My work as a neurodivergent leader of interfaith open circles in the past twenty years has been marked by mostly working with other neurodivergent people. Autistic, Anxious, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Schizophrenic, Depressed, Bipolar, Borderline Personality, and more.
As I have made my way back into churches as a seminarian and student pastor, my faith really has not changed drastically, but the ways in which neurodivergent people are able to access me as a faith leader have changed.
One thing I have noticed in traditional churches is the fact that mental health is relegated to discussions in dark corners, if it is discussed at all.
There is an expectation of masking, of faking normalcy, that often comes with organized religions. Now, this is not true of all churches, but it is true of enough that the reputation is well-earned.
Organized Faith is Exclusionary
Partly, I feel my calling in these places of worship is to dismantle the systems that make neurodivergence unacceptable to the rites and rituals of the world of organized faith.
In that, I also believe my place is to be in the communities that I most relate with: the people who are outside the churches, the people who have been hurt by churches, and the people who would never feel comfortable crossing the threshold of a religious building.
I believe the Divine is everywhere. I do not believe we need special buildings or super-secret codes of behavior to access it. But, I do believe that those of us who are neurodivergent have been sold a lie that says we have to hide who we are to be loved by the Divine.
I want to break the illusion of that lie. I want to burn it and let it become the ash that fertilizes the ground for new growth and spiritual renewal. The Divine made all of us, and within all of us, the spark of life that keeps us going is part of the plurality of creation, the divine variance granted to each of us. That means our weirdness, our oddity, and our divergence serve a purpose.
Faithing Outside the Box
Our Creator cannot be kept in a box, whether buildings and structures or the boxes of social acceptability that far too many religious organizations peddle. If we are to believe in a Divine Creator, then we are not mistakes, are not wrong, bad, or defective: We are children of the divine who have inherent value and worth.
So, if you have been harmed by religion; if you have been set aside, told to hide, told to sit down, be quiet, or be less “you”… They were wrong. You are a divine child of the Creator and your neurodivergence is merely a way to show how expansive that Creator is in the world.
Have Faith in Your Divergence
Whether neurotypical or neurodiverse, we all struggle and we all deal with different kinds of exclusion because of our labels and who we are in the world. But do remember that any exclusion that deems we are lesser because of these identities goes against all that is holy.
We are all beloved. We are children of the Divine and no one can change that reality, no matter how much hatred others spew.
- Autism & Christianity: Part 2, The Bible - April 23, 2020
- Autism & Christianity: Part 1 - April 22, 2020
- Faith and Neurodivergence - April 5, 2020
If only more of the faithful were like this. Far too many of them equate mental illness with being sinful or even worse, so not only do they discriminate but then have the audacity to claim that the Divine sanctioned that discrimination. Even now, many faiths still believe that neurodivergence is just demonic possession and attempt to “exorcise” it with tragic consequences.