Whadjagit? December 25, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, Devotional Reflection.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christmas
Over the next forty-eight hours, one question will be asked more often than all others combined — “whadjagit for Christmas?” I use the contraction instead of “what did you get?” for a very simple, personal reason. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had a classmate – Wiley Mooningham (no lie) — who was a transplant from a southern state, and I remember his bright-eyed enthusiasm interrogating us all on “whadjagit” (strong emphasis on the git) from Santa. It was only years later that I realized that Wiley came from a dirt-poor family and that he was living vicariously through the presents his friends received. When the question “whadjagit” was turned back on Wiley, he would report that he got a pair of work pants, work gloves and a hammer. Interestingly, he never seemed disappointed. Never did he report toys or games or sports equipment — just practical stuff. Wiley’s Christmas did bring any joyful carol to mind, but “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need…” It was ever a mystery to the rest of us kids how Wiley could get so excited over so little.
The Story of Yuletide Carol December 19, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
In every town, in every time, there are those rare individuals who become part of the “local color.” If they are wealthy, they are labeled eccentric. If they are poor, they are simply “crazy.” Outsiders see these people and marvel. Townies hardly notice them – they become part of the fabric – odd threads that give special texture to the whole piece. One woman – Yuletide Carol to the residents of Muncie, Indiana – was such a thread.
Growing up, I was ever aware of the troll-like woman who wandered the downtown streets of Muncie. I cannot recall the first time I ever saw her, but it was not until she died that I even learned her true name. Yuletide Carol just was. She waddled the streets spring, summer, fall, and winter bawling Christmas songs at the top of her lungs. Remarkably, her voice was not awful, and she had the uncanny ability to recall dozens of songs in their entirety. Dressed in a worn wool coat – regardless of the weather – Yuletide Carol would wobble, weeble-like, waddling along the sidewalks. A raspberry colored babushka encircled her jack-o-lantern face – squinted eyes, vegetable-lump nose, picket-fence grin, and potato-shaped, warted chin. She stood all of five-foot tall, but was a yard wide. Tree trunk legs propelled her on her way. Amazingly, most people in town didn’t even see her, so familiar a sight did she provide.
The Nice Curse December 16, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Integrity.
Tags: Church Leadership, church marketing, hypocrisy
Well, it is official. The United Methodist Church is “popular.” At least this is what a recent survey from the Baptist LifeWay Research indicates. Americans across the United States — well, 3-out-of-5 of them — claim a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of the UMC. (Does anyone else see “somewhat” as faint praise…?) Isn’t this nice? We’re not seen as “effective.” We’re not viewed as “important.” We aren’t seen as particularly “spiritual.” No, people like us. Isn’t that nice? There is no description of why we are liked, no explanation of what makes us less objectionable than other denominations. Various UM voices are filling in the gap — claiming that the things we have done in marketing our brand are responsible for this happy reputation, though there is no verifiable evidence that this is true. Nope, we are just a likeable church… in decline. People don’t like us enough to join us — they simply find us inoffensive. We’re nice.
Christmas Affluenza December 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Values
- sitting in a coffee shop listening to three women talk about how much they HATE Christmas shopping… yet they are doing it daily, one of them reports that she has spent over $10,000 so far this year (to be fair, including jewelry she bought herself), and the shared an encyclopedic knowledge of sales, stores, and special items they want to buy. The longer they spoke, the more excited they got, leaning toward each other, raising their voices, becoming breathless and agitated. What I witnessed were symptoms similar to those displayed by addicts. One woman confessed that she has a “pact” with her husband — their goal each year is to make sure they spend more on Christmas presents than anyone else in the family. She said, “It’s a little contest we have to do Christmas the best in our family.”
- an excerpt from an email where a gentleman’s main point is that I am making a mountain out of a molehill: “I don’t see the big deal about commercializing Christmas. Religious people have every right and freedom to keep Christmas holy — they simply need to refuse to get drawn into the cultural crap. Let Christians take Jesus and the star and the wise men and church and let the rest of us have fine food and drink, trees with pretty lights, Rudolph and Frosty and Santa. I don’t get where you think religion should dictate the holiday for the whole world. My mom is a Christian and she isn’t worried about losing her faith because Christmas is a whole lot bigger than just Jesus.”
- a response from the pastor of the southern church I mentioned in my last post about their “religion-free Christmas Eve services.” He told me this was an evangelism program to draw in non-Christians and give them “a pleasant, exciting, upbeat, non-threatening” experience in a church. He told me “obviously there is some religion — we sing Joy to the World and Silent Night — undeniably religious songs.” But instead of prayers they offer personal Christmas memory reflections; instead of scriptures, they talk about the opportunity people have to make a difference in the world by supporting any of the dozens of good projects the church is doing; instead of a sermon, they show clips from old Christmas movies and ask the congregation reflection questions on what these clips are trying to say. Together, they sing nostalgic Christmas songs such as I’ll Be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, The Christmas Song, and (oh, yeah…) they slip in Silent Night and Joy to the World. “This is our most popular and well-attended Christmas Eve services — many of our full-time members (note to self: are ‘part-time’ church members a good idea?) also attend; but we ask them to tone down the religious stuff in sensitivity to the audience we are trying to reach.”
Christmas C.S.I. December 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Integrity, The Bible.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Communication
My posts of the past two weeks have generated some fun and interesting discussions around Christmas. While I am not a fan of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric adopted by evangelicals operating from a victim mentality, I do agree that Christmas as a religious observance is in trouble. My contention, however, is that the threat to Christmas does not come from a godless, atheist society, but from within — from Christians who really don’t understand Christianity and plug their faith into their lives where convenient. When Christians don’t get Christmas, we can’t whine about how mean atheists and non-Christian believers are to our holiday. There are three things that Christians have done, engaged in, or allowed to happen that we can blame on no one else. Christmas as we know it today is exactly the Christmas Christians have created.
The three things I “blame” are these:
- commercialization — the process of exploiting something for profit or benefit
- secularization — the removal of spiritual and religious meaning from religious practices and observances
- ignoration (a made up word) — the intentional decision to not know too much about something in order to simply relax and enjoy it
An Unlikely Proposal December 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
I have been commenting on the commercialization and cultural co-opting of Christmas, and a number of people ask, “So, what do you suggest?” Well, here is a suggestion — though I know full well and good it won’t fly. Solutions are only solutions if they work, and this doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance…, but anyway. Short of having a Santa-Jesus smackdown or celebrity deathmatch, here is how I would propose redeeming Christmas as a religious observance while also connecting with the joyous cultural celebration of our secular Christlessmas.
Define Christmas as the Twelve Days of Christmas — allow the four-week period preceding Christmas to actually BE Advent, then move into a true Christmastide.
Marketing the Messiah December 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, church, spiritual practices, Values
From the Gospel According to Bob 1:26-2:12 (from the NKJV & The Message):
And on the night unto which the child was to be born, Joseph and his wife Mary sought shelter, but coming late without a reservation, Mary was vexed with Joseph, saying, “I told you so.” Joseph, aware that he was on thin ice, comforted Mary and assured her that he would find them a warm, safe, clean environment in which to deliver the one, true Son of God. He set off on his mission, returning sometime later with the good news (gospel) that, “two out of three ain’t bad…” Mary trusted Joseph, right up to the point where she realized that their was no room for them at the inn. She surveyed the stable that Joseph found, counting unto ten. Then Mary treasured all these things in her heart, being sure to remember them for a more opportune time. Secretly she hoped her child would be untidy so that through his life she might say to him, “What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?”
When the time came for Mary to be delivered, she noted with agitation that Joseph seemed preoccupied. “It’s time,” said Mary. “Hmmm?” replied Joseph. “I’m ready to have the baby, here. What’s the matter with you?” Mary asked. “Oh, nothing. But I was just thinking — this has real possibilities. Son of God, humble beginnings, born in a stable, laid in a manger — it has a real appeal. In fact, I bet we could make tiny models of this and they would sell like crazy,” reflected Joseph.
The rest of the night was a blur. The tiny child was born, angels appeared, shepherds stopped by for a visit, but Joseph busied himself with sketches and copious notes. “All we need now are some magi and the scene will be complete!” crowed Joseph. “As soon as you’re up and around, we need to take a little trip. I know a guy in Egypt that can crank out these nativity sets as easy as you please.” “Joseph,” Mary observed, “I am not sure we should be exploiting this for profit. This is a most holy night, and I am not comfortable with the idea of commercializing it.” Joseph, chastened and repentant, answered Mary, “You’re right, as always my love. This is a holy event, one that should never be exploited for profit. Let this be a lesson to us all — the birth of the Son of God should be honored and not cheapened by commercialization!” (NKJV)
When Mary was about to have Jesus, she and Joseph realized they were homeless. He found a place and said, “I think I know how we can turn a profit on this.” Mary replied, “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m a little busy. And besides, I think it’s a stupid idea.” Joseph thought for a minute, then said, “No, you’re right.” (The Message)
Oh, what have we wrought? Was it ever in the mind of God that we would commemorate the birth of the Messiah as we do today? Inflatable, light-up cartoon nativity sets on our lawns? Angels dancing to “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs? The three Wise Men bearing gifts of pizza, nachos and a keg of bear? Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus made of sausage, meatloaf, gingerbread, or jello? Nativity scenes employing ducks, snowmen, Peanuts characters, Sesame Street characters, Lego, Star Wars, Pokemon… what splendid ways we have created to remember the birth of our Savior! The problem is, there’s big bucks to be made exploiting religion, and the church generally has no problem with selling out as long as it can turn a profit.
Verbundenheit December 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Vision.
Tags: Advent, Christian Community, Values, Vision
When I was in college, I was good friends with two German students (Angela and Hans) who introduced me to a concept that shapes my understanding of church to this day. The German word is “verbundenheit” and while the simplest translation is “solidarity,” in has a much deeper, textured, and significant meaning. More than simple agreement or unity, it connotes interdependency and synergy — together we are greater and stronger than the sum of our parts. The metaphor they used to describe verbundenheit was this: “imagine threads woven into string, string woven into chords, chords woven together into braids, braids woven together into mats. Now, try to distinguish an individual thread from its place in the mat. While still individual, the thread is substantially more in relationship to the whole than it can ever be on its own.” And not only are we woven together, but there is a place for every thread, every string, every chord — and thought it might make for lumpy, uneven mats, inclusion is better than exclusion. The vision is compelling — and one of the best definitions of the kingdom/kin-dom of God I can imagine. It is a vision worth pursuing.
Occupy Christmas December 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Advent, Faith Sharing
I need to confess. I missed four opportunities to witness to my Christian faith this week, where I had clear occasions to challenge, confront or correct opinions about Advent and Christmas. I didn’t say anything then, but I’m going to say something now.
#1 Advent is NOT Christmas (or Epiphany) — last week I attended a church (thankfully NOT United Methodist, though I know full well it easily could have been) to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent by singing songs about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Wise Men. During the lighting of the Advent wreath candle, the litany claimed that we light the candle of hope ” for the second coming of the living Christ.” We were reminded that Advent is when we celebrate “the birth of the Messiah.” This is from a church that prides itself on reaching the “unchurched.” What a confused mish-mash?! The relentless misinformation in this service might be viewed as insignificant by some, but I found it troubling… but not as troubling as the call I received from a confused parishioner who wanted to double-check what her pastor said in a children’s sermon.