De-Loved Community November 7, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Spiritual Diversity, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
We face a tragic reality in our United Methodist Church today — the inability to disagree in Christian compassion and fellowship. For the past few years I have been promoting a vision, albeit personal, for beloved community. This vision is fairly specific, and contains the following propositions:
Beloved Community is…
- a place where unconditional love prevails
- a place where all are welcome regardless of their purity, privilege, preferences, merit or deservedness
- a place characterized by the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
- a place where everyone is treated with dignity, justice, respect and mercy
- a place beyond judgment
- a place where we choose to set aside our differences and focus instead on those things we hold in common
- a place where “we pledge to continue to be in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons as we continue to seek the mind of Christ and to do the will of God in all things.” (Preamble to our Social Principles, Book of Discipline 2008)
These are all variations on a theme; a way of saying essentially the same thing over and over. For me, it epitomizes the gospel message throughout the ages. Imagine my surprise as I continuously encounter Christian after Christian who find this vision offensive, demeaning, coercive, hostile and, need it be said, unChristian. I confess that I am a moderate theologically, a social progressive, and a relational liberal — I believe that all human beings are children of God, all are created in the image of God, and all have gifts and graces that no other human being should ever deny or withhold. I err to the side of inclusion, and would much rather be judged for being too accepting rather than too exclusive. But I realize that there are many who want our church to be “just exclusive enough,” and who draw very different boundaries around who qualifies as a child of God and who does not. I can live with such differences of opinion, interpretation, and worldview. I am saddened that there are others who cannot.
Mythtaken Identity October 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Diversity, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Church Leadership, Ecumenism, Values
A conversation at the Commission on Religion & Race in Milwaukee this past weekend brought to mind three encounters — two from my time in Tennessee and one since coming to Wisconsin. About eight years ago, I got into a conversation about peace, and what it means to be a peacemaker in these scary modern times. The two men and one woman I spoke with made the following points: 1) peacemaking should be a high value regardless of one’s religious convictions — even those who do not have a religion benefit from peaceful coexistence; 2) those who defend violence in the name of faith make a mockery of faith and do inestimable damage to the majority who do not subscribe to their thinking; 3) that often the practice of a few defines the faith of the many; and 4) that it is tragic that extremists continue to inflict such violence on our world when there is so much potential for good.
The second conversation took place a few years later as I sat with professors and students at Starbucks talking about an abortion clinic bombing perpetrated by Christian women and supported by a local clergyman. One professor and his student were furious with the incident. “It makes us all look crazy,” lamented the professor. “We do so much good for so many people in so many places and it takes one fanatic and a rag-tag team of fundamentalists a moment to destroy it all. We get blamed for being extremists, but look at what the “acceptable” wing of the Christian church does?” The student chimed in, “I do not wish to be judged solely on my religion. I would never do anything as unholy and evil as take another life, yet I am viewed with suspicion because of my beliefs — beliefs that others assume I share with those who do violence.” The whole group agreed that it is a tragedy when the lunatic fringe of any faith defines faith for us all.
Make Us One, Lord June 24, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication
I used a hymn at this year’s annual conference that I wrote the words to about 20 years ago when I was charged with merging two congregations that didn’t really want to merge. There was loads of competition and strife, so I wrote this song as a call for unity. When our annual conference decided to hold conversations around our church and homosexuality, I pulled it out, dusted it off, and gave it its second public airing. I don’t know what impact it had on unity, but I have received a number of requests asking where people can obtain a copy of the words, so I thought I would post it here. This posting comes with permission to use it and reprint it, but with proper credit. (It is copyrighted.) Even if you don’t care to use it, I offer it as a poetic devotion, calling us as Christian brothers and sisters to a deeper commitment to respect, civility, harmony, compassion and common courtesy in all of our dealings — with each other, and with all God sends our way. Peace.
Make Us One, Lord
(to the tune of Holy Spirit, Truth Divine)
Make us one, Lord, make us one
Guide us by your love and grace
As we seek to do your will
Let your Spirit fill this space
Make us one, Lord, make us one
Let your peace and patience reign
Help us speak our thoughts in love
Without causing others pain
Make us one, Lord, make us one
Gentle, faithful, truthful, kind
By your presence help us guard
Every precious heart and mind
Make us one, Lord, make us one
Shift our focus to your will
Shape our future by your hand
Our true potential to fulfill.
Music: Adapt. from Orlando Gibbons, 1623
Words: Dan R. Dick, 1989
Irrational Rationalization March 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Science and Theology, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, science and religion
I had a conversation with a friendly atheist recently that leaves me scratching my head. The reason is that, as I have found so often to be the case, he wouldn’t play by his own rules. This young man wanted to only address what was “provable” as true, but kept using his own personal and subjective experience as evidence in support of his “proving-a-negative” thesis (there is no God – proven by the absence of proof). He even, at one point, said that the growing number of educated people who don’t believe in God is evidence that there is no God. This after denying my assertion that the billions of people who believe in God gives credence to a “something” “out there” that people experience in a meaningful way. I spoke of the great good that his been done in the name of God throughout the centuries. He countered that the acts of humans in the name of God does not prove God’s existence, but then he proceeded to number the great atrocities done in the name of God as proof that God doesn’t exist. I talked about the transformative encounters with the divine in every generation of human existence through recorded time, but he argued that these were mere “hiccups” in our brain chemistry, and besides even more people did not have such experiences, so based on the weight of numbers, the “proof” was against, not for — and anyway, subjective experience should not be allowed. He told me he had prayed, and nothing had ever happened to him, which “confirmed his suspicions” that there was no God. Apparently, only his experiments are objective. We talked about the power of prayer. He explained that the connection between prayer and any tangible outcome was unprovable, and besides, even if a causal connection could be proven, it would do nothing to indicate that God has anything to do with it. I brought up the distinction between the physical and the metaphysical — the difference between proving what and how versus why, and he patiently explained that there is no why, only what and how — that why presumes a source and intention, and that is the very thing that cannot be proven. So I asked him what evidence exists that disproves source and intention, and he scoffed that there is no evidence, therefore it is untrue. (in his mind, you can prove a negative…). I asked, “So if I say – if I’m lying, may God strike me dead where I stand! – and I am not struck dead, this proves there is no God?” “Well, it certainly raises the question,” he replied.
That’s the Old Team Spirit October 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: Evangelism, Faith Sharing, Spiritual seekers
This past weekend I had the exceptional dining pleasure of chipped beef on toast (with eggs over easy) at the Dry Dock restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota. It followed morning worship (of God) then proceeded to the afternoon worship (of football) with the Vikings-Ravens game on one screen and the Packers-Lions’s game on another. I rooted with equal fervor for both the Packers and the Vikings and my waitress asked me, with hand on hip, ”What are you doing?” “Cheering for the Packers and the Vikings,” I proudly proclaimed. “You can’t do that!” she accused. Rolling her eyes, she said, “You can’t be both a Viking’s fan AND a Packers fan. You have to pick a side!” She marched back to the bar and I heard her tell the bartender, “he’s rooting for the Packers AND the Vikings,” with as much contempt as if I’d said I liked trampling baby bunnies. Being a fan — shorthand for being a fanatic — is serious business. We defend the home team as if it were the most important thing on earth. Every other team is “the enemy.” We want our team to not just beat opponents, but to annihilate them! When two teams are in the same division, like, say, the Vikings and the Packers, the animosity is greater as is the sense of who is good and who is not.
This same level of fanatical passion exists with some in the church. (It is well to remember that religious fanaticism is the root of the word “fan” to begin with.) I am constantly amazed by the passion with which Christians — some United Methodists among them — denounce and despise members of other faiths. I have long been a proponent of interfaith collaboration and understanding. I believe that Christ destroyed the dividing walls of hostility, and I am sadly distressed by Christians (including United Methodists) who devote much of their time and energy to rebuilding new dividing walls of hostility. Why do Christians want to undo what Christ did?
Church Is Easy, People Are Hard October 1, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Pastoral Ministry, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: church, personality types, Trust
“My people won’t let me take a day off,” confessed a colleague.
“What do you mean “won’t let you?” I asked.
“I mean that they call me and they hunt me down. They will not leave me alone.”
“Well, what are you doing about it? How are you defining and defending your boundaries?” I asked.
“I don’t get you. What are you talking about?” he replied.
“How clearly have you stated when you are available and when you’re not? How well do people understand your need for time off, for Sabbath? How is your SPRC (Staff-Parish Relations Committee) helping the congregation understand your boundaries and limits?” I explained.
“Pfft! My SPRC is part of the problem. They want me to be available 24/7. I don’t have boundaries. I am at the mercy of my church. Guaranteed, if a problem is going to happen in the week, it will happen on my day off.” he lamented.
“And what would happen if you weren’t available to respond?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. They won’t handle things without me. This church would be perfect if I just didn’t have to deal with the people!” he concluded.
But this is a huge problem. The church is the people. Most pastors (in The United Methodist Church, the majority are introverts) would thrive in an environment where they only had to preach, prepare worship, study, prepare lesson plans, envision bright futures, and think deep thoughts about God. Take away all the endless meetings, phone calls, emails, unexpected visits, untimely trips to the hospital and mortuary, petty conflicts, and you’re left with heaven — not church. Church is a glorious ball of human relationship goo — an amorphous blob of competing and contradictory hopes, dreams, demands, values, expectations, idiosyncracies, eccentricities, and dysfunctions. Pastors are called to — and ask to — be immersed in just such a milieu. It is interesting how many of us end up resenting the very thing we choose to do…
Shape Ball Spirituality August 18, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Diversity.
Who hasn’t seen a shape-sorter ball for infants and toddlers? From the earliest days of our cognitive development, we learn to identify, differentiate, associate, and categorize. It is so much fun to watch the joy of a child slipping the appropriate shape through the proper slot. It obviously imprints strongly on the human psyche… because we try to do the same thing with people later in life. Slipping people into “slots” is a normal and regular activity in this creature we call church.
We slide people into leadership slots — filling rosters of boards, committees, councils, and teams — to make sure we have the human resources to keep our programs and ministries running smooth. However, in many cases we treat all the different shapes and sizes of Christian disciples as interchangeable — forcing them to fit our slots, rather than bothering to match our need to their shape. Often, this is unintentional. We start with our systems and structures in place and we feed people through the system like meat through a meat-grinder — many cuts go in, but what comes out is all ground beef.