Caustic Criticality January 28, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Communication, Trust
This has been one of those interesting days where one theme keeps recurring no matter where I turn. A gentleman stopped me this evening to tell me how displeased he is with my blog — that he has, in the past, found value in my writing, but that my blog is “too critical.” All day today I have been following an email conversation by many of my colleagues about the importance of criticism, and what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable criticism. I received a phone call this evening from a radio talk-show host from New York asking me to share some of my opinions on the “limitations of contemporary religion to reach younger people.” The interviewer told me, “It is so refreshing to talk to someone who isn’t afraid to honestly criticize organized religion instead of mindlessly defending it or irrationally attacking it.” Tonight I received an email from a pastor pointing out that ” who don’t have anything good to say should keep their mouths shut.”
My God Can Beat Up Your God January 26, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Ecumenism, Faith Sharing, Interfaith Partnership
What is our problem? How have we developed such a narrow-minded faith that we cannot interact with people who believe differently with any kind of tact, grace or kindness? Why can we not “offer an invitation” to know our God without turning it into a defiant line in the sand? Day after day there are new stories about Christians attacking non-Christians, and Christian leaders saying all kinds of nasty things about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. Uhm, did I miss something? Aren’t we supposed to speak truth in love and manifest the fruits of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control — especially with those whom we disagree?
I have been promoting interfaith and interreligious cooperation and communication — especially in light of what has happened in Haiti — and I am getting my head handed to me. Christians from all over are accusing me of heresy and compromising the purity of the gospel. I am hearing from people who want to have nothing to do with “towel-heads” and “Satanists.” People who would never engage in racial slurs have absolutely no problem practicing religious bigotry at the drop of a hat. Question: is a child of God any less a child of God simply because he or she doesn’t believe in God? Is our edict to treat each person as we would treat the Christ any less binding on someone who doesn’t believe what we do? Come on!
A Heart As Big As God’s January 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Mission & Purpose, Values
An adequate life, like Spinoza’s definition of an adequate idea, might be described as a life which has grasped intuitively the whole nature of things, and has seen and felt and refocused itself to this whole. An inadequate life is one that lacks this adjustment to the whole nature of things — hence its twisted perspective, its partiality, its confusion. (A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly, p.1)
How does God view the creation? Is there joy? Is there regret? Is there hope? Is there shame? Is there promise? Is there disappointment? Is there pride? Is there anger? I cannot help but believe the answer is simply “yes.” All these things. Humankind can scale the heights of glory and they can sink beneath the belly of the lowest demon — sometimes both in the blink of an eye. Haiti is a good example — an outpouring of love from one source, an outpouring of bitter, bilious, hateful condemnation from another. 88% of Americans believe we should help Haiti; 31% of evangelical Christians believe Haiti has done something to deserve what has happened. For myself — and this is a purely personal reflection — I cannot reconcile the concept of petty destruction and wanton violence with my understanding of a creative and loving energy that infuses and redeems all things. What possible motivation could God have to hurt the children of the earth, unless God is as petty and ignorant and spiteful and selfish as human beings can be? The God I believe in is better than that.
And the church I believe in is better than that. In the “big picture” — the grand sweep of history into eternity – the micro-sins of an individual, a community, a tribe, or a state pale in comparison with the whole. I truly believe that we humans must take responsibility for our own brokenness — God has much bigger fish to fry. Just because we get our temporal panties in a twist over what goes on between people behind closed doors doesn’t mean the creator of all that is must be pacing the celestial floor, wringing cosmic hands, plotting ways to wipe out hundreds of thousands of people to make a narrow-minded point. God must be bigger than that, right?
When It Matters Most January 20, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Missions, serving those in need.
Tags: Christian service, Values
Sometimes it takes a crisis. Sometimes it takes a terrible tragedy to remind us what’s important. In a week of unremitting sadness for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, it has been oddly refreshing to turn to United Methodist information sources and not read about our institutional plight, but instead about our missional reach of compassion and concern. We are able to set aside the lesser issues of our declining numbers and lack of funds to actually remember who we are — the body of Christ. There is a deep, heartfelt outpouring of compassion and love that indicates where our “treasure” truly is. When it matters most, we’re able to be the people God needs us to be.
But why does it take a crisis? What is happening in Haiti is horrible… but the conditions in Haiti have been unjust, intolerable, and terrible for a long, long time. Where were we then? My deepest concern is that the same thing will happen here is what always happens — after the earthquake is no longer news, and Brittney Spears or Lindsey Lohan have their next meltdown – Haiti will be forgotten just when she needs us most. We can only cope with crisis so long, then we need relief ourselves. The Tsunami of 2004 and Katrina in 2005 are good evidence. We are still way far away from healing those two catastrophes, but we hardly hear about them anymore. Mission team after mission team return from Louisiana and Mississippi reporting that there are entire communities where rebuilding has yet to begin. But these tragedies are “old news.” In this time of “new” crisis we are ready, willing, and able to respond. But the estimates in Haiti are that between 1 and 2 million are homeless and hungry (due to the quake) and that 250,000 to 450,000 are in at-risk, urgent-need situations. Army Corps of Engineer estimates for rebuilding are 36-to-72 months for major structures; 48-108 months for residential areas. Three to nine years just to get back to substandard, low poverty-level, bare-necessity living! It boggles the mind.
Who Needs a Sermon? January 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Research, Seeker spirituality, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, Preaching, spiritual practices, worship
It never fails that when I am looking for something in particular, I manage to find something else I was looking for months ago. Such is the case with interview notes I took in Colorado, Iowa, and Connecticut with 20-60 year old spiritual seekers. These notes have been the missing piece in a puzzle that has frustrated me for the past three years. They were part of the larger Seeker Study I did for the General Board of Discipleship, and they highlighted some interesting perspectives on preaching and proclamation. These interviews — 71 in all asked non-church-affiliated Christian spiritual seekers to share their thoughts on the art of the sermon. Two-thirds of the 71 interviews (48) were with women, and approximately the same percentage were Caucasian. Twelve were of African-American, six of Korean, two of Puerto Rican, one of Japanese, and two of mixed ethnic heritage. While this may not be overly important, there were some gender and racial/ethnic differences in responses — those these are correlative, not necessarily causative. We discussed five questions:
- what is a sermon?
- what is a sermon for?
- what is the preacher’s role in preaching?
- what do you look for/desire/need from a sermon?
- what types of sermons speak to you in meaningful and/or transformative ways?
Prophet Margin January 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
Are there prophets in the church today? Are there any willing to speak the truth regardless of the consequences? Anyone willing to point out the unconscionable amount of money and time we waste in meetings and conferences? Anyone willing to point out that our own systems and structures are as unfair and unjust as the rest of the world? Anyone to challenge the status quo and say that mission and vision actually have less to do with our church leadership than power, status, and years of service? Anyone who wants to mention that we treat one another horribly too much of the time? Anyone want to lift up the fact that those who need serving most are receiving it least? Anyone care to challenge the concept that church is a place we go instead of an incarnation which we become? Shouldn’t we be told that the money we spend on bricks and mortar aren’t transforming the world, and that discipleship is about relationships and accountability not comfort and security? Oh, I know, those who stand in glass houses shouldn’t walk under a ladder, or some such. I confess, I am first among hypocrites and a poor example at best. But I get tired. Tired of business as usual and tired of all the bad behavior and materialistic values that define us. And instead of stepping back and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we’re hiring $2000 a day consultants from the corporate sphere to come in and tell us how to change. We so desperately want leadership but what we get is American Idol.
Haiti January 14, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Personal Reflection, serving those in need.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, Values
My heart is breaking. I haven’t been back to Haiti in more than 20 years, but a big piece of my heart is there. The trips I made to Haiti were life-shaping and values-reshaping. I learned more about being a member of a global community working in Haiti than I have in any other way. I also experienced a pure and radical joy in worship in Haiti that I do not find anywhere in the United States. And the people I met. Good men and women living hand to mouth in some of the most unbelievably challenging circumstances, with few complaints. And the children. Beautiful, wonderful, normal, vibrant children — though often malnourished, ill, broken, or deformed. Haiti symbolizes for me the crux of the human spirit — doing what you can with what you have to make a life… and not just a tolerable life, but a life filled with some measure of purpose and joy. The images of the earthquake devastation tear me apart.
Haiti is one of the poorest places on earth. There are few tradable resources. The country is essentially deforested. The cities are overpopulated. Hundreds of thousands of people live in shanty-style tar paper and tin shacks. Whole families share 400 square-feet of space squashed in with thousands of other families. Clean water is just short of myth. You can chew the air in most populous centers. In the country, unemployment is the rule rather than the exception, and most families scratch out a subsistence living from what they can coerce from the ground, pull off the trees, or coax from the sea. When I was in Haiti the first time, we had to walk a mile-and-a-half to pull muddy water up out of a hole to bathe.
Sins of Nomission January 13, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Missions, serving those in need.
Tags: Christian service, Evangelism, Mission & Purpose
A large number of United Methodist congregations are struggling — with money, with members, with commitment, with leadership, with a host of problems large and small. Many of these churches aren’t doing anything wrong to cause these problems — in fact, they aren’t doing anything much at all. And that’s the source of the trouble. For years I have been curious to understand the large number of United Methodist congregations that do essentially nothing beyond the walls of their buildings. This is not, I repeat NOT, in any way to ignore the incredible mission work The United Methodist Church does at all levels. Missional outreach and Christian service is in the denomination’s DNA — it helps define us as “United Methodist.” But that’s the point. About one-in-five (20%) of our churches do nothing or next to nothing for those outside the church. Another 20-30% limit their missional focus to whatever good is done through apportionments, and a significant number of our congregations support mission work passively — giving money so that other people might do it. The important correlation here, however, is that our healthiest congregations are those that have active, widespread, committed engagement from a large number of people in a large number of good works.
Pastor Paté January 11, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Pastoral Ministry.
Tags: Church Leadership
Over a decade ago, Evelyn Burry and I did a study of the issues that District Superintendents most hated dealing with. In the broadest category, DSs hate having to deal with people — but that’s not fair, because the thing they like most about their jobs is people as well. No, it is a particular type of people who cause DSs to dread their job — selfish people. Now, I know what you’re thinking — Dan, come on, we’re Christians, man. We’re the CHURCH. There aren’t any selfish people in our churches! This might surprise you, but there ARE some selfish people in our churches. And they are making things tough for everyone, not just District Superintendents.
If our informal research is anywhere near correct, 65% of complaints DSs receive are from parishioners about their pastors, while about 25% of complaints are from pastors about their parishioners or other pastors. 10% of complaints are about the DS directly or about the Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church, the state of Christianity in the world, or God. But what is most interesting about the nature of the majority of complaints is that they have little or nothing to do with the mission and ministry of the church — they generally have to do with personal disagreements, stylistic preferences, or simple personality.
Ascribes & Pharetics January 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, hypocrisy
There are two deadly types of leaders in today’s congregations: ascribes — those who ascribe negative intentions to other people’s actions — and pharetics — legalistic types who go out of their way to misconstrue and manipulate information to make others look bad. Two quick illustrations:
A young pastor left the ministry because, in her own words, everyone was out to get her. Those who questioned her were undermining her authority and disrespecting her. Those who disagreed with her were rude and ignorant and had it in for her. When people wouldn’t do what she wanted, she felt betrayed and unappreciated. When her SPRC suggested she take a sabbatical for some renewal and reflection, she blew up because they were trying to get rid of her. She said people were “looking for things in my sermons to attack me for.” She assumed that when she wasn’t invited to a meeting that it was so members could talk about her. Over time, her paranoia led her to begin every encounter with defensiveness and aggression. She was moved from one appointment to another — hoping that she might experience different results in a different setting. After similar experiences in two different locations, the young pastor’s only reflection was, “the church is full of messed up people!” A classic ascribe.