A FLOOD OF REACTIONS By Rebecca Goche, Final Year M. Div.

The following comments are Becky’s from the convocation. Interspersed with her comments are several quotes (in italics) from the sermon she references. The scriptural texts were 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a and Luke 8:26-39 (the Gerasene demoniac).

 

I want to share an experience with you from my internship this past year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. I had the privilege to preach the week following the mass shooting at the gay nightclub, The Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. I felt led by the Holy spirit to preach from my unique perspective as a lesbian.

I experienced a flood of reactions. I was angry. I was sad. I was numb. And I was afraid. Just like Elijah in our 1 Kings reading today, I wanted to find a cave and hide in it. I wanted to hide from the storm of emotions raging inside of me. I wanted to hide from the rabid, non-stop media coverage. I wanted to hide from those who condoned these killings in God’s name because they believe that homosexuals like me should not be allowed to exist. I wanted to hide from the trite statements about prayer from those who just weeks ago were spewing hate against my transgender siblings as to which public restroom they can use. I wanted to hide from those who were offering up another Muslim as another scapegoat to another mass shooting. And I wanted to hide from those people who feel that it’s necessary to minimize those who had died and were injured by saying, “All lives matter, not just LGBTQ lives”. But I heard a voice deep inside of me ask as I was searching for my cave, “What are you doing here, Becky?”

It was a gut-wrenching experience for me to both write and deliver this sermon because I knew that the words that I chose to use would elicit strong responses. These responses ranged from icy, cold stares to warm embraces that enveloped me with love that I can still feel today. I want to share a portion of an email that I received from a lesbian woman who heard my sermon. She wrote:

“Dear Becky…I want you to know how important it has been for me to hear sermons from you and Pastor Rachel that boldly proclaim God’s love and acceptance of LGBT people. I always thought I was lucky that while I was growing up my pastors never preached hate ad never told me I’d go to hell. I had other church members tell me that, but my pastors never did. But that wasn’t enough. I sat in the choir loft every Sunday, sometimes quite confused about my sexuality, and I just got silence on the matter. Homosexuality was not something we talked about in church. I had a couple of mentors in my church who made it a point to let me know that God loved me even if I was a lesbian and they never judged me – thank God for them. But it’s different to hear that message from a pulpit. Until I heard you and Pastor Rachel preach, I had never heard a pastor mention LGBT people and issues in church. Most of the time I just felt like that part of my life didn’t belong in church. But you and Pastor Rachel changed that for me. So thank you for being brave in your sermons and letting all of us know how loved we are.”

Inclusive language matters because words are powerful.

It is easy to view another’s life as not worthy and expendable if you do not see him or her as a human being in the first place. Throughout history we have examples of what happens when people are de-humanized – the witch trials and executions of women, the mass killings and corralling on reservations of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, the Jewish Holocaust, and the internment of Japanese Americans. And still to this day acts of violence happen at higher rates to people of color, LGBTQ people, women, children, and to those who suffer from mental illnesses, addictions, poverty, and homelessness. We push the “others” to the edges of society through our systems of unjust laws and through economic disparity. We sometimes even use or interpret the Bible in such a way that it seems to strengthen our case against those whom we perceive as other. And then we demonize the people even further by attaching names like “the savages, the blacks, the illegal aliens, the terrorists, the fags,” and so many other derogatory names. In this story, the man doesn’t seem to know who he is anymore and simply calls himself the name that’s been attached to him – Legion.

And then Jesus arrives on the scene in this amazing story. The Gerasene man asks, “What are you doing here, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And really, what is Jesus doing there…ignoring social and religious boundaries to reach Legion?…Jesus does not show up to reinforce the way things are in this community…When Jesus shows up, the kingdom of God starts happening. The world is turned upside down…This man, who was once considered an “other” and known only by the name attached to him, has now become Jesus’ disciple in Gentile territory…Jesus met him right where he was at. Jesus will meet you and me right where we’re at, too.

As church leaders, you and I have a responsibility to take great care in the words that we use, and do not use—for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

DISCUSSION SUMMARY OF “INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE, INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY” CONVOCATION compiled by Kirsten Lee, Second Year M. Div.

Students, faculty, staff, and guests gathered in Von Schwartz Refectory this fall for the first convocation of the WTS 2016-2017 academic year, focusing on “Inclusive Language, Inclusive Community.” Hosted by Professor Nathan Frambach, Professor Thomas Schattauer spoke, and students Becky Goche and Chris Lee also shared personal experiences, all of which are included in this edition of The Persistent Voice.  Those who gathered discussed the following questions through many table conversations, and additional conversation was had via Zoom for off-site learners.  Second Year M. A. student Kathryn Kvamme gathered the discussion notes from each question.

Begin by allowing time for each person to share “where you are at” with regard to using inclusive and expansive language. What commitments do you bring to the conversation? Identify motivations for using inclusive and expansive language.

  • We recognize this is a theological issue.  Who is God? How does the image we use to describe God influence how we see God and think about God?
  • We recognize that this is an ‘old’ topic and while we have made progress there is still much growth that still needs to occur. At the same time, we realize that this is a new topic for some, one that may be confusing and even alarming.  Numerous examples were shared on how we can be more inclusive with our language and the challenges in doing so.  For example, repeating ‘rise if you are able’ serves as a reminder for some of something they know they cannot do. Another example was shared about a young girl who questioned “If Jesus tells his disciples to be fishers of men, does Jesus want women to follow him?”   Lastly, a question was raised of how we handle the often used “Father” language.
  • There is a commitment at WTS to bring more awareness to using inclusive language in our daily language.  We also commit to helping people become more aware, without coercion, as we educate, explore, struggle and rejoice together.

How can we best carry out our collective calling and commitment to live together in mutually respectful communities where all persons are honored? What specifically can we do? What is challenging to you in this calling and commitment?

  • There is a need to listen to the less dominant voices present in our communities so that a greater variety of voices are heard and considered.   Intentional, careful listening is necessary in order to hear everyone’s voices.
  • Inclusive language goes beyond the topic of gender.  Just as people are more than their gender, so too ought our conversations be broader and deeper.
  • Creativity and patience are necessary in having these discussions.  We practice respect and create safe learning environments to have these discussions. We strive to listen with open minds and hearts while being secure in our non-negotiable points.

The following questions were also offered for the table conversations, but due to time constraints, discussion was limited. Nevertheless, these are important questions to keep in mind as we continue to develop the practice of inclusive language.

Invite each person to share an expansive image of God that has been and/or is meaningful and important in your journey of faith.

How can we provide leadership that helps congregations embrace the practice of consistently using inclusive and expansive language in all aspects of our life together? Furthermore, how can we help re-frame predominant (and often stereotypical) views on what is “normal” to include all persons in the body of Christ, regardless of ability or any other “isms”?

As we go out into our communities away from Wartburg, these questions can act as springboards for future thought and dialogue.  We pray and ask God to guide us as we go about our work, joyfully spreading the Good News.

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE FROM BEING IN THE ARMY By Marlow Carrels, Final Year M. Div., Captain, U.S. Army

For many this claim might be problematic, but for me it is true that the Army places no gender in one’s title. Now do not misconstrue my meaning here, yes the Army presents different restrooms, maternity clothes, and there are some occupations that are still “male only” (though that battle wages). Instead I am speaking of your title, your name, your identity. Upon entering the Army I stood in a little room surrounded by others and we all raised our right hands and took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After that day we were no longer individuals, punks, hicks, popular kids, brains, geeks, freaks, music nerds, or kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Instead we were very much a body that went by one name; we were an Army of O.N.E. We were an Army of Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Enlisted personnel. But we were, all of us, soldiers first and foremost.

From that day forward we were no longer male or female, instead we were very much a body that went by one name. We never got our gender back in our titles, because it didn’t matter. For my entire career I have been a soldier, a warrior, a hero, a Sargeant, a Sar’int, a Cadet, an Officer, a Lieutenant, a Captain. Members of the Army have no gender when they are spoken to, when they are praised, when they are admonished. They are called their rank or their specialty. Their place in our ranks has nothing to do with their gender, but how well they do their job. Granted, I say all of this as an Army Officer who is male, Caucasian, and straight, who may not be fully privy to what many female service members experience. Challenges remain. Although much progress has been made since the days of exclusion or segregation because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, people still face discrimination and sexual abuse. I speak here of inclusive language and its potential for working together.

With this in mind I look to God and cannot think of gender. The Officer Corps has no gender; the NCO Corps has no gender; the Lower Enlisted has no gender. Your gender does not matter to the Big Green Machine, nor does gender matter when we speak of the Godhead. The Godhead simply is. The Godhead, the Great I Am, the infinitely named and edified calls us to become one. When we are baptized we are baptized into the Body of Christ and our titles are not to be gendered. We are simply Christian, baptized, sinners, and saints, ministers of Christ. Called by the Holy Spirit, we come, regardless of our names, our titles, our very self-identity, and bow down before the God who cradles our lives.

 

WHO GIVES VOICE TO ABUSED CHILDREN? By Victor I. Vieth, 2nd Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI

In the 28 years I have worked with and for abused children, I have learned three things.

First, I learned that love and courage is often found in the midst of great sorrow. I know children who wrapped their bodies around a sibling to absorb the blows meant for a brother or sister. I know children who risked their lives by sneaking food or toys into the room of a sibling being tortured. I know children who bravely testified about sexual abuse even though their entire church had condemned them for speaking the truth. In many of these instances, the children expressed forgiveness, even compassion for those who hurt them.

Second, I have learned to see Jesus through the eyes of children. A survivor of abuse once told me she loves Jesus because he is a descendant of a sexually exploited woman (Heb 11:31; Mt 1:5; Josh 2). A boy told me he knew it was OK to flee his abusive parents because Jesus fled those who tried to kill him (Mt 2:16). Many survivors have told me they found the courage to stand up to their churches because Jesus challenged religious leaders who failed to practice “justice and mercy” (Mt. 23:23). Many survivors have found understanding in a God who was also a victim of abuse. To the survivors I’ve known, the radical words of Christ concerning children (e.g. Mt. 18:6; 18:10; 21:15-16; Luke 10:21), take on a much deeper meaning than for most of us.

Third, children have taught me to look for the “faithful remnant” (1 Ki 19:1-18). With the possible exception of the earliest days of Christianity, the church has seldom been a friend of abused children and, in many instances, has directly contributed to the abuse of children (e.g. Michael D’Antonio, Mortal Sins). Nonetheless, maltreated children have helped me see that although the church has largely abandoned them, there are often individual Christians who will extend a hand or go the extra mile even when doing so jeopardizes their career. This is the invisible church known only to God and those who are suffering.

 

A WITNESS: THE HAITI EARTHQUAKE, A SONG, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION Book Review by WTS Professor Norma Cook Everist

Print

Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.

Renee

RENEE SPLICHAL LARSON

is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

TEN THINGS THE CHURCH CAN DO TO HELP ABUSED CHILDREN By Victor I. Vieth, 1st Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI

 

“It is to the little children we must preach,
it is for them that the entire ministry exists.”
–Martin Luther

The academy awarding winning movie Spotlight has again focused attention on the relatively recent and widespread failure of the church to protect children from abuse or to respond with compassion when abuse is discovered. Although the church has made important strides in the past twenty-five years, church policies and training continue to lag behind research and what many national experts consider best practice. Although this article includes a checklist for improving church responses to the needs of maltreated children, it begins where it should–with the teachings of our Lord and an exploration of early church views on the maltreatment of children.

Jesus, child abuse and early church history

Jesus scolded the disciples for keeping children away from him and warned that it would be better to be drowned in the sea with a millstone around our neck than to hurt a child (Matthew 18:6). Jesus also had strong words for those who preached in His name but failed to care for those who were suffering—promising to one day tell these false Christians “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:41-45).

The early Christians took seriously the words of Jesus and distinguished themselves by opposing the abuse and neglect of children that was common in the Greco-Roman world. In his book Bad Faith, Dr. Paul Offit writes:

Jesus’s message of love for children was embraced by his followers…the church was the first institution to provide refuge for abandoned children [and] the church put pressure on the state to legislate against practices that endangered children.

Ten things the church can to do help abused and neglected children:

  1. Make sure church child protection policies meet minimal standards 

The Centers for Disease Control has promulgated guidelines to assist churches and other youth serving organizations in developing and implementing child protection policies. The CDC guidelines, published under the heading Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth Serving Organizations, are free and online. All churches should review and adhere to these guidelines.

  1. Make sure child protection policies address all forms of abuse

Most child protection policies, including those promulgated by the CDC, focus only on preventing child sexual abuse within a church or another organization. Although commendable, these policies exclude from protection children who are physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected. These policies also fail to protect most sexually abused children since the vast majority of these children are violated in their own homes. Since it is inconceivable that Jesus wanted his followers to protect only a fraction of the abused children in our pews, churches must expand their policies to include all the children in their care.

  1. Require pastors and other called workers, as well as all staff working with children, to be rigorously trained in recognizing and responding to child abuse and neglect

According to numerous studies, the vast majority of clergy and other mandated reporters fail to report even obvious signs of child abuse. When working with survivors, clergy often fail to make appropriate referrals or to coordinate pastoral care with medical and mental health care. In these and other failures, a lack of training plays a significant role. Seminaries should work with child protection experts in addressing this issue before graduating clergy or other called workers and major denominations should require continuing education on these issues.

  1. Provide personal safety education to children participating in church programs 

According to several studies, children are more likely to disclose abuse if they have received personal safety education. This instruction is easily provided and numerous organizations, including the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, have a wealth of information to help churches in providing this essential instruction.

  1. Develop effective child protection and faith collaborations 

The Office of Victims of Crime encourages churches to collaborate with child protection agencies. In Minnesota, for example, an organization called Care in Action helps churches connect with child protection agencies to meet the needs of abused and neglected children in their communities. When an abused child has a need the government can’t provide, such as the entry fee to little league baseball, faith communities share this need with their parishioners and, invariably, one or more Christians agree to help. It is a simple way for churches to share their faith—and to make at least a small difference in the lives of maltreated children.

  1. Have church resources for child abuse survivors 

Clergy and churches should have brochures and other information for families seeking counseling or other services in response to maltreatment. Church libraries should have books and other materials families can easily access. Church websites should include helpful links that will aid families seeking help discreetly.

  1. Address the spiritual impact of child abuse 

Dozens of studies, involving more than 19,000 abused children, document that many abused and neglected children are not only impacted physically and emotionally but also spiritually. This may happen when religion is used in the abuse of a child or simply because the child has spiritual questions such as unanswered prayers to stop the abuse. The American Psychological Association has noted the importance of addressing the spiritual impact of abuse and numerous experts have called for coordinated medical, mental health and pastoral care. The church should be front and center in meeting this critical need.

  1. Tell parents God allows them to discipline their children without hitting them

According to the CDC, as many as 28% of children in the United States are hit to the point of receiving an injury. Often-times, this is done by parents who were lead to believe the Bible requires corporal punishment. Numerous biblical scholars, conservative as well as liberal, have concluded the scriptures do not require parents to hit their children. Unfortunately, pastors are often afraid to make this clear to their parishioners because corporal punishment is deeply ingrained in our culture. Every major and medical health organization in the United States discourages hitting children as a means of discipline and it is time for the church to join this chorus.

  1. Deliver a sermon or conduct a Bible study on child abuse 

Over the years, numerous survivors of child abuse have told me they left the church not because clergy or other faith leaders abused them but because these leaders never spoke up about abuse. One survivor told me that during the years her father was sexually abusing her she desperately wanted to hear a sermon or a Sunday School lesson condemning the abuse of children. She never heard that message and, when she became an adult, she walked away from a church she deemed indifferent to the suffering of children. Still another survivor told me “I used to spend my Sunday evenings listening to the podcasts of all the area churches desperately hoping to find a message about child abuse. I never heard that message and I finally just gave up.”

  1. Listen to the needs of survivors 

Many survivors want the simplest things from their pastors and churches. A woman abused while her father hummed a certain hymn wanted to return to the church but was afraid of hearing that hymn and losing control of her emotions. Another survivor was abused on a church altar and needed to be ministered to in a facility without altars or the traditional symbols that comfort others but were used to violate her tiny frame. These and other survivors are not asking for much but, in order to meet their needs, we must first hear their voices. 

Conclusion 

Although millions of child abuse survivors have fled the church, many of them tell me they still cling to Christ. “I love Jesus,” one survivor told me, “because he knows what it is like to be abused.” Another survivor told me that when he feels abandoned by his church, he recalls that Jesus was also rejected by the religious leaders of his era. The fact that so many survivors align themselves with Christ, but not organized religion, is a stark reminder of how far the church has fallen away from the teachings and example of Jesus. It is also a reminder that if we truly desire to find Jesus, we will need to look among the children.

BEING PART OF THE BEAUTIFULLY COMPLEX AUTISM COMMUNITY By Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv

Hi! My name is Alexandra.

I’m a second-year, Masters of Divinity student at Wartburg Seminary. I grew up in rural Minnesota. I graduated in the top tier of the honors program at Augustana University. My favorite movie of all time is Jurassic Park. I’m no good at dancing to music or socializing at parties. I can’t do a somersault to save my life. My favorite part of scripture is the Psalms. I am obsessed with the color turquoise. I believe cats are God’s gift to differentiated academics. I’m equally parts introvert and extrovert. My favorite kind of ice cream is rum raisin. Autumn is my favorite time of year. And I’m one of many representatives of the Autism Spectrum Disorders community.

I always get excited when April rolls around every year, as I think about the fun things that I could do to differentiate myself as a part of the ASD community during Autism Awareness Month. Should I host an anime marathon every Sunday? (Too cliché). Should I host a dinner full of sensory-friendly, or sensory-aversive, kinds of foods? (Lots of applesauce.) Or should I just mind my own business and move on, trying not to attract too much attention to the fact that I identify as someone from a different neurological heritage and community?

Does it really matter that much?

The official terminology for ASD includes the word “spectrum” for a reason: no two people are alike in this world, especially people who are influenced by the neurodiversity of Autism. This truth goes not just for ASD, but for people who are any part of any group that we have created.

I think human beings love to categorize, because we love to think that we are in control, and that we can know what is going on. There is something comforting for me about organizing our reality into something manageable—it gives a feeling of security, wisdom and safety from the unknown. But, truly, it’s just another way to distract us from our mortality: we are dying. Nobody escapes that.

All nihilism aside, the question still stands: what does it mean, in generalized terms, to be loosely collected into the broad spectrum of ASD? And why does that matter?

Speaking in culturally-normative, scientific terms, Autism Spectrum Disorders is a term covering five different major categories of pervasive development disorders: PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delay – Not Otherwise Specified); Autism (sometimes referred to as Classic Autism, Early Infantile Autism, Childhood Autism, or Autistic Disorder); Asperger Syndrome; Rett Syndrome; and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

The Autism Spectrum part of ASD is paired with the word “Disorder” due to some shared traits frequently recognized within this community, which are divergent from and frequently cause strain with normative society: generally, Social Impairments; Speech/Communication Deficits; and Repetitive Behaviors / Specific Interests.

In my brain and body, for example, something is happening where my sensory system volume is turned way up: sounds, sights, textures, touches, all these inputs seem louder, more exaggerated, to me. This is just one example; for another person on the ASD spectrum, the sensory system may be turned to a low volume (where one does not seem to feel much of anything!). For another, these neurological connections might impact the way that the brain connects topics including muscles, cognition, and more, leading to larger-scale physical delays such as cognitive function and development.

But personally, speaking in the terms of a fellow human being, I like to think of the ASD community as a diversified group of humans with specialized skills and particular sensory awareness. Such a definition affirms the strength and uniqueness of persons on the ASD spectrum in relation to what we culturally view as normative, rather than the deficits or struggles that separate people from those expectations.

We don’t know for sure what causes ASD characteristics. Some research seems to indicate that the structure of synopses connecting in the brain impacts the neurology of how the mind and body connect, resulting in unusual patterns of human development. Most research concludes that ASD has a biological component, showing up here and there across patterns of family history.

What we do know for sure is that people who have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum are people first—full of richness, complexity, and potential—and are primarily fellow creatures and children of God, worthy of the same dignity and respect allocated to peers.

I went through the process of self-diagnosis while I was in college, affirming what I understood about my social, cognitive and sensory self from a young age. Typical for someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, I recognized that there was a pattern and a structure going on with my reality–but I did not internalize that this pattern had a great deal to do with how I encountered the world, and perceived it around me through my senses and interpretations of these senses. For example, a course about the diversity within the ASD community released me from feeling like I was not the only person in the world with synesthesia, the trippy ability to perceive music through the medium of color in ones’ mind. I realized that there were others like me who also consistently craved the familiarity and security of rituals within a daily routine, and who felt the compulsion to make sure all their writing utensils corresponded to each day of the week in color, shape and size.

As I began to know myself better and more wholly through my ASD diagnosis—as one who is fearfully, wonderfully, and intentionally made in the image of God—I began to take courage in who I am. I learned how to manage my need for controlling aesthetic environments, and how to prepare for anxiety about social situations.

And then, ultimately, I realized that these unique gifts and struggles did not make me that much different from all of the other people who surrounded me in this world, who were not in the diagnosis of Asperger’s. We are all entrusted with different gifts. We all find ourselves in the corner of our growing edges. We are all beloved of God.

And while my life may not involve the same gifts and struggles as those that are most common within our society—while my biggest crisis of the day may be that I cannot match my soft-textured Digimon T-shirt with my favorite jeggings—that does not make me, or anybody else!—that much less of a person.

As I celebrated Autism Awareness Month April 2016, I celebrated my life, which is a life that lives honestly and vibrantly into God’s mission. Part of this life and identity includes who I am in the ASD community. Part of this life has very little to do with Asperger’s. Regardless, I thank God for a human community of wonderful weirdness, beautiful complexity, and wide welcome.