So anyway, the latest update on my situation:
I was finally able to make it to an Orthodox church, sort of. It took quite a lot of effort (I had to ride the public buses, but one of the buses was running late, so I missed my transfer and had to improvise, taking light rail instead, as well as walking/running quite a distance. I ended up about 15 minutes late for the service. So by the time I did get there, I was feeling quite stressed.
Then something unexpected happened. I just started panicking inwardly. I don't know what it was; anxiety about not knowing anyone? A feeling that maybe someone like me didn't belong there, that I was unworthy? Just plain fear of the unknown? Or perhaps guilt about the fact that no one else (including family or friends) knew about my interest or that I was there? I still haven't told them. The other day my dad surprised me by bashing the Catholics, with my mom objecting. I didn't expect him to do that--I always thought it was my mom who held those types of views more strongly. (Neither of them really know anything substantive about Orthodoxy. They tend to be the type who will take anything an evangelical pastor says at face value, especially if prefaced with "The Bible says...", regardless of whether the Bible actually
says it). So I don't feel like I'm on the same wavelength with them at this point, and the fact there's something huge I'm hiding from them is giving me a lot of stress.
Anyway, I felt like I was about to jump out of my skin. I walked by the church, but just couldn't work up the courage to go in
. So I just kept walking, hoping that I would calm down enough to enter at some point, but after a while it became clear that wasn't going to happen. So I just called it quits and hailed a taxi to take me home.
So now I'm feeling a little uncertain. In retrospect, there are some things I think I could have done better. Now, of course, I know the bus system isn't reliable. So I might have to look at carpooling, but the problem is that I have a fear of strangers (or at least, of meeting them in certain contexts). I should probably have let the church know that I was coming in to visit, so that they could have welcomed me and shown me around (if they were willing to, that is. Next time I'll be sure to do that.
I think that my best chance of getting through to my parents would be convincing me that Orthodoxy is the best place for me as a person on the autism spectrum
. If I bring it up in that context, they might be more understanding, I think. I'm currently working on an essay on why people with ASD feel so out of place at churches, especially American
ones. My thesis is that nearly every historical development within American Protestantism (with the possible sole exception of Mercersburg theology) has made churches more hostile and unwelcoming to people like us, as well as to people with other disabilities and diagnoses.
There's far too much subjective emotionalism, for one. People like us are naturally inclined (you might even say hard-wired) toward ritual, but American Protestantism's overall ethos rejects all ritual as "empty", saying that true "heartfelt" faith must manifest in spontaneous and emotional ways.
Also, saying that "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship" might sound liberating and comforting to neurotypicals, but has the exact opposite effect on people with Asperger's, for whom relationships don't come naturally and can be intimidating. The fact that "fellowshipping" with other congregants is emphasized so much in evangelical churches can also be problematic, because it leads to behavior that introverted people often find intrusive. "Born Again" Churches that emphasize emotional "conversion experiences" as evidence of salvation can lead us to despair, because we, as a rule, just don't have
those kinds of experiences. (Pentecostal churches that teach tongues as a requirement for salvation cause the same problem). Finally, megachurches, with their overcrowding and loud contemporary worship, often result in sensory overload.
Ironically, even "disability ministries" can be harmful because they end up shunting us away, segregationist-style, from the main body of believers, rather than making it possible for us to integrate into the broader congregation.
C. S. Lewis' quote pretty much sums up my argument and I'm going to be sure to include it:
"What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox Mass I once attended was that there seemed to be no prescribed behavior for the congregation. Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. I wish we Anglicans would follow their example. One meets people who are perturbed because someone in the next pew does, or does not, cross himself. They oughn’t even to have seen, let alone censured. “Who art thou that judgest Another’s Servant?" -Lewis, Letters To Malcolm
For someone who tends to feel self-conscious and paranoid about how others see me--and people with ASD are often like that--a church like that is literally a godsend. So I'm going to argue that Christians who are on the autism spectrum will feel most at home in a church that either is Orthodox, or that is like
Orthodox churches in a number of ways (for example, removing most of the pews will likely cause a similar effect to the one listed above in the Lewis quote).