R.D.E. May 31, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
I have been reading Paul Watzlawick’s fun and funky, The Situation is Hopeless, But Not Serious — The Pursuit of Unhappiness. The central thesis of this short work is that human beings create their own unhappiness and discontent in dozens of creative unconscious ways. In one section, Watzlawick focuses on a topic I find especially appropriate for churches: RDEs, or Relationship Demolition Experts. RDEs are exceptionally adept at creating tension and conflict without even trying. They establish rules of engagement that make conflict not just possible, but unavoidable. RDEs are essentially self-centered, defining relationships in terms of their own needs and desires, setting double-standards, and pushing personal encounter from the win-lose competitive mindset to a simple no-win situation.
Limited Appeal May 29, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Theological Reflection.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
You do realize, don’t you, that you have a very limited appeal? The majority of United Methodists are extremely happy with the way things are.
Really? We are happy with losing credibility? We are happy that more people are leaving than are coming? We are happy that younger educated people find us irrelevant and ridiculous? We are happy that the only people who care about our survival is us? Really? Then why are we so obsessed with doing anything and everything to ensure our continued survival — whether we deserve to survive or not? Can the church of Jesus Christ fulfill its mission without a United Methodist Church? You betcha’, which means we better clean up our act really fast.
When Faced With Two Options Choose the Third May 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
I have been writing recently about reframing our current conversation about the church from one of doom, gloom, decay, and demise to one of faith, hope, vision and relevancy. My central thesis is that we are unlikely to attract new people with the message, “Our ship is sinking and we don’t know what to do about it, but we’re rethinking it – come join us!” Concepts like “death Tsunami” are statements of fear, not faith, and solemnly stating that we are “just being realistic” is a clear indicator that we walk by sight rather than faith. Some call my desire to move toward a Promised Land instead of merely escaping Egypt naive. I can see their pessimism if the only two choices they can imagine are short-sighted fatalism or insipid simplification. I don’t believe we are limited to just these two options. Let me share a story that I can use to illustrate my point.
The Folly of Fear May 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Church Leadership, church marketing, hypocrisy, The United Methodist Church
Man, I will never forget where I was May 21 when the world ended… oh, wait, that never happened. Most of the people I know and talk to didn’t give Harold Camping’s latest rapture prediction any credence, but I was amazed at how much airplay and interest is actually got. I mean, who would take such a spurious and irrational forecast (look up Camping’s “science” behind his prophecy) seriously? Apparently, hundreds, if not thousands of people — and even more were moved to wonder. In a local coffee shop I overheard a woman ask, “So, do you think the world will end this week?” Here companion laughed and said, “Not likely!” She paused for a moment, then timidly asked, “Yes, but do think it COULD happen?” It is amazing what a niggling sense of doubt and dread can be cultivated by just one prediction of doom and destruction.
But the underlying issue from this non-event is the power of fear — and its fundamental folly. Fear is not a motivator, merely a manipulator. Fear rarely generates a thoughtful, positive, rational response. People who are afraid are not functioning at the top of their game. Think post-9/11 and how deeply manipulated people were. Bombs, Anthrax, terrorists, etc. were around every corner. Remember the weapons of mass destruction? In the midst of all the fear-mongering and misinformation who could think straight? Fear is a toxic influence, bringing out the worst in people, not the best. For Christians, fear is the antithesis of faith. After centuries of fire-and-brimstone, turn-or-burn, “God will not just punish you if you sin, but will allow you to be tortured and tormented eternally” thinking, you could imagine we would have learned something by now. Unfortunately, what we have learned is how to do it better.
Off Target May 19, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Fellowship.
Tags: Christian Community, The United Methodist Church, Unity
Two passing conversations yesterday stuck with me. I got a call from a former colleague and current retired bishop who asked if I were planning to go to General Conference. I responded that it would be up to the conference whether I get elected or not. His reply to me was, “It would shake up a lot of people if you go.” I asked what he meant, and he said, “well, you know, you like to make people sweat — you go after people, you attack our sacred cows.” I lay awake last night thinking about this exchange. Is this how I am perceived? On the attack? Out for blood? Just being critical for criticism’s sake? God, I hope not. That isn’t my point at all. I don’t “attack” things I don’t like or disagree with — I try to apply critical thinking to things I don’t believe are accurate, helpful, or effective. I try to challenge the status quo and ask, “Isn’t there a better way to do this?” I generally back up my suggestions with fairly sound research and information. I attempt to bring a historical and/or systems perspective to issues that are being over-simplified. I know I get under some people’s skin, but that is not my intention, nor my motivation. I simply love my church and believe it has an enormous potential that it consistently fails to live up to.
Muddling Through the Middle May 16, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
I read an article a few years ago that stated that our brains are hardwired to avoid ambiguity. Even though mature reasoning demands a high level of abstract thinking and working through contradictions, conundrums, and puzzles, the normal state is one of binary certainty. We want our lives to operate in a safe, clean, organized fashion. This is why people will so adamantly defend one position over another — they are trying to simplify the complexity of life and escape the mists of ambiguity. Good luck with that. We really do not live in a “yes/no,” “good/bad” “either/or” world. The gray areas are significant and when we adopt the either/or option, we turn most of life into competition — “win/lose,” “fight/flight,” “us/them,” ”right/wrong.” This is short-sighted, hazardous and self-defeating. But, according to brain research, it is also natural and normal. Our working brains seek resolution. When faced with “maybe,” we will strive toward a definite “yes” or a definite “no.”
And we all know what this means in the church. If we resign ourselves to doing the limbic tango, we will never train our brains to function at higher levels. We will turn everything into a binary choice — bickering endlessly over who is right and who is wrong. Instead of rising above our base natures, we give into the less-mature state and create dissonance instead of harmony and resonance. How sad. There is so little to gain by division — especially in a church called to multiplication. Mature thought and developed cognitive process lead us from conflict through compromise toward true, honest, creative collaboration. We enter into the creative processes of God when we cease to destroy and divide and begin to build bridges and strengthen relationships. We stop hiding the treasure we have been given in a sock in the ground, and we work together to become good and faithful stewards. By the power of the Holy Spirit we begin to realize that Jesus wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said that we would do even greater works than he did. This wasn’t a simple wish or pleasant sentiment — God actually expects us to do great works together (greater even than Jesus did).
For the Love of God May 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Personal Reflection, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Values
I am not (generally) a fatalist, especially when it comes to God. I do not envision a God with too much time on his/her anthropomorphized hands, idly messing with human beings — poking here and there to see what jumps, steering a tornado into one group instead of another, giving one person a terminal disease while miraculously lifting a similar burden from another. In my mind, this kind of God is the creation of beings who take themselves entirely too seriously and think they are the true pinnacle of all creation. My God has better things to do than be arbitrary and human-like. And yet, there are days — moments, even — when I sit back and my best prayer is, “What are you DOING?” Case in point, a situation that happened the past few days that I haven’t even had time to unpack with my wife that makes me so put out with God that I don’t know what to do.
You Need to Understand May 9, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Trust
Working for the church, first at the denominational level, then at the conference level, I am surprised at how often people will open their communication with me with the words, “You need to understand…” A more narcissistic and ego-centric phrase may not exist, because the people who open with such a statement are not truly seeking understanding, but acquiescence. Here is how the statement breaks down:
You — I am abdicating all responsibility for compromise or cooperation — the responsibility rests solely with “you”
Need to — must, should, ought to because I say so. My wants, opinions, and desires must be the most important consideration, and the declarative indicates how important my position is
Understand — you surrender any opposition to my position and submit to my way of thinking.
Hate Exhaustion May 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Religion in the U.S., Vision.
Tags: Behavior, Values
I am heartbroken. There are those in the Christian church who want to hate and call it love. I was listening to a young, self-proclaimed evangelical preacher talking about the Bin Laden situation on a Wisconsin radio station yesterday, and the gist of his argument is this: as Christians, we should have poured out into the streets singing and dancing Sunday evening when the news was announced, and anyone who felt differently is both a questionable Christian and an unpatriotic American. Real Christian-Americans hate what God hates and should rejoice at destroying any and all evil. He explained that Jesus taught us that it is not only okay to hate, but that unless we hate we cannot be disciples (see Luke 14:25-35). True holiness, the young reverend explains, requires an all-out assault on all evil, and he proceeded to list what constitutes evil and what God hates: terrorism, liberals, gays/lesbians/bi-sexuals/transgender (all lumped under the lovely soubriquet “faggots”), pornographers and their audience, democrats, the college-educated, scientists, women who think too highly of themselves, Lady Gaga (why her specifically, I am not sure — he didn’t say), the “liberal media,” other faiths, foreigners who are jacking our gas prices up so high, credit card companies that offer you a ‘pre-approved’ card but deny your application, and all who make fun of devout Christians. There were more things in his rant, but I couldn’t jot them all down. It became quickly apparent that anything and everything that disagreed with this young preacher’s sense of values is evil, and God wants him to hate these things — not merely avoid them or judge them; his instruction to his listening audience is that God put us here on earth to destroy these things. We should do everything in our power to wipe these things out, “so that the world might one day truly experience God’s love.”
The Defining Power of Our Anger May 3, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Values
It has been an Old Testament couple of days. We finally eye-for-an-eyed/tooth-for-a-toothed Osama Bin Laden, and it has been remarkable to see the wide array of reactions. Vengeance, joy, relief, sorrow, anger — and the ringing proclamation “justice has been served.” But whose justice? Justice is about balancing the scales, and I’m not feeling balanced. Revenge is a fairly empty and superficial form of justice. We personified evil in the person of Bin Laden, but he was a pawn in a system of destruction and devastation. With him dead, what has really changed? Is the world safer? Are we better off? Has our moral superiority been reinforced by his killing? Before I get my head handed to me for my lack of patriotism, I confess my own conflict — I was glad to know he was caught. Killing him wasn’t a value either way for me — I don’t think retribution solves anything and is therefore a waste of time. But having to accept consequences for our actions? I’m all over that. I wish it happened more often. If our world ever totters over the brink, it will be due to lack of accountability more than anything else. No, I am fine with bringing Bin Laden’s reign of terror to an end, but I am puzzled by our sense of closure. There has been a strong “two wrongs DO make a right” feeling to many of the responses and reports. It feels like we, as a culture, have been defined by our anger for almost a decade.
There are many positive American values to celebrate, yet they are easy to lose in the shadow of our darker instincts. We are kind and generous people… until we’re not. We are open and welcoming… except where we’re not. We are a civil and sophisticated people… except where we’re not. And no matter how nobly we might perform in times of crisis, we hold onto any and all slights and indignities and we want payback. Perhaps the media is keying in on the more extreme reactions, but in our middle-Wisconsin market, men and women on the street have overwhelmingly reacted to the news of Bin Laden’s death with anger, hate, glee and contempt — not a pretty picture. And does being a Christian make a difference? Not to some. I listened to a group of men from a Bible study group share their opinions about Bin Laden at the coffee shop this morning. Beyond the individual, these four gentlemen used racial and ethnic slurs, foul language, and sweeping generalizations to celebrate his “just desserts.” A young mother, holding her toddler son, looked into the camera and shaking with tears wished catastrophe and death to whole countries — some unrelated to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda altogether. A few remain confused about the relationship between Bin Laden and Iraq, conflating their misperceptions with their desires for revenge. I sit and wonder, “what good is this doing us?”