Posted by: smstrouse | January 23, 2016

Out of the Rubble of the Church

star-of-bethlehem1-1Epiphany! ‘Tis the season of signs and wonders, stars and dreams. Journeys into uncharted territory, guided by a star. Going home a different way, guided by a dream.

I had a dream last week. Not so unusual. I’ve become very attuned to my dreams, especially since I joined a dream work group. We use the methods taught by Jeremy Taylor, who says that “‘working with dreams’ means remembering and exploring the dreams from sleep with an maxresdefaulteye to their deeper meanings. Each one of us is uniquely blind to the deeper meanings of our own dreams, and dream work helps us see what amazing gifts are there, just below the surface of “manifest content” and obvious appearance.”

I was in a room that was detached from a 3-story house. As I looked up, I could see water dripping into the downstairs from the room upstairs and also from the room above that. Then I saw that the roof was sagging and about to collapse. I buried my head in my pillow as the building came crashing down. I was covered in dirt but was unharmed. I dug myself out and saw that the house was in ruins. I went to check for people in the rubble who might need help. But no one seemed to be hurt. I came upon three kids, African-American boys. One appeared to be developmentally disabled and he resisted my help at first, but the other two calmed him down and told me that he was all right. Later, when I saw a group of kids eating at a picnic table, this little kid came up and gave me half of his chocolate chip cookie.

The collective wisdom of the dream work group was that a structure of my life was collapsing or had collapsed. But I wasn’t afraid. I was connected, yet detached. I was invested in helping those caught in the rubble, but also saw that everything was alright. They also noticed the 3-ness of the dream: the 3-storied house, the three kids.

Could the house be the Church? Seems right to me. But before you dismiss me as a prophetA-sign-of-hope-spotted-in-the-rubble-of-the-demolished-ChristChurch-Cathedral-belltower_photoDisplay of doom and gloom predicting the end of Christianity, let me assure you that’s not what I am. And it’s not what the dream told me. It told me what we all know: the institution of the Church is undergoing structural strain. Like it or not, under the weight of cultural changes, the roof of the Church as we know it is sagging. It may even collapse under its own weight.

But in my dream I was not afraid. Everyone was alright. I was covered in dirt, but was able to dig out, get up and out and go on my way. I saw that people were being fed. I, too, was fed in a decidedly Eucharist-feeling gesture with half a chocolate chip cookie. The consensus of the group was that it was really a positive dream. It had a good feeling, not fear or death or doom, but life – with cookies!

Several people in my dream group asked me what I thought the three boys might mean. At first I was puzzled; I just didn’t know. But then I said, “You know, I am really into the season of Epiphany. I still have candles and stars in my windows. I still have my Nativity set up (and will until Lent). The Magi are still there.” And everyone got it – even those who aren’t Christian. The three boys were the Magi. And they had given me a gift.

Curiously, this dream occurred on the morning of January 15th, Martin Luther King’s birthday. Later that day I read these words from his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Fifty-three years later, the Church is still being called upon to address the needs of our contemporary world. And we do so in so many ways. But we need to do some major retrofitting if we’re going to keep the structure standing. But even if we do not, the Spirit that created the early Christian Church will abide. We will be fed and we will feed.

I had a dream.


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