Why Is Peace So Hard? May 17, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Unity, Values
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I am writing today from Atlanta (Georgia, in case you were wondering) at the conclusion of the three-day Ecumenical Korea Peace Conference. This has been an amazing — and deeply educational — few days. I know the basics on the post-WWII Korean history — told from the United States perspective. I have been to Korea twice — once in 1994 and again in 2012. The growth and change in that eighteen years was unbelievable. I’ve been aware of the past couple years of “news” coming out of North Korea, and like most Americans have been deeply troubled. The I came here and talked to a whole lot of people from both North and South Korea. Incredible how little I actually know about anything Korean…
I have been exposed to a steady stream of partial information, mis-information, skewed information, facts and factoids, and a boatload of filtered and fabricated mythology about a country torn apart, divided, dis-integrated, and living in distress. Families separated two generations ago that to this day cannot be reunited without unbelievable sacrifice and hardship. My ignorance of the situation is much greater than my perceived knowledge. I mean, I know the Koreas are still “at war” — armistice is a far cry from peace, and a peace accord has never materialized, ending the Korean War. The need for a peace treaty is critical. And our current sanctions against North Korea are hurting all the wrong people. The sanctions are the most unChristian acts of a supposedly Christian country. None of these opinions have been impacted by this conference — other than to pump up the sense of urgency. No what I take away from this time is a clearer understanding of all the ways it has not been in our interests to end this conflict — we are making WAY too much money to actually work for peace. The demonizing and vilification of North Korea as a media coup is even more sickening than I expected. “Axis of Evil” anyone? Bad judgment and ignorance gets painted as insanity and evil — a much more compelling vision that keeps the misinformed flock glued to the news channels.
Muddled Maturity May 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, Stewardship
Every once in a while I strike a chord — I have received emails daily about the past couple posts on “mature” Christian spirituality. It seems everyone wants to use their own personal spiritual level as the definition of maturity — which is very normal and human. If we could conceive of something better, we would be doing it. If we are doing something a particular way, it is because we believe it is the best way to do it. Every eight year-old in the world thinks he or she is doing eight exactly right. It isn’t until he or she turns nine that eight isn’t all that much. Every person is as mature as they can be in the moment — when we see more mature ways to engage, we grow into them. Maturity is a process, not a destination. The terms “less mature” and “more mature” are actually better than simply “mature” and “immature.” And maturity is not an “it” but a complex weaving of “its.” Let me explain:
Growth Imperative May 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Spiritual seekers, Values
The Christian faith is about growth and maturing. In recent posts, I’ve talked about “mature” faith, and the response has been interesting. Many frame the term “mature” as judgmental, exclusive, and unkind — when compared to “less mature” or “immature.” But developmental and qualitative growth — improvement, strengthening, seasoning, evolving — is best described in terms of maturing. Indeed, there is a value judgment in assessing one behavior as mature against another as immature. Yet, we are all aware of the differences between a mature and an immature response to disappointment, failure, pain, or loss. The more mature response is generally very clear. It doesn’t mean an immature response is bad, it is simply… less mature.
And spiritual maturity is essential for a healthy spiritual relationship — with God, in Christian community, and with those we seek to serve and love. I have yet to find a congregation torn apart by maturity. The most toxic and destructive behaviors come from the least mature spiritually. Where a process for maturing is not provided, the less mature rule. And when the less mature call all the shots, it is amazing how “the mature” often respond — more often than not, like the spiritually immature. It seems that immaturity exerts a greater influence on maturity than maturity exerts in reverse. But this actually make sense — there are way more less mature than mature.
Ecumenically Challenged April 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Ecumenism, Mission & Purpose, Unity, Values
There are few things I hate worse than being sick on the road. My wife and I are in Columbus, Ohio and I determined that now would be the ideal time to get a four-alarm sinus infection. I can’t focus, I can’t breathe, I have a splitting headache… and I am trying to engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with energy and conviction. Not an easy task. I am hearing through congested filters. When I feel bad, I tend to be a bit more prickly and terse, so take my reflections with a grain of salt.
So many of the presentations and conversations feel like they have a “yes, but…” undertone. The words are about unity and collaboration, but the undercurrent feels polemical and a bit competitive. I listened to a Catholic priest explain how ecumenical dialogue never meant anything until after Vatican II, because without the Catholics in the conversation it could never go anywhere. I have been patiently told that the Roman Catholic church isn’t part of the World Council of Churches because it “doesn’t want to take over.” I have had nine conversations where it has been explained to me what “full communion” isn’t — not once have we settled on what it actually IS. Too often, our best intended introductions devolve to explanations of what we are not, instead of what we are. Our crowing achievements are Thanksgiving services and pantries — things we can do together with no real cost or compromise. I’ve broached the subject of “one body in Christ,” and both times the people I have been speaking to turned the conversation to “different parts.” Unity is the abstraction that brings us together, but not the reality towards which we choose to work.
Unoty April 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Unity
I am attending a National Workshop on Christian Unity this week in Columbus, Ohio. It is an annual ecumenical gathering that focuses on how to build bridges, foster friendly relationships, and improve communication between Christian communions. We talk about finding common ground, celebrating each other, and discovering spiritual synergy where together we are greater than the sum of our parts. It becomes painfully apparent how far apart we are — a small group of religious leaders talking about what if and what could be simply illustrates how NOT united we currently are. And this morning a brief encounter shined the light of brutal honesty on the witness we offer the world.
I stepped out of the meeting to respond to a text message, and I stood near a pair of young Latina members of the housekeeping staff at our hotel. When I finished my message, I noticed the young women, and one asked me, “Who are you?” I froze like a deer in headlights for a moment, unsure how to respond. My confusion was clearly displayed, so the young woman unpacked her meaning by asking, “What group are you with? Who are you?” I explained that we were leaders from a variety of Christian denominations and organizations gathered to talk about “unity” and working together. Both young women looked confused.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot April 4, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
We tend to celebrate our pluralistic and richly diverse culture and, in the church, we talk long and loud about radical hospitality and open hearts/minds/doors. Yet, we still seem to be having problems knitting our intercultural parts into a well-integrated body of Christ. There is so much latent and subversive “-ism” — sexism, racism, classism, ageism, us/themism, colonialism, territorialism — that we cannot seem to all get on the same side at the same time. Dr. Maura Cullen’s book, 35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say (Surprising Things We Say That Widen the Diversity Gap) is a great primer for anyone who truly wants to be more loving, kind, gentle, respectful, conciliatory, caring and graceful (by which, I hope I mean anyone who really wants to be Christian). Those who bask (consciously or not) in power and privilege are often less than mindful of the impact of their words, regardless of their intention. Cullen’s book calls us to take responsibility for the things we say, and to those of a Wesleyan bent, to truly live the standard of “first, do no harm”.
The book is essentially a compendium of Do’s and Don’ts (35 clear “don’ts…) that help us better understand how to communicate in effective and affirming ways. Cullen helps shift perspective to the other side — what it is like to be on the receiving end of inappropriate, thoughtless, dismissive or even well-intended but harmful statements. Her instruction is simple and straightforward. It doesn’t much matter what we intend; our words are measured by their impact. Thoughtless and offensive statements “pile on” over time, so that the general attitude behind any one comment can be magnified. Defensiveness and attempting to justify oneself adds insult to injury, and mindlessly accepting power and privilege as a personal right while denying the same to others is unacceptable. Most people are trying to be better and do the right thing, but words have power — they can be tools that build up or weapons that destroy. Used thoughtlessly or irresponsibly, they do more harm than good.
Bursting the Bubble — The Lost Episodes #1 April 2, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Values
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When I wrote the book, Bursting the Bubble, five years ago, it was three chapters too long, so it was trimmed to fit page count. Going through some files, I discovered one of the chapters that hit the cutting room floor: Contrary Counter Culture. Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?) I thought I would offer it here (instead of taking the time to think up anything new…)
Watch about ten minutes of an evening news cast or scan the first few pages of any newspaper (well, maybe not USA Today…) and you will find overwhelming evidence that we live in a broken, violent, and frightening world. Wars, school shootings, tainted food, terrorist attacks, gang violence, global warming, bridge collapses, fires, earthquakes, floods, and who got booted off this week’s American Idol are proof positive that something is very wrong. Disaster – human-made and natural – lurks around every corner. We stand at the brink of absolute and total annihilation.
This is not news to Christians. Ever since Adam bit the apple/fig/pomegranate (scholars are unsure), the world has been going to hell in a hand basket. This is what our faith is all about: that despite what our eyes and brains tell us, our hearts know better. God is in charge, and all things work together for good for those who love God. We have been given the assurance of salvation and rescue. We know a deeper truth than that offered us by secular culture. Even in the face of severe persecution and the threat of bodily harm, we have reason to rejoice, right? It doesn’t matter if the mass media does everything in its power to scare the living daylights out of us. We’re not shaken by an elevated terrorist threat level (orange, no amber, no crimson, no BLOOD RED!), because we possess blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a friend named Jesus. The culture may tell us the world is a horrible, angry, awful place, but the Christian counter-culture has a more important story to share with the nations: our God is an AWESOME God. The rest of the world may go nuts with fear, but not us…
Prayerheads March 21, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, prayer, spiritual practices
I am deeply distressed by the state of prayer in The United Methodist Church – at least among pastors. As I am visiting with clergy leaders, I am asking about their personal devotional lives, and far and wide I am finding that many have no personal devotional life. I have been asking both laity and clergy leadership about prayer, and I get blank stares. In one visit a couple of years ago, I met with a leadership team from a small congregation with some dynamic growth potential. As we named our hopes and dreams for the future, the following desires emerged: we want to grow, we want to reach young people, we want to improve attendance, and we want to get more people involved in leadership. I pointedly asked, “Are you praying for these things?” The pastor asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “When you meet together – do you pray for these things, specifically and by name? Individually, as leaders in the congregation, do you pray for these things every day? Do you raise these things in worship and invite the congregation to pray for these things?” The pastor and key leadership confessed that, no, they were not praying for these things. The following week, I received an email from the pastor telling me how offensive and inappropriate he – and other leaders – felt my comments were. He felt that I created an awkward and insulting situation. I wrote back that I apologized for nothing – if the leaders are not grounded first and foremost in prayer then I doubted that any planning process would be very effective. I haven’t been invited back.
Leading in the Little Things March 12, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Leadership, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Church Leadership, Values
Here is one of my old guy rants that may sound like “what’s wrong with the younger generation?”, but in fact is a “what’s wrong with our leaders?” I stop for coffee just about every morning at a local shop, and while it is always busy, it is still a comfortable and cozy spot. This morning, however, a youth group had taken over the main area, pushing tables together and pulling all the available chairs to their enclave (even though half of them were empty). The noise level from this table was overwhelming, drowning out casual conversation and making it all but impossible to read (which is my normal ritual). These things I found mildly annoying, but what really blew me away was what the young people were saying, the attitude behind the words, and most appalling of all, the complicity of the middle-aged youth leader sitting with them.
Polymorphous Pedagogic Perversity February 4, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
“Polymorphous” — having, assuming or passing through many and varied forms or shapes
“Pedagogic” — pertaining to teaching, instruction or instructional method
“Perversity” — willful contrariness; turning from the acceptable standard or expectation
Okay, now that definitions are out of the way, let’s jump in. In what ways is the title of this piece an apt description of the current state of The United Methodist Church? In one respect, this is just a fancy way of saying we are all over the map — on just about everything. I another respect, it describes our inability to say who we are and what are our defining and guiding values. Also, it describes our penchant for focusing on division over unity, squabbles over harmony, petty differences over substantive similarities, and peevishness over civility and respect. It explains why in a reality of enormous gifts, talents, knowledge, skills, passions, competencies, resources, assets, opportunities and faith our key leadership (and the counselors, consultants, and hired “experts” who whisper in their ears) chooses instead to focus on loss, death, decay, liabilities, weaknesses, looming catastrophe and death tsunami (have you noticed how offensive and repulsive I find “death tsunami” to be? Gotta love the lack of faith in people who push that one!) We are a church of mixed messages, inexact meanings, misguided metaphors, and miasmic muzzie-headedness. No wonder we find it hard to attract new people…
When we were challenged at the Quadrennial Training in Nashville to identify an adaptive challenge for our conference, I found myself in a distinct minority. As conference after conference talked about lack of resources, inability to draw young people, poor leadership, imminent death and defeat, and loss of connectional commitment, I raised up “need for theological engagement and directed conversation on the authority of scripture.” No one from Wisconsin Conference was a bit surprised this came from me — they’re used to it by now — but leaders from other conferences reacted with a glazed deer-in-the-headlights look. One said, “what good could that possibly do,” while another commented, “we don’t have time to waste on something like that.” A bishop pushed back that “we wouldn’t come to an easy answer” (the definition of an adaptive challenge, by the way…), and a former-colleague from Nashville explained, “those of us who respect the authority of scripture are at the mercy of those people (italics mine) who make a mockery of it (blaming people rather than the system — another clear sign that this indeed is an adaptive challenge).