I’ve been reading an excellent book on dreams. The writer reflects on how both the Jewish and Christian traditions were once quite comfortable with dreams as a way humanity experienced God. A reading of dream accounts in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures begins with the assumption that God communicates through dreams. When Jacob, Peter, and Joseph have their dreams, the writers don’t spend five paragraphs convincing us the dreams were real; they assume we know and believe this. Ancient Church Father Tertullian writes that the majority of people get their knowledge of God through dreams.
Dreams are mysterious, often unexplainable. The best approach to dreams, I believe, is not as a code we must decipher, but a mystery to be experienced that reveals meaning to us. We feel emotions as we dream. We experience them on a different plane, while we sleep, yet one that is very real. We can do things in our dreams that are logically impossible in our waking life, yet the dreaming life informs and helps our waking life.
In losing our connection and respect for dreams in our faith, I fear we have become mired in the societal constraints and intellectualism the world has imposed upon the church and we have imposed upon God. We have traded holy mystery for overly-logical position papers. We have become suspect of the courage, of the sheer outrageousness of God and replaced it with endless task forces and committees. We have lost our grasp on the ethereal and locked our fingers around that which can be counted and ranked.
We have lost the deep desire to listen to our dreams for the church and follow them.
Not that the intellectual approach to some matters is wrong. We need the balance of both - of logic and mystery, of feeling and intellect, of reality and dreams. Two General Conventions ago, a group began asking Episcopalians, “What do you dream of in the Church?”
As we begin a shift in leadership with a new Presiding Bishop, who is calling us to dream, I began thinking about my dreams.
I dream of a church where we are unafraid to talk about Jesus, about why worship in our tradition is foundational to all we do, and why our faith is not simply a social ethic, but a confession of a crucified and risen Christ who has changed and continues to change us as individuals and as communities. The mystery of faith we encounter in Holy Scripture, the Holy Eucharist, the ancient creeds, and our modern communities calls us to tell our story and to listen to the stories of others as we share the Good News.
I dream of a church where power and money are not the biggest measures of Christian communities. For all the conversations Jesus has about power and money and the caution Christians should have about them, the Church seems happily to embrace them as measures of success. I’m more interested in how our churches and our dioceses offer worship that speaks deeply to the soul, how our churches and dioceses offer ways to help humans flourish (and shares those ways with other faith communities), and how our churches and dioceses speaks truth to power. How many people come on a Sunday or what your endowment is interests me less than if your church is a place where wounded souls can come to cry, where the joyous can be shielded, and the wandering can find a safe place to rest.
I dream of a church where we don’t only ask, “If money weren’t an issue, what would we do?” but instead first asked, “If we deeply believed God has called us to share the Good News, what would we do.” We should be responsible stewards, but too often money is the filter by which we see our ministry. Through the millennia, faith communities have changed the world with less than a widow’s mite. Perhaps money has become an acceptable and logical way we cease to follow God’s dreams for us.
I dream of a church where bullies are called to account for their actions, not rewarded for them. If there is a consistent sin of the church, this may be it. It’s related certainly to the love of power. Church members on all levels - clergy and laity - are capable of bullying behavior and have been victimized by bullying behavior. We as a church have no business calling out bullying and violence in our mainstream culture if we ourselves aren’t willing to confess and repent for this sin.
I dream of a church that admits addiction in all its forms. Too often we limit addiction to the acts of those who struggle with drug or alcohol dependence while ignoring that we can be addicted to all manner of things: food, power, unhealthy relationships, drama, to name a few. Addiction is a raw and abrupt word that we need to say aloud and use as we speak truth to the power of addiction. I dream of a church that begins the continuing, hard work of admitting we are powerless over addiction and our struggle with it has become unmanageable, then working carefully through the steps to healing and transformation.
I dream of a church where the voices of people of color, women, LGBT people, and minorities are heard…the first time. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve heard a woman, a person of color, or a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender person say things over and over and over, with the words unheard. Then a straight white male in power says the exact same thing and people respond as if he’s spoken with the words of an angel. Seriously, to those in power in the church…stop talking and pay attention. People in the margins have something to say that’s worth hearing.
I dream of a church that stops using affirmy, commendy, and validaty language and begins prayer and action. After the latest mass shooting, a post appeared on Facebook that called congress to quit offering only their thoughts and prayers and start acting. The same can be said of our communities of faith. If we’re stunned and horrified by the Syrian refugee crisis, then why not act? Why not call parishes to sponsor a refugee family and the higher up church bodies do the math to make that happen? Thoughts and prayers are certainly necessary, as is action. Remember what an epistle says about faith without works…
I dream of a church that is less concerned with property and more concerned with church. I get that buildings are beautiful and give us a part of our identity, but buildings are not the church. God is alive not in bricks and mortar and stained glass, but the life of the people who gather to pray and work in the name of Christ.
We are called to dream in our faith, to push past the mores and standards our culture imposes on us and our churches. In our dreams, we fly over that which seems to mire us. In dreams, we are willing to open the door at the far end of the room just to see instead of staying safely in the rooms well-explored and often empty. In dreams we can experience God in new, often unsettling ways.
May we rediscover the joy and dreaming with God.