This morning’s thoughts seem to have transformational possibilities, such that I dare not let them slip me by. What a week, filled with every possible emotion it would seem, from a dear friend and fellow leader’s premature loss of a son, to an overwhelming demonstration of love within the small community that has for 21 years held my heart!
Ironically, given my life calling, the absence of a church body fully engaged with this family, afforded me opportunity to minister almost as if I had been called to the pastorate just for them. Then there was the need to secure a large sanctuary to accommodate the anticipated community and professional following of the family, uniquely and most generously provided as well, and in a way that reassured me of the role of the institutional church.
Then there was this morning’s dream!
I was awakened out of some color muted vortex of dry rotted clothing, commingled with last gen’s AV (not IT) technology; yet, everything appeared like new until touched. In fact, the clothing was still on racks, the technology as it were, displayed for marketing. Dated but still current enough that if salvaged could accomplish what in my heart I knew still needed to be done. Then there were people, adrift but all in the same flow, each aware of a groping need to return to something they had lost. The clothing perhaps symbolic of their materialism and the technology, their awareness of a need for better means to express their loss, to whatever audience they all seemed urgent to return.
Apparent by their bodily reaching back, they were knowingly adrift, yet continued as if seduced by this surplus of dry-rotted goods, which with each grasp, turned to powder like fabric that had been stored in hot attics for centuries. There was this sense of reaching forward, yet need for a 180 degree change in direction before all was lost. Yet, there seemed insufficient confidence to make that turn without ample dress and technology. I could see some returning empty handed, while other grasp at the decaying provision. Return to where, I still do not know!
I was one of those who kept encouraging them to grasp hold of their share of clothing and technology such that when they returned to whatever place we all knew we were headed, there would be ample means to get back into “life” as we had once been told existed.
The dream was so real that I was compelled to get out of bed at 3:30, much too early given my day, lest I too lose the significance of the dream. Was there an underlying spiritual message for me to deliver, was it critical to this moment and the community which I love? I began to pray for clarity but that simply cultivated a more compelling need to write.
I always turn on the coffee, check my messages, take out the dog, and check for the paper. A man of discipline (tongue in cheek); only after that sequence, am I free to either read or write.
Each time I venture down to my work station to write, I must pass by my small Wizard of Oz collection, a favorite childhood fantasy, that I must say has influenced my observation of senior pastors along the way! This morning I picked up a novelty book purchased as a gift from my daughter, inside the cover were these words “We’re not on the ground, Toto! We must be up inside…the cyclone.”
Serendipity would have Richard Rohr’s devotional (1), aligned first on my email messages for the night. I was jarred by the possibility, like Mike Pence, that the Lord might be speaking to me.
“The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift may arise from grief for our world that contradicts illusions of the separate and isolated self. Or they may arise from breakthroughs in science, such as quantum physics and systems theory. Or we may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in the major religions . . . that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission.
Now, in our time, these three rivers—anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings—flow together. From the confluence of these rivers we drink. We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, the source of all we are and can achieve. Despite our conditioning by the industrial society of the last two centuries, we want to name, once again, this world as holy.
These insights and experiences are necessary to free us from the grip of the Industrial Growth Society. They offer us nobler goals and deeper pleasures. They help us redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganization of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. [Moved] beyond tired old notions of competitive individualism, we come home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth.”(2)
This all seemed so spiritual, yet stood in stark contrast with what I was experiencing in the moment, as it is easy to see where this thing is going once our community settles back into its own version of everyday love. I no longer think I will be able to handle that.
All week long I have watched hundreds of zombie like teens try to sort out what adults refer to as the Opioid Epidemic, as if some virus had invaded our land. With each new drug related death, school shooting or teen suicide, there is the same response. First an exhausting blame placed on well-meaning politicians who have taken on the responsibility of parenting our nation by way of laws and less than adequate resources. Then, in order to remain in office sufficient time for their sincere attempts at transformational impact, they are weekly traumatized by the need to rationalize their way through a maze of values that ultimately influence their access to financial resources, values much more material than spiritual.
Meanwhile the churches face a similar dilemma, maintaining either decaying sanctuaries or less expensive contemporary facilities that require more smoke and mirrors than the Wizard, as the message once captured in stained glass artistry has been removed, if not along with it, the power once demonstrated within our belief system, other than their occasional medical or financial miracle. I must wonder if Jesus fully intended us to be so distracted by his miracles? Were they simply an inescapable manifestation of the love of God, occurring wherever He poured himself into community, and we have mistaken power as God’s message more so than love?
Then of course, where the real possibility of conveying any message of love exists, in our parenting, we have become so preoccupied with material possessions, that we tend to offer teen vulnerability up as our excuse when life falls apart. We then become religious, as we often do even with our pets, assuring each other that all is not lost and that we will see each other again one day, which I too believe. We then quickly return to making an economy work in a way so as to sustain a prosperity akin to this dryrotted cloth from which everything in my dream to include the people, seemed made of.
In my eulogy this past week I quoted Franz Kafka:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book (perhaps in this case, my dream) must be the axe for the frozen sea within us..” (3)
As I near the end of my attempts to capture the dream, still one real image stands out: it was the teen that I saw multiple times during the week, always on the perimeter, not the most attractive, possibly even one who struggled with comfort food. She always had her cell phone in hand, as if awaiting a reassuring call, but neither did I see her engaged in conversations among the huddles of students nearby her, nor was the phone placed near her ear. She was alone, but at each event, almost like she was a part of the life of the deceased but not quite sure why she was there.
What is the meaning of all this for this 70 year old, sufficiently heeled financially that no longer should income stream be a distracter; professionally networked, religiously grounded, yet apparently starved spiritually given the impact of this week on my soul.
Who is God, what is love and why are people so open in moments like these. Why do we allow such true moments of community to become so episodic, lost in the dry rotted vortex of life, always groping for the next, yet longing to return to life as we know it, so soon after we lay to rest those whom we “love”?
1 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation From the Center for Action and Contemplation
2 Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014), 4.