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:
Prayerheads March 21, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, prayer, spiritual practices
I am deeply distressed by the state of prayer in The United Methodist Church – at least among pastors. As I am visiting with clergy leaders, I am asking about their personal devotional lives, and far and wide I am finding that many have no personal devotional life. I have been asking both laity and clergy leadership about prayer, and I get blank stares. In one visit a couple of years ago, I met with a leadership team from a small congregation with some dynamic growth potential. As we named our hopes and dreams for the future, the following desires emerged: we want to grow, we want to reach young people, we want to improve attendance, and we want to get more people involved in leadership. I pointedly asked, “Are you praying for these things?” The pastor asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “When you meet together – do you pray for these things, specifically and by name? Individually, as leaders in the congregation, do you pray for these things every day? Do you raise these things in worship and invite the congregation to pray for these things?” The pastor and key leadership confessed that, no, they were not praying for these things. The following week, I received an email from the pastor telling me how offensive and inappropriate he – and other leaders – felt my comments were. He felt that I created an awkward and insulting situation. I wrote back that I apologized for nothing – if the leaders are not grounded first and foremost in prayer then I doubted that any planning process would be very effective. I haven’t been invited back.
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?
Spirituality KAMP January 16, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, Small Groups, spiritual practices.
Tags: spiritual practices
I received a wonderful email from one of my “kids” (a member of a youth group I led in 1978) who tracked me down and shared a humbling note. Here is part of what she wrote:
…over the past thirty-five years I have attended Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches, and I have been very active in all of them. I am both a teacher and a student, active in Sunday school, Bible Studies, and a wide variety of small groups. A friend of mine passed along an article you wrote (which is how I found you) and I need to tell you that throughout all these years and all the different groups I have been a part of, nothing has ever even come close to the experience I had in your Spirituality Kamp when I was a teenager. I learned more, grew more, and became a better Christian more than I have in any other group in my whole life.
One of the challenges of ministry is that a leader often has little or no idea what impact she or he is making through preaching, teaching, counseling, spiritual formation, etc. It is always a gift when someone takes the time to let a leader know that they made a difference. It is a nice affirmation, but it also brought back to mind one of the most fulfilling and exciting periods in my young ministry. Bear with me as I tell a story, then hopefully I can make some useful observations.
In the seventies, I was working on a couple community development projects and one of the tools we used was KAP analysis. K=knowledge/skills; A=attitudes; P=practices. A KAP analysis helped struggling communities get a fairly good sense of the human resources and communal strengths it could draw from to develop and grow. I “borrowed” (stole) the basic concept and developed a KAMP model (K=knowledge and skills; A=attitudes and values; M=meaning and purpose; P=practices and exercises) to use with teenagers in the church. One summer, while our normal youth group went on hiatus, I launched a bi-weekly Spirituality Kamp, where anyone who was interested would gather to assess their personal current reality and set goals for growth and spiritual development. Very simply, each participant took an inventory in each of the four KAMP areas: what do I know and what do I know how to do? What are my core beliefs and guiding values? What gives my life meaning and how do I define my sense of purpose? What are the things I do on a regular basis to strengthen my relationship with God and help me live more like Jesus Christ?
From there, each person developed a personal vision and action plan. Every participant created a list of those things they wanted to learn/learn how to do, ways they wanted to improve their attitudes and expand their worldview, live more fully a meaningful and purposeful life, and engage in personal and shared practices to strengthen our relationship with God. Each person was paired with someone else, and when we gathered together we basically shared how well we were working on our plans, and ways we could support one another in what we were doing. We began with six youth, but had to move to a larger space within two months, averaging about twenty kids each meeting — and it became a year-round program. When I moved to New Jersey, I relaunched the process (calling it Pneuma – meaning “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.”).
Without actually meaning to (and before I ever knew about Wesleyan class/band/society accountability groups) I created a safe space for an open exploration customized to the needs and spiritual maturity of every participant. I was nothing more than a catalyst for a very natural formation process. Of all the “programs” I’ve been responsible for over the years, Spirituality KAMP actually demanded the least amount of preparation or expertise. It was, for the young people involved, a true peer-learning experience. It was an immersion in a real discipleship process — self-defined expectations and goals with a positive and affirming structure of mutual accountability.
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.”
Marketing the Messiah December 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, church, spiritual practices, Values
From the Gospel According to Bob 1:26-2:12 (from the NKJV & The Message):
And on the night unto which the child was to be born, Joseph and his wife Mary sought shelter, but coming late without a reservation, Mary was vexed with Joseph, saying, “I told you so.” Joseph, aware that he was on thin ice, comforted Mary and assured her that he would find them a warm, safe, clean environment in which to deliver the one, true Son of God. He set off on his mission, returning sometime later with the good news (gospel) that, “two out of three ain’t bad…” Mary trusted Joseph, right up to the point where she realized that their was no room for them at the inn. She surveyed the stable that Joseph found, counting unto ten. Then Mary treasured all these things in her heart, being sure to remember them for a more opportune time. Secretly she hoped her child would be untidy so that through his life she might say to him, “What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?”
When the time came for Mary to be delivered, she noted with agitation that Joseph seemed preoccupied. “It’s time,” said Mary. “Hmmm?” replied Joseph. “I’m ready to have the baby, here. What’s the matter with you?” Mary asked. “Oh, nothing. But I was just thinking — this has real possibilities. Son of God, humble beginnings, born in a stable, laid in a manger — it has a real appeal. In fact, I bet we could make tiny models of this and they would sell like crazy,” reflected Joseph.
The rest of the night was a blur. The tiny child was born, angels appeared, shepherds stopped by for a visit, but Joseph busied himself with sketches and copious notes. “All we need now are some magi and the scene will be complete!” crowed Joseph. “As soon as you’re up and around, we need to take a little trip. I know a guy in Egypt that can crank out these nativity sets as easy as you please.” “Joseph,” Mary observed, “I am not sure we should be exploiting this for profit. This is a most holy night, and I am not comfortable with the idea of commercializing it.” Joseph, chastened and repentant, answered Mary, “You’re right, as always my love. This is a holy event, one that should never be exploited for profit. Let this be a lesson to us all — the birth of the Son of God should be honored and not cheapened by commercialization!” (NKJV)
When Mary was about to have Jesus, she and Joseph realized they were homeless. He found a place and said, “I think I know how we can turn a profit on this.” Mary replied, “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m a little busy. And besides, I think it’s a stupid idea.” Joseph thought for a minute, then said, “No, you’re right.” (The Message)
Oh, what have we wrought? Was it ever in the mind of God that we would commemorate the birth of the Messiah as we do today? Inflatable, light-up cartoon nativity sets on our lawns? Angels dancing to “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs? The three Wise Men bearing gifts of pizza, nachos and a keg of bear? Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus made of sausage, meatloaf, gingerbread, or jello? Nativity scenes employing ducks, snowmen, Peanuts characters, Sesame Street characters, Lego, Star Wars, Pokemon… what splendid ways we have created to remember the birth of our Savior! The problem is, there’s big bucks to be made exploiting religion, and the church generally has no problem with selling out as long as it can turn a profit.
Spiritual or Spiritualistic August 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, The United Methodist Church, Values
A few year’s ago I noticed an interesting trend. As Christians reported giving less and less time to prayer, the sale of books about prayer increased dramatically. For me, this is a simple illustration of a continuing dilemma — we are more interested in spirituality than we are in being spiritual. We amass great libraries of books, CDs, DVDs and workshop handouts on things spiritual, but we never reorient our lives to put all these wonderful things into practice. Our spiritual pursuits most closely resemble our weight-loss pursuits — we’re good on the concept, just lousy on the performance. Most Christians admit that they think prayer, meditation, study of scripture, worship and Christian fellowship are very important for spiritual growth and maturity, but these same people confess that they simply don’t have the time in a busy life to cram in even a few minutes for prayer or Bible reading. Our development is underdeveloped and our disciplines are undisciplined. We want a piety pill that we can take with the morning multi-vitamin so that we can get on with our lives. Jesus wept.
Vegetables of the Spirit April 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices
Growing up, fruit was often the core component of dessert after our meals. My grandmother tended a wonderful orchard, full of luscious delights — crisp, sweet apples; juicy pears, plump cherries, amazing berries, grapes swelled to bursting. We supplemented Midwestern fare with citrus fruits and bananas. Fruit was a sweet treat that took the place of cakes and candy (though it promoted pie to primary prominence). Whenever I hear the metaphor of fruit from scripture – especially as used by Jesus and Paul, my mind takes me immediately to the bountiful fruit of my youth and it fills me with nostalgic joy and hope. However, as with many house rules, the path to dessert always ran through the somber and difficult terrain of the vegetable. “You can’t have dessert until you finish your vegetables,” was spoken in my home no less than 24,357,615 times. I am not sure any other phrase was declared more often. No one ever had to talk me into eating fruit, but vegetables were a different matter. It made little difference how “good for me” vegetables were, I enjoyed but few — corn (almost as sweet and juicy as the finest fruit), asparagus, crisp lettuce, snap peas, and cauliflower. I could gag down a raw carrot or two, but never cooked. Brocoli seemed (then and less so now) like a bad idea. Popeye could keep his spinach. Brussels sprouts? Zucchini & squash were unpalatable then (though I have grown to enjoy both). No, most vegetables were a challenge, and those I disliked ever seemed to outnumber those I liked. It is no wonder that our scriptures never refer to the “vegetables of the Spirit.”
Holy Week-Lite April 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, Easter, holy week, Lent, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Easter, holy week, Lent, spiritual practices
Like many things in our modern culture, Holy Week has become a muddled grey paste of a religious experience. Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter all get jumbled up together in an atheological hodge-podge that leaves the veteran confused and the novitiate clueless. I have already sung, “He Lives!,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus,” and “‘Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies,” and it is the day after Palm Sunday. In the past couple weeks, Jesus has already instituted the Last Supper, has been before Pilate and Herod, has been scourged, both Peter and Judas have played their respective screw-up roles, Barabbas has been released – as well as Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass with crowds waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Talk about anti-climax. It feels like someone dropped all their index cards with their speech notes and they shuffled them together in random order and proceeded to launch into their talk. Welcome to Easter 2011 A.D.D.
Prayer Worriers October 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, prayer, spiritual practices
I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks due to an unusually heavy work/travel load, and an unusually large response to a recent post. Every once in a while I will write something that I believe is a “no-brainer” — it’s not overly profound or insightful, but it catches people’s attention and imagination and it snowballs. Such is the situation with prayer. I made the simple observation — that I have made a number of times before — that United Methodists, by and large, have very shallow and perfunctory prayer lives, and the main reason for this is that they aren’t being taught to pray. The response has been an avalanche (by my standards) of emails, letters, phone calls and personal conversations from people wanting to talk about prayer — mostly to agree with me, then share their own story.
From a young Seattle pastor:
I am in my seventh year of my first church (she isn’t UM) and I never thought about teaching prayer until I read your blog. I realized, ‘No one ever taught me to pray — not at home, not in church, not in college, not at seminary. It has always been assumed that since I am a Christian, I pray.’ I took your blog to my women’s study group and to my ecumenical clergy council and we started discussing it. Most of the pastors there said they can’t remember being taught to pray, except a few remember their mothers teaching them simple prayers and table graces as children. The priests were taught at Catholic school, but even they talk about learning much by rote. One Lutheran pastor also says he remembers the parts of the catechism on prayer, but nothing was ever really explained. My question is, how did we get here? Almost everyone agrees that prayer is very important — essential, in fact — but none of us are doing much about it. That’s going to change, however. Our ecumenical council is going to focus on prayer for 2011 and our shared programs for teaching and preaching will all focus on prayer all year. Thank you for planting the seeds!