Leadership in Dark Days


The third weekend in Advent 2018

Without being overly political or overly anti-clerical, I would say we have major leadership problems in church and state: dishonest and disingenuous politicians, claiming to be virtuous; and religions leaders, claiming to be good Christians, but concealing and lying about their sexual abuse of children, men, and women…..Clerical sexual abuse by the way is not just a Catholic problem…….We are in the dark days before Christmas and we need light and enlightenment.

Leadership? Leadership is all about getting people to work together to make good things happen that might not otherwise occur or to prevent bad things from happening that would ordinarily take place.

Doing some pre-holidays cleaning, I found a forgotten book: Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership. For me this was real Advent serendipity……

Goleman co-directs the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University.

In his book Primal Leadership, Goleman describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can be helped to move among these styles, adopting the one that best meets the needs of the moment. Leaders need support but also ongoing and constructive criticism.

(1) Visionary Leadership: This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. The goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, and even take calculated risks.

(2) Coaching Leadership: This one-on-one style focuses on developing leaders, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping them connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Regular performance appraisals are a great aid here….good for teachers, pastors, and bishops.

(3) Affiliative Leadership: This style emphasizes the importance of team work, and creates harmony in a group by connecting people to each other. The authority structure here is not the vertical pyramid (as in ancient Rome) but the horizontal circle of colleagues with shared leadership and shared decision-making. Goleman argues that this approach is particularly valuable “when trying to heighten team harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization.”

(4) Democratic Leadership: This style draws on people’s knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. This works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group.

(5) Pacesetting Leadership: In this style, the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” Goleman warns, however, that this style should be used sparingly, because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing.

(6) Commanding Leadership: This is the classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but most often the least effective. We see this in today’s church of course. Since it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis, when an urgent turnaround is needed.

Now we move closer to Christmas; but there is good material here for New Year’s resolutions. ☺️

May we better observe, better judge, and better act!

Jack

PS And: May we all be the kind of leaders we wish we had!

Wisdom Women


December 8, 2018

Last week I offered some reflections about the Infancy Narratives……recalling the birth of Jesus as reported in Matthew and Luke.

As we begin this second week of Advent 2018, my thoughts are more contemporary but prompted by the wisdom women in Luke: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. They are the ones who see and comprehend what is really happening. In the Hebrew Scriptures, by the way, Wisdom is feminine….

We have wisdom women today but, in the church, we have not been such good listeners. An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter (December 4) says it strong and clearly: “This season of expectation, of wonder at the possibility of God with and among us, is a perfect time to sink into that authentic tradition and to contemplate where we’ve gone off track. How did we get to this point of aberration where the clergy culture itself has become the church’s greatest scandal, and our identity as a people of God could be so crimped and co-opted by religious ideologues?”

We have ignored the wisdom women and have allowed the old boys club to shape and control our religious and secular culture. Patriarchy is not a virtue. Frankly I was disappointed when Pope Francis announced last week that archbishops must discipline wayward bishops. Once again the patriarchal pyramid was reconfirmed.

The entire Gospel According to Luke downplays patriarchy and points to women as the beaters of God’s wisdom and truth. The high standing of women in Luke’s Gospel is evident from the beginning with Mary and Elizabeth playing enormously important roles in the history of salvation.

Re-reading Luke, it is also evident that there is concern for widows. They are specifically mentioned (Luke 2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:3; 20:47; 21:2). Mark 15:41 and Matt 27:55 inform us that women accompanied Jesus during his ministry, but only Luke mentions that the women cared for Jesus out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). Martha and Mary received Jesus into their home and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, the position of a disciple (Luke 10:38-42). And of course at the end of Luke, the angel reminds the women (no men there) at the empty tomb that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead on the third day.

And then we read: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them told this to the apostles.” And, following this announcement, we read (surprised?) “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter has to confirm that what the women said was true….Creeping paternalism?

So my friends, who are the wisdom women in our lives? In our families, among friends, among colleagues? How can we support and encourage them so that more people not only hear them but really listen to them?

I strongly recommend a book by theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson: She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.

And may the Holy Spirit sustain all of us with her wisdom!

Jack

This is my final reminder in case there are still some people who would like to contribute to the Another Voice project. People can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to: Dr. J.A.Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85 A, 3001 Heverlee — Belgium

(2) Much easier: a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(3) Or an international bank transfer in Euros sent to my Belgian account: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels — Account of John A. Dick, SWIFT CODE: GEBABEBB, IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions: jadleuven@gmail.com

The Birth of the Messiah


December 1, 2018

The Christmas trees are lit. We are now rushing into the season, celebrating in theory at least, Jesus’ birth.

A friend asked how we know when and where Jesus was born. My short answer: we have biblical suppositions and creative theologies, but there is much we really don’t know.…. We do know what is important: that Jesus was born, what he said, what he did, and what happened to him. We believe. Jesus, “the anointed one,” Christ, the Messiah, is our Way, the Truth, and Life. When and where he was born are secondary matters.

Another friend suggested that we really need to “Put Christ back into Christmas.” I understand the concern but feel more strongly that we need to put Christ back into the lives of those “Christians,” who deny and reject him in their words and actions. First, let’s put Christ back into Christianity. Then we can move on to Christmas.

As we begin Advent 2018, I do have some thoughts about interpreting the birth of Jesus. First, however, some background information:

Jesus of Nazareth was born more or less around the year AD 1. The Anno Domini (The year of the Lord) dating system was invented in the year AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus, a medieval monk who wanted a calendar system that was not based on the reigns of anti-Christian Roman emperors. By around the year AD 800 the new calendar was a fact of life across Western Europe. Dionysius picked the date for the start of his AD calendar system using his own theory and calculations about when he thought Jesus was born.

There is a trend today to move to BCE/CE. The years are the same as AD/BC: BCE understood to mean “Before the Common Era” and CE to mean “Common Era.”

We really do not know the month when Jesus was born. The first recorded date of Jesus’ birth being celebrated on December 25th was in AD 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December, the old Roman festival day celebrating the birth of “the unconquered sun.” Jesus, of course, was understood as the Light of the World. When Christianity became the new imperial religion, the old “pagan” Roman festivals were replaced with Christian ones.

The Gospels offer very little information about the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Although we refer to the “Infancy Narratives” in Matthew and Luke, they do not actually give us information about Jesus’ infancy and childhood. Rather, they answer the theological question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?”

Moving into December 2018, I suggest that we re-read the actual infancy texts: Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 2.

Some observations as we begin:

(1) The Scriptures are more concerned about theology — belief — than strict historic detail. There is some real and some imagined history in the Scriptures, but that is secondary to theology.

(2) The language in all of Sacred Scripture has to be understood in the original socio-cultural understandings of the people at the time when the biblical narratives were being composed and written. As the biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossman, stresses: “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

(3) As the first century Christians reflected on the meaning of Jesus they also re-read and re-interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures: seeing signs of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures that they had never seen before. They understood Jesus, for example, as the NEW Moses.

Matthew and Luke:

The Infancy Narrative in Matthew was written around AD 85 for Jewish converts to Christianity. Matthew constructs his genealogy to link Jesus with Abraham. For Matthew, Jesus as the New Moses and he uses creative historical imagery. Note the striking parallels between Jesus’ birth and Moses’ birth – the slaughtering of innocents, and the flight to Egypt.

The Infancy Narrative in Luke was written around between AD 85 and 90 possibly as late as 95. It was written for highly educated Gentile converts to Christianity. In Luke, Jesus is the high point of humanity and the light to enlighten the Gentiles. Luke creates a genealogy (chapter 3) that links Jesus with Adam. For Luke, Jesus is the man for all peoples, with special compassion for women, the poor, and social outcasts.

Closely examined, the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke offer differing pieces of information:

(1) Luke mentions the census of Quirinius which requires Joseph to go to Bethlehem.

(2) Matthew, however, gives no details of how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem.

(3) In Luke, shepherds guided by an angel find Jesus in the manger.

(4) In Matthew, wise men from the East, guided by a star, come not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem to worship the Infant.

(5) In Matthew Joseph flees with his wife and child to Egypt where they live until Herod’s death. Later they return to Nazareth not to Bethlehem.

(6) Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the descent into Egypt. Instead, he describes how the Infant is brought to Jerusalem for the ritual of the first-born.

(7) AND there are some historical problems if one sees Matthew and Luke as strict history: Herod died in 4 BC. The census of Quirinius was in AD 6.

By the way, there is no mention of three kings in either infancy narrative. ONLY Matthew mentions “some wise men.”

We will continue our Infancy Narrative reflections next week….Read the biblical texts and jot down your own observations….

Many kind regards!

+++++++

As I indicated last week, at the end of this calendar year, I invite all readers of ANOTHER VOICE to contribute to my blog fund. This is my once a year appeal. Your end of the year contribution helps cover internet and computer costs as well as books and subscriptions that keep me updated as an older and retired historical theologian.

I greatly appreciate your support to keep ANOTHER VOICE speaking.

You can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to:

Dr. J.A.Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85 A

3001 Heverlee

Belgium

(2) A USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(3) Or an international bank transfer in Euros sent to my Belgian account:

BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV

Warandeberg 3

1000 Brussels

Belgium

Account of John A. Dick

SWIFT CODE: GEBABEBB

IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions, please contact me at: jadleuven@gmail.com

Thank you!

Jack

GRATITUDE


Thanksgiving 2018

As my USA family and friends celebrate THANKSGIVING this weekend, I take a moment to express my own gratitude for life, family, and friends.

This is my seventy-fifth Thanksgiving, but I have no recollections of the early ones. I am thankful of course for those who were there with love and supportive attention. So many of them now in the next dimension of human life: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a few cousins. Getting older is witnessing rites of passage.

Today I want to thank the many readers of ANOTHER VOICE, for your ongoing interest and keen support. This past year I will have, once again, written about forty-five weekly reflections. They have been picked up by many individuals and groups and published around the globe. Thank you!

ANOTHER VOICE came from my frustration: that so much religious talk is out of touch with contemporary life issues. I was re-reading a poem by T.S. Eliot and his words grabbed me: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

Anchored in our Christian tradition AND in contemporary life, ANOTHER VOICE tries to study, reflect, and present the Gospel challenge for today and tomorrow. Too much of our contemporary media focus and current political and religious rhetoric stresses feelings more than fact: reaffirming narrow prejudices and apathetic about the identity, needs, and concerns of people today: “last year’s language.”

Last year’s language energizes contemporary anxieties and romanticizes a past era that was itself more fantasy than reality. The good old days were not always that good. I know. I lived back then. I survived just about all the awful childhood illnesses. Saw classmates with polio moved into iron lungs. Watched Detroit burn in the 1960s. And I still mourn friends and classmates who died in Vietnam. Today my brain still works and I am considered a reputable historian. I can still distinguish fact from fiction; and I see and hear far too much fantasy (some of it very sinister) proclaimed as truth.

In coming weeks and months, I will endeavor to reflect and speak some words of reality and genuine encouragement, anchored in the Life, Message, and Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. He continues to sustain, support, and encourage me.

I know of course that at times I will end up speaking about political issues. No everyone is comfortable about that; but these are human value issues not really Republican or Democratic party politics. My tradition is Catholic but my life focus is contemporary Christian belief. I remain a critical believer. Popes come and go. Some are good. Some are terribly disappointing. Some Christians who proudly profess their Christianity work very hard at destroying everything Christianity stands for. We always need some people who point out that the great emperor is really naked and phony.

It is the Spirit of Christ that gives life and sustains us.

Thanks to all who travel with me. Your comments encourage me to go on. And now my annual appeal…..

Starting this week end and continuing until Christmas, I invite all readers of ANOTHER VOICE to contribute to my“maintenance fund.” My once a year appeal.

Your end of the year contributions help cover internet and computer maintenance costs as well as books and subscriptions that keep me updated as an older and retired historical theologian on a fixed income. I greatly appreciate your support to keep ANOTHER VOICE speaking, with “next year’s words.”

You can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to:

Dr. J.A.Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85 A

3001 Heverlee

Belgium

(2) Much easier: a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(3) Or an international bank transfer in Euros sent to my Belgian account:

Account of John A. Dick

SWIFT CODE: GEBABEBB

IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions: jadleuven@gmail.com

Thank you!

Jack

History Questions Us


November 17, 2018

So far this month, November 2018, we have observed two sobering anniversaries.

On November 9 and 10, 2018, we had the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht: an immense rage of murder and violence that devastated Jewish communities across Nazi Germany in 1938. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked. The Nazi paramilitary SA and civilian rioters demolished 267 synagogues; and 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged.

The following day, November 11, 2018, we observed the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I — the hideous, and needless, conflict that killed millions, and prepared the way for an even more devastating Second World War, a generation later.

My wife and I, and many friends, observed the WWI commemorations in our current hometown Leuven (Louvain) Belgium. Our university library and great sections of the city were burned and destroyed by the enemy in 1914. The local people said you cannot crush the human spirit. Leuven was rebuilt; and a handsome new library arose, thanks to generous US donations. Then in WWII the city was nearly destroyed again.

In WWII Leuven was bombed by allied forces who made “a tactical mistake,” with major human loss and great destruction of buildings. The people said “we will rebuild.” And many Americans helped them. Today Leuven is alive and flourishing. The great human spirit!

I really don’t believe history repeats itself. It does question and challenge us. The questions which history asks are: why did people think and behave in specific ways back then, and how should people think and act today? The great historical challenge of course is that if we don’t learn from our predecessors, we are doomed to repeat some of their mistakes.

Henry Ford was good at making cars but thought “history is more or less bunk.” I am not an auto mechanic (although, in my high school years, I did restore a Model A Ford, thanks to help from my father and older brother). I would suggest, however, that people who ignore, or who are ignorant about their history, are like trees without roots.

Preparing, a few days ago, for a university seminar, I reviewed the first five hundred years of Christian history. Some thoughts about that today…..

Today we certainly have a better understanding of our Christian history and our Sacred Scripture in specific historical and cultural contexts. We appreciate, better than people did, even fifty years ago, that the church is historical. It changes from age to age.

Ongoing education is absolutely essential for church leaders and believers. I would have little confidence in a cardiologist whose education stopped fifty years ago. Why follow directives from cardinals whose theology is fifty years out of date and grounded in exaggerated clericalism?

Christian Faith = A living personal relationship (individual and communal) with the Transcendent, made known and present in a unique way in the person of Jesus Christ. Theology and church structure (institutional forms) are interpretations of Christian Faith = putting into word and gesture how we talk about and live our Faith and pass it on to the next generation.

When we think about the “Early Church,” we mean three distinctive periods of Christian history: (1) The Apostolic Christian Community = from time of Jesus’ Death/Resurrection until around the year 100. (2) The Greco-Roman Christian Church as distinct from Judaism from around 100 to 313 (Edict of Milan); and (3)The Post Constantinian Church until 476 (Fall of Rome).

Each historic period challenges us today and asks us specific questions.

The APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY was really a community of those following the way of Jesus after the Resurrection. The word “ekklesia” used at this time should not be translated as “church,” but rather as “the assembly” or “community” of believers. Those early Christians had great freedom to structure their lives, since they understood that the historic Jesus did not ordain anyone nor did he lay down any “blueprint for the church.” Ministries were shared by men and women, even the ministry of presiding at the Eucharist.

The big question for us today: how do we regain the Apostolic Community sense of freedom to be creative in church structure and to share equally as men and women in all ministries? They did it back then. Why can’t we do it today?

In the GRECO-ROMAN period, we see a growing separation between the ordained and the non-ordained to maintain “holy order,” and gradual limitations being established on the roles of women in the Christian community. The questions this history asks us are clear: why did they separate the community into clerical and lay classes and why the limitations on women? Who influenced their thinking back then? Who influences our thinking today? Was it good back then? Is it good today?

In the POST CONSTANTINIAN CHURCH, the identity of the Christian church institution changes dramatically. Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire and the church as institution takes over the Roman governmental structure (like having “dioceses” for instance) and Roman imperial court liturgy! (We still see remnants of that in today’s papal ceremonies.)

In this historic period as well: bishops become not just church leaders regional judges; liturgy and sacraments become more standardized; women are edged to the back of the church; and we see the start of a real and powerful clerical culture. And yes – the once pacifist church becomes militarized and, within five hundred years, will launch wars against Muslims.

The Post Constantinian Church asks us some big contemporary questions: Is it healthy for Christian belief when the church and the state become the same thing? Is it healthy when a powerful clerical caste speaks and behaves like it alone is the church? What happened to our understanding of the church as the people of God? And what happened to the church as a prophetic voice for peace and understanding?

May we all listen to our history, reflect on its questions, and find good answers…..

— Jack

Elections Are Over: Leadership Challenge Continues….


November 9, 2018

Our early American predecessors lived in times of tremendous social change. Sometimes we overly romanticize their lives, forgetting their environment of fear, social unrest, “Indian” atrocities, counter-reaction colonialists’ atrocities, slave rebellions, fear-mongering propagandists, intercultural conflicts, and the terrorism spread by rumors of foreign intrigue.

Almost two decades into the third millennium, our country and our world are changing even more dramatically. Fear and anxiety are byproducts. The pace of change is accelerating.

A bit ironically, a great many contemporary people are anxiously trying to maintain their identity as their very identity itself is changing. White Christian America, for example as I mentioned last week, is diminishing as a new form of American culture is evolving: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. These elements, in fact, are what makes America great.

The changing U.S. cultural landscape is more our challenge than our danger. We have always been a country of immigrants.

Human problems require human solutions, people need to work together. Otherwise, we disintegrate in feverish polarized chaos.

We all need to refine and exercise constructive leadership skills. At the same time, we need to critique and disempower those “leaders,” in religion as well as in politics, who do not lead but control. They are not real leaders, but self-promoting authoritarian managers, whose values and behavior oppose genuine Christianity and authentic democracy.

What qualities characterize genuine and constructive leaders?

(1) Genuine leaders are honest and transparent. They have integrity. They neither manipulate people nor play with the truth. They do not fear criticism, but understand criticism as a call to evaluate personal goals and behavior.

(2) Constructive leaders create a vision of the future that is realistic and compelling. They are not afraid of change, but see it as a part of the human experience and an ongoing human challenge. They understand the socio-cultural changes on the horizon as new opportunities for human transformation and growth.

(3) Genuine leaders inspire and motivate. They help people engage with the present and build a more humane tomorrow. They reflect deeply on the signs of the times.

(4) Constructive leaders analyze and solve problems. They observe, judge, and act in collaborative problem-solving. Yes they are often recruited, trained, and chosen to solve problems. But they don’t do it alone. They cannot do it alone.

(5) Some people are very content to sit back and watch the world go by. Or they long to return to some romanticized former time, like the 1950s…..Constructive and genuine leaders have a higher level of perseverance. They have vision but are not daydreamers. They can be counted on to get things done. They move ahead. They don’t live in the past.

(6) Genuine leaders build on solid foundations of mutual respect and trust. They do not denigrate people but lift them up. The stronger the interpersonal relationships, the better the leadership.

(7) Constructive leaders communicate with their people. They listen to them. They stimulate and promote collaborative leadership.

(8) Some leaders, sad to say, are mis-leaders. They use and abuse people to advance their own self-promoting agendas or destructively racist and xenophobic programs. We must work to eventually remove them from office. The more important and more immediate task, however, is to impede their programs and projects right now.

(9) We are all called to exercise leadership: it is called individual and social responsibility. Power over people is not a virtue; and history shows again and again that in religion and in civil society absolute power corrupts absolutely.

(10) Jesus of Nazareth was a genuine and constructive Leader. In his life we find our Way, Truth, and Life.

– Jack

White Christian America


November 2, 2018

In just a few days we will have the 2018 midterm elections. No. I am not writing about politics this week end. My concern, rather, is to take a look at the contemporary American (USA) religious landscape.

My airport experiences seem to be memorable….During a long wait at the airport in Atlanta, last week, as I was waiting for my flight to Brussels, I was re-reading the 2016 book by Robert Jones: The End of White Christian America. When I put the book down to check an email on my phone, the fellow sitting next to me saw the cover and practicality yelled at me: “That’s our problem. That’s why I voted for President Trump. He will bring white America back to its senses.” I told him I had no desire to get into a political discussion; but that the USA was undergoing a major cultural and religions re-configuration. He gave me that “you crazy old liberal” look, then said he had to catch his plane and got up and walked away. Just as well.

Recent political campaign rallies have been marked by vitriolic and racist outbursts, harsh rhetoric, and even violence. Recent events in Pittsburg are symptomatic. The United States is undergoing major cultural-religious changes that make some people anxious and fearful. Others hateful. The changes of course are not going to disappear. We can only turn our clocks back one hour. On Wednesday, just four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, anonymous posters on a website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site’s operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting. Ignorance rules. Hatred is growing.

Thanks to research done by Robert Jones’ Public Religion Research Institute, as well as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, we can point to twelve major changes in the US religious landscape. The future is now, becoming tomorrow:

(1) White Christians now account for fewer than half of the USA public. Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian. In 1976, 81% of Americans identified as white and Christian.

(2) White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. About 20% of today’s Americans self-identify as Catholic, which is a drop from 24% in 2007. The Catholic decline continues, due especially to clerical sexual abuse revelations. Revelations are not over, and the Catholic eclipse has begun…

(3) Non-Christian religious groups in the USA are growing, but still represent less than one in ten Americans. Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%. Please note: a Muslim takeover of the United States is not just around the corner.

(4) America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, for example, are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30.

(5) The Catholic Church in the United States is experiencing a major shakeup and an ethnic transformation. Twenty-five years ago, 87% of US Catholics were white, non-Hispanic. The figure of white non-Hispanic Catholics today is 55%. Currently 36% of US Catholics under the age of 30 are non-Hispanic white, and 52% are Hispanic. (In the 2016 election, 56% of white Catholics voted for Trump, compared to only 19 percent of Hispanic Catholics.)

(6) The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism. Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.

(7) Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).

(8) Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups. There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups. And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.

(9) Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated. Many Americans no longer feel at home in their churches.

(10) Politically, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Just 29% of Democrats today are white Christians, compared to 50% one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.

(11) Curiously, white evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestants, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.

(12) Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life, and less prone to see the Internet as threatening their moral values

And so, alert to the signs of the times, we move ahead. We must move ahead. We cannot regress.

And I conclude this reflection with just one pre-election reminder: Power over people is not a virtue; and history shows again and again that in religion and in civil society absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Jack

Prophetic Women


October 27, 2018

Sometimes we need to change the conversation, shifting from wayward bishops and abusive clergy. They will get what they deserve. We need to speak as well about positive issues and movements in today’s church. Life goes on and there are indeed signs of new life.

Right now I look to courageous women for signs of new life. This week’s editorial from the National Catholic Reporter says it well: “Sidelined for too long, women aren’t going away. Perhaps the utter scandal to which an all-male clerical culture has subjected the church will finally force a change.”

For me one of the most encouraging movements in contemporary church ministry is the prophetic “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” movement: RCWP. Prophetic movements always shake-up institutional managers; and sometimes that is a good thing. The prophetic leaders of course, especially those who condone women’s ordination, often incur excommunication…..In every institution it often takes time for top management to acknowledge and appreciate the change makers. The historical Jesus discovered this in his early thirties.

RCWP began with the ordination the “Danube Seven” in 2002. The Danube Seven are a group of seven women from Germany, Austria and the United States who were ordained as priests on a ship cruising the Danube river on 29 June 2002. It was an historic moment. A year later, two of the original group were ordained bishops. Today there are a several women bishops and the worldwide RCWP membership is 264, with 138 members for the USA, of whom 6 are also quite active internationally.

Nancy, a friend of mine, is a woman bishop; and I asked her for some reflections on the movement. “Roman Catholic Womenpriests take as our model the worker priests,” she said. “Many of us have other occupations since we are not salaried from our respective parishes/house churches. These include: lawyers, professors, hospital chaplains, librarians, spiritual directors, accountants, physician’s assistant, inner city social workers, nurses, retreat directors, etc. Many of our women hold masters and doctorate degrees not only in theology and Sacred Scripture but many other fields as well. Our vision is a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”

A new model for ordained ministry is just what we need. It doesn’t need to be created. It exists already.

I find Nancy’s observations contemporary, realistic, and very encouraging. For example, she observes: “The mission of RCWP is to prepare, ordain, and support qualified women from all states of life who are committed to an inclusive Church. Our values include equality, justice, collegiality, accountability, and prophetic obedience. Our model of governance is communitarian based, which encourages empowerment and generous service. We continue to reject all forms of hierarchy and domination. (This is a continued call to each of us since we all have experienced this type of authority most of our lives). We are called to the priesthood by the people of God and the Holy Spirit working in us.”

Unfortunately some old guard RC bishops, at home, abroad, and particularly in Rome, still consider the ordination of women a “grave crime” as offensive as, or even worse than, the scandal of priests who sexually abuse children. This will change, however, because the winds of change are blowing through the church and gathering more energy.

Looking historically at change in the Catholic tradition, we see a three stage development: (1) When a big change starts, the change is condemned. (2) Later, if the change continues to develop and prosper, it is officially “tolerated” and often as “an experiment.” Finally, (3) once the change is fully established and flourishing, it is labeled “good and really a part of our tradition.”

The RCWP movement stresses a ministry of inclusive participation. It clearly speaks and beckons to contemporary believers, searching for new and fresh vitality in our Christian tradition. It is growing now in the United States and in Canada, South America, Europe, and South Africa.

As Nancy observed in a recent email: “There is an energy and passion to move the RC Church forward in its inclusion of all peoples.”

Amen

Jack

Theology: Stones or Bread


October 20, 2018

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to a family reunion with our Dutch relatives. It was a pleasant and delightful gathering. While having a before dinner drink, one of my wife’s uncles approached me and said he had an important question for me. He then withdraw from his pocket a small stone with very colorful lines in it. “Now,” he said “can you explain this to me?” I looked at it, rubbed my fingers on it, and said with a polite chuckle: “a lovely little stone and very colorful, but that’s all I can say.” VERY disappointed he turned away from me and walked over to my wife. “I thought you said your husband knew something about geology!” “No!” She replied: “Not GEology but THEology!”

Yes I do theology… and we all should do theology… We cannot survive without theology. Up-date-theology helps us understand and live our Faith. Outdated theology distorts Christian belief and misconstrues Sacred Scripture. Our theology has to be contemporary and credible. Retro-theology and ritual are more like geological stones. Human life, however, is nourished with living bread not colorful old stones.

Good theology interprets our Faith experience in contemporary language, symbol, and ritual. It leads to life-sustaining ministry and healthy institutional structures. It promotes authentic Christian behavior. Good theology helps us grow in our understanding of who God is for us and who we are with God for each other. Good theology stimulates us, sustains us, and calls us to growth. Defective or often passé theology disorients people and distorts the Gospel. God is not a hard-nosed old judge, ready to send people to hell. God is, to use a Jesus theological image, a loving “abba” – “Father” not an imperial disciplinarian. And no, women were not created inferior to men. Wives are not divinely ordered to be subservient to their husbands, nor are women ministerially inferior to men. (One really does not need male gonads to be a Catholic priest. The whole idea is preposterous if not downright disgusting.) Protestantism is not inferior to Catholicism. Gays are not innately disordered.

Outmoded and defective theology, at the institutional level, creates a loss of credibility and a moral leadership vacuum.

A very disordered theology of ordained ministry that stressed clerical power over people, rather than service, has directly contributed to the decades-long sexual abuse of children. Sex abuse is first about power and then sex. According to a recent CBS News report, a quarter of U.S. Catholics say that clerical sexual abuse reports have now made them personally question whether or not they will remain in the Catholic Church. The Catholic ecclipse.

+++

Right from the beginning, our early Christian communities were nourished by a number of different theologies, each addressed to a specific Christian and culturally-based religious group. The four Gospels are the prime example.

The Gospels evolved from oral traditions, passed on from person to person and from place to place. More than one single person (i.e. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) composed the final versions of the Gospels as we have them today. Each time the authors adapted their accounts to the needs, understanding, and cultural-religious backgrounds of their listeners.

Mark’s Gospel was written for Gentile Christians in Rome. They suffered Roman persecution but

also discrimination from Judaeo-Christians, who considered themselves superior to Gentile converts. Mark portrays Jesus as the authoritative Son of God, with little reference to the Hebrew Scriptures. The Gospel According to Matthew, on the other hand, was written from a Judeo-Christian perspective. For Matthew Jesus is the great embodiment of all preceding Hebrew history.

While Mark focused on the mostly Gentile Christian community in Rome and Matthew was

more focused on the Judeo-Christian community in Antioch, Luke stresses that Christianity is

a way of life for Gentile as well as Judeo-Christian believers; and that it warrants legal

recognition in the Roman Empire. Luke is about healing and reconciliation: actions greatly

needed in our own contemporary society. The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) in style and content in several ways. John uses a “post-resurrection” point of view. The author looks back on the Jesus events and emphasizes the inability of the apostles to understand the things that were happening at the time they occurred. The Johannine community was greatly concerned with hot issues in the church–synagogue debate and defined itself primarily in contrast to Judaism.

A variety of theological viewpoints is basically good, as long as people are (1) in conversation with each-other, (2) understand and acknowledge that a variety of viewpoints is legitimate, (3) don’t get locked into just one viewpoint, and (4) remember that the focus of any theology is our Faith experience.

When I was a younger Catholic growing-up in Michigan in the 1950s , the church was locked in a nineteenth century theology that, by way of example, still had a hang-up about sex. (Some Catholics still do, especially some who wear colorful uniforms.) I remember a page from our 1950s “Baltimore Catechism” which basically said that if you wanted to be a really good Christian you should avoid sex. Married life was “good” but no-sex religious life was “better.” (You can still find the illustration on the Internet.)

Theology changes and evolves as does our understanding of Christian tradition and human self-awareness. Theology must always change so it doesn’t get locked in a static particular cultural time frame. Theology challenges contemporary culture. It doesn’t canonize it, however. I have many Asian Christian friends who ask why they have to worship using European liturgical symbols and rituals….A good question. We must remember as well that the historical Jesus was not a pale-faced European but much more black than lily white. And, by the way, he had no problems accepting women as his disciples. So what is the basis for contemporary sexist prejudice and hangups? Send a letter to Rome.

Time-bound theology often tries to squeeze God into a narrow theological box. (My opening illustration.) God is bigger and richer than any theology. We are made in the “Image and likeness of God.” Distorted theology says that God is made in OUR image and likeness. We need liberation theology, black theology, queer theology, feminist theology, etc. to express the broad range of reality.

We need to disconnect from old theologies that supported patriarchy, power, sexism, and homophobia. Christianity is not about power over people but empowering people to take responsibility to love the other as oneself. Power over people is not a virtue, whether in Rome or Washington DC. History shows again and again that, in religion and in civil government, absolute power corrupts absolutely. My comment, by the way, is not about being a “Republican” or a “Democrat.” It is about being a decent and ethically responsible human being.

The contemporary theological challenge calls out to all of us. Contemporary believers – you and I — need to continually reflect and ask the big questions: who or what is God for me today? How do I understand Jesus today? How can I be a genuine follower of Christ today? And….where do I find the joy and support of a community of believers, who share my hunger for living bread?

– Jack

[The God in a box cartoon is by David Hayward and used here with his explicit permission.]

Authoritarianism


October 13, 2018

Authoritarianism has always bothered me because it uses and abuses people. It destroys human freedom to think, act, and live. It manipulates people and often destroys the “undesirables.”

The historical Jesus stressed that human greatness is based on compassion and service. His authority was used to motivate and guide people, to heal, support, and call to conversion. Some “Christian leaders” still don’t get the message.

In contemporary political and religious life, we are confronted with a creeping authoritarianism that seeks to dominate and control – and often displace and destroy. A very unhealthy kind of leadership.

It is not just in the United States, but around the world. We see it in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other countries. And I see it and study it in fanatic and fundamentalist manifestations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Cultural change and human migration make some observers anxious and fearful. They feel threatened. They neither hear nor understand the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Instead they prefer to circle their wagons, or build their walls, to protect “us against them.” In ignorance, fear, and anxiety they surrender to the exaggerated rhetoric and growing influence of authoritarian leaders.

This is becoming our contemporary leadership problem. “Leaders” who should be be trusted for wisdom, intelligence, and humanitarian service are becoming hard-nosed autocrats, surrendering to the psychological and mental disorder of authoritarianism.

Honesty and integrity are replaced by self-promoting deceit and dishonesty. Self-centered authoritarians are self-stroking and need to feel good. Life for them boils down to what one can get and what one can get away with. Life is jungle warfare in a world of lazy and evil “losers.”

My immediate concern right now, however, is creeping authoritarianism in the U.S.A. It is becoming a destructive and sinister social virus that shows itself in increased racial violence, increased anti-Semitism, extreme political and social polarization, and the rise of militant Neo-Nazi groups.

Some symptoms of this contemporary social virus:

1. Ongoing efforts to intimidate and discredit the media, except for Fox News. The distinction between information and misinformation disappears.

2. Truth becomes fake news….and the actual fake news becomes the to-be-accepted real news. As George Orwell (1903-1950) predicted years ago: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

3. Police surveillance and violence against ideological “enemies” is accepted as a contemporary and necessary public safety necessity.

4. “Foreigners” are arrested, families are torn apart, and children and adults are incarcerated fir indefinite amounts of time in military camps. They are not yet called concentration camps.

5. The Supreme Court is being questionably stacked, with questionable judges, to promote a narrow authoritarian political ideology.

6. White supremacism, sexism, homophobia, far-right extremism are not criticized but promoted.

7. Fear mongering is stimulated and prompted in the name of national safety and security.

8. And, of course, the opposition is demonized.

Authoritarian “leaders” can only succeed because because authoritarian followers applaud and support them. Much more so than the average person, authoritarian followers go through life with impaired thinking. Their reasoning is often sloppy and based on prejudiced beliefs and a fierce dogmatism, that rejects evidence and logic. These cognitive defects in authoritarian followers enable them to follow any would-be dictator. As Hitler reportedly said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”

So what does one do?

Well, we must first of all acknowledge that authoritarian followers are extremely resistant to change. The more one learns about authoritarianism, the more one realizes how difficult it will be to reach people who are so ferociously aggressive and fiercely defensive. Polarization is now extreme and deeply rooted.

We need to educate and promote (starting at home with little children) a balanced education which is: (1) handing on authentic information, (2) teaching people where to find correct information, and (3) giving people the skills to be well-informed critical thinkers.

Our Christian communities, more than ever, must become, in the Spirit of Christ, compassionate and supportive gatherings of multicultural, multi-ethnic, and all-gender, brothers and sisters.

We need to courageously speak out and we need to help other people courageously speak out. If something is wrong or something untrue, people need to strongly and clearly state that it is wrong or untrue. Those who courageously speak out need the strong support of friends gathered around them. Going alone is increasingly difficult if not impossible in our cyber-linked world.

We need to be on guard, as well, that we do not become promoters of polarization and vicious partisanship. We need to learn how to work together for the common good….As Jesus said in Matthew (chapter 12): “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

Together we move forward.

Jack