One Faith, Many Paths: Lamar Hardwick

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For my latest interview as part of my “One Faith, Many Paths” project, I’m interviewing Lamar Hardwick, an autistic pastor in Lagrange, Georgia at New Community Church. Their website can be reached here: http://www.ncclagrange.com/contact-us

1. What was your childhood like?

My father was in the military so I grew up traveling around the world. We moved every 3 years and sometimes we lived outside the country. I spent a few years living in Germany when I was in elementary school. My father was also a minister, so we grew up going to church every Sunday. As a child, I rarely understood my peers. While I had a few friends, I don’t remember having really strong friendships because we moved so often.  I have three siblings, but I was always the quiet one and spent most of my time alone reading books.

2. When were you diagnosed autistic?

I was diagnosed in 2014, when I was 36 years old.

3. What made you decide to become a preacher?

In 2001, after graduating college I began to sense a calling from God to dedicate my life to serving the church.  At that time, I was becoming regularly involved in my church and I had a sense of fulfillment in the work that I was doing.  It took me nearly a year to understand exactly what my calling was, but by that time I was sure that God had called me to become a preacher.

4. Does being autistic present a challenge in your profession and in interacting in your congregation?

In some ways being autistic does present challenges for me because I have to spend extended amounts of time around larger crowds and it can sometimes become overwhelming to me.  Autism can also present a challenge when communicating with people because I often don’t read social cues and body language very well.  There have been times when people misinterpret things I say or vice versa.  Now that everyone in my church understands me better, they know that the best way to communicate with me is to be direct and to expect me to be direct as well.

5. I’ve often seen autistics who are either disdainful of Christianity or atheist. What reason do you think may cause this?

I think there are many reasons for this and most of the reasons that non-autistics are atheist is the same reasons that many autistics are atheists.  I think that most people who are atheist base their beliefs on a negative life experience that they believe cannot be reconciled with the existence of God.  Autistics tend to be very literal, so this can even provoke a stronger resistance to the idea of God. The problem with most people who come to the conclusion that God does not exist is that they are basing their rationale on very limited existence as well as a very subjective point of view. Most people don’t believe in God or have a disdain for Christianity because God doesn’t cooperate with them, but lack of cooperation doesn’t necessarily disprove that someone does not exist.

Continue reading “One Faith, Many Paths: Lamar Hardwick”

The Child Behind the Glass

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As someone who uses Facebook, I see many articles about autism shared around, and often from an ableist perspective. One way to tell if the article you’re reading is going to be full of misinformation is if you see the image above. I hate it. HATE IT! Allow me to explain why.

First off, it conveys the image that autistic people are isolated from society. They are not. Yes, many are extremely introverted, or in some cases they may even be non-verbal. But neither should be a barrier to communication. There are more ways to communicate than with words: hugs, handshakes, giving someone a “high-five”, waving, etc.

Continue reading “The Child Behind the Glass”

The Fictional Spectrum: Adric (Doctor Who)

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Three years ago on this blog, I celebrated Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary by introducing my readers to each era. Then I created a blog that I recently revived called Jelly Babies and Reversed Polarities, where I review the show and audio dramas from Big Finish. But in looking back in the show, I’ve noticed that there may be a character in the show on the autism spectrum: Adric.

Adric first appeared in the episode “Full Circle”, during Tom Baker’s era as the Fourth Doctor. In this episode, we learn that he is exceptionally intelligent because he receives a badge to commemorate his skills in mathematics. Two episodes make use of these skills: “Logopolis” and “Earthshock”. It’s also a plot point in one of Big Finish’s Destiny of the Doctor plays Smoke and Mirrors.

Despite his intelligence, Adric is gullible. In quite a few stories, he is duped by the villain, such as “State of Decay” and “Four to Doomsday” (in “Four to Doomsday”, the Fifth Doctor gets especially cross with Adric for this reason) As someone who also has Asperger’s syndrome, I can attest that I am also pretty gullible. I have often been made a fool by people I thought were my friends, only to learn the truth to my embarrassment.

Continue reading “The Fictional Spectrum: Adric (Doctor Who)”

The Fictional Spectrum: Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

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“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand!”

As many of you know from my other two articles about Peanuts, it’s one of my all-time favorite comic strips.  My favorite character is Linus Van Pelt, the middle child of the Van Pelt family. In fact, I think he may be autistic.

Of all the characters in the strip, Linus seems the most intelligent. His dialogue is often prone to monologues. He will go on talking about any topic he is most interested in, especially the Great Pumpkin, baseball, or the Bible.  In the Christmas special, he’s the only one who still knows the true meaning of the holiday–everyone else is too wrapped up in the frivolity and consumerism.  In Halloween stories, he’s the only kid who believes in the Great Pumpkin, and the rest of the kids often ridicule him for this. His interest in baseball rivals that of Charlie Brown’s.

Linus’s biggest weakness is his “security blanket”. He’s rarely seen without it, often sucking his thumb while holding it. Perhaps holding it gives him comfort, like holding a stuffed animal does for some children. Whenever Lucy tries to break him of this habit, he will become anxious and panic. Lucy is the only person who even tries to separate him from his blanket. (Well, there’s Snoopy on some occasions, but he just does it as a prank if nothing else.)

Continue reading “The Fictional Spectrum: Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)”

One Faith, Many Paths Special: Interview with…Me!

I’ve reached another milestone. This will be my 200th post. I’ve decided mark this occasion by presenting an interview with someone I will interview in the future and allowing him to ask the questions, rather than the other way around. I figured this would be a great way for new readers to know me better.

  1. You’ve been a Catholic all your life, and I know your faith is central to your life. Have there been times when you questioned? How did you handle that? I believe that if you go through your life as a Christian without once doubting yourself, then you are spiritually blind.  Yes, I’ve doubted. When I learned about all the atrocities that are often linked to Christianity, I doubted whether I should consider myself part of it. What kept me in the faith was that I reminded myself that I only have my own actions to ask for, not anyone else’s. God knows my heart. I also read up on the saints. When I saw all they did for the glory of God, I wanted to be a part of that.
  2. Your autism is another part of you. When did you first realize you were different–even special in terms of those around you? I think it first happened in high school. When I finally became mainstreamed, I never experienced a desire to wear a mask and pretend I was something I wasn’t. Then in college, my counselor told me and my mother that she thought I had Asperger’s. At first, It never really clicked. But my mother insisted that I do research on the disorder, if only to explain it to others. It was that research that opened me to the possibility that it was a gift. It also made me realize that God had possibly meant for me to spend all those years in Special Ed that I had spent for my bad behavior, especially my temper.
  3. A follow-up to that–what do you think is the biggest misconception about Autism and Autistic people? I think there are two. The first is that it is something that can be removed or outgrown. While it is true that some autistics can “pass” for being neurotypical, that doesn’t mean we’ve outgrown autism. It just means we’ve adjusted to what society expects of us. The second is that we don’t have emotions. I think this is often perceived because we often express our emotions differently from those not on the spectrum. In fact, there has been research that has concluded that our emotions and those of our peers can often overwhelm us, perhaps more easily than those not on the spectrum.
  4. What are some of your favorite hobbies and what do you enjoy about them? I am an avid reader, especially of science fiction. I think what’s best about it is that it allows me to escape from the pressures of this world. It allows me to unwind when I experience a world that is different from my own.
  5. How would you define your life philosophy–to put it more simply, do you have a personal motto? My motto is to always try to find the good in everything. I’m not always living by this principle, but I’ve learned there is good in everything that happens. If I focus on that, it helps me not to fall into despair.
  6. Favorite Books? I’d have to say the writings of CS Lewis, primarily. Not just his fiction, but also his non-fiction. His non-fiction is so simplistic. He doesn’t rely on purple prose or empty words. He explains everything about Christianity as simply as he can. He’s often been discredited because he’s not a theologian, but I don’t think that should dismiss him. I’d have to say his best book that isn’t connected to Narnia would be Mere Christianity. It’s a great bare-bones approach to Christianity, and I always recommend it to anyone who wants to know where to start with his non-fiction. Continue reading “One Faith, Many Paths Special: Interview with…Me!”

Jason’s Jukebox: Talking Heads

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Well we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out”

–“Road to Nowhere”

David Byrne is a true visionary on the autism spectrum.  His band, Talking Heads, created a new form of rock as one of the first “alternative” bands.  In this edition of Jason’s Jukebox, I will be ranking each of the Talking Heads’ studio albums. First, let’s look at the line-up:

  • David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar)
  • Chris Frantz (drums)
  • Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar)
  • Tina Weymouth (bass)

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Talking Heads 77 (1977)

Singles: “Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town”, “Psycho Killer”, “Pulled Up”

Rating: ****

The debut showcases the promise the band had in their days as one of the premiere bands at CBGB’s, a New York City bar that was a venue for such acts as The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Blondie, and the Pretenders. Tina Weymouth shows off her bass skills well on “Psycho Killer”, while Byrne’s guitar work caused Rolling Stone to call them one of the most promising acts of 1977.

Best tracks: “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”, “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Psycho Killer”

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More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

Single: “Take Me to the River”

Rating: ****1/2

This album begins Brian Eno’s relationship with the band. Brian Eno, who also worked with Roxy Music and David Bowie, produced three albums for the Talking Heads. This “trilogy” is the band at its best. The album gave the band its first top 40 single, a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”.

Best tracks: “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “Artists Only”, Take Me to the River”

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Singles: “Life During Wartime”, “I Zimbra”, “Cities”

Rating: *****

I think this is David Byrne at his most vulnerable. He once said “I’m not an entirely comfortable person…but that isn’t necessarily neurotic.” This album captures Byrne’s darkest and experimental side, making it their best album. It’s almost like a commentary on fear itself, as the title suggests. He even immortalized CBGB’s in the song “Life During Wartime”.

Best tracks: “Life During Wartime”, “I Zimbra”, “Heaven”

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Remain in Light (1980)

Singles: “Once in a Lifetime”, Houses in Motion”

Rating: ****

The creative tension between the members began with this album, so much so that Tina and Chris began their side project, Tom Tom Club. Songs like “The Great Curve” and “Once in a Lifetime” were influenced by African musicians. (The expanded CD has an outtake called “Fela’s Riff”, named after the revolutionary founder of Afrobeat Fela Kuti, which later became “Once in a Lifetime”)

Best tracks: “Cross-eyed and Painless”, “Once in a Lifetime”, “Houses In Motion”

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Speaking in Tongues (1983)

Singles: “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfriend is Better”, “This Must Be the Place”

Rating: ***1/2

By this time, the band was becoming a sensation, having just released their live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads. They even scored one of their most loved music videos for “Burning Down the House”. This began the band’s most commercially successful period (the album’s tour resulted in the movie Stop Making Sense).

Best tracks: “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfriend is Better”

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: Talking Heads”

One Faith, Many Paths: Claudine van Schoonven

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This month’s One Faith, Many Paths Interview is with Claudine van Schoonven, who resides in the Phillipines. She has an autistic son named Luke and is a member of my group for Autistic Christians.

What was your childhood like?

I had a good childhood with good and bad memories but there are more good than bad. Thing is, my memory isn’t as good as when I was younger but I can honestly say, there are more happy memories in the past while growing up. I am the third child of four daughters. My sisters and I were very close to each other until we started drifting apart in our teens. We laughed, played, shared stories with and we slept in one big bedroom. The sister ahead of me and after me were bright students so I am always being compared to them. Growing up with two bright and accomplished sisters has been a roller-coaster of emotions. I have handled it well and I thought that it really was fine until I realized during my early adult years that it has indeed affected me. I have not realized how I thought of myself incapable of anything given that growing up always being compared to and disappointments from people I know.  I have always thought I will never amount to anything like what my sisters can accomplish. I was the “stupid” one as all my relatives and such were accomplished men and women and went to the best universities or college in the country. I was the only one who did not get in to the most exclusive and only for the brightest students university in the country. I have always laughed it off and have such a good disposition that they were all resigned to the fact I am just an ordinary person who’s biggest asset is being the social butterfly wherever I go.

2. Tell me about your family.

The first person who told me I was smart was my husband Andre. He saw the “real” me behind those smiles and nonsense chit chats.  He brings out the best in me always.

I met him on board a cruise ship as we were both working there. That was his first job and he recently just graduated from college and it was my 3rd job. I am a year older. Our love story began 1990 on board the beautiful MS Noordam. After almost 26 years of being together, we have 3 handsome sons ages 21, 17 and 11.

At age 3, we brought Luke to a developmental paedetrician because his nursery teacher advised us that Luke is unlike the other children. We did wonder as to why Luke isn’t talking as much at that age and every time I mention my concerns to friends they always say it is “normal” for some kids to talk late. He also has a different way of playing with his toys. He loves to spin the wheels of his cars, take apart what he can and look into it in deep concentration, lines up all his toys, dvds, books, basically anything he can line up. He watches shows with real people and didn’t like cartoons at all! His favourite was Mr Bean and always laughs at the same joke or scene. He loves to stop, pause, play in slow motion all his favorite shows if it’s on dvd. Our youngest son Luke was then diagnosed having ADHD but we believe he is in the autism spectrum. He was never officially diagnosed autistic because according to the doctor he can do eye contact and answer questions. Once, I chanced upon an article about Asperger’s Syndrome andupon reading it, I knew Luke is one! It described him to a T!! I asked the doctor about it and she dismissed it and said no Luke does not have Asperger’s Syndrome. We took her word and for 7 years, we thought Luke is a boy who has speech delay, below average development delays and have ADHD. I joined FB last 2013 and I see infos about autism. Joined these autism and ADHD pages and also groups. I was just a bystander during these period for months. The more I learned about autism, the more I am convinced Luke is one. In 2014, I joined a secret group and in a month’s time became one of the admins. It was a very good group and I learned a lot. The group is composed of autistic adults and teens with NT or ND parents with autistic children. Because of the group, we also learned that my husband is also autistic. He took the online tests and recognized himself in most of the members and more importantly gave him the identity that has long been denied of him. All the pieces that has been puzzling him all his life made sense to him.

3. Have you ever considered diagnosing Luke? What difficulties have you encountered?

We will still have Luke properly diagnosed. I believe it will be to his best interest if he is diagnosed as most people think of ADHD as an excuse of parents for “bad” behavior. Before we even brought him to a developmental paedetrician, we were already prepared that the doctor might say he is autistic. If I have to think of what I would have felt back then if that was the case, I must confess I will be devastated. I will think Luke’s life will mean therapies, that he will never know the joys of truly living, I will be scared to die because nobody will take care of him as I don’t want to burden his brothers, I will think of all negative things. All that has changed when I learned more about autism and have made friends with autistic adults around the world. They have opened my eyes that Luke is just different and will be ok. As a parent with a special needs child, I have felt isolated and alone. Yes, my friends are still there but

they could never truly feel what it is like. For the first 5 years after Luke has been diagnosed, I have cut ties with friends voluntarily as I focused on Luke, his therapies and school etc. It has its ups and downs. The ups are Luke was released in both his OT and speech after 7-8 years of continuous therapy. I was hands-on very much so. The downside is I have neglected my other sons especially my middle child. He felt resentment towards Luke and anger towards me. With a lot of prayers and open communication between our family,, we were able to resolve these issues. I will never be able to bring back those lost years with my middle son but I have vowed to be there for him when he needs me.

4. You told me you are home-schooling your children. What led to this decision?

Teachers and the school will never understand or will refuse to understand what accommodations special needs kids need. Luke has been bullied consistently by his own teachers either actively or passively

condoning the behaviours of the students who bully my son. Home-schooling as I have learned from other parents is the best option. I am still in the process of deschooling Luke at the same time I have never seen him happy and regain his self-worth which is for me is very important.

5. What is your favorite biblical passage?

My favourite passage in the Bible is Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.” This passage has been my constant companion. If I am sad and in a crisis, I always find comfort in those words. I know the Lord will not give me these trials if I am not capable of it. He is my strength especially if Andre is not with me as he is a seaman. It sums up everything I feel. Without God, I am nothing. With God, I can do everything.

6. Who are your favorite biblical figures besides Jesus?

Aside from Jesus, my favourite is Mary Magdalene and Mother Mary.

Mama Mary as I call her is my source of comfort too. She is a mother and whenever I have doubt when it

comes to children, I turn to her to help me and guide me. She has never failed me just like Her Son, Jesus.

Mary Magdalene is another woman whom I can relate to. She wasn’t born sinless and was not a “good” person as the Bible said. She was a prostitute yet she sought out Jesus and asked for forgiveness. Mary Magdalene in my humble opinion must have been forced to prostitution in dire need. She is an epitome of a person who after sinning, decides to turn her life around and serve Jesus. No pretensions. Just serve to her best. She is an epitome of a truly good Christian woman.

7. Who in your life makes you want to be a better person?

 My family makes me want to be a better person. My husband and children bring out the best in me and because of them, I want to be a good wife and mother. They are my whole life and my whole heart.