Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cookie-Cutter Fallout

Last night, I ran into a friend I'd not seen in several years. The last I knew, he was doing well and had recently married. Three years later, the picture has changed.

My friend has Asperger's syndrome, something we know a bit about because our youngest daughter has it also. Asperger's is on the autism scale and those who deal with it are, to put it bluntly, socially clueless. These people have limited (sometimes very limited) capability for social interaction. They are not stupid; my friend is much smarter than I. They just do not get the nonverbal aspects of communication--the facial clues, body language, emotional clues we all pick up on. They prefer to be alone; my wife has read that Asperger syndrome is the one disability that goes away when the person is by himself.

My friend also spent several years in a church that left a bad mark on him. It was a Calvinist congregation and its members were all, it seems, cut from the same cloth. I say this because both of these factors (the Calvinist doctrine and the conformity) hurt my friend. He doesn't play life safe; he's a born adventurer. The folks at his church just didn't get him, didn't know how to relate to him or how to accept him for what he was. And he, with some serious issues that he faced again and again, began to wonder if he were one of the damned, one of those outside the elect. No atonement for him, it seems.

You have to understand something about my friend: I would entrust my life to him. I don't say that lightly. I would put my life in his hands knowing full well that he would guard it as best he could. I don't understand everything about him but I know that he is honest with me and has let me see things in him that few, if any, others have seen. You can't have that kind of openness with someone else and not love that person.

I wish I were better at accepting people as they are. I wish I loved each one I met perfectly, even when that one is not like me--even when that one is a reprehensible flagrant sinner. That's how Jesus loved; that was one of the things he was criticized for. In the case of my friend, I've been able to do this where others haven't. I wish they saw him for what he is and not for what they want him to be.

Why has Christianity come to mean conformity to someone other than Christ? Why do we think He is so small that I and I alone express Him, and all that is not like me is not like Him?

Many wounded believers I've met have felt that pressure to conform to a certain image of faith. I've done it too. I remember the time 20 years ago when, while cleaning a church with some friends, I plopped in a Petra cassette. The pastor came out of his office and politely let me know that I couldn't put that cassette in the church's tape deck. I never let him know about my Rez Band tapes. . . and I guarded parts of my personality from him. I didn't feel free to let him know that Fahrenheit 451, for example, was one of my favorite books; that I re-read The Lord of the Rings about every 18 months and was interested in philosophy and hated fishing (back then, that is). I reflected back for him the image of himself that he wanted to see in me. That was safe. That won approval and the chance to minister in his church.

I can't help but wonder about the ways I try to force people into my own mold. What I long for is a place where I can be free to express who I am, grow into maturity, and love without holding back. But am I as willing to give that as I am longing to get it?

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