A.D.D.-U.M.C. October 31, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Mission of the Church, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Church, church, you are distracted by many things…
In response to a pastor’s call to pray for the people of Haiti (and the current cholera crisis), I heard a lay person whisper, “I thought we took care of that!” I think she was referring to the earthquake response earlier in the year, but we hardly “took care” of anything. Conditions in Haiti have been horrible non-stop since the quake, even though the UMC and other denominations and relief agencies have moved on to other concerns. We suffer a subtle but significant attention deficit disorder — trying to attend to so many things that we pay attention to virtually none for more than a fleeting instant. We want to focus on leadership AND new churches AND reaching new audiences AND revitalizing existing churches AND be in ministry with the poor AND global health AND church growth AND rethinking church AND A Call to Action AND elimination of root causes of poverty AND Nothing But Nets AND Change the World AND AIDS AND disaster response AND apportionments AND guaranteed appointments AND the elimination of institutional racism AND General Conference AND a hundred meetings/workshops/seminars/task forces/tables AND… Jesus wept.
There is no clear priority order for any of these things. If the UMC could do one — and only one — of the things listed above, we would find ourselves mired in an endless debate over what it should be. And most people would be fine focusing on one, but within moments would shift focus to something else. All this because we are not really sure why we are here. We are pulled in so many directions, and because we aren’t sure where we ought to go, we are “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” debate, and division. Everything is important, so nothing is more important than anything else. Everything is a priority so that nothing is a priority. We dabble in a little of everything so that we don’t have to excel at anything. There is nothing to be held accountable to because we never bother identifying concrete missional objectives to measure. We just count instead — the number of members, the number of churches, the number of dollars — which tell us very little about how well we are “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are regularly accused of mediocrity because that is all people see. It is virtually impossible to comprehend all the good things The United Methodist Church is doing because we are doing a little of so very much!
A Call to Auction October 28, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Let’s just put it out there to the highest bidder. We obviously don’t know what to do with it. The new Call to Action report came out saying what we already know and offering the same old tired suggestions for “widespread reform.” What a short memory we have. We studied our church in the 80s and recommended the same thing (remember Vital Congregations/Faithful Disciples?). We studied in the 90s and recommended the same thing. I studied in the 00s (Vital Signs) and saw the same things (though made some different recommendations). Now we’re in the 10s and we’re devoting tons of time and money to finding out, wait for it, THE SAME THINGS.
So Much for the Meek October 26, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Values
This morning’s USA Today has a front-page story below the fold on bullying among teens. It appears that bullying is widespread, and apparently acceptable. 52% of students have hit someone in anger in the past year. 50% admit that they have bullied, and 47% report being the victim of bullying. 37% of males think it is okay to hit or threaten someone who makes you angry, and 19% of females concur. I think I understand where this comes from. Ours is a competitive, reality-show addicted, Donald Trump idolizing, what’s-in-it-for-me culture. It is obvious walking down the street, at school, in the office, and not amazingly, in the church. So much for the meek, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
And it’s a dog-eat-dog church in here. There is a shocking amount of bullying in our congregations today. Inappropriate comments, intimidation, yelling, rumor-mongering, gossip, email threatening, vandalism, and name-calling are not unusual in our loving communities of Christian virtue and behavior. Nothing counter-cultural about churches that turn every disagreement into a win-lose proposition where people will openly state that they are “out to get the pastor,” or “drive a family out” of the congregation. Think we’re above bullying and bad behavior? Okay – “gay clergy.” That one certainly brings out the best in us. “Universal health care.” At least we all agree on this one. “Immigration reform.” Everyone stays level-headed about this. Aunt Edna’s memorial Jesus clock in the sanctuary? Move it to the parlor and see how civilly and decently people respond. Have we lost our minds? Perhaps not, but what about our faith?
Mythtaken Identity October 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Diversity, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Church Leadership, Ecumenism, Values
A conversation at the Commission on Religion & Race in Milwaukee this past weekend brought to mind three encounters — two from my time in Tennessee and one since coming to Wisconsin. About eight years ago, I got into a conversation about peace, and what it means to be a peacemaker in these scary modern times. The two men and one woman I spoke with made the following points: 1) peacemaking should be a high value regardless of one’s religious convictions — even those who do not have a religion benefit from peaceful coexistence; 2) those who defend violence in the name of faith make a mockery of faith and do inestimable damage to the majority who do not subscribe to their thinking; 3) that often the practice of a few defines the faith of the many; and 4) that it is tragic that extremists continue to inflict such violence on our world when there is so much potential for good.
The second conversation took place a few years later as I sat with professors and students at Starbucks talking about an abortion clinic bombing perpetrated by Christian women and supported by a local clergyman. One professor and his student were furious with the incident. “It makes us all look crazy,” lamented the professor. “We do so much good for so many people in so many places and it takes one fanatic and a rag-tag team of fundamentalists a moment to destroy it all. We get blamed for being extremists, but look at what the “acceptable” wing of the Christian church does?” The student chimed in, “I do not wish to be judged solely on my religion. I would never do anything as unholy and evil as take another life, yet I am viewed with suspicion because of my beliefs — beliefs that others assume I share with those who do violence.” The whole group agreed that it is a tragedy when the lunatic fringe of any faith defines faith for us all.
Not Our Issue October 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Multiculturalism, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
I am attending the North Central Jurisdiction CORR (Commission on Religion and Race) learning event this weekend in Milwaukee. As I gather in this place with these people I notice three things about myself. First, I can breathe. I don’t feel at all constrained or worried about what others might think. The people assembled here are deeply committed Christians from every walk of life (though, just by being here, we are among the more privileged in our society) and from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. This feels like home — or more appropriately, like true community in Christ – where all are welcome and all are honored. Second, I feel hope. There are more younger people here than at most church gatherings, and the spirit and energy is positive. This is a glimpse of what our church is at its very best. Third, I feel honest. No one here is pretending that we don’t have racial, gender, age, sexuality, and faith prejudice issues. This is one of the few groups that isn’t drowning in denial. And yet, this gathering also shines revealing and embarrassing light on how far our larger church is from the kingdom of God. It is one thing to note who is here. It is another to note who is not.
Random Thoughts October 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, church, Mission & Purpose, Values
I am becoming more and more convinced that coffee shops are the new mission frontier. I stopped at Beans ‘n’ Creme in Sun Prairie this morning for my usual fix (nothing fancy, just plain old coffee…) and I saw a group of men all with their Bibles open having a rather animated conversation. They were talking about the new PBS series, God in America, that premiered last night (and that I intended to plug on my blog BEFORE it aired, but I got busy and forgot…). This brought to mind the number of posters, emails, and invites I have seen the past two weeks for viewing parties. What is striking is that all the invitations I have seen or received have been from Lutherans, Catholics, ecumenical groups or campus ministries. Not one viewing party that I am aware of was United Methodist. I find this interesting and a little sad, because almost every other mainline church in our state has been promoting the series. Hmmm…..
One of the men in the discussion group who knows me and knows that I am a UM clergyman, waved me over and said, “We have a quick question we’ve been arguing about: do you have to go to church to be a Christian?” Quick question indeed! I realize they wanted a “yes” or “no,” but any of you who have read my blogs know that I can never answer a question simply. It’s not in my nature. My Socratic side kicked in and I answered their question with a question: “Depends. How do you define church?” Most there were thinking of the steepled building in their neighborhood where people congregate occasionally to sing songs, hear a sermon, toss a few bucks in a bowl, then exit to head home for the Packers game. I pushed back: “if your question is really ‘do we need other people in order to be Christian?’ I would answer ‘yes.’ I don’t believe that Judaism or Christianity were ever intended to be personal and private experiences of God for the individual. Our faith is a shared faith that shapes and equips us to be in service to others. This is impossible to achieve in isolation.” You would have thought I spit my coffee on them. Four of them started talking at once about how they are good Christians and that they don’t need a church or other people to be faithful and that I’m biased because I work for the church. One man, red in the face, said, “I pray, I read the Bible, I’m kind to others — I think it is a complete waste of time to go to church!” I replied, “So, what are you doing here?” He looked confused, looked at his friends and the Bibles open before each of them and said, “This isn’t church!”
Prayer Worriers October 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, prayer, spiritual practices
I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks due to an unusually heavy work/travel load, and an unusually large response to a recent post. Every once in a while I will write something that I believe is a “no-brainer” — it’s not overly profound or insightful, but it catches people’s attention and imagination and it snowballs. Such is the situation with prayer. I made the simple observation — that I have made a number of times before — that United Methodists, by and large, have very shallow and perfunctory prayer lives, and the main reason for this is that they aren’t being taught to pray. The response has been an avalanche (by my standards) of emails, letters, phone calls and personal conversations from people wanting to talk about prayer — mostly to agree with me, then share their own story.
From a young Seattle pastor:
I am in my seventh year of my first church (she isn’t UM) and I never thought about teaching prayer until I read your blog. I realized, ‘No one ever taught me to pray — not at home, not in church, not in college, not at seminary. It has always been assumed that since I am a Christian, I pray.’ I took your blog to my women’s study group and to my ecumenical clergy council and we started discussing it. Most of the pastors there said they can’t remember being taught to pray, except a few remember their mothers teaching them simple prayers and table graces as children. The priests were taught at Catholic school, but even they talk about learning much by rote. One Lutheran pastor also says he remembers the parts of the catechism on prayer, but nothing was ever really explained. My question is, how did we get here? Almost everyone agrees that prayer is very important — essential, in fact — but none of us are doing much about it. That’s going to change, however. Our ecumenical council is going to focus on prayer for 2011 and our shared programs for teaching and preaching will all focus on prayer all year. Thank you for planting the seeds!