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