In the Land of Beginning Again December 31, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
In the 1946 film, The Bell’s of St. Mary’s, Bing Crosby sings Grant Clarke & George W. Meyer’s, In the Land of Beginning Again. This sappy, wistful, wonderful song fits the film beautifully, wishing for the chance to start fresh, to let go of past regrets, and to move forward with our personal slate washed clean. It is as appropriate a New Year’s song as Auld Lang Syne. New Year’s is the natural time to “start over,” and literally millions of people worldwide use the New Year as a marker by which to make resolutions to act differently, think differently, work differently, relate differently, and feel differently. January 2 is traditionally the day most of these resolutions crash and burn.
Why? Why do our good intentions slide down the highway to hell, giving us more to feel guilty about? Well, the most obvious reason is that it is artificial, superficial, and insubstantial. Why would we think something would be easier to do on January 1 than on December 31? That’s like believing something will be simpler on Thursday that is too hard on Tuesday, or that bad habits will magically disappear if only we could move to a new location. It’s never that simple — we always take ourselves with us. Our bad habits and unpleasant characteristics are not external forces working on us, they are internal propensities that either we control or that control us. My eating too much cake is NEVER the cake’s fault. Drinking too much wine doesn’t happen because there is wine in the house. Honest change begins with accepting responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions. Anything else is disingenuous and destined to fail. People do not change until they want to change — and there is a huge difference between “wishing” and “wanting.” Most people wish they could lose weight or stop smoking; they don’t want to because what they really “want” is the comfort and pleasure they receive from food or tobacco. Every substantive change happens through a simple process of values clarification — what is more important to me? Is the momentary satisfaction worth more than long-term benefits? Is what I can have now worth more than what I will receive later? Here’s the rub: people can’t actually conceive a future “might” when faced with a current certainty. Being thinner a year from now doesn’t hold the same drawing power as the “all-you-can-eat” breakfast buffet.
Paradoxology December 30, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, spiritual practices
Is our faith a blessing or a burden? Are the practices of prayer, worship, fasting, giving, serving and studying gifts or obligations? The way a person answers these questions is very telling as to the role and value of faith in her or his life. It is continuously fascinating to me to talk to people about prayer, and to find out that the majority of Christians I know view prayer as a task rather than a joy. I know for myself that there are times that I can’t wait to get to pray — I look forward to quiet, reflective time with God (usually the first thing after I get to my office in the morning). What I experience is relief and calm, and many days it is the absolute high point. I’m not sure I could cope with much of the minutiae of the morning were I not centered and focused. I don’t feel like I “have” to spend time in prayer, but that I “get” to spend time in prayer. Too many of my colleagues feel burdened by a need to pray, and prayer time is the first thing to go when their schedules get a little hectic (which, for some, is all the time).
Now, I have to be careful when it comes to worship. I’m not talking about attending services (which often does feel more like an obligation than a blessing to me), but I’m talking about those wonderful times of spiritual fellowship where attention shifts to God — giving God thanks and praise and basking in the wonderful sense of God’s presence. This comes to me most often in smaller, more intimate circles where true community defines the gathering and the sense of unity and oneness is strong. Retreats and ongoing small group experiences offer this kind of worship more than once-a-week congregational gathering. I am not exactly sure why I don’t seek this experience more, other than the fact that I’m too lazy.
Do We Really Love “Them?” December 29, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, U.S. Culture, Vision.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, Religious Trends, Values
I saw a heartening article in USA Today on Christmas Eve. Jews and Muslims in the Detroit area were joining together to do charity work on Christmas Day to help compensate the lack of Christians who would be off celebrating their holiday instead of working in soup kitchens and food banks. This marked a first for Muslims to join the Jewish community in what has been called “Mitzvah Day” in southeast Michigan. The Mitzvah (“good deed,” or commandment) Day has a twenty year tradition, and it was with some pride and goodwill that the observation included Islamic participation this year. A wonderful witness, right? Well, here are some absurdly unenlightened comments I pulled off the web today in response:
What’s the matter with those people? Don’t they have their own holidays to celebrate without trying to undermine ours? What could be their possible motive accept (sic) to make us look bad?
Where are they the rest of the year? Obviously, this is nothing more than a grab for attention.
Do they really think this makes up for anything? We know that they want to overthrow America and all it stands for. They make a mockery of everything Christian, including charity!
Well, it won’t hurt for them to atone for all the evil they do, but one day a year isn’t going to make much difference.
Where Jesus Goes After Christmas December 28, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christmas, Faith Sharing, Religious Trends
Driving past a church this morning, I noted that the Nativity scene was already down (sorry Wise Men — snooze, ya’ lose. Wouldn’t want to honor Epiphany by accident or on purpose…) and Mary and Joseph were laying face down in the snow and the baby Jesus was buried under a stack of wood and hay; one small hand reaching out for rescue from the crushing load. It struck me as an “on-the-nose” symbolism of our cultural relationship to Christ and Christmas — honor the holiday event for a few weeks in December, then strike the set and put the props away until next year. And Jesus, for many, is just that — a prop.
When I was a child I once asked my mother why we wrapped Jesus in paper and put him in a dusty box and shut him in a musty, dark closet for eleven months and 25-30 days each year (we didn’t add Jesus to the crèche scene until Christmas Eve, then took things down the week after Christmas. Our wise men arrived around December 10 and just sat on their camels shooting the breeze with Mary, Joseph, the angel, the shepherds and the animals for a couple weeks — but everyone looked appropriately reverent the whole time.) There was something disrespectful about shoving Jesus to the back of the closet when we were through with him. Out of sight, out of mind. My grandmother actually listened to me, and she left the baby Jesus from her Nativity scene on the fireplace mantle all year ’round.
Belief Is Choice December 26, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Vision.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian discipleship, Religious Trends
I surf a lot of sites and listen in on a lot of discussion threads about what people choose and choose not to believe. What is interesting is that both sides deny they are making a choice about what to believe. Dogmatism swings both ways, and many loud voices on both sides of the argument state as “fact” what is blatantly nothing more than opinion. Very few people “know” what they have never seen, and just as few can “prove” a negative. No evidence is not evidence, and depth of feeling doesn’t make something more true. We choose to believe in God or we choose not to. But WE CHOOSE.
One of my former associates, a professor at Vanderbilt University, adamantly refused to believe in God or any divine force, yet he is convinced of multiple parallel universes. He mocks me for believing in something I can’t see, but he also chastises me for not allowing the possibility of unseen universes. He has chosen — for his own reasons — to disbelieve in God; he has chosen — again for his own reasons — to believe in unseen worlds. He calls me irrational.
A Christmas Wish December 24, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Uncategorized.
No, it’s not a generic wish for peace on earth, but a specific wish for those of us calling ourselves “Christian.” I wish that we — collectively and individually –could provide an example to the whole world of mercy, justice, civility, kindness, grace, acceptance, love, and joy, so that people would come to believe that faith in Christ actually makes some kind of difference. It is not that we should never have conflict, but that we negotiate our differences in a healthier way. It is not that we make everything right, but that we speak out in the face of injustice. It isn’t that we compromise our values, but that we value respect and dignity as much as we value being righteous. I wish we could become the body of Christ, able to serve and give and heal whenever and wherever we are — beginning in our own congregations.
Before There Was An Ending December 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, Devotional Reflection.
Part of what makes the Christmas story so phenomenal is that we know how it all turns out. We know who Jesus is. His birth narrative — for us — is nothing more than a remembrance. It is the story of the genesis of God’s redemptive act. It is the pivotal point upon which the gate of history swings. Yet, I always wonder what it was like before the ending was well-known. There are some truly amazing — incredible, unbelievable, mind-bending — aspects to the birth of Christ that I think have been lost in translation — translation of language, time, culture, worldview, perspective, and belief.
A poor, insignificant, uneducated girl lacking any power or influence in the world receives a divine visitation. If she is a product of her culture and station in life, she is likely very superstitious, feeling more fear than reverence for things spiritual. She has a rudimentary understanding of her own body and physiology and is awaiting marriage to a man she may very well not know at all. And she discovers she is pregnant. And this is one of the absolute worst fates to befall an unwed girl in her time and place. In 999 cases out of 1,000, her betrothal to Joseph would be null and void and she would become a social outcast at best, put to death at worst. And in the unlikely event that Joseph might keep Mary, the inglorious reputation would be theirs for life. They would hold no respect or power in society. They would likely renounce name and home and ancestry to begin life new where they were strangers — another guarantee that they would never hold power or influence. A young couple — not unusual for the woman to be 12 or 13, the man to be anywhere from 18-25 for a first marriage — essentially on the verge of losing everything of worldly value.
Christmas Memories III – Christy Woods December 22, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, Personal Reflection.
There is a special kind of snow — it falls not in flakes, but in hunks. It drifts down in surreal, tumbling patterns and sticks to everything. It muffles all sound. It transforms the world into a snowglobe. There is nothing I love more than walking in such snow, and it always brings to mind a personal epiphany when I was twenty years old. 1978 was a crisis year for me. In the fall I had a heart attack that forced me to drop out of college, give up a job I loved, and to see myself in a whole new light. At twenty, a young man should be hitting his peak. In the early fall, I had everything bright and shiny before me. Good health (I thought), good grades, good job, good relationship with a great woman, and no clouds on the horizon. I was active in my church, having “come back” to the faith a year before — I was working with youth, teaching Sunday school, singing in a choir, and active in Bible study. My life felt balanced and sound for the first time in years. Then, in October, I collapsed after my English class and woke up in the hospital. A congenital weakness caused my heart to seize, and for a couple weeks things were touch and go. I got back on my feet in November, but with strict limitations. I took incompletes in all my classes, had to leave my job at a campus bookstore, and my girlfriend dumped me because she couldn’t take the stress of my ill-health. I had to give my youth group and Sunday school activities over to friends. I was feeling about as low as I could go.
Snow December 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
add a comment
Okay, this falls into the “so insignificant you probably shouldn’t waste time reading it” category, but an amazing thing has happened this year: it feels like Christmas! And the only thing that has changed (other than my job, the state in which I live, the house in which I live, the car I drive…) is snow. In Wisconsin we got seventeen inches of snow,then it stayed cold enough that the snow didn’t go away. After 15 years in Nashville, where the mere rumor of snow causes people to stampede the grocery store then drive their car into a ditch on the way home, this is epic. Winter means something here. Oh, Nashville has seasons (spring, early summer, hot summer, hateful/evil/deadly summer, and grey) but nothing like Wisconsin. And having grown up in Indiana, Christmas, cold weather, and snow go hand in hand. It feels likes Christmastime for the first time in fifteen years.
Now, I realize that cold weather only applies to a small segment of the globe as a Christmas characteristic. I dated a woman from Australia who used to bristle at American Christmas songs steeped in snow, sleigh-rides, snowmen, and winter wonderlands. For those who celebrate with a Yule-Barbeque blazing on the beach in 103º temps, snow has little significance. But for me, I never realized just how important it is. When I remember the truly signficant Christmases past, snow plays an essential role (see tomorrow’s Christmas Memories III: Christy Woods). It reminds me once again that often it is the little things that make all the difference.
Going Away December 17, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection.
Mortality is a scary thing. I’m not dying, but much of what I have written is. As of December 31, almost every book I have written for Discipleship Resources is going out of print. (The one exception is Vital Signs, but its days are numbered as well…) Part of my identity rests in the books I have written. They’re not great literature — some would say they’re not even “good” from any literary standpoint. Still, they are an outward and visible sign of my inward and spiritual journey, offering some of the best insights I have to offer on stewardship (Revolutionizing Christian Stewardship for the 21st Century, Beyond Money) and leadership (FaithQuest, A New Kind of Church, Equipped for Every Good Work, Leadership and Interaction Styles). It will be weird knowing that these books, many available for most of a decade or more, are no longer “out there.” For what good they have done and what value they have offered, I am deeply grateful. And when I am honest, I know that the contribution they have made has been modest at best, and there are more than enough other resources to take their places.