All you need is………


January 18, 2019

There is so much big news exploding around us, that I offer a very brief but pointed reflection this week end……….

As it concluded its meeting in Cyprus, on 16 January, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Planning committee released a report about the 11th WCC Assembly, to be held in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2021. The theme will be: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”

In its report, the planning committee described the 11th Assembly as “a place of listening to each other, building trusted relationships, discerning together the way forward, encouraging each other to work together for change, and celebrating Christ’s gift of love.

Timely to say the least. We don’t have to wait until 2021!

The gospels make it very clear that Jesus was not focused on himself. He focused his attention on others.

The word “love” is used a lot. So often that we miss the power of what it means. We forget that it is really what we are about.

My friend, Joseph Martos, observes in his excellent little book Honest Rituals, Honest Sacraments:

The Greek word, agápē, is usually translated as “love” in the New Testament, but it really means care or caring. When Jesus tells his followers to love one another (John 13: 34–35), he is telling them to care about each other and to take care of one another. Even when he tells them to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), he is not telling them to like the people who don’t like them. Rather, he is telling his followers to care about people who don’t care about them, and to take care of them if they are in need, for doing that is the best way to get them to change hateful and suspicious attitudes.”

All you need is agápé. All we need is agápé.

Already in the second century, the early Christian author, Tertullian, observed that Christian love (agápé) attracted much pagan notice: “What marks us in the eyes of our enemies,” he wrote is our loving kindness. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another.’ ”

May we all find ways of listening to each other, building trusted relationships, discerning together the way forward, encouraging each other to work together for change, and celebrating Christ’s gift of love.

Jack

Looking Ahead: Change on the Horizon


January 11, 2019

For almost forty years, my major area of research has been religion and values in American (USA) society. My brain still works and my vision is clear. I try to keep up to date with professional literature and I do on-site research each year. About religion and contemporary society today I am a realist. About tomorrow I see big socio-cultural changes on the horizon and I am guardedly optimistic.

Perhaps it is my age – old men dreaming dreams – but my special interest and focus these days is more and more on the young people who are creating tomorrow.

I have written about Millennials before and have no desire to repeat that here per se. Some people are rather negative about Millennials. I am not. I find the stereotypes of Millennials as entitled, self-centered, and shallow as great distortions and misrepresentations of an entire generation of young people. All major studies about Millennials reinforce a more positive viewpoint, as does my own regular interaction with Millennials at my university.

In 2019, Millennials are expected to overtake Baby-Boomers in our US population, as Millennial numbers swell to 73 million and Boomers decline to 72 million.

Most demographers and researchers see the start of the Millennial generation in the mid-to-late 1970s until around 1996. For the Boomer generation, researchers use starting birth years from the early-to mid-1940s and ending birth years ranging from 1960 to 1964. Baby Boomers peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.

Baby-Boomers will be mostly gone in fifteen years. By midcentury, the Boomer population is projected to dwindle to 16.6 million. A very significant shift.

In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting, than older Americans, of homosexuality and more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life. Millennials are also the world’s most connected generation. Some 80 percent sleep with their cell phones next to their beds. Some three-quarters have profiles on social networking sites. Millennials are also more climate change and social justice oriented than Boomers.

A Public Religion Research Institute study also found that Millennials are considerably more racially and ethnically diverse than the general population, with less than 6 in 10 self-identifying as white. Thoughts about white Christian America? When it comes to religion, Millennials are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times and have mixed feelings about contemporary institutional Christianity.

Millennials of course are just part of the contemporary big change story. And no, I am not thinking right now about Donald Trump and his big wall changes nor about Pope Francis and his major institutional sex abuse problems. Those issues are big but something much bigger is happening with major implications for political and religious life. The post-Millennials have arrived…..

Already, we see a new post-Millennial generation of (USA) Americans taking shape and moving towards adulthood. I am very interested in their attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyle. More than the Millennials, I believe they will change the demographic fabric and socio-cultural make-up of the United States.

A new Pew Research study finds that the “post-Millennial” generation is already the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history. Only a bare majority of 6- to 21-year-olds (52%) are non-Hispanic whites. Most are still pursuing their K-12 education; but the oldest post-Millennials are enrolling in college at a significantly higher rate than Millennials did at a comparable age. This is greatly due to the fact that the parents of post-Millennials are more well educated than the parents of Millennials and those of previous generations. More than four-in-ten post-Millennials (43%) are living with at least one parent who has a bachelor’s degree or more education. Interestingly, the high school dropout rate for the oldest post-Millennials (ages 18 to 20 in 2017) is significantly lower than that of similarly aged Millennials in 2002.

The changing patterns in educational attainment among post-Millennials are driven in part by the shifting origins of young Hispanics. Post-Millennial Hispanics are less likely than Millennial Hispanics to be immigrants. Contrary to what Mr. Trump asserts, the post-Millennial generation is being shaped by changing immigration patterns. Immigration flows into the USA peaked in 2005, when the leading edge of the post-Millennial generation was age 8 or younger. As a result, the post-Millennial generation has fewer foreign-born youth among its ranks than the Millennial generation did in 2002.

Some other demographics:

Post-Millennials are more metropolitan and more racially and ethnically diverse. One-in-four post-Millennials is Hispanic. A bare majority (52%) of post-Millennials are non-Hispanic white. The share of post-Millennials who are black (14%) is nearly identical to the share of Millennials who were black at a comparable age (15%). Black representation among the nation’s youth has changed little since the early Boomers in 1968.

Asians account for 6% of the post-Millennial generation, up slightly from the 4% of Millennials in 2002 who were Asian. The remaining 4% of post-Millennials are non-Hispanics of another racial identity, mainly youth of two or more races.

Already a majority of post-Millennials are nonwhite in urban areas and in the USA Western states.

While it’s still much too early to draw conclusions, initial signs suggest that post-Millennials are on track to become the most well-educated USA generation yet. Black post-Millennials are also outpacing the previous generations of black youth in terms of college enrollment. Post-Millennial women are also showing major strides in college enrollment. In 2017, 64% of women ages 18 to 20 who were no longer in high school were enrolled in college. That’s up from 57% of Millennials.

More than any other generation before them, post-Millennials do not stress a religious identity. They may be drawn to things “spiritual,” but they have a different starting point from previous generations, many of whom, “back then,” received a basic education in the Bible and Christianity.

Post-Millennials tend to see organized religion and the Bible as working against generally accepted anthropological understandings. Here issues of evolution and human sexuality stand out. They have far more flexible views about sexual preference and gender identity. They are far more likely to reject societal conventions when it comes to ideas of masculinity and femininity, which they see as evolving and changing. For them LGBT issues are simply facts of human life..

My concluding observations: The post-Millennial influence on our culture, values, and political system will be driven by who the post-Millennials are and who they are becoming —- more educated, and more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. They really are – even more so than the Millennials — a transitional generation sitting between what America was and what it will become.

Post-Millennials may not solve all of the country’s ongoing challenges when it comes to climate change, poverty, and health care, or to discrimination whether it’s based on gender, race or religion; but they may very well take us one big step closer. Yes I am guardedly optimistic.

Jack

The Future in Our Hands


Epiphany 2019

For better or for worse, 2018 is history. We cannot change history. We can, however, learn from history and shape the future…..

Reviewing 2018 events, I have been struck again by how some news-making Christian leaders have not empowered people but exercised their power OVER people: Roman Catholic ordained ministers, who support women’s ordination, have been quickly removed from their ministry. Highly qualified and respected gay people, after announcing they are getting married, have been fired from teaching or parish ministry positions. Theologians offering new insights and or critical observations about institutional leadership have been sidelined or fired. And of course continued sexual abuse of children, men, and women. Yes there is a very warped RC institutional understanding of human sexuality; but the key issue here is power. In a vertical power pyramid, the guys on top take advantage of those beneath them. The most recent revelations, hitting the news this week, are about a decades-long sexual abuse of nuns in India by RC ordained ministers, while their bishops looked the other way. In the ecclesiastical pyramid the old boys club remains very powerful. The patriarchal pyramid.

Nevertheless, POWER OVER PEOPLE is not a Christian virtue; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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As we begin 2019, I have four short reflections about Christianity and power: (1) a bit of history, explaining how Christian leaders became power bosses; then (2) two Gospel readings about Jesus empowering people; (3) some contemporary observations; and (4) a bit of self-defense.

(1) Historical Reflection:

In the fourth century, Christianity emerged as an accepted and welcomed part of the Roman Empire. Ironic to say the least. As the Christian religion, with strong Roman Empire support, developed a more defined institutional structure, a major paradigm shift was underway. Sometimes people and institutional leaders neither see nor understand the long-term implications of what they are getting into…….

In the autumn of 312 CE, Constantine and his soldiers, according to the old legend, had a profound military-religious experience, encouraging them to fight under the sign of Christ. Fighting under the insignia of Christ, at the Battle of the Tiber’s Milvian Bridge, Constantine’s troops defeated his major rivals, especially fellow emperor Maxentius, whose head was triumphantly carried through the streets of Rome. Constantine became the single Roman Emperor. He converted to Christianity (but was not baptized until shortly before his death in 337). Historians wonder if he really became a Christian or very pragmatically used the growing Christian religion to tie together his unsteady empire……

Constantine was certainly pragmatic and hoped to unify the Roman Empire by promoting just one religion for all. In 313 he issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity one of the legally recognized religions in the Roman Empire. Then, in 325, he convened a council of all Christian bishops in Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey). They formulated the Nicene Creed – still used today — and demanded that all Christians accept it. For Constantine it was another step in unifying his empire. Although Constantine died in 337, forty-three years after his death his dream was realized with the 380 CE Edict of Thessalonica, which declared Nicene Christianity to be the ONLY legitimate religion for the Roman Empire. Church and state were becoming one. Church leaders became imperial leaders in power, influence, courtly attire, and imperial protocol. The bishops of Rome gloried in it.

Curiously, the Nicene Creed of 325 said nothing about what Jesus had taught, beyond the idea that God is a Father. It said nothing about loving one another, about compassion, or forgiveness, or helping the poor and needy, or renouncing violence, or building bridges with one’s enemies.

Thanks to Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, institutional Christianity shifted its identity focus from correct Christian conduct to doctrinal fidelity and institutional obedience. It was indeed a major shift.

(2) Gospel Reflections:

We begin with Luke chapter 7:19-23: “And John, calling two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ And that very hour Jesus cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits. To the blind he gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news preached to them.’”

Jesus did not OVERPOWER people. Jesus EMPOWERED people.

Jesus taught by example not dogmatic decree. See Luke 10:25-37: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ “

(3) Contemporary Observations:

If fidelity to Christian doctrine is the sign of an authentic Christian, rather than correct Christian conduct, some very strangely behaving people carry the label “Christian.” They can say “I believe” and continue oppressing the poor, denigrating women, mishandling immigrant children, and destroying the environment. When Christian leaders ignore the ethic of Jesus, they become strange proclaimers of the Gospel. Right now I am thinking about those USA evangelical pastors who see Donald J. Trump ushering in the second coming of Christ. They proclaim as well that opposing DJT policies is satanic.

We need Christian leaders but not self-protective and ignorant power bosses. The church is a community of faith. The church is the People of God. The church is a life-giving community of men and women with active concern and lived-out conviction.

(4) Offering critical reflections is hardly anti-Christian

Despite what some occasionally suggest, I am neither anti-Christian nor anti-Catholic. Church criticism, indeed, must be constructive; and it should be characterized by objectivity, informed understanding, open conversation, and constructive dialogue.

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Throughout the coming year I hope we can better appreciate the full picture of what it means to be a Christian. I hope we can become better informed, more collaborative in our decision-making, and more courageous in our critical words and constructive actions.

Warmest regards and every good wish for 2019.

Jack

Our Journey


December 21, 2018

My very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

In keeping with my ANOTHER VOICE tradition, this week’s reflection is The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot.

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

ANOTHER VOICE will return after Epiphany. Right now, however, I would like to thank all who have travelled with me this past year. I greatly appreciate your supportive comments and observations. Particular thanks to those who were able to contribute to my ANOTHER VOICE fund.

Jack

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!

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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