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Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Year of Living Faithfully (and maybe, Dangerously!)

As my website article explains in more detail, I've been intrigued by the plethora of books and movements based on "a year of..." experiments. Go to the Bishop's Corner on the Minnesota Annual Conference website (www.minnesotaumc.org) and read the full article.

During the days around Christmas, I read one of these books, The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs, who set out to explore the role of religion in his life and his fascination with biblical literalism. His witty and at times profound insights are worth the read. He set out on his year of living biblically acknowledging that he would undoubtedly be changed by the end of year and he wasn't sure just what those changes might be. Liking to be in control as most of the rest of us, it was a risk but a risk that he was willing to make. And, in fact, at the end of the year he is different in his approach to religion than he was when he began.

These books of experimentation in living differently for a year have some common components: a passion for learning or doing something different; an intense focus on one aspect of living which then limits the multitude of choices and resources of time, money, food, etc.; the sacrifice of choices that allowed the accomplishment of a (mostly) desired goal; but such endeavors of passion, intense focus, limitation and sacrifice are all very counter-culture.

A year of living differently. As for me, I'm going to journey on the road toward more (everything is relative) sustainable living based on my Christian faith.

How will you live differently this year? And even, dangerously (as in risky, uncertain where it will all end up, potentially costly or sacrificial).

Even if you're not quite ready to jump in there (there's always Lent!), what about this phenomenon of people (actually or vicariously) desiring significant change in who they are and how they live? Is this what discipleship is meant to be?

WDYT?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Do You Hear What I Hear?

This Advent the lectionary includes some of the most beautiful prophetic passages from Isaiah:

"They'll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won't play war anymore." (Isaiah 2, MSG)

"The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them." (Isaiah 11, MSG)

"Wilderness and desert will sing joyously..like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color." (Isaiah 35, MSG)

I love these passages because of their prophetic imagination, using metaphors to remind us that there is an alternative way to the warfare, violence, and desolation that we often come to believe is the only way in this world.

I wonder if the Church has lost its prophetic voice, or even our understanding of what it is. Since the latest Bishops' Statement on the War in Iraq, once again there are voices that say the bishops in particular have no right to a prophetic voice. (I am not criticizing the points made by some who disagree with aspects of the statement; just those who believe the bishops or the Church should have no voice at all.)

Perhaps we have all lost a sense of what the prophetic voice is and when and who has it. What is a prophetic voice? Who has it? What does it comprise, not just on matters of the war, but in general?

WDYT?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the Way to Fruitfulness

The re-districting test groups are meeting throughout the annual conference in these next couple of weeks. Some of you have been to one already. Your willingness to learn more about the two proposed models and to give us your feedback is greatly appreciated.

I've heard a difference between the responses of those who only looked at the models on the web and those who went to the test group. So I hope you'll go to your test group to get a better sense of the pros and cons of each one.

Then give your feedback here on our blog for others to see and respond to. One of my intentions with the blog is that we can talk to each other and not just you to me. As a conference the decision was made and I think it's helpful if we continue in "conferencing" or conversation with each other.

Some people have given the feedback that it appears the only reason that we're reducing the number of districts is because of money. As if that's a bad reason! Haven't you and others wanted the annual conference to become more sustainable (right-sized is a word often used)?

Dan Dick from the General Board of Discipleship was here recently to work with our Common Table. In his book, Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness, he describes retrogressive (returning to a simpler state) churches as those who have "made some hard decisions that lead to fewer programs, fewer services, a narrower focus, or more specialized ministry" (page 11). This has been a significant and successfuly strategy for many churches in decline. However, if the retrogressive congregation doesn't begin to reach out to new people after it stabilizes, it will continue decline. But declining congregations that eventually became vital by reaching new people usually went through a retrogressive period in order to stabilize and mobilize.

This describes what I see as our need to simplify, stabilize and become sustainable so that we can position ourselves for growth (I just didn't know the fancy word retrogressive!). In a period of retrogression we must focus in a laser-like way on cultivating spiritual viality and reaching new people so that we can move toward fruitfulness, vitality and health.

The reduction of districts may be initiated by finances but it's also an important leverage point to make some changes throughout our annual conference, aligning our Gospel Imperatives, finances, and energy toward making disciples of Jesus Christ in Minnesota. The reduction of a district is the beginning, not the end of the changes. Other changes will include the reconstitution and/or training of Boards of Church Location and Building and District Committees on Ministry which are key points of helping us reach new people and who we license and ordain for ministry.

In addition to your thoughts on which model would best move us in this direction, what are some of the hopes that you would have from this re-districting?

WDYT?

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Revelation of Mother Teresa

Ten years ago, September 4th, Mother Teresa died. Her death was overshadowed by Diana's which had occured just a week or so beforehand. It was as if we couldn't sustain so much loss or grief.

Now we discover that Mother Teresa had doubts; serious, lifelong doubts about the existence, presence, and assurance of God. She reminds me of John Wesley. Wesley was plagued by doubt, we often say, until he had his heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate. Yet if we read Wesley closely, we discover that he continued to struggle with the same doubt that plagued Mother Teresa.

My 91-year-old "mother," a longtime admirer of Mother Teresa's and a woman of great faith herself, was initially devastated by this news. Now it has settled into a sadness that she would have to live with such doubt and darkness throughout her life and work.

Many have said that it will make her not only a "saint" in regards to her works but also her interior life; her letters now reveal far more to us than the actions that we associate with her. Others like Christopher Hitchens, an atheist, has a field day with her doubt. Her doubt, he suggests in his comments in Time Magazine, means that her life was meaningless; a contradiction to her words. Was it hypocrisy? Or ultimate faith?

What lessons do we learn from this new revelation about Mother Teresa?

How does it touch you? And your faith?

How have you shared it with others? (Has it been an opportunity to talk with those who don't go to church or even believe in God?)

WDYT?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The E-word

If "reaching new people" is one of the gospel imperatives that Jesus gave us (in the Great Commission) and which we as Minnesota United Methodists are specifically called to focus on, it means that we're going to have to face, discuss, and even (gulp!) do the E-word!

This summer I read a great book which I commend to you: Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese. Conservative, liberal, not sure of one's theological orientation--you will find yourself in it and I believe some practical direction in how to get your mind and heart around the E-word. I think it would make a great study in our churches.

Reese says that there are people who are "evangelism lovers"--can't help but share their faith, it just flows right out of them--and "evangelism-cautious"--hence, the E-word we can't bring ourselves to say, much less do.

Evangelism-lovers are contagious in their enthusiasm; the downside is they can get too zealous and turn people off. Evangelism-cautious persons may be better listeners, but don't always come to the point in their relationship and conversation with another person to share what one believes, invite another to a deeper relationship with God, and/or even invite another person to church.

Reese has some good perspectives on evangelism. As I have always maintained, good evangelism begins with good listening, not just talking; getting to know people, not button-holing them; but also not being afraid or unable to articulate what you believe.

One of the questions that Reese suggests we all ask ourselves is, "What do you think (and I would add, feel) when you hear the word evangelism?"

WDYT: what has made you an evangelism-lover or an evangelism-cautious?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tragedy, trauma and traffic

Nearly everyone in Ohio emailed me or called me (as early as 6 a.m. the next morning) to find out if Ken and I were okay. Mostly I believe they wanted a way to connect with a tragedy and a trauma that didn't directly affect them. The collapse of the bridge has captured the attention of the nation over the last few days because we all drive over bridges. Many of us in Minnesota drove over that specific bridge on some kind of regular basis, if only when driving into the Twin Cities. But everyone drives a bridge somewhere. And so the collapse of this bridge is a tragedy, trauma and traffic reality for all of us, leaving us feeling (once again) very vulnerable to the fragility of life.

We remember those whose lives were lost and those who lost loved ones. We honor those who have risked their lives (physically, emotionally and spiritually) in rescue, recovery and care.

So, WDYT? What has this tragedy, trauma and traffic event elicited in you and your congregation, family, and circle of friends?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Now that you've completed the surveymonkey on redistricting, WDYT?

The Minnesota Annual Conference voted in early June to reduce by one district. While we may not have even considered that question if there wasn't some financial motivation behind it, sometimes finances help us think about what's important to us and why.



By this time you may have seen that there is a surveymonkey that you can take to give us feedback on reconfiguring districts. I hope you'll do that. But I want to engage us in a conversation, listening to each other as well as for me to listen to you on what matters in regards to the make-up of a district. This is the "essay" part of the feedback.



I'm interested in what you think is most important in a district:



Is it an identity?



The role of the district superintendent?



What's the role that the district plays for you and your church that no one or nothing else can play?



What are the essential considerations and values that you would want us to keep in mind in relation to the reconfiguration and reduction of districts?



WDYT?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reaching New People

Thanks for your comments on the gospel imperatives. I encourage you to continue to talk with your churches about them.

However, this year we're focusing especially on reaching new people. What is it, in your estimation, that keeps us from being as effective as we might in that regard?

There seems to be at least two different angles on reaching new people.

1) Reaching the new people who actually walk in our doors. Last Sunday a new person to the community (long time United Methodist elsewhere) who had been church shopping for a couple of months woke up and prayed, "Dear God, please let someone talk to me when I go to church this morning." We obviously have some work to do, given this person's 5-6 weeks of church shopping in United Methodist churches in Minnesota.

What keeps us from reaching new people who actually walk through our doors?

2) Reaching the new people who live in our communities. What keeps us from identifying a community of people--a specific age or ethnic group--and effectively including them in the life of our church (through worship or other outreach)?

WDYT?

Bishop Sally

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Gospel Imperatives

As you or your clergy and lay member go to annual conference on Tuesday, May 29, in St. Cloud, one of the things we'll be focusing on will be the two imperatives for our annual conference--it's clergy, laity, and churches.

The two imperatives are:

Reach new people (based on the Great Commission -- Matthew 28:19)
Cultivate spiritual vitality (based on the Great Commandments -- Matthew 22:35-39)

How are you in your personal life already living out these two imperatives?

What questions do you have about them?

What suggestions would have you as to how we as individual Christians as well as churches could better live them out?

Please pray for us at annual conference and I'll look forward to reading your reflections!

Bishop Sally Dyck

Friday, April 27, 2007

Do Christians Care about the Earth?

Welcome to my blog!

I’m calling it "WDYT: What Do You Think?" because I want to provide a place for on-going dialogue about what’s important in the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The beauty of blogging as I understand it is that we’ll “talk” to each other.

A piece that had kept me from blogging fell into place recently when the creator of Wikia (no, that’s not a wicca group but a cyber-encyclopedia) recommended a code of conduct or rules of civility for blog conversations. See "Rules of Engagement" on this blog's home page. These will be the standard for this blog. (They’re definitely in cyber-language and not church language, but they seem like holy conferencing to me!)

So this is our trial run. I hope you’ll get registered and join in the conversation.

Climate Change

Let’s begin by talking about what Minnesotans love to talk about: the weather. Only I’m thinking of weather in the global sense: global climate change. (Click here to see what National Geographic has to say about it.) I’ve been convicted recently through a number of conversations that we as United Methodists can really make a difference in the world for ourselves and others if we would make the care of our physical home, the planet, a priority in our daily living.

I’m going to avoid preaching but I’d love to hear your best biblical and theological as well as scientific thoughts and convictions on the matter.

What about global change? Is it just junk science? Is it something that we as Christians have an obligation to address in our daily, religious, political and spiritual lives?

WDYT?