Dan R. Dick

Author's details

Name: Dan R. Dick
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://doroteos2.wordpress.com

Latest posts

  1. United Methodeviations: Antagonisn’t — July 11, 2014
  2. United Methodeviations: Remembering Who We Are — July 8, 2014
  3. United Methodeviations: Blind-Sided — July 6, 2014
  4. United Methodeviations: A Heartfelt Response — July 3, 2014
  5. United Methodeviations: Weighing In — July 1, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. United Methodeviations: God Bless You, George G. Hunter, III! — 2 comments
  2. United Methodeviations: Time For A New Mission? — 2 comments
  3. United Methodeviations: Hitting the Hard Stuff — 1 comment
  4. United Methodeviations: Narrative Transformation — 1 comment
  5. United Methodeviations: Safety in Numbness — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Jul 11 2014

United Methodeviations: Antagonisn’t

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/11/antagonisnt/

It has been interesting entering the conversation about the future of our denomination and our interest, inclination and ability to stay at the table to work things out.  While I feel strongly that we are better together than apart, I acknowledge that others feel strongly that enough is enough, it is better to split now and pick up whatever pieces remain.  I have characterized the desire to split as short-sighted and destructive, but at no time did I mean to imply that people who wish separation are “evil” or “malicious.”  In the furious “us/themism” of so much of this debate, it is easy to scale the ladder of inference to its utmost and ascribe intent and purpose to the opposition.  This is a slippery slope of judgmentalism that can only backfire.  I don’t believe that people desiring a split are all self-centered, win-at-any-cost individuals, though there are definitely a few such souls in the game.  Those people I talk to are one or all of three things: tired, hurt and hopeless.  Most people seeking split in the church are simply tired of hurting and struggling and banging their heads against their respective walls.  They feel it is time to give up.

An analogy that I greatly dislike — but used by liberals about conservatives and conservatives about liberals and traditionalists about progressives and progressives against traditionalists — is that of an “abusive” relationship.  This is classic victim-mentality, paranoid, self-indulgent posturing.  But it has its root in the very real feeling that all hope is lost and that the options for the future are limited.  Generally, when two bullies are duking it out, neither is a “victim.”  But “victim” is preferable to “loser.”  Too many people in our United Methodist Church are feeling like losers at the moment.

Is it possible for everyone to lose?  Certainly, those who “give up” lose.  Surrender, forfeit, quitting — all forms of losing; but losing with something left for the future (she who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day).  It makes sense to just want the fighting to end.  Where things get screwy and toxic is when we get into a contest to make sure “they” lose more than “we” do.  This is the unpleasant place we find ourselves at the moment.  If you think the current discussion is ugly, unfocused, irrational and simplistic, just wait until we get to the division of property and assets.  You think you’ve seen un-Christian behavior so far?  You ain’t seen nothing yet!

The tragedy I experience in all of this is that we have lifelong spiritual leaders who are now saying that there is NO balm in Gilead.  We have leaders telling us that the power of God and the Holy Spirit is insufficient to guide us through our problems.  We have leaders preaching animosity and spite.  We have name-calling, back-biting, slander and mud-slinging becoming normative in our covenant communities.  Are we so jaded that we cannot be mature?  I know that when children are exhausted they get cranky and act out, but doesn’t our faith offer us any reserves of kindness and decency?

People who post comments on my blog are generally kind and reasonable.  The emails I get are often of a more colorful and passionate variety.  In the past week I have been called a “sanctimonious sack of <fertilizer>,” “a pustule on the body of Christ” (which I at least found creative…), and a handful of words with “ass” in them.  These things don’t bother me as personal insults, but they drive me crazy that people in the church feel it appropriate to address anyone this way!  I encourage and invite people to disagree with me.  I never claim to be right, I simply state what I believe to be true.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope and pray that we can engage at something above a third-grade level of personal assault.

A less caustic word that has been leveled at me regularly the past week is “naïve.”  This may be true, but what I find fascinating and troubling is what people identify as “naïve” in what I write.  So far, four things have been identified as “naïve:”

  1. my belief that we have the capacity to be better than we are
  2. my belief that there is a place in God’s creation for all people
  3. that giving up and splitting the church reflects a lack of faith in the healing power of God
  4. that we can unite around the things we hold in common instead of dividing over our disagreements

I take this to mean that my entire faith in God through Jesus Christ is “naïve.”  The antithesis to each of these four concepts I find unacceptable around which to build a faith — 1) that we are as good as we’re ever going to be (take that “moving onto perfection…”), 2) God creates human children to disdain and reject, 3) that going our separate ways is a witness to the power of God to unite and restore, and 4) what we don’t like and respect about each other is more important than what we value and admire.  Truly, I don’t want to be part of such a church.  I think I am happy in my ignorance and naiveté.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/antagonisnt/

Jul 08 2014

United Methodeviations: Remembering Who We Are

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/08/remembering-who-we-are/

One of the things I love about the church is that you never know what kind of impact you’re going to make on the lives of those around you.  At a very simple level, the church offers an opportunity to do good and, at the very least, do no harm.  In my experience, very few people use the church as an opportunity to make the world a worse place (though, sometimes this is what happens).  Those who desire to see the fruit of the Spirit emerge from their hearts, minds and spirits find in the church a wonderful fertile field for doing good and doing well.  Who doesn’t wish to bring more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into their family, community, relationships and world?  Yet, sometimes we dishonor the very people who strive so hard to do good and do no harm.

I received this humbling and flattering note from a young person I have the joy of working with:

“I am writing for a simple reason: to thank you.  You don’t even know what I am thanking you for, but in the past three meetings we’ve been to, you have treated me with respect and you have gone out of your way to include me and listen to me.  Also, you do not make me feel inferior as a laity.  All my life people ask me if I have considered becoming a minister.  It always makes me feel like what I do isn’t ministry when people ask me that.  You see me as a minister, and you don’t look down on me because I am not ordained.  It is hard for me.  I am a young person, I am of Mexican descent, I am female, and I am laity.  I cannot tell you how often I am dismissed for one or all these things.  You respect me and you make me proud of who I am.  That is why I am writing to thank you.”

I am not meaning this as a “look how cool I am,” but I will admit it pleases me to be recognized as such.  On the other hand, what have I done that is so special?  All I do is let people be who they are and encourage them to share what they have.  Nothing more than a little respect and civility.

I was stunned the other day by a comment made by a pastor who vehemently disagrees with me — on just about everything.  He launched an insult at me that I took to be the highest form of complement:  “Your problem is that you think you see Christ in everyone.  Wake up.  There are people without one ounce of Christ in them.”  I agree that there are people who do not display much Christ-like behavior — inside as well as outside the church — but I don’t think that means the potential isn’t there.  I do look for the Christ in others, and when I don’t see it, I remind myself of all the times others must struggle to see it in me.  I believe that every human being on earth is made in the image of God.  I believe that all of us are designed as matrices of infinite potential for good, for grace, for hope, and for creativity.  Sadly, we rarely live up to this potential, but this in no way means it isn’t there.  We certainly waste a lot of time and energy denying the good and holy that God places in us, but that says more about us than God.

The facts that I am “saved” or “born again” have less to do with my worthiness than my willingness.  I am not better than anyone else because of my faith; I am merely more fortunate than those who haven’t received it.  I have no authority to compare my sanctity with anyone else — that is a clear sign that I am NOT living in the grace of God.  Judging others may be fun, but it is anything but faithful.  It isn’t my place to evaluate and critique how well others are living their faith.  My task is to live my own faith with as much integrity as possible.  And to celebrate the Christian faith I experience in others.

The whole clergy/laity division is silly and somewhat destructive.  Christ is the head of the body, not the ordained clergy.  Ordained leaders are gifted parts of the body of Christ just as every lay person is.  The Greek concept of the laos — the WHOLE people of God — makes a lot more sense, and is a much more accurate description of what it means to be “church.”  A professionalized elite does little beyond causing problems in the system.  Why do we have a sub-class desiring to be the modern-day scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees?  Most of the truly transformative ministry I see done day-to-day doesn’t happen in our church buildings, but out in the “real” world.

We may be teaching the wrong things in our Sunday school classes.  Instead of topical studies and superficial Bible-babble, perhaps we should offer classes in humility, forgiveness, self-control, mercy, generosity and loving-kindness?  Instead of impressing through our scholarship, possibly we could nourish a starving world with the fruit of God’s Spirit.  Hey, that might even give us a good reason to stick together and work to create something fine instead of destroy what we’ve been given.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/remembering-who-we-are/

Jul 06 2014

United Methodeviations: Blind-Sided

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/06/blind-sided/

I always feel that I am serving some purpose when I blog and it turns out that I tick off everyone.  By “weighing in” on all the talk of splitting the church (officially) I have “taken sides.”  However, which side is a bit confusing and hard to determine.  Consider these five responses I received this week:

“An amicable split is the only option left to us.  The liberals want to tear the church apart and leave nothing worth saving.  Couching your obvious agenda as faithful and mature is a feeble attempt at covering the fact that those calling for unity want their own way at any cost.”  (I am siding with the liberals.)

“As long as our church finds church trials, the forced surrendering of credentials, exclusion of “types” of people, etc., there is no reason for us to stay together.  The institutional elite who care more about the institution than the God it represents will make us meaningless and irrelevant.  The conservative center wants the church to stay together for all the wrong reasons.  (I am siding with the conservative institutional preservationists.)

“Your call to keep the church together will actually speed its demise and destruction.  Forcing everyone to live in a poisonous, toxic, corrosive environment is not an act of faith, but violent oppression against all sides.  You want to lock African Americans in with the Klu Klux Klan and tell them it is okay, just be friends.  That’s stupid.  There are people on this earth who will NEVER get along.  Keep the wrong people together too long and the destruction will be complete.  God is not going to force us to be together, so why fight it?  (I am siding with those who want to destroy the church through a naïve belief in love, grace and the power of God.)

“If money weren’t the real issue, we would have already split.  Nobody really cares if this is God’s will.  The only real concern is pensions and a guaranteed salary and adequate benefits — and who would control the multi-millions of dollars in the church.  You are fooling yourself if you think anyone cares what God thinks of all this.  You may use words of faith, but Jerry Maguire is written all over your posts — “show me the money.”  (I side with the corporate shills who only see church as a business.)

“You seem to be against the authority of scripture, wanting us to tolerate evil and the powers of sins to tear up God’s church.  The church is a worldly, manmade thing — it is not holy in itself.  You are sinning when you worship the church more than God.  Evil people won’t leave the church, so it is up to us who still believe the Bible to go before it is too later.”  (Apparently, I am against the Bible, holiness, and all that is good, and I am promoting sin and evil by calling us to reconciliation and unity beyond differences…)

What to do when no side will claim me?  Every side says I am on “the other” side.  Hmmm.  There are a lot of sides, and it seems I am not actually on any of them, because I am ON none of them — I am only ON some other…  I could take the coward’s way out and simply claim that I am on “God’s side,” often used to try to shut up anyone and everyone with the audacity to disagree.  I could claim to be on no side, but people don’t let you do that.  There has to be a side, no matter how small and narrowly defined, upon which you can be pinned.  I could claim to be on everyone’s side — a silly way of actually attempting to be on no side.

Or, I could be a United Methodist.  The brilliance of our denomination is that at our best we have learned that we are significantly less than perfect, but that working through our weaknesses, blind spots, prejudices, immaturity, pig-headedness, lack of respect and consideration together is preferable to isolating ourselves and wallowing in our own spiritual crapulence.  The fact that we invite everyone to bring their values, beliefs, worldviews, opinions and biases to the table (good or bad, enlightened or not, inclusive or exclusive) is a sign of hope and a glimpse of the kingdom come upon the earth — as long as we don’t behave like spoiled, bratty children.  The toleration of ambiguity, ability to hold multiple perspectives objectively, and willingness to engage in respectful and civil rapport through disagreement are simple signs of maturity and grace.  We spend two decades of every life attempting to instill such behaviors in our children.  Obviously, we haven’t done an exemplary job.

So, what sides do we actually have in this debate of ours?  The model I used to describe it (developed when I was still at GBOD, so it is six years old — but I actually don’t think things have changed much… other than it is the first thing I remember ultra-liberals and uber-conservatives agreeing on in a long time):

Schism Spectrum

My read on my own surveys and the research I have seen from other sources says that only about 13% (8+% conservative; 4+% liberal) are deeply committed to splitting the church, but that an additional 10-12% (same two-to-one ratio as before) are open to the idea and seriously think it should be explored.  The moderate position (also called “the opposition” are taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t break it” position.  This is still at the 60+% strong stage, and makes the concept of a 2/3 majority vote to split highly unlikely.  Factor in the odd-triangle of African Central Conferences (theological conservatives, social progressives, justice liberals — with grossly inadequate resources) and the momentum for dissolution wanes further.

As with all the misguided talk about restructuring last quadrennium, wasting a lot of energy discussing the dismemberment of the UM body of Christ merely allows us to sidestep the more important conversations about what we should be doing instead of fixating on all the ways we are failing.  Let’s finally decide what United Methodists believe about Gay/Lesbian/Bi-Sexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning/Exploring/Inquiring/Experimenting.  Then it will be up to the conscience of every member of the covenant to agree/disagree, stay or go.  Let’s quit trying to make everybody happy and say clearly “here is where The United Methodist Church is at this time.”  It will be painful — we define everything in terms of winners and losers.  But instead of abdicating personal responsibility and institutional accountability, let’s suck it up and tell the world who we are.  It is time for our witness to be “we stand behind our values and beliefs,” instead of “we can’t make up our minds, so we all will just go off and do our own thing our own way.”



Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/blind-sided/

Jul 03 2014

United Methodeviations: A Heartfelt Response

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/03/a-heartfelt-response/

While this is a response to a comment left on my “Weighing In” post, I want to reflect more broadly and not make this a purely personal explanation.  That said, I need to go point by point here.  This comment illustrates so much of what I find indefensible in the current discussion/debate.  It is well-meaning, but poorly executed — and I want to be crystal clear here: I use this as an example only.  Arguments on both sides contain essentially the same flaws, but each is detailed differently.  I am more fully explaining what I mean, based upon someone else’s interpretation of what I “said.”

First, no I do not support “amicable” separation over hurtful separation — there can only be hurtful, faithless, selfish, disrespectful separation.  No one is suggesting we “honor” our “opponents” (thought this thinly veiled rhetoric is often employed).  The baseline decision is not to separate or stay together; it is to be selfish and divisive or humble and tolerant.

Second, to use flawed and false analogies is harmful and unhelpful.  To compare a church in disagreement to an abusive marriage where violence is being done is to adopt and wear either the victim mantle or the abuser role.  Shame on us for such immature and irrational attempts to justify our side to win our arguments.  What kind of witness it this to the world?  When we don’t get our way we are being abused?  Give me a break.  We are MUCH better than this.

Third, the concept that “breaking covenant” is “keeping faith” is absurd.  The only reasonable conclusion from such thinking would be that we are better off without God than to need forgiveness.  Giving up is rarely a sign of maturity or integrity among people of good faith.

Fourth, sticking around to make another’s life intolerable is adorable, but wrong.  This charge is lodged by both sides against the other, and were it applied to a few individuals with an axe to grind, it would be a true statement.  It harkens back to the ridiculous notion in the 19th century that blacks stayed in America after emancipation just to shame and annoy their former oppressors.  You can see how dumb such a line of reasoning is.

Fifth, the “unity equals fidelity” argument is also cute, but unhelpful because both sides leave unsaid that it is not “fidelity to Jesus or God,” but “fidelity to my/our version of Jesus or God.”  It still rests on the fundamental circle-dilemma — depending on where you draw the line of inclusion dividing “us” from “them” determines “fidelity.”  The arbitrariness of this line, founded in poor theology and biblical misuse makes it impossible to use as a standard for reconciliation and unification.  Every time human beings decide the limits of God’s grace and God’s mercy we are in deep trouble.

Sixth, here is a simple statement of how I identify the problem (in response to a variety of folks who claim I have misidentified the problem, then articulated something completely different from my main point…).  Our inability to rise above our petty differences and our insistence on having our own way no matter the cost is our current witness to the world, and it is a clear indication of our level of maturity of faith.  I personally believe this is NOT the will of God.

Seventh, using the body metaphor (or any metaphor) needs to be done with integrity, not taking cheap shots and faulty logic.  An example, ““choosing sides is the opposite of healing”, – I think eliminating sources of infection, or setting the bone, or stopping the bleeding is the first step in healing.”  Now, who is this person identifying as the “healthy body” and the “infection?”  “Setting the bone” keeps the body in tact, but what is being proposed is not merely amputation, but cutting the body down the middle.  How does cutting the body to its core “stop the bleeding.”  I understand this person is simply trying to make a point, but we cannot keep making our points so poorly.

Eighth, rationalization and justification have almost driven us to the point of no return.  Our rhetoric is so blinding and convoluted that we don’t even see the problems in our arguments.  One example: “we will be stronger apart than we are together.”  Both sides claim this — based on what?  Nothing more than the opinion that life will be better when we no longer have to accept, respect, and engage with “those” people.  The only people who believe such nonsense are those who have little or no knowledge of history or who do not understand how the church is different from tribal societies.  In the vast majority of cases, historic and cultural, separation is a last-gasp act that actually speeds up decline and/or demise.  The fact that we have our very own case-study in our own history (Methodist Episcopal Church South anyone?  anyone?  yeah, I thought so…) makes this all the more bewildering, and again is a witness to the world that we are ignorant of our own story.

Ninth, I reiterate, “sides” are the problem.  That I am “against” separation puts me on a “side.”  I have an opinion about whether separation will solve anything, and my thinking is that it is a misguided attempt to address symptoms, not root causes.  People say they are confused by my statement that “being beloved community beyond our limitations and divisions is not optional.”  Let me say it another way: beloved community is not up to us to like or dislike, nor is it something we create — beloved community is God’s will and mandate.  We have the clear decision to make about whether we will be part of that beloved community or not, but right now we are trying to impose the will of the few on the many, telling others whether or not they can be part of the beloved community.  I am an “individual rights” person on this whole issue.  Anyone who does not like a church that is striving to include everyone and that is grounded in grace over rules is free to find another faith communion that satisfies their personal taste and desire.  An inclusive, loving, just and striving church is not for everyone, and no one should be forced to love or be kind.

Tenth, should we separate, no one should retain the name “The United Methodist Church.”  Separation goes against Pauline and synoptic gospel instruction, Wesleyan theology, and the heritage and values of The Evangelical Association and the United Brethren in Jesus Christ.  The day we separate, “The United Methodist Church” ceases to exist — as it already has for anyone currently calling for separation.

Eleventh, why do some use “final judgment” passages to defend separation and exclusion.  Yes, the Bible says that God will judge on the final day.  How arrogant of us to believe that the handful of issues we are dealing with qualify as “end of days” criteria.  I do not wish to usurp the power of judgment from  God to decide who should be saved and who condemned.  I am an evangelist to my core.  If we are not filling the church with sinners, strayers, back-sliders, mistakers, the misguided, the broken and the weak, then shame on us.  To decide now who God will not love someday is an abomination.  Then to use scripture to justify this heresy is beyond contempt.

Twelfth, shame on all of us for the loose and fast way we treat “sacred text.”  The Bible is not a weapon or a toy.  To repeatedly and intentionally proof-text passages of scripture to make and score points is heinous.  Anyone who decontextualizes and deconstructs scripture, ripping from it the historical, cultural, and ethical integrity is wrong.  Have we not caught on that by butchering scripture and gathering the choice scraps we can make almost any argument “true?”  Biblical manipulation and corruption does require a certain level of creativity, but it is one more witness that not only do we not know our own story, we basically hold it in contempt and could care less.  Proof-texting is a no-no.  We ALL need to stop it.  Good Hebrew and Greek scholars avoid most of this arguments like the plague and are deeply embarrassed by our “Biblical” exegesis.

Finally, we must quit confusing “framing” with “truth.”  Someone who disagrees with me is not automatically a “sinner.”  The opposite of “my opinion” is not “lies.”  “Truth” is not determined by finding enough people to agree with me.  The very fact that we frame our conversations in terms of “sides” means we allow only one outcome:  winners and losers.  I have said that the Christian faith is not a competitive sport.  I am not talking about “good/evil,” “sin/righteousness,” “right/wrong.”  I am talking WITHIN the body.  What keeps getting lost in this whole stupid debate is that there is no “us/them” — there is only US!!!  This is not a conversation about who is outside our body — this is a conversation about getting rid of those whom we no longer want to associate.  This is about exile.  This is about disowning.  This is about dissolving the family and saying our faith is a lie.  This is human beings choosing not to love one another because “they” won’t love God the right way (our way).

I’m not going to fight against separation, nor will I champion staying together.  We are a flawed, failing human institution.  There is nothing holy or divine about any of us, except the Christ each and every one of us has inside.  My opinion?  The Christ that unites is of more value and importance than our inability to love each other.  But, we are human.  It is why we need a Savior.  I simply pray we will take time to work out our salvation with fear and trembling together.  I think God is stronger than we are — but the entire Hebrew scripture is a never-ending story of covenants made and covenants broken.  While some believe Jesus ended all of that, our current situation simply proves we haven’t learned very much in all this time.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/a-heartfelt-response/

Jul 01 2014

United Methodeviations: Weighing In

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/07/01/weighing-in/

For the past month I have been working on a couple other projects and have been listening to other conversations.  However, dozens of people have been emailing about my “position” on the current schism debate.  I thought I would take this opportunity to weigh in.

Let me be clear upfront: I am TOTALLY against “amicable” separation.  The term is disingenuous, deceptive and unhelpful.  This is nothing more than a thinly veiled statement of “if we don’t get what we want we will take our ball and go home.”  At the very least, a call to separate is a clear statement of faith: those who wish to divide are saying that human frailty is more powerful than the Holy Spirit of God to unite, reconcile, and heal.  To find disagreement over moral and ethical issues as grounds for separation is to sink to the level of the lowest common denominator in our society.  Our witness and call is to provide a better way to live in the world.  Our charge to be a beloved community beyond our limitations and divisions is not optional.  I do not have to see eye to eye with all my brothers and sisters in order to love them as family.  I don’t want my brothers and sisters to separate simply because they hold different beliefs.  My baptism is greater than my own limited personal theology.  I am family with all other baptized children of God whether I “like” them or not.

But then, I am not an empire builder, and have never understood a Christianity that is about keeping people out.  I do not believe the Christian faith is a competitive sport.  I cannot conceive of an eternal truth based in winners and losers.  My vision of Christian community is an eternal commitment to the elimination of “us/them” thinking.  I also am a “cast the first stone” type.  I cannot pick and choose one or two issues — no matter how big — and condemn another because they disagree with my own values.  That simply sets me up to be judged by others for the different ways I fail to live up to their standards.  We all live together in glass houses.

So much of our current situation is based on Victorian morality that has nothing to do with our Hebrew forebears, and an abysmal misinterpretation of scripture.  Both sides of the human sexuality debate will have much to answer for in the misuse of scripture as a weapon, rather than a tool.  Our current decision is pretty simple:  will we use our energy and resources to create something wonderful and sustainable or will we use them to cut-down and destroy?  I have yet to hear how splitting the church will more effectively foster a world-transforming discipleship.

Nobody needs my opinion on this, and I am not going to change anyone’s mind.  All my weighing in does is place me on a “side.”  This is sad.  This is tragic.  Choosing sides is the opposite of healing, and yet we cannot seem to articulate our personal feelings without being pigeon-holed.  My bottom line has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong, with who is positive and who is negative, or with who is mature and who is less mature.  My position is simply this: I love my family in Christ, even when we differ in key beliefs.  My life would be poorer were I to lose my family.  I would much rather spend my time working to find commonalities to work together on, instead of differences that can only divide.  I believe this is the call to all Christians — to find their place in the One Body of Christ, to be Christ in the world — a witness to all that God is greater than anything on earth with the potential to divide us.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/weighing-in/

Apr 10 2014

United Methodeviations: To Read Or Not To Read…

Original post at http://doroteos2.com/2014/04/10/to-read-or-not-to-read/

angry-reader-467x267I am a reader, and proud of it.  I rarely spend less than 3 hours each day reading, and I mean books, not just emails, articles, blogs, letters, ads, magazines, Post-It® Notes, etc.  On days off, I read more like 6-7 hours.  I am an eclectic reader.  There are few things I won’t tackle, and I voraciously seek books that are “over my head.”  In two recent settings, the conversation turned to reading, and both startled/troubled me.  Sitting with friends and colleagues, I mentioned that for the past fifteen years I have read at least 200 books each year (and in 2006, when I broke my leg, I read 365 — a book a day).  Someone I well-respect immediately responded, “What a waste of time!”  I asked what he meant, and he said, “There is virtually nothing of value in books.  Books are just a passive way to avoid life.  I don’t think I have read more than three books since I graduated seminary.”  I couldn’t believe this attitude, and it got worse when others around the table chimed in.  “I simply don’t have time to read.”  “I only read romances.”  “I read about two or three books a year, but I don’t really retain much of what I read.”  “Reading puts me to sleep.”  One female colleague very sheepishly said, “Well, I enjoy reading, and I think it helps me improve myself.”  In a group of a dozen, only two came out strongly in favor of reading, and a few were actually opposed.

In a very similar setting, I recommended a couple of books I’ve read recently that I felt were exceptionally good.  Again, the reaction was along the lines of “I don’t read/don’t have time/don’t enjoy reading.”  One person said, “Sum it up.  I only take time to read a paragraph or a few sentences.  If what I am reading can’t communicate in 50 words or less, I figure it’s not worth my time.”  In our information bloated culture, sound-bites and data-bits are all many people take time for.  In this setting, one person was actually fascinated by the idea that I could not just read, but finish, multiple books in a week.  She asked, “How do you do it?” as if I had performed some miraculous wonder.  A second person, who knows me well, said, “I’m not just impressed with how much you read, but with how much you retain and your ability to synthesize it.”  (If you want to truly flatter a reader, there is simply no higher praise than this…)

These two conversations reminded me that for many people reading is not a normal, natural, regular activity, but is exceptional and all-too-often rare.  While illiteracy has decreased in our country, non-literacy has boomed.  Poll after poll, survey after survey indicates that reading is minimal and on the decrease (even as book/e-book sales increase).  A recent poll on reading habits used the following choices to their questions about books read in a year:  a) 0, b) 1, c) 2, d) 3, e) 4 or more.  More than four books in a single year was offered as the high-bar…  Yikes.

Other surveys show that many of the people who do read either limit themselves to recreational reading or to the reading of thoughts and ideas that agree with their own opinions and worldview.  Among Republican males, age 55 and older who read four or more books in a year, 87% read a book by Bill O’Reilly, Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck (21% read a book by all three).  The implication is that what reading is done is not done with the hope or intention of expanding one’s horizon or having one’s assumptions challenged.  Reading is divorced from learning or personal development.  Another survey offered respondents five choices:  love reading, enjoy reading, will read if necessary, dislike reading, hate reading.  The breakdown?  Love reading — 5%; Enjoy reading – 21%, Read if necessary — 39%; Dislike reading – 25%; Hate reading – 10% (13,151 = sample size).  Twice as many people hate reading as love reading?  More people dislike reading than enjoy reading?  Seventy-four percent (3-out-of-4) will only read if absolutely necessary and required?  I live in a different world…

Under my “Best Books — April 2014″ tab I review what I consider to be a classic — Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s, How to Read a Book.  Most adults today might wonder about the need to read a 400+ page book on how to read.  We all assume we know how to read, but I realize that my deep enjoyment of reading is due in part to my discovery of this book when I was in high school.  I read it again when I was in seminary.  Reading it again last week reminded me why I love reading so much.  I am an active, syntopic reader (for definitions, read my review — or better yet, read the book).  I engage information and work to own it, processing and synthesizing so that information becomes knowledge.  I retain as much as I do because of the influence of this book.  I truly believe that the value, benefit and pleasure of reading is so enhanced by Adler and Van Doren’s treatment, that many who dislike reading or only read what they must could become avid readers.

We live in an information age, but we are caught in a paradox: the more information we receive, the less we know and understand.  We do not live in a knowledge age.  We do not live in a wisdom age.  We are being trained, shaped and cultivated to create an attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) culture.  We are losing the capacity to read and interpret at anything beyond an elementary level.  And we are paying a very steep price.  We are not stupid people, but we are ignorant people.  At its root, the concept of ignorance is a willful disregard (ignore-ance) and a rejection of what we dislike or disbelieve.  We choose not to know.  We choose not to learn.  We choose not to grow.

Are books the only way to know and grow?  Of course not.  Should everyone be a reader?  No, but everyone should be a learner, and books are a phenomenal way to learn and be challenged to think.  As a people of faith, and as a people “of the Book,” reading should not be an option, but a discipline.  There is not one feature of How to Read a Book that could not (should not) be applied to the reading of Hebrew and Christian scripture.  In fact, if you love God and wish to understand God’s Word and Will better, tackle How to Read a Book first, and see what happens the next time you enter scripture.

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