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.
Narrative Transformation February 14, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Education, Communication, Unity, Values
In recent comments, an interesting thread appears: how do we in the church have open-ended conversation about the deepest and most challenging aspects of our life together? Too often, we have no vision for what a new or different conversation might look/sound like. When we think about changing our thinking, we reduce it to changing minds. For myself, I learned a long time ago that it is not my role or responsibility to change someone else, but to create a safe environment where radical change can occur. Change should always be a willing choice, otherwise it won’t last, or it does violence to the person. But how do we even open the possibility of new perspectives in ways that don’t lead to division and debate? I share one exercise and two experiences that have been effective in my ministry.
Obtuse Is As Obtuse Does September 4, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Missions, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Communication, The United Methodist Church
Okay, let’s face it, we have a lot of differences that are not easily reconcilable. We are split over dozens — maybe hundreds of issues. So, why do we go out of our way to misunderstand one another and to ascribe negative (even malicious) intention where there is none? Obviously, the current political campaigning is an excellent illustration, but let’s not go there. Let’s keep it close to home. I’ll use a personal example. I attended a conference last week, then came home to a long holiday weekend. When I checked my email, I found seven angry messages about “what I said” about Imagine No Malaria. Now, this is news to me, since I can’t remember the last time I said anything about Imagine No Malaria, but I guess someone “quoted” me at a recent regional gathering. Interestingly, the “quotes” are actually quotes, but taken out of context they are being used to convey a very different meaning. Here are three quotes pulled from things I have written:
- “…the United Methodist Church creates a bigger problem by saving all these lives.”
- “It is irresponsible to take such a simplistic approach to such a complex problem. This isn’t just about combatting one disease. The solution just shifts the problem elsewhere, but let’s us feel good about ourselves.”
- “…anything less than a systems approach to global health is indefensible. …we are compounding a tragedy.”
Christmas C.S.I. December 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Integrity, The Bible.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Communication
My posts of the past two weeks have generated some fun and interesting discussions around Christmas. While I am not a fan of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric adopted by evangelicals operating from a victim mentality, I do agree that Christmas as a religious observance is in trouble. My contention, however, is that the threat to Christmas does not come from a godless, atheist society, but from within — from Christians who really don’t understand Christianity and plug their faith into their lives where convenient. When Christians don’t get Christmas, we can’t whine about how mean atheists and non-Christian believers are to our holiday. There are three things that Christians have done, engaged in, or allowed to happen that we can blame on no one else. Christmas as we know it today is exactly the Christmas Christians have created.
The three things I “blame” are these:
- commercialization — the process of exploiting something for profit or benefit
- secularization — the removal of spiritual and religious meaning from religious practices and observances
- ignoration (a made up word) — the intentional decision to not know too much about something in order to simply relax and enjoy it
One Indignation Under God August 27, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Communication, Values
Have you noticed the mammoth chip some United Methodists have on their shoulder? Just mentioning it makes some people mad. I’ve received eight nasty emails since yesterday, when I posted the not-too-profound concept that anger is a choice and that no one else can offend us; we can merely choose to be offended (Loser’s Choice). Obviously, indignation is viewed as a right or a spiritual gift and not something we control. I can’t even reprint some of what has been written because it uses language not appropriate and it is in the form of personal attack. It actually gives me a chance to practice what I preach. My intelligence, parentage, politics, and the integrity of my beliefs are all directly and decisively attacked. Oh, whatever should I do? Should I reply in kind? I could launch some real zingers. That would certainly teach them a thing or two. Or I could twist their words and ascribe malicious intent and try to make them look evil or stupid. That would sure help the situation. I could simply dismiss them as beneath my consideration. What a witness to Christian charity that would be. One of the statements made was, in my opinion, ignorant and bigoted. I must own that I struggle with offense when races, genders, or minorities are referred to with derogatory and hurtful slang. I do not approve of or appreciate mean-spirited labels meant to demean others. But I still control my response. I can express my displeasure without resorting to insult or attack. I am not compelled to scream or shout and I am not impressed by those who do. This is my whole point: how we respond is as important as what we think and feel. I have not ever said we should simply accept whatever anyone else says to us (a common response to my post yesterday), but that the form and force of our response is critically important to our witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
R.D.E. May 31, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
I have been reading Paul Watzlawick’s fun and funky, The Situation is Hopeless, But Not Serious — The Pursuit of Unhappiness. The central thesis of this short work is that human beings create their own unhappiness and discontent in dozens of creative unconscious ways. In one section, Watzlawick focuses on a topic I find especially appropriate for churches: RDEs, or Relationship Demolition Experts. RDEs are exceptionally adept at creating tension and conflict without even trying. They establish rules of engagement that make conflict not just possible, but unavoidable. RDEs are essentially self-centered, defining relationships in terms of their own needs and desires, setting double-standards, and pushing personal encounter from the win-lose competitive mindset to a simple no-win situation.
You Need to Understand May 9, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Trust
Working for the church, first at the denominational level, then at the conference level, I am surprised at how often people will open their communication with me with the words, “You need to understand…” A more narcissistic and ego-centric phrase may not exist, because the people who open with such a statement are not truly seeking understanding, but acquiescence. Here is how the statement breaks down:
You — I am abdicating all responsibility for compromise or cooperation — the responsibility rests solely with “you”
Need to — must, should, ought to because I say so. My wants, opinions, and desires must be the most important consideration, and the declarative indicates how important my position is
Understand — you surrender any opposition to my position and submit to my way of thinking.
Three Little Words April 4, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
You know what The United Methodist Church needs? A Day of Atonement. A good old-fashioned nation-wide, denomination-deep day of saying “I Am Sorry!” — to God, to each other, and to ourselves. For a vast number of reasons, we United Methodists have seemingly lost the capacity to apologize, to humble, and to take responsibility for reconciliation and restoration. Our church is rife with senseless and toxic conflict, generally grounded in immense egos unwilling to compromise on any issue, large or small. We are CHOOSING to be broken, divided, contentious, and petty. This is our witness to the world of what it means to be Christian.
Oh, I know, it’s not our only witness. Look at the amazing things we are doing in Japan and Haiti and in a handful of congregations. We put positive spins on things (ReThink, Change the World, etc.). It is not all conflict and division. But it is certainly more than necessary, and I would say it is more than tolerable. We simply do not have time to waste being immature, selfish, small-minded and indignant. We must get over ourselves, and quickly.
Guilty By Dissociation March 4, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, Integrity.
Tags: Communication, Reconciliation, Unity
A fascinating occurrence. I reported an incident that happened in another conference in an article entitled Guerilla Christianity, and I have had four separate responses from other United Methodist Churches believing that I was talking about them! Obviously, what happened in the incident reported struck a chord with these other situations, but in each case people wanted to explain how their context was unique and justified. I have no stake in arguing about who is right, wrong, justified or not, but isn’t it interesting how readily four churches identified themselves in the report of the fifth? I have tried to explain to each person writing to me that there are two possible responses: 1) relief to know that they are not unique, or 2) sadness to realize that they are not unique. The fact that uncivil and hurtful behavior is so common is a fact that should cause us to pause.
A Case of Misshapen Identity March 1, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, church marketing, Communication, Vision
How we see ourselves is often very different from how others see us. In my “former life” doing research for The United Methodist Church, I often went to “secular” audiences to get their impressions and opinions about our church. It was very easy to do, because my office was half a block from Vanderbilt University, and every semester I guest taught a class called “Religion in America — Perceptions and Reality.” Over the years I was able to test students age 18-60 on what they knew, thought they knew, understood and misunderstood about our church.