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 Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?)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…
Partisan Piety September 18, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Religious Trends, Unity
Concepts of separation of church and state, the divide between science/academia and religion, faith and politics are generally muddy and misinformed. Early attempts to guarantee religious freedom and protect against theocracy have come to mean, in some minds, that the physical and the metaphysical should have nothing in common. And when we blur lines and pigeon-hole positions as clearly one thing or the other, we get in trouble fast. Political labels do not line up cleanly with theological labels, and to reduce people to categories is the worst kind of judgmental heresy. We live in a charged society where we define ourselves as much by what we hate as by what we love, by what we oppose as much as by what we support. Rather than focus on our own attributes and virtues, we waste so much time and energy castigating, attacking and insluting those with whom we disagree. We love living in the polarity — but not the polarity of separate, but equal. Instead, we want to prove superiority over inferiority. We take what we are not and make it a terrible thing that no decent, self-respecting person would ever want to be — like those people over there…
Beyond Label or Category June 28, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I sat with a table of clergy and laity leaders talking about reaching “young people.” In frustration, I asked them to define for me who these “young people” are and what they are like. It became apparent that the “young people” we want to reach are a generic, bland hash of upper-middle-class, calm, well-behaved “newer” versions of ourselves. The expectation is that “young people” will either share, or quickly adopt, our values, that they will enjoy what we enjoy, think what we think, and not question or challenge the way things are. Oh, and they will all nicely and cleanly fit simple categories — easy to label and control. This conversation is a glimpse into a huge problem we face — trying to reach and relate to people we don’t know or understand at all.
Emerged February 24, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Church growth, hypocrisy, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I love young adults. They slap me upside the head every time I meet with them. They are the supreme reality check. They burst my bubble every single time I talk to them. I NEED twenty-somethings to help me see what I am missing. Case in point. I met with a group of about forty clergy and young adults — most of the laity in their early- to mid-twenties, clergy in their late-twenties/early thirties. We were talking about the relevancy and significance of the church. Now, a decade ago, when I met with this age group, the hot topic at the time was “emerging church.” It was the rage. Bell, McLaren, McManus, Tony Jones, Warren books were spread all over everywhere, and just about everyone was signed up for an emerging something somewhere. Today, the emerging church was not even mentioned, so I thought I would ask about it. The response I got surprised me at first, but then simply assaulted my own tiny worldview. One of the group snorted derisively and said, “A bunch of 50-year-old white guys talking about postmodern Christianity and missional churches!” I was stunned. Whenever I talk to those 50+ white guys, we think we are so cutting edge and relevant. I have written before about the usurpation of the emerging vision by mainline and evangelical institutional churches — which indeed undermined the relevancy years ago — but I didn’t realize that it had so completely left the radar screen of younger leaders across the country.
Running Out of Options August 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, The United Methodist Church, Values
What is the greatest threat to our United Methodist Church? Is it decline? Is it tolerance of sin? Is it judgmentalism? Is it hypocrisy? How about controversy and conflict? Nope. There is one, simple threat to our continued existence and that is US. Our church has been subverted by a self-centered, selfish, consumeristic, privileged entitlement mentality that puts the comfort of the individual ahead of the integrity of the community of faith and the will and vision of God. My-way-or-the-highway, take-my-ball-and-go-home immature coercion is becoming the norm rather than the exception. This, and this alone, has the power to kill us.
See, if we set aside our own selfish agendas and make a commitment to work together in the name of Jesus Christ, none of the other threats has any teeth. Together, we can work through anything. Conflict doesn’t have to be destructive. Sin is a condition to address, not a test to determine who we will love and who we will not. Hypocrisy is something we strive to eliminate rather than a guilty secret we attempt unsuccessfully to hide. Unity in Christ — even across our differences — is the key to our future and to turning around our decline.
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?”
Holy Week-Lite April 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, Easter, holy week, Lent, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Easter, holy week, Lent, spiritual practices
Like many things in our modern culture, Holy Week has become a muddled grey paste of a religious experience. Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter all get jumbled up together in an atheological hodge-podge that leaves the veteran confused and the novitiate clueless. I have already sung, “He Lives!,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus,” and “‘Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies,” and it is the day after Palm Sunday. In the past couple weeks, Jesus has already instituted the Last Supper, has been before Pilate and Herod, has been scourged, both Peter and Judas have played their respective screw-up roles, Barabbas has been released – as well as Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass with crowds waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Talk about anti-climax. It feels like someone dropped all their index cards with their speech notes and they shuffled them together in random order and proceeded to launch into their talk. Welcome to Easter 2011 A.D.D.
Fantasy Planning March 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Congregational Planning, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
Picture, if you will, a small, rural congregation. The average age in the church is early 60s. The weekly worship attendance is approximately 50, and there is one nine-year-old who comes about once every three weeks. She is the whole Sunday school. The community is a church-going community — about 60% Lutheran, 30% Roman Catholic, 10% “other.” For the past three decades young adults have migrated away from the area for college or work. Young families are rare, and most already hold a church affiliation with the Catholic church. This small church is holding a planning retreat. What do you think their number one goal is for the future? Developing a ministry to attract families with young children! This is NOT planning; this is fantasy.
Segregation of Church & State March 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church Leadership, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Evangelism, The United Methodist Church, Values
It has been an interesting few weeks here in Wisconsin — making the national news almost daily due to our governor, Scott Walker, and his crusade to eliminate collective bargaining rights as a cost-cutting measure to help balance the budget. There is no doubt that it would produce a short-term savings, however, as I have written elsewhere, from a systems perspective this is a short-sighted, dangerous, and costly decision in the long-term. I know too many people in education, health care, law enforcement, fire and emergency services, as well as hundreds of blue-collar service providers (and am widely read in the history of labor negotiations and fair practices) to see this as a positive direction. Many of my clergy colleagues, laity partners in ministry, and personal friends have supported those most impacted by collective bargaining as a simple justice issue. Most of us are not concerned with the political machinations undergirding this debate, yet I am simply amazed by the number of church people who cry out, “the church shouldn’t get involved in politics! Separation of Church & State!!!” Respectfully, the only people who can seriously hold such a view a) don’t understand the concept of separation of church and state, b) haven’t read the Bible, and c) don’t understand what it means to be a United Methodist. Engaging in the political decision-making process of our nation is not merely an option for Christians, it is a fundamental tenet of our faith.