Christmas 2019

December 20, 2019

Dear Another Voice Friends,

My very best wishes for Christmas 2019, and the soon-to-arrive New Year 2020, which will bring new adventures, new hopes, and new opportunities for all of us.

The message of Christmas is our New Year’s challenge: to believe and to act on our beliefs. We believe that truth is stronger than fake political rhetoric and falsehood. Being a bully is destructive and demeaning. We are all our neighbors’ brothers and sisters, even when community harmony is difficult to achieve and maintain. Our human climate is threatened. The survival of humanity — everyone’s human dignity and worth are at risk. Yes our ongoing challenge this Christmas and in 2020.

Once again, I send my Christmas and New Year’s greetings with a reprint of T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi.

My fascination with the U.S./British poet began some years ago, when I was a junior in high school. The poem was Ash Wednesday, written by T.S. Eliot shortly after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. Here Eliot focused on his own spiritual journey. I was becoming aware of my own spiritual journey back then….Eliot once commented that he had a “Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament.” (I thought well I am the product of a “mixed marriage.” I have a solidly Catholic education and formation, my father’s critical mind, and his Protestant DNA.) In college I was fortunate to meet Eliot’s friend, Robert Sencourt, who gave a lecture about Eliot and his poetry. He also gave more insights into Eliot the believer.

I owe the inspiration for my blog to lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem Little Gidding: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams once remarked, “Eliot never wanted to present religious faith as a nice cheerful answer to everyone’s questions, but as an inner shift so deep that you could hardly notice it, yet giving a new perspective on everything and a new restlessness in a tired and chilly world.”

In a tired and chilly world, may we all find and share new and life-giving perspectives…..

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.


Thank you for traveling with me this year. Thank you for your friendship and support. I hope to return in early January after taking time for holiday celebrations with my wife, family, and friends.


Spirited Community

December 13, 2019

Last week, one of my suggestions was that we encourage people to share their faith stories. A few days after that blog appeared, one of my readers sent me a very personal email about his own faith journey. With his permission, I share a few lines:

“I spent August driving a Land Cruiser the 900 miles from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma, Tanzania over dirt roads. My priest friend and I stayed in villages along the way praying, singing, eating, staying with, and talking to the poor. Mud huts with thatched roofs. A five star hotel meant that your five gallon bucket at the head of your bed was full so you could shower, wash your cloths and flush the toilet. Tanzanians are the most beautiful, happy, peaceful and loving people on the planet….For a month I lived in the presence of God, receiving the sacrament almost every day….

“I have returned to my (home) city, one of the wealthiest in the United States….Now that I am back in my cozy setting, I am having trouble acclimating. I have not gone to mass since August. I have no desire to be with the people of my rich parish most of whom voted for Trump. These are not my people. To support a church that does not care for its nuns, covers up sexual abuse, and to have to listen to inane sermons based on a 19th century ethos, has no appeal for me…..

“I had an epiphany several days ago: how could I be so close to the church in Tanzania and so far from her here in the States? In Tanzania I was with the true church, the loving people of God, the mystical body of Christ. What I have here is a hierarchy that is more concerned with power and prestige at the expense of the message of Jesus. The priests in Tanzania do not wait for their day off so they can go golfing with the good old boy’s club, as they are too busy feeding the souls and bodies of their flocks.”

My correspondent described a church which is a community of believers. His email reminded me of an observation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so appropriate for this time of the year: “As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”

The awareness of Divine presence goes to the heart of Christian community. The early Christians were animated by that awareness, before a kind of self-protective religious rigidity began to set in. Perhaps we need to re-visit the originality of the early followers of the Way of Jesus.

Most English translations of the New Testament use the word “church” to translate the Greek word “ecclesia” which generally meant a “community called together” a “convocation.” It would be far better and more correct for us to use the word “community” rather than “church” to capture the life-style of these early Christians: e.g. the “community” in Corinth, the “community” in Ephesus, etc. There was no uniform or monolithic reality in their community life. Jesus did not establish a church. He gave no institutional blueprint for the organizational style of his followers. The early Christian communities had great freedom. They had no set ritual forms for the sacraments. The communities were charismatic and creative. Men and women, who headed households, presided at celebrations of Eucharist. In the second century, Tertullian, the early Christian author from Carthage, wrote about the early Christian communities: “See how these Christians love one another.”

As the early communities grew and Christianity spread far and wide, a need developed for a kind of quality control process to make certain that the communities had qualified and well trained leaders. Ordination was introduced as a way of selecting and designating qualified community leaders. It was NOT understood as conferring special sacramental power for “confecting the Eucharist.” And we know that the historical Jesus did not ordain anyone. He probably had no inkling or understanding of ordination.

The early Christian communities selected, as well, overseers, who visited communities to see how they were doing and to provide guidance where needed. In Greek they were called “episcopoi.” Our English word “episcopal” comes from that. The better translations of the male minister “episcopos” or the female minister “episcopa” are “overseer” and “supervisor.” Quite often however the words get translated into English as “bishop.” I would like to think of “bishops” as user-friendly supportive overseers….

After the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity was well on its way to becoming a highly organized religious institution. The church-now-institution demanded that the faithful accept and profess official doctrines, like the Nicene Creed. Curiously, the Council of Nicaea said nothing about spirituality.

Religious institutions have their value; but they are a MEDIUM not the MESSAGE. They exist to be of service and not to be served.

In 380 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity, specifically Nicene Christianity, the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christian groups not accepting Nicaea were deemed heretical. They lost their legal status; and they had their properties confiscated by the Roman State. The official church took over Roman governmental structures (like dioceses) and Roman imperial court pageantry and rituals, especially by the papacy. Bishops became, as well, regional civil judges. Liturgy and sacraments became more standardized. Christians gradually began to seek and exert power over people. Women were edged to the sidelines. A clerical culture, with varying degrees of ingrained prejudice against women, began to take center stage. (Unfortunately, self-serving clericalism then and now undermines the credibility and ministry of zealous and wonderfully pastoral ordained ministers. Contemporary morale among Catholic ordained ministers (priests) is now very low. A very sad situation.)

Richard Rohr describes well the shift from spirited community to rigid institution: “I believe there is a deep dilemma and contradiction at the heart of institutional Christianity. Maybe it is even a necessary one. All I know is that it can only be resolved by authentic inner experience, prayer, mysticism, or dare I call it, spirituality. I am convinced that religion, in its common cultural and external forms, largely protects the ego, especially the group ego, instead of transforming it. If people do not go beyond first level metaphors, rituals, and comprehension, most religions seem to end up with a God who is often angry, petulant, needy, jealous, and who will love us only if we are ‘worthy’ and belonging to the correct group. We end up with the impossible scenario of a God who is small, and often less loving than the best people we know!”

Historically, every Christian reformation – and there have been several — has tried to regain the spirit and creative life and ministry of the early Christian communities.

That indeed is our reformation challenge today.


In December, I make my annual appeal to people who would like to help keep Another Voice alive and well. Your contributions help me stay online, upgrade software and hardware as necessary, and to subscribe to theological and historical resources that help me stay up to date. I greatly appreciate your support.

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


Or a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to:

(2) Or a US dollars bank transfer to my US bank account:

Fifth Third Bank, 37687 W. Red Arrow Highway Paw Paw, Michigan 49079

Account 7519230887 in name of John A. Dick

Routing number 072400052


(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


IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions, please contact me at:

A big thank you!


December 6, 2019

For many years, I have been actively involved in Catholic Church reform movements, advocating for a church that accepts men and women as equals, that is not run by an authoritarian old-boys club, and that is LGBT supportive. I write and lecture as well about the dangers of rigid fundamentalisms and advocate as well for an historical-critical understanding of Sacred Scripture.

That being said, my current focus is the need for a New Reformation. Not just in the Catholic Church but in all Christian traditions.

And central to the New Reformation is spirituality.

Some people equate spirituality with religion, but the two are different. Religion is the medium not the message. Healthy religion should promote spirituality; but it doesn’t always happen. A lot of contemporary people, like the “nones,” are, in fact, turned off by institutional religion and proclaim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” People hungry and thirsty for spirituality are searching for satisfying and solid nourishment. Too often, in many churches, they are finding the cupboards bare or the food unsavory.

In Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, Jesus cries out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.’’ (John 7:37-38) Jesus’ call is significant. People do thirst for more. Thirst for justice, for truth, and for compassion. They thirst for the Divine.

Spirituality connects people to the Divine. To the depth of Reality. It provides peace and harmony in our lives. Spirituality goes to the very essence of what Christianity is all about. Spirituality is not something added on top of our Christian life.

Spirituality should be our way of life – in LIVED awareness of the Divine Presence, the Sacred, the Ground of Being, Emmanuel, God with us. There are many ways to describe the depth of Reality, just like there are many ways to describe what it means to love someone and to be loved. Some of the old images of God may no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. And we should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine.

I still remember the comment from Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the UN: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.”

Our communities of faith – like our schools, study groups, and our parishes — should be centers of excellence where people speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence through personal shared faith stories, through drama, music and art. And through deep reflection. We should invite and welcome the questioners and the seekers. We need to listen to young people at the start of their adult lives and to older people, confronting their life transitions.

Regardless of our place in the human journey, The Gospels remind us that God lives and walks with all men and women: all races, all nationalities. God is not focused on gender or sexual orientation. Matthew 25 is very clear: “’Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Christian spirituality is committed to the search for truth within a healthy multicultural and multi-religious pluralism.

Christian spirituality sees no conflict between faith and reason, between the heart and the intellect, between belief and knowledge.

Christian spirituality, of course, is the message of Advent and the Joy of Christmas!

Once again, in December, I make my annual appeal to people who would like to keep Another Voice alive and well. Your contributions enable me to stay online, to upgrade software and hardware as necessary, and to subscribe to theological and historical resources that help me stay up to date.

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

Or a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to:

(2) 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
IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions, please contact me at: