Fickle Fairyland Faith May 3, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Myths, Faith Sharing
I won’t share the convoluted audit trail that leads to this post, but a series of unrelated incidents all point me back to this particular story. When I was in Nashville, I related to a young, well-meaning Christian who went from ultra-committed and ultra-pious to uber-atheist in the blink of an eye. When I was going through my own divorce, he invited me to lunch to try to talk me out of it. He patiently informed me that this was the most heinous of sins, I would never be forgiven nor forgive myself, that I was tempting God and risking eternal damnation. I honestly believe he was doing this from a deep well of concern and a weird form of kindness. He held a very clear and simple vision of Christian faith — do what is right and God will bless you; do what is wrong, and watch out!
It was not a full six months later that we sat together in reversed roles. He and his wife lost two children in a very short period of time — one to illness, one to depression and suicide — and the strain was too much for their marriage. They were engaged in a sad separation on their way to divorce. My young friend spat out his anger and frustration: “The IS NO God. If there were a loving God, He wouldn’t be doing this to me!” I tried to temper his responses, but it was no good. He was through with God, because God wasn’t treating him fairly. His life, when placid, calm and stable meant God was blessing him. His life turned upside down and filled with tragedy, pain and suffering meant there could be no God. There was nothing I could say that he wanted to hear. His myth of the fairyland called “faith” had been destroyed.
T-Shirt Evangelism July 26, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Evangelism, Identity & Purpose, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Evangelism, Faith Sharing, spiritual practices, Values
Back in 2006, I spoke to the Western New York Annual Conference about living the “Gifts, Graces, and Fruit of the Spirit.” (Based on my sensational book, Beyond Money – no longer in print, so contact Discipleship Resources at the General Board of Discipleship and raise a stink…) For the Fruit of the Spirit portion of the presentation, I wore a T-Shirt that simply says, “Got Fruit?” (borrowing/stealing the motif and font of the “Got Milk?” campaign). I still wear the T-shirt, and I absolutely love it because no matter where I wear it, people always comment on it and I have opportunity to discuss with them what it means. I was in Nashville, Tennessee a couple of weeks ago and a younger couple commented on my shirt — “Cool, but what does it mean?” I explained my vision for churches living the fruit of the Spirit — being known for their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The young woman paused for a moment, then said, “If churches were really like that, we might actually go!” I commented that there are some churches like this out there, and she responded, “None I’ve ever found.”
Christmas Affluenza December 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Values
- sitting in a coffee shop listening to three women talk about how much they HATE Christmas shopping… yet they are doing it daily, one of them reports that she has spent over $10,000 so far this year (to be fair, including jewelry she bought herself), and the shared an encyclopedic knowledge of sales, stores, and special items they want to buy. The longer they spoke, the more excited they got, leaning toward each other, raising their voices, becoming breathless and agitated. What I witnessed were symptoms similar to those displayed by addicts. One woman confessed that she has a “pact” with her husband — their goal each year is to make sure they spend more on Christmas presents than anyone else in the family. She said, “It’s a little contest we have to do Christmas the best in our family.”
- an excerpt from an email where a gentleman’s main point is that I am making a mountain out of a molehill: “I don’t see the big deal about commercializing Christmas. Religious people have every right and freedom to keep Christmas holy — they simply need to refuse to get drawn into the cultural crap. Let Christians take Jesus and the star and the wise men and church and let the rest of us have fine food and drink, trees with pretty lights, Rudolph and Frosty and Santa. I don’t get where you think religion should dictate the holiday for the whole world. My mom is a Christian and she isn’t worried about losing her faith because Christmas is a whole lot bigger than just Jesus.”
- a response from the pastor of the southern church I mentioned in my last post about their “religion-free Christmas Eve services.” He told me this was an evangelism program to draw in non-Christians and give them “a pleasant, exciting, upbeat, non-threatening” experience in a church. He told me “obviously there is some religion — we sing Joy to the World and Silent Night — undeniably religious songs.” But instead of prayers they offer personal Christmas memory reflections; instead of scriptures, they talk about the opportunity people have to make a difference in the world by supporting any of the dozens of good projects the church is doing; instead of a sermon, they show clips from old Christmas movies and ask the congregation reflection questions on what these clips are trying to say. Together, they sing nostalgic Christmas songs such as I’ll Be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, The Christmas Song, and (oh, yeah…) they slip in Silent Night and Joy to the World. “This is our most popular and well-attended Christmas Eve services — many of our full-time members (note to self: are ‘part-time’ church members a good idea?) also attend; but we ask them to tone down the religious stuff in sensitivity to the audience we are trying to reach.”
Occupy Christmas December 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Advent, Faith Sharing
I need to confess. I missed four opportunities to witness to my Christian faith this week, where I had clear occasions to challenge, confront or correct opinions about Advent and Christmas. I didn’t say anything then, but I’m going to say something now.
#1 Advent is NOT Christmas (or Epiphany) — last week I attended a church (thankfully NOT United Methodist, though I know full well it easily could have been) to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent by singing songs about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Wise Men. During the lighting of the Advent wreath candle, the litany claimed that we light the candle of hope ” for the second coming of the living Christ.” We were reminded that Advent is when we celebrate “the birth of the Messiah.” This is from a church that prides itself on reaching the “unchurched.” What a confused mish-mash?! The relentless misinformation in this service might be viewed as insignificant by some, but I found it troubling… but not as troubling as the call I received from a confused parishioner who wanted to double-check what her pastor said in a children’s sermon.
Loser’s Choice August 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian Community, Faith Sharing, Unity, Values
One key to our future is the way we choose to deal with one another, and I emphasize the word choose. Often, we prefer to ignore the fact that we choose to react or respond to others as we do. I’ll use myself as an example. The fact is, no one can make me angry; I must choose to respond in anger. No one truly has the power to insult me, but I have unlimited capacity to choose to be insulted. No one has the ability to offend me whom I have not given the power to do so. I am not prisoner to my emotions or responses. I have been saved from such base behavior by a faith that offers me a better way and the power of the Holy Spirit working within me to make me Christlike. I reject the victim mentality that blames everyone else for making me feel bad. To be a victim is to be a loser, and I refuse to make the loser’s choice.
Tough Love/Tough Luck July 16, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Fellowship, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Faith Sharing, Unity
But the lesson which our blessed Lord inculcates here, and which he illustrates by this example, is that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the face of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical atheism; but with a true magnificence of thought survey heaven and earth and all that is therein as contained by God in the hallow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is in a true sense the soul of the universe.”
Sermon 23, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, III” I.11
I thought I would try to deflect criticism by blaming John Wesley (opening quote). It is obvious to me that many United Methodists refuse to accept such bleeding heart sentimentality. We certainly refuse to see God in people we don’t like or people who are different, but interestingly we seem only willing to recognize God in those who think, believe, and act as we do. Yes, even in the community of believers we choose to draw dividing lines and attack one another with insult, disrespect, indignity, slander and ill-will. Operating from our labels and categories, we seek to convert those who disagree with us, and if we cannot convert them we hope to eliminate them, and short of that, we will attempt to shame, humiliate, degrade, insult and discredit them — all in the name of Christian love. What a fabulous witness to the world!
And this is not a rational and practical condition. We can only live in a perpetual state of indignation if we work at it. We need to twist other people’s words and ascribe to them malicious intention. We go to great lengths to misunderstand and to take comments out of context in order to be outraged. We dig in our heals to defend our own positions with no intention of listening to anyone else’s side. Then we add insult to injury by “taking the high road” and inviting those we disrespect into “dialogue.”
Don’t get me wrong, dialogue is a significant part of our solution, but not dialogue designed to score points, prove superiority, tolerate those we feel are ignorant, or as a pretense for ‘Christian conferencing.” Deep understanding, reconciliation, unity, and a healthy environment for differences and disagreement don’t seem to be values on the table.
A Moral Miasma June 24, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Fellowship, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Faith Sharing, Philosophy & Religion
Disclaimer up front: don’t hold me to the veracity of the terms I am going to use. I am thinking out loud using terms and concepts I think I remember from a Philosophy lecture from my freshman year of college in 1976. I apologize in advance for everything I mis-remember… After two weeks of first, Annual Conference, then a church trial, where multiple arguments centered in “who is right and who is wrong,” I marvelled at the intensity of emotion connected with defending one’s position. Right and wrong, good and bad, winners and losers defines most of our disagreements. And in every case, participants reduce their argument to morality, as if morals are clear-cut. What comes to mind is what I (think I) heard in that lecture back in 1976. The essence of the lecture was this: most of our problems in our culture emerge from reductionism in pursuit of “one right way” that should apply universally to all. How we define how people should act is a “moral code.” But there is not just one moral code. Three equally valid, equally reasonable, equally viable moral codes exist: moral rationalism, moral sentimentalism and moral relativism — doing “right,” doing “good,” and doing “well.”
Pure Theology June 7, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Faith Sharing, Unity
I don’t interpret scripture; I just read it and do what it says.
Basically, this is a false statement intended to end discussion by claiming that the person speaking has a crystal clear understanding of what God intends based on his or her personal favorite translation of the Bible. No need to interpret — simple know. Yeah, nice try. The human brain doesn’t work that way. Any information received is immediately processed through multiple conscious and subconscious filters. We have no control over some of the interpretation in which we engage — it is simply an automatic response triggered by a wide range of factors. I was listening to a group of men discuss the discipline of children when I stopped for coffee this morning, and this was the nature of the exchange:
Principle-Free Living February 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Faith Sharing, Values
Reading a recent post by sportswriter Rick Reilly (passed on to me by my son Josh) about a young female wrestler, Cassy Herkelman, from Iowa who lost focus and was defeated in the state finals because a young evangelical Christian, Joel Northrup, forfeited an earlier match to her due to his conviction that it isn’t right to wrestle females, I wondered if it would have made the news if religion hadn’t been cited as the reason. Reilly raises the point that a principle isn’t right just because it is religious, but acting on principles — regardless of the reason — is not necessarily a bad thing. Reilly disingenuously makes the point that if he felt religiously motivated to poke people with sticks (he obviously was brought up in an interesting faith…) that wouldn’t make it right. Silly argument. Holding a conviction — whether misguided or not — to not harm someone is not the same as deciding to hurt them. Reilly’s argument is based on a personal value judgment grounded in a cultural bias — if a woman chooses to compete with men, then men need to “grow up” and take them on. If a male refuses, he is not principled, he is sexist. If he doesn’t wish to fight a female on religious grounds, then he is ignorant. The choice NOT to fight is unacceptable. The poor young man who stood by his beliefs sacrificed his own chances at success — something Reilly dismisses as absurd. In a world defined by winners and losers, to choose to lose is the unkindest — and most irrational — cut of all. I understand that this standard makes Jesus Christ the biggest loser of all, and by extension, Christians who turn the other cheek, refuse to be baited into a fight, or lay down their sword are huge losers as well. To me this is a sad simplification and outrageous pandering. Christians have become — with both good reason and no reason at all — a prime target for contempt in our culture. Living a principled life is suspicious; living a Christian principled life is downright stupid.
Are You Serious? February 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Critical Thinking, Science and Theology.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Communication, Faith Sharing
I was talking with a small group of young adults about the potential of the church to transform the world. My argument was simple: if we would strive to find a meaningful way to engage 7 million plus United Methodists in the United States in some form of life-affirming missional service, we could impact the very roots of a wide variety of social ills. Snorting coffee, one young woman barked derisively, “Are you serious?” I confirmed that I was, and she replied, “The churches I have been to are some of the most inward-focused, uninvolved, cautious, conservative, and apathetic groups I have ever known. Sure, there are a few individuals in the churches who get their hands dirty, but very few.
This called to mind a story a colleague of mine shared not too long ago where she was teaching a class on resurrection and eternal life. A middle-aged woman in her group laughed out loud and asked, “You’re kidding, right? Do you expect us to believe such an outrageous fairy tale? We don’t live in the stone age. If this is the best you can do, you’ve lost me.” My pastor-friend was flummoxed and annoyed that she stuttered and stumbled around without a clear comeback.