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
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.
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.
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…
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.
Whose Christmas? December 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Identity & Purpose, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Values
I had an interesting encounter at my favorite coffee shop (Beans ‘n’ Cream, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin — greatest people in the world…) last week. One of the regulars made the following observation, which led to a spirited conversation — “Christmas would be so much more enjoyable if all the religious people would just leave it alone.” On the surface, this is a ridiculous statement, but he made the following points to his argument — some of which make a lot of sense:
- the cultural experience of Christmas has overshadowed any religious intent
- we celebrate more Pagan aspects of the season than Christian, but even the intent of Pagan religion has been displaced and destroyed
- more Christians shop, cook, bake, decorate, drink and travel than go to church
- more money is spent on materialistic gift giving than are donated through our churches to help those in need
- Santa is more important to more people than Jesus
- the church has bought into the pageantry of Christmas and doesn’t even know/tell its own story with any integrity anymore
- Culturally, Christmas has become a time of stress, discord, depression and division more than a time of peace on earth and goodwill to humankind
- Secular celebration has nothing to do with the story of the Nativity — many people don’t even know what Christianity has to do with Christmas.
Homophily Abounds October 3, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, The United Methodist Church, Values
Recent church visits strike me with an undeniable pattern — we tend to associate only with those most like us. I have yet to visit any church that does not consider itself “friendly,” yet rarely is there a deep level of awareness that answers the question, “friendly with/to whom?” Two brief illustrations. First, I was a guest preacher in a mid-sized urban church where the attending congregation only nominally reflected the neighborhood where it is located. Four visitors showed up on a Sunday morning — the parents of a couple who attend regularly, a torn blue-jeaned young man with beard and unkempt (by the standards of this congregation) hair, a swarthy, olive-skinned middle-aged man of mixed ethnicity dressed in slacks and a nice shirt, and a young, nicely dressed white woman with a very sweet 2-3 year-old daughter. Go ahead — predict who was greeted and who was not? Simplistic stereotyping? Maybe, but I was the only person in the church that morning who spoke to either of the two single men who visited the church. In fact, I watched a number of people physically keep their distance from the swarthy middle-aged man, eyeing him with suspicion and breaking eye contact the moment he looked back at them. The young guy hung to the side of two or three groups, waiting to be noticed, until I went over to him. He was very inquisitive, asking where I am a pastor, who the pastor was in the church we were visiting, why there weren’t any other young people, what kinds of Bible studies and small groups did the church have, etc. I took the young man over to the lay leader to introduce him, thinking he would get more helpful answers from someone who actually knew the church, but the lay leader kind of nervously backed off, retrieved a brochure about the church’s program, gave it to the young man, then excused himself to go greet the visiting parents of the couple who attended church. I noted that he stood and chatted with them for a good twenty minutes.
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…
Childish Church July 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Evaluation and Assessment, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
This is a rant, so take it with a grain of whatever. I met with a young pastor and asked him how his ministry was going. He replied, “We have eight new members and our attendance is up from 35 to over 50 a week.” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked how your ministry is going.” He simply stared back at me with a blank, slighty dazed look on his face. After a moment, he said, “It’s good. We’re growing.” I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I mean, how is the whole “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world-thing” going?” “Great,” he said, “we have eight new members and our worship attendance is up.”
OMG – what is our church producing in lieu of leadership these days? And we have NO ONE to blame but the last generation of dupes who forgot what a church is and assimilated the low values of American culture — making some of them bishops, some General Secretaries, and most of them pastors of big, consumeristic congregations. Now we fixate on size (yes, mostly male pastors — go figure…) and have no language to describe effective ministry besides numbers. This makes sense in a Sesame Street society.
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.