Dreams

"We need all kinds of thinkers."

by Rev. Mindi

My husband and I had the opportunity to hear Temple Grandin speak last week. Temple is, of course, probably one of the most famous people with autism that we know of today, but as Temple shared, many also suspect people such as Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs had undiagnosed autism. Albert Einstein did not speak until the age of three, and Steve Jobs had few friends and was socially awkward as a child and youth.

While Temple has contributed much to our more current understandings of how people live in the world with autism, I was reminded that she is one person, with one set of experiences, and that as parent of a child with autism our experience and our son’s experience is different.  Her experience has taught her that sometimes the rest of us try to make it too easy and we don’t challenge our children enough. Perhaps there is some wisdom in that; maybe we do make it too easy at times. However, I am again reminded that is her opinion from her experience, and that we knew little about autism when she was a child. While we still don’t know as much, we do know that intensive therapies such as speech-language and behavioral therapy can go a long way in helping a child with autism achieve access to education as “typically developing” children do today.  We have had to think differently about how we care and educate children with autism, and we are continuing to do so.

But what I took away from Temple’s speech was that “We need all kinds of thinkers.” She thinks in pictures. She did not do well in math, especially algebra, but she is known for her incredible, creative designs for cattle farmers because she drew them out in elaborate detail.  She sees things in pictures. While many of us start at the top with a large concept and work our way through a problem by breaking it down into smaller pieces, she starts with the smaller pieces. She thinks differently. And many people living with autism do. Steve Jobs , as she shared, started by dreaming of an interface that was easy to use. He didn’t start with trying to figure out how to develop the software to do it—he left that to the engineers.

In the church, we need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers who dream of the church differently, out-of-the-box, along with the people who work on the ideas and ministries that help us to move into the new church concept. All too often, we are still working from the old concept, and we expect the pastor to do it all. We are not working out of the box, we are instead looking at the old concept of church and breaking down into smaller pieces: Christian education, outreach, programs, Bible Study, Youth ministry, etc. I have seen way too many churches think if they just hire a new Youth Minister everything will change for the good, or if they just try a new program for Young Adults they will change. But the truth is they aren’t looking for that kind of change—they are looking to fix one small problem without seeing the larger picture: the church they once knew is dying. Or dead. Or just completely outdated and irrelevant. And the pastor often gets blamed when the change does not occur (as expected).

We need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers and imaginers and organizers and planners. We need to go back to vision and purpose: who do we imagine God desires us to be as the church? Are we fulfilling that dream and vision, or are we fulfilling a plan of the past, an old model that doesn’t mean the same thing anymore?  How can we think out of the box in this world, today?

More importantly, how can we use all kinds of thinkers? How can we bring in the doubters and the strugglers, the ones who don’t know (and perhaps don’t care too much) about our denominational identity along with the cradle churchgoers? Or, to think even more outside of the box, how do we go out and be the church with all of these?

We need all kinds of thinkers. This isn’t easy to do, but we need to let go of the old models of programs and staff configurations and even building maintenance to move into a model of being the church as Christ’s Body. The church, since even the early days, has been challenged to think outside of the box. In many ways, this isn’t something new. It’s just time to dream it up again, and to include the dreamers who might think about church differently than you. It’s not enough to include a token young adult or youth on a committee; a church needs to engage communities of youth and young adults and actually desire to build a relationship. It’s not enough to say “Let’s have a program for young families to get them into the church;” a church needs to think outside the box and look at the greater picture: are we really a child-friendly church? Are we welcoming of children who may cry or run around? Do we provide child care? Do we care if children eat all the cookies at coffee hour? And are we welcoming of non-traditional families? How do we include families whose children may live with another parent and only attend on occasion?

It’s time to think outside the box, and to do that, we’re going to need some help. We’re going to need all kinds of thinkers.

Disciples Don't Have Bishops. We Have Bloggers!

“Disciples don't have bishops. We have editors.” So it has been said of us throughout the more than two centuries of our journey to faithfully follow in the way of Jesus, the Christ. While recognizing the need for structural leadership in the church, Disciples have always been more focused on the ability of words to inspire, challenge, educate, and equip those who bear the name of Christ than in the power of bureaucratic structures to affect change in this world.

When Alexander Campbell began The Christian Baptist in the early 19th century, it was a small, monthly print publication that enjoyed a limited circulation on what was then the Western American frontier. Gradually, though, Campbell's writing gained a wider audience as the Disciple plea for unity and simplicity through a return to the traditions of the early church grabbed the attention of a religiously weary populace. Campbell soon changed the name of the publication to The Millennial Harbinger to reflect his belief in the Church's progress toward reclaiming its unity and furthering its mission. Barton W. Stone, Campbell's colleague in the struggle for unity and simplicity, also published a monthly journal, The Christian Messenger, offer his unique perspective along with Campbell's to the emerging movement that would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Throughout the 19th century, Campbell's words and those of their successors at The Christian Evangelist, The Christian Standard, and The Christian Oracle (now The Christian Century) challenged and inspired Disciples in their journey of faith. By the mid 20th century, The Christian Evangelist had dropped Evangelist from its banner and had become the central voice for Disciples. As the process of restructuring the congregations, ministries, and institutions of the Disciples into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) progressed, it was championed by those who edited The Christian, which soon became known as The Disciple, the official organ of the newly restructured denomination.

Members of our tradition have long valued an educated clergy and laity, encouraging a parity between those in the pews and those lead us in our common life together. Central to this parity has been the idea that dialog, both in person and in print, is key to bridging the gap between ministers and those with whom they serve. Disciples have had a long history of supporting print publications through subscriptions, advertising, and dedicated readership, but as times have changed, so too have Disciples.

Rumblings of trouble began at The Disciple in the early 1990s, and though several attempts at redesign, refocusing, and reducing costs were made, the publication folded in 2001. The demise of The Disciple left a hole in the church's communication system, one that the Office of Communication at the General Offices in Indianapolis tried to fill in the spring of 2001 with Disciple Digest, a monthly web publication. Disciple Digest, while a gallant effort, received a tepid response at best from a church often suspicious of all things emerging from its General Offices. Disciples value the free and honest exchange of information and ideas. We have little patience for “official” publications, even when offered with all due respect and good intentions. Such reticence led Jack Suggs and Robert Friedly, former publisher and editor of The Disciple magazine to create a non-profit corporation and invest a great deal of their own money in trying to revive publishing among Disciples in late 2001. DisciplesWorld magazine was born out of their endeavors, and while struggling in its first months of existence, the journal came to be regarded as one of the best religious journals in the United States. During it's eight year run, DisciplesWorld inspired, informed, challenged, educated, and entertained the denomination, and while expending a significant amount of energy and resources, the changing times and economy finally sealed the publication's end in late 2009. DisciplesWorld wasn't alone, though, in its final months, as hundreds of print publications either ceased to exist or became Internet only publications, among them United Church News, the official voice of our sister denomination, the United Church of Christ.

The world of publishing has changed considerably, but the need for conversation and dialog about the tough issues of the Christian faith has only increased. The time for print publications may have passed, but the need to keep those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) connected and informed has become all the more important. Ignorance and isolation abound in our church and if we are to fulfill our mission of being a church that embodies true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice, we must be connected to one another and share our insights as we struggle in our attempts to be faithful to the Gospel of the One who has claimed our lives in the waters of baptism and who nourishes us for the journey of faith at the table of Christ.

Blogs (short for web logs) became popular at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly among youth and young adults who sought ways of sharing their thoughts in more dynamic ways with family, friends, and the larger world. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, blogs have become as widely read as print publications, challenging long running print publications to move toward publication in blog form. While DisciplesWorld made a worthy effort to transition to an online publication, circumstances prevented the move, leaving a void for others to fill. It is with deep respect and tremendous gratitude to those who have gone before us that we offer D[mergent] as one attempt to further build community and continue the conversation among those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Perhaps, as we move into the future that God is creating in, among, and through us, we will be able to say, “Disciples don't have bishops. We have bloggers.”

--The Rev. Wes Jamison, B.A., M.Div., Minister-at-Large for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, Chair of the GLAD O&A Ministries Team, Qualified Mental Health Professional, and Contributing Editor for [D]mergent