Once More, With Feeling November 27, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
It’s Advent time again; the beginning of the “church year.” We change the paraments to purple (or blue, in some cases), hang the greens, set up the advent wreath with candles, and we engage in the ceremonies of the season leading to the birth of Christ. How do we keep the “been there, done that” jaded cynicism out of the experience? Is it possible to infuse the season of Advent with a true spirit of anticipation and waiting, looking forward with hope to the event that will forever change the course of history? Can we make the biggest deal of all time a big deal one more time?
We do try. Many people love the weeks leading to Christmas Eve, and all the special music and pageantry. But it brings to mind a conversation I had with about sixty 18-30 year-olds at Vanderbilt University about four years ago. We were talking about the significant experiences that occur in church. When one young woman shared how much she loved going to her home church on Christmas Eve, a resounding rebuttal came from about 40 other sources. Opinion was divided, but the vast majority of young people said they stayed away from church at Christmas and Easter because of the contrived phoniness and generic activities they experience. “My church tries to be so sincere and significant that it makes me laugh out loud,” a seminary senior reflected. “I cannot believe how manipulative and insipid church gets at Christmas.” A young man echoed the sentiment, and added, “Everything seems dumbed down at Christmastime. Like we would rather focus on the fairy tale than the most impressive paradigm shift in the history of the world.”
DMC – Divided Methodist Church November 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Critical Thinking, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
I have been dismayed by the recent “unanimous support” claims for our Call to Action report — since I have had personal conversations with people directly involved who are anything but fully on board. Oh, I understand the act of solidarity and presenting a unified public face and the potential promotional value. What troubles me is the level of dishonesty and surrender involved — people I respect telling me that disagreeing won’t do any good anyway because we’re “in too deep.” I heard that same logic in one place I worked when I discovered that a major research project was flawed, inaccurate, and just plain bad, but was told that we’d invested too much in it not to go ahead and use it. Integrity be damned, we’ve got to keep moving — even if it’s in the wrong direction.
Let me repeat — I don’t disagree with the findings of the Call to Action report. It says exactly what we’ve discovered at least three times before over the past thirty years. Confirmation is a good thing. However, as in each prior instance, we are claiming that this time we’re serious about changing, but all we are doing is identify a number of symptoms to treat instead of root causes to change. The identity and purpose questions are ignored — we assume that we know who we are and that we know why we exist. These, my friends, are the very questions that we cannot take for granted, and they are the questions that must be faced before we decide what tactical changes to make. We are not a “united” Methodist Church at the moment and focusing on program and structure when the relationships are damaged and the connection is broken promises nothing but disaster. The problem is, were we to use our General Conference time to clarify what it means to be United Methodist in the 21st century, to reframe and clarify our theological task in contemporary culture, to codify and commit to our Social Principles, and to recover the missional/evangelical foundation that defined our heritage, it would draw a line in the sand and every living, breathing United Methodist would be forced to answer the key question: do I want to be a United Methodist or not. And, being perfectly honest, we would probably lose a third to a half of our membership no matter which way we turn.
The Day After Yesterday November 13, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Vision
I will say it again: our future does not lie in our past. Trying to “become” what we once were is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube (a lot more trouble than it is worth). Why can’t we be the church we were in the 50s or 70s? Well, a lot of reasons. We are no longer a big duck in a small pond — there are hundreds of alternative “churches” we weren’t in competition with back then. We have a much greater social conscience than we did in the 50s — look at our Social Principles. We are no longer defined by missional service and evangelism — we’ve gotten complacent in our old age. We were assimilated into the “Church Growth” collective mindset of the late 20th century and have never recovered. Our culture and Western world has evolved and isn’t looking for the same things from us. We stopped having as many kids, so our Sunday schools dwindled (still the best way to have a booming Sunday school — grow your own! Just add water…). Competition for time, energy, and entertainment value has shifted. Sunday school or soccer? Tae Kwon Do or choir? American Idol or Church Council?
Anti-socialism November 3, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication
Ah, the elections are over. Some people are happy, some are not. I, for one, am happy — not because the people I voted for got elected (they didn’t), but that we will not be subjected to the petty, spiteful, disrespectful, spurious, un-true/half-true, patronizing, attacking ads anymore. I cannot remember in recent years so many ads that both attacked the opponent AND insulted my intelligence. It was as if the candidates and their public relations handlers counted on the ignorance and gullibility of the viewing audience. “So-and-so has been in office the past two years — therefore he/she is responsible for all that happened.” Please tell me that no one actually confuses correlative reality with causal fact. I have often been hired to mediate disputes that got worse after I arrived. No one was ever silly enough to blame me for the escalated tension. People elected just two years ago inherited an incredible mess. There is no way they should shoulder the blame — either for the mess or for not cleaning up in two years what took over ten years to create.