Take Time To Be Holy September 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Church Leadership, Values
Are we really all too busy to spend time with God? I was in a situation recently where one group was bashing another group and I innocently asked if they had ever gotten together to pray. You might have thought I suggested they mate with animals. The idea that we “waste” time praying with “those” people was reprehensible. Now, if I suggested they get together to debate and fight, that would have been fine. We have plenty of time for that. In another setting I was speaking to a group of colleagues about personal devotions. To a person, each lamented that they simply didn’t have time; they were too busy for prayer, devotional reading, contemplation and reflection, worship apart from that which they led. This morning, I find myself feeling the same — too much on the plate to take care of my own spiritual, physical or emotional needs. What’s wrong with us?
Choose Your C September 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Church membership, The United Methodist Church, Values
I have been reading both Bruggemann and Block (The Word That Redescribes the World and Community/Abundant Community) and have been challenged in my thinking to a great degree about how we live together in healthy Christian community. Both books press a very simple, yet signficant distinction between two Cs: consumer and citizen. I am not generally a comfortable “either/or” thinker, but this distinction is as concise a characterization of the challenge facing mainline Methodism that I can think of — a dividing line that explains a lot about our fractured and under-functioning church.
Garden Club Christianity September 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values
Every community has its own unique interests and passions, and when I served in northern New Jersey in the 1980s, that interest was gardening. In Westwood and the three towns surrounding (Emerson, Hillsdale, and Park Ridge), garden clubs were the rage. To be a pastor seeking to connect with the community, one need to be willing to sit in on afternoon long garden club meetings. What I found fascinating was how very different each one was, and the memories I have of the four garden clubs form a metaphor and model of four church types.
Westwood — Love the Garden
In Westwood, women (and a few men) would gather for very nice sit-down catered luncheons where various members would share slide shows of their personal gardens. A number of garden club members never actually touched seed, soil or spray, but paid large sums of money to have others do the work for them. They hired landscapers and gardeners, consulted horticulturists and botanists. They poured through catalogs and ordered rare and wonderful fauna from all over the world. They transformed their living spaces into natural wonderlands, took pictures, and then gathered to compare notes on what fabulous gardens they had. The spirit was one of competition, admiration, and more than a subtle smidge of jealousy. The desire to have the ultimate garden paradise was strong throughout. They loved the beauty and grandeur — the idea of gardens as much as the garden itself. The garden was a place to relax and enjoy.
The Decade After September 10, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
I remember a trip to New York City in November of 2001. I rode past hundreds of signs with three basic messages: thanks and gratitude to the fire fighters and law officers, heart-wrenching pleas for information about lost/missing loved ones, and hate messages against a slew of foreigners. These three emotions defined the national angst — mostly, it was hard to put a finger on the exact root. Fear, anger, loss, devastation, confusion, paranoia — an unfortunate and volatile cocktail. In Nashville, for some reason, locals decided to terrorize Hindu families in response to the 9/11 attacks. I rode in a New York taxi with a young Arab driver, and all I could see was hate reflected in his eyes in the rearview mirror. I began thinking of all the ways that “those people” hate in broad, generic terms, and drifted into my own irrational stereotyping, when suddenly we found ourselves stuck in gridlock. Time passed, and passed, and passed some more. I attempted to strike up some inane chit-chat. I asked if he lived in New York and for how long, family, interests — he answered in monosyllables. I kept trying, and he snapped, “Look, sir, do not pretend you have any interest in me at all. You do not like me, so you do not have to speak to me!”
I was a little shocked and asked why he thought I didn’t like him. He glared at me with intense eyes, “No one here likes me anymore. You all think I am an evil person.”
I stammered, “I don’t think that. I have no reason to think that.”
“No one has a reason to think that! I have done nothing. I love America. It is my home. And now I dream daily of leaving it. You are all hateful people,” he almost yelled.
I began to see pain through the anger. “Have people blamed you for what happened in September?”
“They blame everyone from the Middle East. The best look at us with suspicion; the worst throw things and spit and call us horrible names,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m truly sorry. There are so many hateful, petty, ignorant people — who really don’t mean any harm – who make things worse for everyone. I can’t ask you to forgive people who aren’t willing to forgive you. I’m just sorry you’ve been a victim.”
“Not just me. My wife and my children. We cannot leave our apartment without someone shouting at us or throwing rocks of rotted food. This is our life now.”
We talked some more, and it came out that I am a clergyperson. Almost all the good will and healing we managed was erased in an instant.
“You Christians are the worst,” he said. “Most just call us names, but you are the worst. You condemn and revile and tell us we will burn in hell for all time. I have never known true hate until I met Christians.”
We talked some more, but we never connected at a harmonious level again. My faith became a barrier, because my driver’s experience of Christian witness was anger, judgement, condemnation, accusation and prejudice.
My fervent wish was two-fold: first, that this man could know that “Christians” are not of one mind and practice. Second, I wished that so many Christians didn’t confuse hate, violence and bigotry with “Christian love.” We are known by our fruits, but many of our “fruits” are “nuts.”
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 dawns, my mind returns to that cab ride. Were another attack to happen today, would we have learned from the last experience not to misjudge people who had nothing to do with the tragedy? Would we be kinder to people who were different, without giving into our baser, irrational and immature instincts? Has the church of Jesus Christ done anything to make us smarter, kinder, more tolerant, more discerning, less judgmental? Are we better for the experience, ten years after?
I look at our current tensions and debates within The United Methodist Church, and I must confess that I do not find much to be hopeful about. We can’t speak civilly and respectfully to one another within the fellowship. How in the world might we speak with grace to those whom we don’t know or understand. We are so ready to take offense and be intolerant. A truly life-changing event happened just a decade ago, and I wonder if we have learned anything.
A month ago, I spoke with a small group about meeting the needs of impoverished families in the Milwaukee area. Many spoke with passion about the overwhelming needs, and I said that our communities could only begin to address them if we worked ecumenically and inter-faith. A hush fell over the group. Finally one said, “Well, we’d better work with Christians. We wouldn’t want the Muslims involved.”
I asked why not.
A pastor raised his eyebrows and said, “Well, you know… they’re MUSLIMS.”
I said, “No, I don’t know.”
He said, “Muslims? Terrorists!”
Ten years have passed. Ten years to learn. Ten years for the church to teach. Ten years for the church to lead. Ten years for the church to heal. A decade later, where are we?