Fickle Fairyland Faith May 3, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Faith Sharing, Myths
I won’t share the convoluted audit trail that leads to this post, but a series of unrelated incidents all point me back to this particular story. When I was in Nashville, I related to a young, well-meaning Christian who went from ultra-committed and ultra-pious to uber-atheist in the blink of an eye. When I was going through my own divorce, he invited me to lunch to try to talk me out of it. He patiently informed me that this was the most heinous of sins, I would never be forgiven nor forgive myself, that I was tempting God and risking eternal damnation. I honestly believe he was doing this from a deep well of concern and a weird form of kindness. He held a very clear and simple vision of Christian faith — do what is right and God will bless you; do what is wrong, and watch out!
It was not a full six months later that we sat together in reversed roles. He and his wife lost two children in a very short period of time — one to illness, one to depression and suicide — and the strain was too much for their marriage. They were engaged in a sad separation on their way to divorce. My young friend spat out his anger and frustration: “The IS NO God. If there were a loving God, He wouldn’t be doing this to me!” I tried to temper his responses, but it was no good. He was through with God, because God wasn’t treating him fairly. His life, when placid, calm and stable meant God was blessing him. His life turned upside down and filled with tragedy, pain and suffering meant there could be no God. There was nothing I could say that he wanted to hear. His myth of the fairyland called “faith” had been destroyed.
Sunday Speculation (The Mind of Christ) March 31, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, Easter, Personal Reflection.
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Even if Jesus believed — knew — he was coming back; what did coming back actually feel like? Defeating death is no small feat. To the extent that there was any question, any doubt, Easter morn was the complete and total validation. In a time and place where empirical evidence was the highest form of proof, the reappearance of Jesus would be the crowning miracle of a truly miraculous career. It is small wonder that even his closest followers and friends had trouble believing the evidence of their own eyes. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus; she and the women certainly didn’t believe what Jesus told them — they came to care for a corpse, not to serve a living Lord. When the disciples heard the word, they didn’t run out looking for a risen friend; they ran to an empty tomb. They didn’t seek proof that Jesus was risen, only that Mary was correct that the body was gone. Faith was not in strong supply Easter morn — and it wasn’t even in large supply when they DID see Jesus, because belief grounded in proof really isn’t faith after all. Faith is the assurance of things unseen, and Jesus himself blessed those who did not need proof, but believed anyway.
Saturday Stillness (The Mind of Christ) March 30, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, holy week, Personal Reflection, Theological Reflection.
Tags: holy week
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All is darkness. Was Jesus sentient at all on the Sabbath? It is a disquieting association –Sabbath rest with death, yet on this seventh day, Jesus rested. At what point did resurrection occur? We know when the followers experienced it, but when did it begin? When did the pneuma — the breath, the Spirit, the essence — return? When did awareness dawn? When did Jesus come back to himself, and begin the return journey? What passed through his consciousness? The gospels give some glimpses. I believe there were two things Jesus hoped against hope would NOT happen, though he was fairly certain they would. First, I believe Jesus hoped he would not find anyone gathered at the tomb to prepare him for burial. No stronger evidence is possible that they did not understand or believe in him (though they loved him). The second hope would be that his followers and friends (and family) would not be in hiding, but that they would be preparing for his return. As unlikely as this would be, I think Jesus wished with all his heart and soul that someone — anyone — would live in the assurance of his return. As I say, hope against hope.
Friday Festerings (The Mind of Christ) March 28, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, holy week, Lent, Personal Reflection, Theological Reflection.
Tags: holy week
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Life contains a series of liminal points, thresholds we cross that can never be uncrossed, actions taken that can never be untaken, transformative occurrences that change everything for all time. The inevitability of the cross increased in certainty from the moment Jesus was arrested in the Garden — everything in the ensuing hours swept Jesus forward to his destruction. I believe this was what Jesus engineered, yet I cannot help but wonder what these hours must have been like – intellectually, emotionally, mentally, viscerally, and spiritually? Often, I KNOW what I should do, and I have a deep conviction of the moral rightness and need to act, and my conviction is grounded in both personal and shared values — but this doesn’t make it any easier. For my 50th birthday, I jumped from an airplane (for the first and probably only time in my life — it resulted in a broken leg…), a lifelong dream come true. I wanted to experience the jump more than almost anything I can think of. The first 98% of the experience was everything I hoped it would be. Yet, I remember the moment poised on the lip of the doorway briefly thinking, “Am I nuts?” It didn’t stop me from jumping, but I would be a liar to say it wasn’t there. Once out the door and aloft sans plane, all doubt immediately fled — there was absolutely nothing I could do but enjoy the ride (come what may — stupid landing…). It is blatantly apparent that you cannot “unjump” once you’ve jumped. A peace and acceptance comes quickly once the decision is beyond your control.
Thursday Thoughts (The Mind of Christ) March 27, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, holy week, Personal Reflection, Theological Reflection.
Tags: holy week
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Can we truly imagine a death sentence, even of our own choosing? What goes through one’s heart and mind when the narrow path forward leads to pain, anguish, violence, humiliation and destruction? What sources provide the internal fortitude to face such an overwhelming crisis? When such a terrible fate awaits mere hours in the future, how might one choose to spend those last few hours? Second guessing, doubts, recrimination, things left undone and unresolved, concerns about legacy, lack of confidence in his followers, impending conflict and pain — a veritable miasma of negative energy swirling through Jesus’ head. What a scary, isolated, lonely place to be? I would imagine Jesus wanted to find a port in the storm, a place to rest and prepare, a space to gather with friends to say good-bye and share parting words. Jesus, leaving nothing to chance, had arranged for a secluded, private room, and asked his friends to prepare the space for gathering — for the Passover or not, depending on your gospel source; for a Seder or a Maundy. Jesus sought a calm before the tempest.
Tuesday Twists/Wednesday Wonderings (The Mind of Christ) March 26, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, holy week, Personal Reflection, Theological Reflection.
Tags: holy week
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Continuing my speculative reflection on what might have been going through Jesus’ mind the week of his crucifixion…
Jesus crossed a crucial point-of-no-return by his actions in the temple. He became not just a nuisance, but an enemy of the Roman empire. It was just a matter of hours or days until he would be arrested and punished. This meant that Jesus had to act quickly, and in the run-up to the Passover observance, Jesus took every opportunity to insult the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the priests, and even his disciples. Almost every encounter is a form of confrontation. Every action is a metaphor for aggression. The fig tree, the temple, unprepared, the unwatchful – bad things are going to happen. Jesus is downright rude in his replies to authority, and he delights in making them look stupid and ignorant. He appealed to the poor and marginalized, but not so much to lift them up as to insult the rich and powerful. He flouted social and religious convention — to the horror of the Jewish leadership and to the delight of the cultural riff-raff. Jesus literally makes fun of those in authority and ridicules them. Jesus is not an unkind man. His whole message has been about a different way to live. Suddenly he becomes not merely confrontational, but in some cases cruel. What’s up with that?
Monday Musings (The Mind of Christ) March 25, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, holy week, Personal Reflection, Theological Reflection.
Tags: holy week
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“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:5) is reverberating through my head as I approach this year’s Holy Week. Now, I realize that I am treading on thin ice here, but my reflections for this week are nothing but my limited attempts to imagine what might have been going on in Jesus’ head as the days passed. Before anyone takes too analytic a lens to my meanderings, please note that I am NOT saying this is what actually happened or that I am drawing from any historic or analytic sources. And as far as consistency goes with scripture, well, we are talking about the Passion narratives – four very different tales about the same event used by four different “evangelists” to communicate four very different messages. I am contemplating mainly on Mark’s version (from the Greek rather than any modern English translation), though I cannot escape the influence of the other three canonical gospels as well as that offered by the gnostic Gospel of Peter. I am also influenced by a year’s study of and investigation into first century Middle Eastern culture. So I am going to use my blog to think out loud and conjecture. Please hear what I write as “I wonder…” or “What if…?” rather than “I think…” or “I believe…”
Spirituality KAMP January 16, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, Small Groups, spiritual practices.
Tags: spiritual practices
I received a wonderful email from one of my “kids” (a member of a youth group I led in 1978) who tracked me down and shared a humbling note. Here is part of what she wrote:
…over the past thirty-five years I have attended Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches, and I have been very active in all of them. I am both a teacher and a student, active in Sunday school, Bible Studies, and a wide variety of small groups. A friend of mine passed along an article you wrote (which is how I found you) and I need to tell you that throughout all these years and all the different groups I have been a part of, nothing has ever even come close to the experience I had in your Spirituality Kamp when I was a teenager. I learned more, grew more, and became a better Christian more than I have in any other group in my whole life.
One of the challenges of ministry is that a leader often has little or no idea what impact she or he is making through preaching, teaching, counseling, spiritual formation, etc. It is always a gift when someone takes the time to let a leader know that they made a difference. It is a nice affirmation, but it also brought back to mind one of the most fulfilling and exciting periods in my young ministry. Bear with me as I tell a story, then hopefully I can make some useful observations.
In the seventies, I was working on a couple community development projects and one of the tools we used was KAP analysis. K=knowledge/skills; A=attitudes; P=practices. A KAP analysis helped struggling communities get a fairly good sense of the human resources and communal strengths it could draw from to develop and grow. I “borrowed” (stole) the basic concept and developed a KAMP model (K=knowledge and skills; A=attitudes and values; M=meaning and purpose; P=practices and exercises) to use with teenagers in the church. One summer, while our normal youth group went on hiatus, I launched a bi-weekly Spirituality Kamp, where anyone who was interested would gather to assess their personal current reality and set goals for growth and spiritual development. Very simply, each participant took an inventory in each of the four KAMP areas: what do I know and what do I know how to do? What are my core beliefs and guiding values? What gives my life meaning and how do I define my sense of purpose? What are the things I do on a regular basis to strengthen my relationship with God and help me live more like Jesus Christ?
From there, each person developed a personal vision and action plan. Every participant created a list of those things they wanted to learn/learn how to do, ways they wanted to improve their attitudes and expand their worldview, live more fully a meaningful and purposeful life, and engage in personal and shared practices to strengthen our relationship with God. Each person was paired with someone else, and when we gathered together we basically shared how well we were working on our plans, and ways we could support one another in what we were doing. We began with six youth, but had to move to a larger space within two months, averaging about twenty kids each meeting — and it became a year-round program. When I moved to New Jersey, I relaunched the process (calling it Pneuma – meaning “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.”).
Without actually meaning to (and before I ever knew about Wesleyan class/band/society accountability groups) I created a safe space for an open exploration customized to the needs and spiritual maturity of every participant. I was nothing more than a catalyst for a very natural formation process. Of all the “programs” I’ve been responsible for over the years, Spirituality KAMP actually demanded the least amount of preparation or expertise. It was, for the young people involved, a true peer-learning experience. It was an immersion in a real discipleship process — self-defined expectations and goals with a positive and affirming structure of mutual accountability.
Endings & Beginnings January 4, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection.
Those who know me well know that my 2012 crawled to a close with a whimper and a moan. An old back injury flared up with a bone spur off my spine that keeps me in a constant state of excruciating pain and chronic distress. I have NEVER experienced pain like this — and I hope it is making me much more sympathetic and empathetic with those who live this way all the time. I would wish this on no one, ever, for any reason. The other major event was the death of my father on December 23. Due to my back, I was unable to attend his memorial service and be with my family. (Poor me…)
The significance of these last couple months is a threefold challenge to my personal worldview: control, patience, and perspective.
We v. They September 21, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Core Values, Integrity, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, church, The United Methodist Church, Unity
Like everyone else, Raleigh Hayes saw the world, and the people with whom he was obliged to share it, through the kaleidoscope of his own colored designs. As the years turned the viewer round and round, the bits of glass fell into new patterns, but the perspective remained limited to Raleigh’s eye. (Handling Sin, Michael Malone, 1983)
Not everyone agrees with this premise, but I am of a mind that everyone sees the world, not as it truly is, but through a set of personal and unique filters that makes an individual worldview. As we encounter others, we bond most closely with those who share key elements of our worldview. This makes for a grand and glorious bell curve of subjective worldviews that we embrace as objective reality. The truth is out there, and each of us brush up against it, but none of us own it. It is through this kaleidoscope effect that we polarize and politicize and project. It creates the frame and forum for “us/them; we/they; right/left; right/wrong” thinking that defines our modern/post-modern U.S. culture in the early 21st century. This comes clear to me as I look at comments made about my reflections on the work of our General Boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church.