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
1 comment so far
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 Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?)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…
Anti-Afflatus March 14, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Seeker spirituality, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Holy Spirit, spiritual practices, Values
What do 21st century United Methodists actually believe about the Holy Spirit? Are we in danger of lumping the trans-rational in with the irrational and dismissing anything and everything supernatural with a primitive and premodern understanding of the world? Secular critics like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens delight in “proof-texting” religious history to elevate the gross abuses of religious power from history and the ignorant faith-as-magic modern aberrations as the “norm,” seeking to ignore any and all good spirituality has wrought in favor of religion’s failings. By relegating religious belief to the immature, infantile and primitive, it is simple to dismiss it wholesale. Yet, this ignores that billions upon billions of people find great hope and peace in religious belief. And beefers like Dawkins refuse to include anyone with half a brain in his definition of “religious.” But there is a bell curve in every belief system, scientific, religious or otherwise. Certainly, there are those simple folk who believe in a benevolent grandfather sitting in the clouds, waiting to grant wishes in the form of prayer to change the natural order and defy physics and biology, but they are the tail three standard deviations from the norm. They are the easy target, used to make religion seem silly and embarrassing (yet, people have the right to believe even this if they so choose…). At the other end of the curve, however, is a small segment of brilliant, progressive, insightful and creative people (scientists included) who are deeply religious and spiritual. When I traveled from college campus to college campus conducting interviews for the seeker study in the early part of the last decade, I encountered dozens of young minds turned off by the tail of the bell curve, but totally ignorant of the leading edge. I introduced many students to a whole new range of voices (including Frank Brennan, Ken Wilber, Jim Wallis, Sebastian Kappen, Leonardo Boff, Charles Hartshorn, Sri Aurobindo, Neill Hamilton) that actually resulted in some becoming Christian. I cannot count the number of people whose gratitude rests in the fact that Christianity was redeemed for “smart” people.
It is a tragic failing that we have allowed spirituality to become associated with simple-mindedness and magical thinking. A very prominent concept during the enlightenment was that of afflatus – divine inspiration, or a deeply spiritual creative impulse that allowed human beings to transcend their earthly limitations to think great thoughts, compose great music, author great literature, create glorious art, and strive toward goodness, truth and beauty. In the Christian faith, afflatus was the “breath of God” (Holy Spirit), alive and at work within the body of Christ. Do we, in our cynical and skeptical age, still believe in afflatus?
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.
The Costs of Low Expectations June 3, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Spiritual seekers
While cleaning out some files the other day, I came across a folder of interviews I did in 2004 with 22 lifelong United Methodists who, in their 60s, 70s and 80s, made the decision to leave the denomination and join another church. These people did not make the choice based on relocation, change of beloved pastor to a not-so-beloved pastor, or due to a personal conflict or event. The four primary reasons given for their decision were these:
- no longer being fed spiritually
- no longer being challenged to grow or improve
- no experience of God’s presence or the power of the Holy Spirit
- a growing sense of irrelevancy or meaninglessness in the purpose of the church
These men (5) and women (17) were not nominal members, but were part of the leadership core of their congregations — Trustees, UMW officers, members of Staff Parish Relations, Church Council, teachers, lay speakers, etc. They were not defending personal agendas — I interviewed many people who were, and I culled their feedback from the pool. The 22 interviews I compiled represent a signficant and serious of sample of deeply engaged United Methodists who made a painful, costly, yet intentional decision to exit the church they loved.
Rather than summarize the interviews, I present five verbatim quotes from six different people, explaining their reasons for leaving. It might be easy to dismiss their opinions, yet I think they are worthy of reflection as we consider what kind of church we might be in the future.
Holy Disorientation August 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Research, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Vision
The root of the word “orientation” comes from the idea of using the rising sun — the east — as a reference point to stay on course. We” orient,” then as the day passes into night, we become “dis-oriented,” until the sun reappears and we can “re-orient” ourselves. A sublime and simple process — that will preach, by the way (just don’t get too cute substituting Son for sun…). This comes to mind because I just unearthed a folder of congregational profiles that I was working on two summers ago, just before I was let go by the General Board of Discipleship. The study intended to determine where our United Methodist congregations are aligning their energy and resources. It wasn’t intended to judge or imply value, but to merely describe and better understand the orientation of our current reality.
The survey involved selecting one preference from 60 forced choice pairs. For example, “If you could only do one of the following in each pair, which would you choose? — A fellowship supper or a Bible study. Attend worship or go on a mission trip. Sharing my faith with a non-Christian or visiting a church member. Working at a soup kitchen or my church rummage sale. Attend worship or a Bible study. Visit a sick church member or visit inmates in prison.” Then a weighted average of the overall scores were plotted on a chart indicating four orientations: inward focus on our church, inward focus on relationship with God, outward focus on our church, and outward focus on relationship with God.
Why the Church We Have Is Not the Church We Need August 6, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Is the church relevant in the 21st century? Depends on what your definition of “church” is. Looking biblically/historically, there is still a desperate need for the ecclesia — the gathered body of Christ serving the world. Looking culturally, specifically in the United States, what we know as church bears little resemblance to the biblical/historical predecessors. This is one of the main points raised by the emerging church/ancient-future/missional church voices. Sadly, these movements have been usurped by organized religion and popular culture. The corrective vision from the fringe quickly becomes as fuzzy and unfocused as the view from the core.
United Metholdist July 27, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, church marketing, Spiritual seekers
We’re not getting older; we’re getting better. Well, actually we are getting older, but this doesn’t mean we can’t get better as well. The graying of our church — a subject of great concern and incredible misplaced anxiety — is worth looking into, but as an opportunity, not a problem to solve. Youth culture is troughing again for the next generation or so, and in many parts of our country the age trend will be at the upper end of the spectrum — more old people, with more resources (translated “disposable income”), more time, more energy, and more productive years. In demographers eyes, a golden opportunity to exploit a market. But will the church pay attention?
See, the problem is that most in the church refuse to use common sense when it comes to planning. Research shows that over 8-out-of-10 United Methodist churches are pinning their hopes for the future on “young families with children.” Congregation after congregation nostalgically pines for the glory days when their Sunday schools were packed to bursting, and when twenty- and thirty-somethings sat shoulder to shoulder with mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and Aunt Flo. The vision for the future looks like a rerun from 1959. In a day when the average length of membership for young adults is less than two years, die-hards in the church look to rebuild their congregations on the shoulders of today’s young. Good luck with that. Hey, if you have a lot of young people to draw from, go for it; but this is not the reality for a significant number of UMCs. Younger families are heading to newer evangelical congregations with plenty of comfort resources and technology, where demands and expectations are VERY modest. And these growing independent churches have no delusions that the young will pay their own way. The trend in drawing young is in providing ministry “to” and “for” them, not “with” them (or expecting them to pony up to cash to pay for it). A tiny number of United Methodist congregations have the resources or leadership to go toe-to-toe with the “big guns.” And when I visit a small congregation with one 9-year-old and one 14-year-old (generally brother and sister) and they are envisioning revitalization through an active Sunday school and youth program, I have to scratch my head and wonder what they’re thinking. Most assuredly we need to do everything in our power to provide spiritual support, education and guidance to people of all ages — but real people, not mythical wish-people who don’t exist, and even if they did they probably wouldn’t come to our church.
Do You Believe In Magic? December 16, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S., Research, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Myths, Religious Trends
In the not too distant past I sat listening to a United Methodist clergyperson talk about the gifts of the Spirit — a topic in which I have great interest and long involvement. I truly believe that we are imbued with gifts that transcend mere ability or interest. These gifts enable us to serve others as the body of Christ. They are a part of the unique matrix that comprise each individual, and their potential for good is maximized in concert — when gifts are joined, synergy results. However, I was on a very different wavelength than the woman who was speaking. Breathlessly, she explained that once we “unwrap” our gift, we “unleash Holy energy” that allows us to “perform miracles.” We cease to be “merely human” and connect to our “divine nature.” She said that the first proof of our spiritual giftedness is tongues — every person born in the Spirit can speak in tongues — and that this is evidence that we have connected to the mind of Christ. His knowledge is SO great that we cannot comprehend it, thus we speak what sounds like gibberish. From there, God will bestow on us one of thousands of possible “gifts of power,” — among these she named levitation, speaking with the dead, the ability to shape time, the ability to attract wealth, and the ability to become invisible. Of course, these last few things are only possible for the most devout and blessed. What this woman was sharing has little to nothing to do with spiritual gifts as described in the early church, but is her reading so surprising?
According to the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report — Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths – this pastor is not alone. A rising tide of Americans integrate Eastern, New Age (rhymes with “sewage”?), and occult beliefs into orthodox faith systems. A large (and growing) number of Christians believe in reincarnation, ghosts, supernatural experiences, astrology, psychics, and unexplained things that go bump in the night. While Pew doesn’t go much into the phenomenon, culturally we are enamored of vampires, warlocks, demons, and the Apocalypse. You cannot turn on the television without a supernatural viewing option. Between Harry Potter and the Twilight series, magic and monsters have dominated the best seller lists for a decade — and Stephen King has dominated for over 30 years. We eat this stuff up, but do we really believe it?
A Ray of Hope November 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Personal Reflection, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Evangelism, Values
I had a long, boring conversation with one of our denominational mucky-mucks this week about our impending doom. He feels that I am unreasonably optimistic about the state of the church. (Obviously he hasn’t read everything I have written…) Two points in particular motivated his getting in touch with me: one, that I think all the doom-and-gloom obsessing is bad for us and really not warranted, and two, that I think the attempt to get young people to join the church is misguided. My response to him is consistent with what I say here: I think there is more to be gained on what we have and who we are than to dwell on what we lack and who we aren’t. Getting new people makes no sense when we don’t know what to do with the people we already have. And in my understanding of the mission, making disciples for the transformation of the world trumps making members of the UMC for the survival of the institution. However, my solution is a both/and rather than an either/or. I truly and honestly believe that if we do a better job creating authentic Christian community that is equipping people to live as the body of Christ to serve and heal the broken world, we will attract many new participants, a large number of them young. It has been depressing the number of emails I received about my blog, Time Warped, from older, entrenched UMs horrified by the idea that young adults would actually be given power. My ideas that young people need to be give responsibility, authority, autonomy, and encouragement were labeled variously as “naïve,” “ignorant,” “stupid,” “idealistic,” “deadly,” “short-sighted,” “foolish,” and “b***s***.” To the best of my knowledge, none of these opinions came from anyone under 50 — which may illustrate the problem better than anything I could say.