Hyper-Adventillating November 30, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection, spiritual practices.
Tags: Advent, Values
What, precisely, are we looking forward to? We live in a culture of immediate gratification, and we already know how the story turns out. We’ve been here dozens of times before — after all, it happens every year. We have managed to layer cultural crust over the sacred celebration to the point that Christians are as glad Christmas is over as they are that it is coming. Looking forward to getting through Christmas is not the same as looking forward to Christmas. And I am as guilty as anyone. Christmas comes, not as a blessed comfort, but as a runaway freight train. Shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, gift-giving, gift-receiving, cleaning, travelling… on and on. By Boxing Day I am ready to crawl into a cave and hibernate.
Everything Changes Christmas, Christmas Changes Everything November 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christmas, Religious Trends
Four items hit in rapid succession that make me wonder what in the world is happening to Christmas?
#1 — I listened to a “secularist” on one of the news channels rant against having to “be forced” to celebrate Christmas. He is heading a group calling for the absolute eradication of anything and everything Christmas-related in the public sphere — including in malls and stores. (Which is why it will fail. If it was a battle against the church and religion, he might win, but against the Almighty Dollar? Think again.) What got me was this quote: “We are sick and tired of having religious images shoved in our face at every turn — stars, nativity scenes, crosses (a favorite Christmas symbol…), Jesus, Santa Claus and angels.” Santa Claus? Santa? When did Santa become a “religious image?” Oh sure, more kids worship Santa than Jesus, but come on. It’s hard enough for Christians to stay focused on Christ. Now our opponents have mashed-up the sacred and secular together to confuse the Christian faith. But I guess this shouldn’t be surprising since we Christians confused it first.
Extreme Thanksgiving November 24, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: church, Mission & Purpose, Values
I often marvel at the apparent idiocy of extreme sports. Normal, somewhat sensible sports like skiing or skateboarding or diving are transformed into death-defying high risk endeavors by people who seek thrills and the challenge to do the impossible. Athletes and lunatics attempt to make difficult sports even harder, and often achieve absolutely amazing results.
I wonder what might happen were we to apply the same mentality to the Christian life? As we prepare this week for Thanksgiving, I wonder what might happen if we could move from a passive sense of gratitude to an active determination to give the whole world a reason to be grateful? Watch the following video. It represents for me where the church is today. It is all about being nice, polite, and correct.
With Fulfillment November 22, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Mission of the Church, serving those in need.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christian service, Values
Kudos to Circuit Rider for the Nov./Dec./Jan. issue focusing on ministry with the poor. So many other voices share my conviction that ministry “with” is our future, rather than ministry “to” or “for” the poor (so I must be right). Of the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church, poverty and economic injustice may be the key to “the transformation of the world” section of our mission. Over the past decade, I have worked in urban settings from coast to coast, meeting people who feel that there is no place for them in The United Methodist Church. Many of our congregations have a distinct middle class bias.. The poor we may always have with us, but not literally with us. They exist, but they are generally outside our doors. I am always so excited and inspired when I find congregations that not only provide ministry for the poor, but welcome the poor into their midst. I have a strong belief that ministry “for” another group, or “to” another group, is fundamentally inferior to ministry “with” other people. I have been told by some that this is irrational, but have been affirmed by many more that this is a critically important distinction. Interestingly enough, opponents to this idea are usually from inside the church; those who affirm it are from outside the church. No one likes being the target of another’s good intentions. It sets a toxic precedent by making one group beholden to another.
Pushing Buttons November 20, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection.
Tags: church, The United Methodist Church
It’s tough having opinions. I love to write this blog, and I use it to share my perspectives — for what they’re worth. I try very hard to say that these are my views and nothing more. I often try to write in provocative, and sometimes controversial, ways for no other reason than to stir people to reaction. Sometimes it comes back to haunt me. For example, I went to a meeting the other day with people I am getting know pretty well, and with whom I am on very good terms. One person, though, gave me a very frosty and curt reception. I finally asked the person why, and they responded, “I’m teaching The Shack in my church and the people there love it. You make it sound like anyone who likes The Shack is stupid and a poor theologian. I’m so mad at you I don’t know what to say!”
The Neverending Story November 19, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: hypocrisy, Values
I had an odd experience yesterday. I stopped off for lunch on my way to Milwaukee at a Taco Bell for a “nourishing” meal, and was waited on by a young African-American woman. While I ate my lunch, the woman floated through the dining area handing out information so that diners could complete an online survey. She asked if I would be interested, and I listened to her, looking her in the eye and smiling. She paused, frowned, then said to me, “Do you know that you’re the first white person who hasn’t been rude to me today. Most people won’t look me in the eye, and they act all annoyed.” I asked her directly if she thought the reaction she got was racial, and she opened her eyes wide and said, “Oh, yeah!”
Dumbfounded November 17, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: The United Methodist Church, Theology, Values
There are times that I am stunned to silence (not many, granted, but a few…) by my own denomination. I wonder what it is that we believe and what our witness to the world really is. The latest brick in the wall of incredulity came when I saw that William Young, author of The Shack, would be one of the featured speakers at the 2010 Congress on Evangelism. I called up a former colleague to just check out the thinking behind having a major presenter whose theology is so at odds with our own. What I was told was:
- this is a coup, getting someone so famous,
- it doesn’t matter what his theology is, UMs are reading this book so its worth getting him,
- his message is reaching millions even as ours is not, so we need to learn how to do it better,
- endorsing poor theology isn’t that big an issue; most people don’t know which is good theology and which is bad,
- what gets said isn’t as important as how it gets said,
- plus, this is a big coup — getting someone so famous!
Forgive Me My Shellfish Ways November 16, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church humor, Core Values, Personal Reflection, The Bible.
Tags: Sin, Values
For years I have been afraid to admit something. There is a sin in my life so dark and so reprehensible that I barely can admit it to myself. It is a nagging sin, and one that I know I should be ashamed of, but I am not. I know what the Bible says. I know it is “detestable.” I understand it says it is an “abomination.” For people who love and believe the Bible, it is an unforgivable and heinous sin. I eat clams… and I like them. I also love shrimp and lobster. I have eaten them many times — knowing all the while that I am forbidden by my faith to do so — and I plan to do so again. I am truly afraid to confess this, knowing that the only recourse for Bible-believing Christians is to “cut me off from my kin.” Some well-meaning people have tried to tell me that Acts changed all that — that unclean foods were made “okay” – but it only applies to four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds… I know that. What’s worse, I have done this sinning publically — at Howard Johnson’s, Red Lobster, Olive Garden — just about everywhere actually.
What would happen to me if my church were to find out that I sin with no actual desire to change my habits? It breaks my heart every time someone points out to me that the Bible calls what I do an abomination and detestable. I feel so guilty. My only concession is that The United Methodist Church has not taken an “official” position on un-finny seafood. If it were in the Book of Discipline, it would REALLY be bad.
I do wonder what others must think of me when I crack open a crab’s leg or eat a shrimp cocktail. I would do my seafood eating at home, but my wife — being a good Christian — doesn’t like seafood of any kind (including the Biblically approved kinds) — so I can only indulge in public. What a disappointment to God I must be… Perhaps the time has come to organize a global boycott of Red Lobster, Captain Ds, Long John Silvers, and every other restaurant that sells seafood. Or pizza, for that matter. As Christians we really should remember that we are forbidden to eat meat and dairy cooked together.
I have a friend who is blessed of God — granted a shellfish allergy, which is obviously a sign from God of acceptance and favor. I haven’t quite figured out how my other friend with a peanut allergy fits the picture, but I am sure that it a blessing too. And wheat allergies that prevent people from taking communion? That must be a special blessing as well. People wouldn’t have these allergies for no good, spiritual reason. God wouldn’t allow people to be born in any way that would be fundamentally sinful. My shellfish sins are all my own. I choose to defy biblical truth. But if that were the only one, perhaps I could bear up under the shame.
I also must admit that I went to a church today where women not only didn’t keep silence, but one preached, one served as liturgist, and one gave personal testimony. I tried not to listen — I really did — but I am afraid I must confess that I did not stomp out in righteous indignation. All I can do is hope that God will forgive me. But really, asking such forgiveness is disingenuous. I know I will listen to women preachers in the future. I shouldn’t really pray for forgiveness for something I know I will do again.
What would really be great? To have a faith based on a Savior and not a book. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a religion based in grace and goodness rather than rules and judgement? I would like a faith built around doing good, not worrying about who is doing “bad.” But I know that what I eat for dinner is much more important than people dying of curable disease, hunger and malnutrition. I am so thankful that I am part of a church that expends millions of dollars to hold annual and general conferences to argue over personal behaviors and beliefs instead of making disciples to transform the world. Otherwise how would I know who to love and who to condemn? I just hope and pray that no one raises the biblical issue of shellfish, because I would be in big trouble.
What’s Wrong With This Picture? November 15, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Pastoral Ministry, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Values
One of the sidelights of the research I did into congregational vitality from 1999-2008 was the opportunity to identify and interview young pastors who were doing truly meaningful, serious, and innovative work in the church. Many of them were not lead pastors, but those who could specialize in youth, young adult, outreach, teaching, or worship. I met a dozen exciting, inspiring, and effective young leaders. Today I received word of the NINTH to leave the ministry of The United Methodist Church. Seventy-five percent of the bright young clergy under 40 that I encountered are no longer serving the church as ordained clergy, and 4-out-of-the-9 have quit the church altogether. This is happening at a time when our denomination is making young adults a priority of the church, and when Boards of Ordained Ministry are starving for young candidates. What’s wrong with this picture?
A Ray of Hope November 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Personal Reflection, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Evangelism, Values
I had a long, boring conversation with one of our denominational mucky-mucks this week about our impending doom. He feels that I am unreasonably optimistic about the state of the church. (Obviously he hasn’t read everything I have written…) Two points in particular motivated his getting in touch with me: one, that I think all the doom-and-gloom obsessing is bad for us and really not warranted, and two, that I think the attempt to get young people to join the church is misguided. My response to him is consistent with what I say here: I think there is more to be gained on what we have and who we are than to dwell on what we lack and who we aren’t. Getting new people makes no sense when we don’t know what to do with the people we already have. And in my understanding of the mission, making disciples for the transformation of the world trumps making members of the UMC for the survival of the institution. However, my solution is a both/and rather than an either/or. I truly and honestly believe that if we do a better job creating authentic Christian community that is equipping people to live as the body of Christ to serve and heal the broken world, we will attract many new participants, a large number of them young. It has been depressing the number of emails I received about my blog, Time Warped, from older, entrenched UMs horrified by the idea that young adults would actually be given power. My ideas that young people need to be give responsibility, authority, autonomy, and encouragement were labeled variously as “naïve,” “ignorant,” “stupid,” “idealistic,” “deadly,” “short-sighted,” “foolish,” and “b***s***.” To the best of my knowledge, none of these opinions came from anyone under 50 — which may illustrate the problem better than anything I could say.