An Unscheduled Post to Answer Questions

I thought I would share some answers to specific questions publicly in case others are curious as well. Please feel free to leave comments on the blog as well as contacting me directly. Here is some general information in no particular order:

  • Any of the illustrations I use on United Methodeviations are available for your use. I will gladly share a .jpeg/.png of the illustrations with anyone who asks, free of charge. I do ask for credit.
  • Yes, I would be willing to lead a Zoom basic training on Critical Thinking if enough people are interested.
  • No, I don’t think I am smarter than other people (LOL) but I do think there are levels of cognitive engagement that are able to process higher levels of complexity that we should be listening to; and I also believe that a greater quality of thinking is possible, preferable, and teachable. I believe we need the most sophisticated levels of thinking to help guide us, perhaps now more than ever. We should not allow the lowest common denominator to define us.
  • Books I recommend on Critical Thinking: The one I like best is Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker’s Critical Thinking (13th edition); the one I have used for years and years is Critical Thinking by Linda and Richard Elder. Something new that I really appreciate (well, new to me; it has been around for seven years) is Maureen Linker’s Intellectual Empathy: Critical Thinking for Social Justice.
  • Respecting the right of people to hold worldviews different from our own does NOT mean agreeing with them, endorsing them, embracing them, or even allowing them to be acted upon. The point I have been trying to make (obviously poorly) is that valid accountability must come out of community, not individuals. Individuals hold diverse and varied perspectives on right and wrong. But it is not up to individuals to determine the best way to live in the world. An individual may think 1) it is not only acceptable, but necessary to own firearms, 2) I have every right to protect myself with firearms, 3) anyone invading my property is someone I have the right to shoot, 4) immigrants are invading my country and threatening my way of life, 5) it is my right and duty to protect my country by opposing immigration, even if it means using my firearms. Okay, this is a clear line of reasoning and perspective. What kinds of community would endorse this worldview? Wouldn’t most communities allow for the right to own firearms, as long as they are reasonable (no semiautomatic military weapons, rocket launchers, grenades, etc.) and are used solely for the purpose of protection of one’s loved ones and property? Communities would limit in big and small ways the “rights” of individuals to expand the worldview to allow that person to essentially do whatever he/she/they determined good and proper. This is civil society, and it is what is currently threatened by the polarization and partisanizing of our social, ecclesial, and political structures.
  • “We” always has more power and potential than “me,” though any “me” can do incredible damage when the “we” is weak. My sense is that coalitions of “we” bent on selfishness, entitlement, greed, gluttony, and power are currently better organized and empowered than “we” coalitions of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV). I am calling the church to lead and model instead of acquiesce and assimilate. Church should be having a greater positive impact on culture than culture has a negative impact on church.

That’s it. I love the public and private conversations; that’s where I feel the value of the blog truly is. One last thing: The church needs to take an active, radical, and decisive stand against hate crimes and all forms of toxic and destructive -isms. Enough is enough, and there is no acceptable defense for hate-crimes, no matter your politics, past, or predilection. The time is now to witness to the world that God is love.

Categories: Uncategorized

10 replies

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Dan. While we’ve never met, I have worked for Discipleship Ministries for six years and so many of my coworkers (and former coworkers) have spoken very highly of you. (In fact, Ken Sloane has pointed me to this blog a while back.)
    A thought on your third point, “I do think there are levels of cognitive engagement that are able to process higher levels of complexity that we should be listening to; and I also believe that a greater quality of thinking is possible, preferable, and teachable.” Obviously, I agree. However, there is a complexity to this that concerns me. We know at an individual level when we are under stress, our mind has difficulty with higher levels of thinking and difficulty with imagination. I think this same dynamic is true at a collective level. Thus, with all the current societal stressors (pandemic, misinformation, disinformation, partisanship, etc.), I am concerned with our collective ability to process at higher levels of complexity (thus those with the simplest message wins our attention and allegiance).
    I’m curious if that changes anything for you? Or if that should change how we operate in ministry?

    • Glad to meet you! A number of things come to mind, and they align with what I have been telling people for awhile now. First, no one makes their best decisions under stress, anxiety, fear, and anger. Don’t trust decisions made when driven by these emotions and tensions; look to cooler heads. Don’t stir up more stress, work to calm and defuse spiraling negative emotions. Turn to the non-/least-anxious presence. Just because we have not done this doesn’t mean we can’t do this. Those who have taken time to dig down, to do real research, to distance themselves from the emotive rhetoric have come to similar conclusions during the pandemic — err to the side of caution, listen to the experts, depoliticize and depolarize, and follow the Golden Rule. Where empathy and concern for the well-being of the greater good prevails, there have not been the hostile and violent divisions.
      Higher levels of complexity demand higher levels of functioning and limited (self-controlled) reactivity. Yes, this is hard during times of high stress and fear, but they are the more essential for it. The systemic breakdown during this pandemic (and the immediate responses to 9/11) were not reflective of the highest levels of comprehension and response, but the lower orders of reactivity and fear. We will continue to get what we’ve already got unless we can come to some cultural valuing of higher orders of critical and complexity thinking, and so mine is more analysis and prescription rather than description – I don’t think we are grown up enough as a culture to value reason over reaction, common good over self-interest, and critical thinking over political rhetoric and the entitlement mentality. Thanks for asking!

      • Good thoughts. Thanks for replying. “I don’t think we are grown up enough as a culture to value reason overreaction, common good over self-interest, and critical thinking over political rhetoric and the entitlement mentality.” Yup! Totally agree (and what gives me fear).

  2. “I am calling the church to lead and model instead of acquiesce and assimilate. Church should be having a greater positive impact on culture than culture has a negative impact on church.“
    Dan, I truly appreciate your blogs and am delighted for your return to my in-box.
    Regarding the quote above: I am witnessing the Church taking a leading role in the division in our nation today. The so-called evangelical churches who have openly taken up positions that exclude, deny, and denigrate “others” has frustrated and confounded efforts to include, invite and lift up attempted by the rest of us. The erosion of trust in anything calling itself Christian has arguably caused irreparable harm to Jesus’ call to follow him (his teaching and example).
    So, here is my question: How do we overcome this situation as more and more of us find ourselves stepping away from an increasingly irrelevant institution?

    • I am really talking about a paradigmatic shift, but from a truly practical perspective. Here is my thought exercise. Get three-plus million people to agree to four things: 1) name a Promised Land – identify clearly and powerfully what they DO want (so, for instance, a fully inclusive and just communion of faith; 2) let go of the past – don’t waste precious energy, time, and resources on what isn’t working and should never have been in the first place. Totally reject the victim mentality and quit hammering on the guilt and shame buttons; 3) adopt the highest and most rigorous scholarship on Christian theology and reclaim a healthy philosophy of religion mindset. Religion is not the problem, “the religious” too often become the problem; and 4) let us follow the non-negotiable reality that in healthy systems, form always follows function. We cannot currently have a credible, merciful, equitable, just, fair, kind, and compassionate system because the system we have is not now, nor has it ever been, designed for these things! So, we need to align all our efforts to designing the system we want and need, not keep tinkering with the broken system, thinking we can make it better. Nor do we have to abandon the foundation upon which a healthy system should be built. Currently, the forces for darkness and the status quo are so much better equipped and prepared to prevent God’s kin*dom/kingdom that they are calling all the shots. I honestly and truly believe that when most of the malcontents, divisionists, destroyers, and excluders exit The United Methodist Church, those who will remain can create something beautiful for God. But as long as we allow the least enlightened to promote an unreflective, reductive, and rebarbative institutional model, we are stuck. My desire would be that we could bring everyone along as we evolve together and discover what a healthy church could look like, but too many simply don’t want this.

      • Thank you for your response. What you describe is what I have longed for and worked toward, with ever-increasing resistance. What you stated about the departure of the “malcontents, divisionists, destroyers, and excluders” is true. I have pastored small and large congregations. each one has these personalities present. When my stiff spine was more than they could tolerate, followed by their departure, the health of the congregation began to flourish. In one, in the course of one year after a key departure, the average attendance went from 45 to 110, with your families coming by profession of faith being the largest portion of that growth. I have witnessed your vision as a reality on a congregational level and I believe it can happen on a denominational level.

        However, that is the UMC. We are one of many denominational/non-denominational associations proclaiming the kin*dom/kingdom of God on this earthly sphere. The louder voice – right or wrong – is the one that is heard by those not connected to a faith community. While we may not be them, we must become the more authoritative (not powerful) example of the Love of God to the world. You are indeed talking of a paradigmatic shift. I am still not convinced that this happens without doing a whole new thing. Methodism spread across this land because it was a “Movement.” Institutionalizing a movement can greatly hinder the amount of creativity allowed. And it is that creativity which allows it to be a movement in the first place. For example, John Wesley did not appreciate Coke and Asbury taking on the responsibility of appointing pastors. However, if his restrictions had been honored, who would we be today? WOULD we be today?

        Dan, I am on board with you. My energy level is low right now for the UMC, or any church, for that matter. I have been beaten down too many times, and almost always because of a vision of a better way, that looks an awful lot like yours. I also know that I am not alone. You are giving me some hope that I had all but lost sight of and I thank you for that. My faith in God has not waned. My confidence in the Church (universal) or the UMC to strengthen that faith is not what it was or what I would like it to be. “I believe, help my unbelief.”

  3. Hi Dan,

    This is not strictly a commentary on what you’ve written – I happen to be in agreement with what you’ve said. It’s more of an additional thought which does not negate your statement. And it doesn’t really add anything of sustenance. You wrote: “and are used solely for the purpose of protection of one’s loved ones and property?”

    Many of the community I live and serve in also uses guns, (cross bows, bow and arrows…) for hunting (providing food for the table during winter months) as well as trap, skeet, target shooting ~ competitively. None of which needs nor requires automatic, semiautomatic military weapons, rocket launchers, grenades…

    I know your point is not to be all inclusive of gun usage – but thought I would share anyway. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts.

    • Thanks, Patrick, I am actually glad you did this. When talking about taking human lives through gun violence, the argument often gets derailed by the hunting defense. The issues are unrelated, but aggressive violence against human lives can be ignored by making the argument about guns (for or against, simplistic binary thinking…). You can actually get as bizarre and nonreflective an argument between those who hunt for sustenance and those who hunt for sport. My argument has nothing to do with guns per se, but with the human intention to use/abuse them, in this instance by redefining protection from defense to offense. Recreational shooting is also a very different thing, but it is always interesting to me how doctrinal sports shooters are about the rules, regulations, and protocols that “proper” shooters/hunters must follow, yet that goes out the window when the conversation turns to regulating the “use” of firearms or the types of firearms one might own. Complex issue; no simplistic resolutions.

  4. Amen. Thanks so much, Dan. Your work and words really matter. I have used your story of visiting Christy Woods at the end of your most challenging semester at Ball St. in numerous Christmas Eve services with attribution. It’s one of the most powerful stories of grace that I know.

  5. Thank you Dan. I look forward to you semi-weekly blogs. You often articulate what I’ve been thinking but haven’t quite put into words.

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