Muddled Maturity May 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, Stewardship
Every once in a while I strike a chord — I have received emails daily about the past couple posts on “mature” Christian spirituality. It seems everyone wants to use their own personal spiritual level as the definition of maturity — which is very normal and human. If we could conceive of something better, we would be doing it. If we are doing something a particular way, it is because we believe it is the best way to do it. Every eight year-old in the world thinks he or she is doing eight exactly right. It isn’t until he or she turns nine that eight isn’t all that much. Every person is as mature as they can be in the moment — when we see more mature ways to engage, we grow into them. Maturity is a process, not a destination. The terms “less mature” and “more mature” are actually better than simply “mature” and “immature.” And maturity is not an “it” but a complex weaving of “its.” Let me explain:
Growth Imperative May 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Spiritual seekers, Values
The Christian faith is about growth and maturing. In recent posts, I’ve talked about “mature” faith, and the response has been interesting. Many frame the term “mature” as judgmental, exclusive, and unkind — when compared to “less mature” or “immature.” But developmental and qualitative growth — improvement, strengthening, seasoning, evolving — is best described in terms of maturing. Indeed, there is a value judgment in assessing one behavior as mature against another as immature. Yet, we are all aware of the differences between a mature and an immature response to disappointment, failure, pain, or loss. The more mature response is generally very clear. It doesn’t mean an immature response is bad, it is simply… less mature.
And spiritual maturity is essential for a healthy spiritual relationship — with God, in Christian community, and with those we seek to serve and love. I have yet to find a congregation torn apart by maturity. The most toxic and destructive behaviors come from the least mature spiritually. Where a process for maturing is not provided, the less mature rule. And when the less mature call all the shots, it is amazing how “the mature” often respond — more often than not, like the spiritually immature. It seems that immaturity exerts a greater influence on maturity than maturity exerts in reverse. But this actually make sense — there are way more less mature than mature.
Lego Church April 22, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Christian Community, Church growth
Forgive the annoying “back when I was a boy…” beginning to this reflection, but, back when I was a boy a Lego kit consisted of a box of white, black, yellow, blue and red bricks that came in eight different sizes. You could make anything your imagination could conceive of, as long as it had sharp, square corners. The directions consisted of three cartoons that showed how the round part on top of one brick stuck to the opening on the bottom of another brick. Simplicity itself. Just the other week, I came across Lego Architecture sets recommended for ages 16+ that are scale replicas of famous structures from around the world. Intricately colored and crafted, these sets allow for no improvisation — each piece is carefully crafted to fit its appropriate mates. This is the Lego equivalent of the old paint-by-number kits — deviate from the directions at your own peril! Creativity be damned — there is ONE RIGHT WAY to do it.
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.
Unoty April 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Unity
I am attending a National Workshop on Christian Unity this week in Columbus, Ohio. It is an annual ecumenical gathering that focuses on how to build bridges, foster friendly relationships, and improve communication between Christian communions. We talk about finding common ground, celebrating each other, and discovering spiritual synergy where together we are greater than the sum of our parts. It becomes painfully apparent how far apart we are — a small group of religious leaders talking about what if and what could be simply illustrates how NOT united we currently are. And this morning a brief encounter shined the light of brutal honesty on the witness we offer the world.
I stepped out of the meeting to respond to a text message, and I stood near a pair of young Latina members of the housekeeping staff at our hotel. When I finished my message, I noticed the young women, and one asked me, “Who are you?” I froze like a deer in headlights for a moment, unsure how to respond. My confusion was clearly displayed, so the young woman unpacked her meaning by asking, “What group are you with? Who are you?” I explained that we were leaders from a variety of Christian denominations and organizations gathered to talk about “unity” and working together. Both young women looked confused.
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.
B Church March 24, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
At a recent workshop, discussion shifted to the question, “So, just what IS the current reality of our local churches in United Methodism?” The following framework emerged from this discussion. In summary: The United Methodist Church is an amalgam of three key aspects that work well in combination but are disastrous when not well-integrated or aligned. The three key aspects are the “Big Bs” of Belief, Belonging and Behavior. The baseline we hope every person can achieve looks like this:
There is a mutual overlap that helps individuals connect through their core beliefs and values, rituals and practices, and relationships and fellowship. The areas of overlap constitute where most people define “church;” the place we go, the associations we form, and where we learn the basic tenets of the faith. However, this is a starting point, not the ultimate goal. We will look at the ultimate goal (as was discussed by the workshop participants) at the end, but first we want to explore the very real shadow sides present in our contemporary church.
Fruititude March 18, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Values, Vision
U.S. Christians are a lazy, passive, well-intentioned bunch. I am not talking about the 11% who are engaged in some form of regular hands-on ministry. I am speaking of the 89% who define “active” faith as attending church when convenient, showing up at an occasional potluck supper, buying the doo-dad-du jour from the youth group, or who toss a few bucks in the offering plate so that somebody else can do ministry for them. This is the group for whom faith is about “feelings” more than behaviors. 69% of active church-goers have never been on a mission trip or even a one day mission project — yet most are very proud of the mission work of their congregation. Living the faith by a few degrees of separation. I know, whenever I bring this up, people tell me I am being unrealistic to think that people’s actions will reflect their core values and beliefs. Actually, I DO think our actions belie our true beliefs and values — this is the problem.
People who read me regularly know that I am all about spiritual gifts and fruit — how God equips us and what we produce with what we have been given. I don’t believe that there actually is such a thing as a passive Christianity. Oh, I know there are passive people plopped proudly in our pews, and I think they like the idea of God and Jesus, but I also don’t believe they have the first clue what it means to be a Christian (let alone a disciple). Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not the culmination of anything, merely the launch. And anyone who seeks a faith without hard work, commitment and sacrifice needs to look elsewhere. Christianity is, in essence, defined by five characteristics: 1) an intention to be in full relationship with God through Jesus Christ, 2) a devotion to deepen this relationship in learning, prayerful contemplation and corporate exploration, 3) the development of gifts, skills, knowledge, competency, and passion for serving God and neighbor, 4) the cultivation of synergistic community to seek, discern, understand, and carry out the will of God, and 5) regular employment to allow God to produce such fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, mercy, compassion, humility, grace and respect. There is no room for spectators — in this game, everyone is expected to play, no excuses, no exceptions.
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.
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.