Autistic Theology 101

Ah, the first snow is here. It’s pretty stuff, not too heavy and most of all not wind whipped.

IMG_20141115_081206_935With the arrival of winter weather, several things happen. As you can see in this picture, our signature overgrown dog house (same one at the top of our blog) sits in ever degrading sadness, annually reminding me, “Damn, you let another year pass without tearing me down.”

And Joey makes a mental connection with the big winter holiday, Christmas. He begins to negotiate for presents. “Good boy with mom and dad soon there will be presents.”

He’s not hard on the wallet. He usually wants a movie or two. But years of “reinforcers” – pleasant things given as encouragements to good (or at least “normal,” which in the jargon is called “typical”) behavior, have him hard wired for what would horrify the Protestant Reformers and their descendants. He’s trained to justify himself by good works. He thinks he has to earn gifts.

So this winter, I’m trying to introduce Joey to the Christian concept of “grace.” In our church, the short definition says,

Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved

It’s not that we’re “good boys and girls.” It’s that God is good and loving and reaches out to favor flawed, incomplete humanity. As the New Testament puts it,

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy… (Titus 3:5)

So when Joey says, “Good boy with mom and dad soon there will be presents,” I’m responding with,

“There will be presents because mom and dad love Joey.”

It’s Autistic Theology 101. Actually, it’s probably Everybody’s Theology 101, because it is something we all need to keep learning. Caregivers need it. We’re so aware of what did/doesn’t/won’t get done, and we feel that sense of failure and hear a sneaky voice of condemnation that says, “IF you were good boys and girls, there would be better results.” So we need to understand that our value is a gift, given in love, and so is the fruitful work we do and grow in over time. One of the lessons that our church hears at Christmas is,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

I’ll remember to demolish that broken down dog house one of these summers. Meanwhile, my value and dignity are not resting on that sorry structure, but on the favor of the gracious God who looks at my broken, forlorn state and patiently brings me along.

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