Open Doors, How Charity Operates, and Social Media Outrage

Note: I wrote this before drinking coffee. If some of the sentences don’t make sense, I apologize. I mean every word I said though.

So the meme is finally challenged after Hurricane Harvey. Years ago, someone created a familiar meme referencing Lakewood, one of the biggest churches in the United States, headed by a rich pastor named Joel Osteen. Due to it’s huge size, the meme creator challenges Christians to build communities that fight social injustice and help the poor, down-and-out, and the needy. With churches these large in North America, they can house at least two to five thousand people. So, where is this referenced Lakewood church located you ask? That’s right! It’s in Houston Texas! The epicentre of the hurricane that is not only flooding Texas, but social media commentary as well.

I personally had to endure Mr Osteen’s preaching while taking Master’s Commission years ago. I looked at this three-piece suit pastor with a huge Bible held high in his hand and believed that one day I would become a successful speaker like he was.

Then after flashing that shiny “Benedict Cumberbatch-ish” signature smile, he started speaking.

He talked about faith the size of a mustard seed and how with that small amount of faith, I can overcome obstacles in my daily life while making a difference in the world for Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, what Osteen failed to mention in that sermon was that Jesus was using sarcasm with his disciples because they wanted to smite non-believers with superpowers from heaven (I had to figure that one out myself by researching Jewish culture and the depth of Jesus’ character using a huge multitude of mixed sources). Perhaps one has to pay to hear that part of the message. Or maybe Osteen says something like that in his book “Your Best Life Now” (I doubt it though).

Before I digress too much, I don’t want to be judgy of the way Lakewood handled turning its church into a homeless shelter, but I already did judge him. It’s difficult not to judge a televangelist when all I’ve experienced since leaving Masters was years of pain, suffering, deeper spiritual discovery, and growing up in faith and experience. Those experiences and a deeper intimacy with God have brought a new mindset where I have to take life on day by day without denying that the struggle is real. Mr. Osteen’s messages aren’t very deep or challenging at all, they paint life with spiritual sunshine lollipops and rainbows, and give Christians the sense they’re easily entitled to blessing, healing, prosperity, and emotional well-being. Compared to a lot of the other lessons God has taught me since 2012, these mindsets are actually much more destructive than helpful. And it attracts a lot of people who go to his church. Most individuals attending for the first time aren’t satisfied with what they have, and after going through their own pain while trying to live up to Osteen’s teaching will not be satisfied with what they want if they do get it. One of the biggest things God has taught me was that having “my best life now” is secondary to being loyal, obedient, and faithful to Jesus Christ and responsive to the Holy Spirit while struggling hard with Aspergers and autism. Yup, I digressed too much.

I originally wanted to talk about how charitable organizations work. Note that I’m speaking from experience as a call-centre worker taking credit card donations for The Salvation Army Canada over the phone.  I was constantly bombarded with calls rebuking The Salvation Army for not accepting any other donations except money. It’s important to understand that when a  disaster hits, travel and shipment of goods or supplies for survival become unpredictable.  Trucks and cars will hit trees or pieces of buildings that block various critical roadways to certain destinations resulting in slower traffic and shipments. Flying supplies in bulk have to go through various screening and vetting to prevent terrorism on top of keeping goods safe for flood or hurricane victims. Every charitable donation accepts money first because money is easily transferable via digital bank accounts, Paypal, or money orders. When that money is transferred in a matter of seconds, intact places close to a disaster with abundant supply of what people need can accept the money quickly and as a result, ship the paid supplies to the injured and starving parties of a disaster in a matter of hours. When donors of food, clothes, or even medicine hear that from me while I’m on the phone with them taking their credit card info, they get extremely upset, hang up, and sometimes are even more harsh than all the social media posts tweeted out by Tump-supporters and “Liberal babies.” This is why Lakewood updated their webpage first with a form to donate towards relief for Hurricane Harvey first before officially announcing doors were open.

Another issue is crowd control. If Lakewood opened up their doors, a huge crowd of people barging into the church like it was Black Friday would result in injury. As a result, a meeting had to be held to decide how to properly handle the large crowds of people that are coming in who are starving, injured, or possibly dying. Volunteers had to be delegated tasks. To make sure everyone’s doing their job, management strategies had to be employed. I wish the process would be sped up, but organization has to be firm and well in place to ensure no lives are lost. I’m sure Jesus and his disciples had a system in place when giving out five loaves and two fishes, but unfortunately, even Jesus himself couldn’t help everyone physically while He was on Earth even with all the miracles He performed. Neither could Lakewood even with its doors wide open. Not everyone makes it. I don’t agree with how God runs the show like this either, but that’s life.

However, I can understand the rage behind social media when it comes to the way Lakewood runs. My issue with Lakewood’s handling of the issue is with communication. They mentioned their acceptance of various non-monetary donations on Twitter before officially tweeting less than 24 hours ago they were receiving people who need shelter along with coordinating with the city of Houston. If I was running from a natural disaster, the first thing I’d be thinking about is hiding safely under a roof that will keep me from getting hit from debris (or in other cases hail) flying in the wind.  Food would be second. Clothing would be the last thing on my mind when trying to find a place of security from weather.

In social media, timing is everything. Posting at the right time helps to avoid controversy. The rage from social media was rising even quicker than the floodwaters. As confirmed by a Fox News broadcast, Lakewood didn’t see it coming, but as a Christian, one of the first things that popped up in my mind as Harvey unleashed hell was what Joel Osteen was doing for his congregation and if his church doors were open. I even tweeted my discontent at the lack of news sources (tweets now deleted). Lakewood should have been aware of the backlash they would have faced since they may have gotten a lot of criticism for “Your Best Life Now” and some of Mr Osteen’s sermons for Christians that left some of his congregation starving for a deeper relationship with God and not just something to feel good.

I’m not saying all this in criticism of Lakewood Church. Many companies with the ability to support others just aren’t that quick on the draw when it comes to their connection with people, both online and offline. This is the case with organizations like Catholic Relief Services, The Humane Society of the United States, and The Red Cross. When it comes to spreading news of humanitarian causes, this needs to change. The bar is much higher than a lot of companies think. Social media isn’t a playground and it shouldn’t be the troll-infested battlefield it is today.

There are sheep and there are shepherds. Being prepared to face the farm animals who communicate hate, controversy, accountability, and a need for honour requires armor, preparation, strategy, a really long stick, and tactful response. I’m not just talking about Hurricane Harvey or the exhausting threads of outrage culture. I’m talking about life itself. If Joel Osteen’s Sunday sermons can teach us how to fight in a hard struggle with God by our side and how to properly respond to life’s obstacles instead of how easy it is to obtain blessings that we want right now, many more Christians will be able to take on the Hurricane Harveys in their own lives. Maybe this natural disaster and social media backlash will help Mr Osteen write about how content we should be with what we have so we’re satisfied with what we want. I pray this happens, but I’m not confident that it will.

Making Peace: Autism and Acceptance

I attended a geek/fandom-based bible study last year. It’s a small group full of Christians who are into geeky things. It’s pretty cool actually. We were talking about Pokemon, Jonah Chapter 4, and making peace that evening. I’m not a Pokemon fan but I have tried one of the early RPGs on a Gameboy and can see why it would be so much fun to get into. I thought of something when it came to making peace and acceptance of autism that evening but it came to me while walking home from the bible study rather than earlier in community.

While I brag hard about accepting autism as a part of my identity, the hardest thing for someone like me to make peace with is accepting the daily struggle. I deal with quirks that are incurable and there are times when I’d rather live as if Aspergers doesn’t exist. Last year, I have made peace with the fact that God doesn’t have to answer to me, although he answers my prayers HE feels should be answered. I made peace with the fact that God will somehow use Aspergers through me for His glory, even though part of me for a fact knows that this seems rationally ridiculous.

Religion tries to make Aspergers an obstacle or a “demon” to be dealt with. Certain sects of Christianity claim that autism and Aspergers is just a lie and something I can easily get over. These are wrong on so many scientific, psychological, and even spiritual outlooks. Real spirituality accepts what can’t be humanly changed, but relies on the wisdom of a deity to work with the gifts and the weaknesses Aspergers brings to the forefront (but not be a fruitcake like hyper-pentecostals and what not).

Some days Aspergers is a curse. In times when I socialize, I feel stressed and overwhelmed. Sometimes when I work, I want to break down and cry like a baby. Many other days Aspergers is a gift. In times when I create these blog posts, in times when I write and perform or spin music, in times when I pray and meditate, I feel like I shine, even when no one is watching.

I’m not sure how I can end this post. I’ve been praying the serenity prayer lately because sometimes I’m not even sure what to pray to ensure God’s will happens for some of my situations and not my own. So I’ll end with this; if you struggle with autism or Aspergers and am not sure what to pray, here’s the serenity prayer that you can use:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen. – – Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Will My Autistic Friend/Child Be Saved? Autism and Romans 10:9

Disclaimer: The words in the post may or may not be edited as I’m still trying to figure things out with the Lord’s help. I understand it’s a very sensitive subject and will be eventually consulting with Christians who minister with mental abuse or work in autistic ministries to help me polish this post.

Not sure how to give an intro into this post. However, I found a testimony about a heart-breaking story regarding a parent who wants her son to receive a powerful spiritual encounter with Jesus. This may be a good place to start. Here’s her story.

My son has been diagnosed with autism but we know it has a spiritual component. I have been praying for him and we know that whether it is part of the autism or not, there is an irrational spiritual fear. I read to him the Bible and try to work with him and so do his teachers, but they think he has autism. We aren’t fighting that (the autism), but we are certain some of his problems are spiritual and due to abuse from outside family members and “friends,” especially the fears and certain odd behaviors. Please pray for him that he receives and becomes a servant of Jesus Christ, because I am convinced that will help him. He has some limited understanding of the Gospel and God has revealed to me that the fear expression (both facial and verbal) that precedes some of his behavior is spiritual and would be helped if he places his trust in Jesus.

I’ll cover the behaviors of autism and spiritual abuse in a later post. I’m not an expert at that subject, but I do want to share my own story of spiritual abuse (also in a later post). While I do believe some behaviors are caused by spiritual abuse and damage from social PTSD, I believe in a God who can remove fear of man and limited understanding of the Gospel. Since behaviors are conditions and habits that are linked to free will, I feel that Christ can only walk alongside a person struggling with autism while giving them the strength to choose reconditioning of their quirks or behaviors that aren’t central to autism.

While I really don’t like saying some of this part, let me apologetically recap with a bit of Christianity 101 and why all humans need Jesus:

Romans 5:12 says “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men.” This scripture is one of a lot (including Ephesians 2:3 and Psalm 51:5) that indicates that every person regardless of race, status, or track record is born into sin. With the exception of Jesus, every single human is sinful from conception in the womb. Roman’s 3:10 says this clearly “There is no one righteous, not even one.” When Adam ate the fruit, he infected the human race. We all are born from Adam and therefore inherit his original sin. This means that autistic individuals and those with Aspergers are sinful. Their nature is evident everyday, as humanity, even myself, is rebellious and care most about themselves and fulfilling their own needs. It’s pretty obvious when you look around you and it’s getting worse by the second.

The Bible also says that as sinful people, we only have one way into heaven. That way is through faith in Jesus Christ, the son of God. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We are commanded to give up our own desires and sinful nature and put our faith and live our lives only for Jesus. Acts 17:30 reads, “he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Moreover, we are commanded to be obedient to Him. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 indicates that “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” If we do not set our hearts to go after Jesus Christ, damnation awaits us. As much as I don’t like to say it, this is the reason why I’m writing this post. I don’t want autistic individuals to suffer the damnation I just described.

Now, let’s focus on the question. Can an autistic person or an Aspie be saved by Jesus Christ and his amazing grace? Let me come right out and say it, yes they can. Can an Aspie encounter Jesus? I’m living proof that that has happened.

What puzzles me is the way fellow Christians judge those with autism by measuring their faith by fruits that they can’t bear due to their condition. Obviously, those fellow Christians need to take a good look at themselves before determining if someone with autism is saved or not.

Romans 10:9 says that if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. But if an autistic person is non-verbal but believes in his heart, what happens when he dies? I don’t want to answer that question directly. It has the potential to open a can of worms that should stay closed.

I’ve been reading through 1 Samuel 13 – 16. Isreal’s King Saul had been given a mission to wipe the Amalekites clean off the map. While the mission was to completely destroy everything, Saul kept the best sheep and cattle. The prophet Samuel knew that Saul’s heart was central to the plunder from the countries Isreal was at war with. Samuel did not break this to Saul gently. Even though Saul knew what was wrong, he lost his annointing as king which was carried over to David, the son of Jesse. Saul was considered the Fabio of Isreal in the Old Testament while David and the line of Jesse were considered nothing worth much more than street urchins.  Eventually even with visual lack of strength, David showed his devotion to God by taking down the giant Goliath. David made mistakes constantly, but God knew that his heart belonged the Father.

So let’s say an autistic person always loves reading the Bible but can’t speak or type words into a computer. Let’s also say that he does nothing else besides take it all in. A Christian from a huge mega-church could go out and say that this autistic person can’t build God’s kingdom because only by speaking the Gospel or writing out their own testimony will they be able to bring others into His Kingdom.

But what if a hypothetical law has been brought into North America, and all churches had to be burned down with Christians in them? What if Christians had to be lined up to be slaughtered before an alter?

Let’s say this actually did happen and one of the church attendees was a boy with autism who had been reading the Bible and hardly doing anything else with his time besides eating and sleeping. The general who would give the order for the firing squad to kill off the Christians yells for them to get ready and aim. All the Christians cringe ready for the bullets, full of fear of dying because they didn’t win souls in a war on evangelical culture.
But wait..the autistic boy pulls out his Bible, steps out from the crowd. He looks up to heaven, and even though he’s none-verbal, screams in happiness toward the roof raising his Bible high and proud while the firing squad wets the boy up with huge slugs of metal.

After the firing squad comes to grips with the epiphany of a life they had taken, some of them walk out of the church with tears running down their faces. Some of them may even be talking to God himself and deciding to repent and explore what just happened. The general only becomes more angry and sadly guns down all the other Christians with a shotgun. The story contains no happy ending at all.

I’m sorry for creating an R-rated picture to illustrate my point that man looks at the appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). You as the reader are probably still puzzled because I didn’t directly answer the question. Maybe that child didn’t directly win people to God. Or did he? Did the child who was shot by the firing squad go to heaven? Not sure, but I am pretty sure that his cry to God came from his heart though. There are deeper ways to take this discussion but I should wrap it up shortly here.

Even with the fact that I have problems memorizing different things in the Bible due to my own struggle with Aspergers, I still encounter God and still hear him even if I don’t know Him fully yet. Spirituality is a journey. Spirituality is a relationship with God, not a religion. It’s not about knowing all the answers or conforming to something while knowing all the answers. It’s simply a life-long chase and quest for encounters with a God who wants to connect with people who live by faith.

What can we learn from this? There’s so much grey and not a lot of black and white. To me, that’s perfectly okay.

The question we need to ask isn’t if a child or friend with autism is saved. The question we need to ask is what’s in the heart of an autistic person or an Aspie when they read the Bible, participate in church, or interact with other people?