarre to me. And yet I never lost the thrill of the “anytime” factor of Jesus’ return.

Ligonier ministries has a series of teachings on the end times that covers the bases. I haven’t listened to them. I think I know pretty much what is there. but if you are interested in end times thinking in the church and want to get a hold of it, this would be a good place to start.

I self-identify as an amillenialist. It covers the largest amount of the data and offers the simplest explanation for the variety and diversity of the data. Premillenialism and in particular dispensationalism gets very strange very quick and takes on the glow of science fiction to me.

Some day I would like to do a series on Revelation with the commentary I Saw Heaven Opened by Michael Wilcock at my side. Tremper Longman’s commentary on Daniel is one of the best. Tremper was my Hebrew teaching assistant in seminary – a man of balance and scholarship with no axes to grind.

I commend both of these books to you.

If I announced at church that I was preaching on the end times, all kinds of people would show up. But they wouldn’t be back for the second teaching!! The topic has been so sensationalized that anything less than a literal Armaggedon that includes Russia and Israel won’t do.