Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Relationship with Dreams

Because we’re examining some of the biblical foundations of dreams today, I’ve been thinking a lot about just how significant dreams are to our lives and how meaningful they can be to us when we’re awake. So, when we were coming home from Ireland on the plane and John had fallen asleep beside me, I decided this would be an opportune time for me to test out just how easy it is to manipulate a person’s dreams while they’re sleeping.

Now, as weird as this seems, scientists and other, more morbidly curious types, have been conducting experiments just like this for about the last two hundred years in an effort to determine just what our dreams mean and how they are affected. Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud had a bit of a rivalry about this topic, and even researchers today are unsure about whether your dreams are a reflection of hidden and repressed desires or whether or not they’re the cause of some of our more abstract actions in waking life.

What we do know consists of a scientific field known as oneirology, dream research, which is predominatly concerned with R.E.M. sleep, rapid-eye-movement sleep, or “dream sleep.” This is the lighter, latter, portion of the sleeping stages in which we experience our dreams. Now, for a typical adult we spend about 20% of our sleep time dreaming, maybe 90-120 minutes per night; but this number decreases the older we get. What I find really interesting, however, is that it has been decreasing ever since we were first born – such that babies dream 80% or more of the time and there are theories that suggest they even dream in the womb or that the womb itself may be an unbroken cycle of R.E.M. sleep.

This is such a great picture for us of the sweetness and innocence of the infant mind, and the inborn hope with which we come into this broken world. It may just be genetics that cause us to dream less as we get older, but it may also be a representation of the fact that the damaged condition of our culture actually pulls us apart from the innocence with which we’re born.

One notion about dreams that has recently taken off among the scientific community is the idea that dreams are a kind-of mood regulatory system, like a built-in therapist. In this theory, dreams give us an avenue to get out our negative and wanton whims so that they aren’t forced to come out in waking life and disrupt our social order, friendships, vocations, or connections with the world around us.

In scripture, there are two terms that are used to reference dreams – dreams and visions – both of which were thought by the people of the ancient near east to be means by which God spoke to His people. Both dreams and visions fell into the category of oracles and/or prophecies, and there was a large weight and emphasis placed upon their interpretation and recollection by magi and scholars. Visions, which are simply dreams one might have in the day – either waking or napping – and dreams were considered to be the actual voice of God and magi sought His guidance in a practice known then as “dream seeking” in which they would place themselves purposefully asleep in an attitude and atmosphere of prayer and fall away asking God to reveal Himself.

In the Bible we have many great dreamers, and today I’d like to draw a connection between two of the more prominent, one from each testament, Daniel – the RabMag in Babylon – and the apostle John – an exile on the Greek island of Patmos. The connection I’d like to make has to do specifically with Babylon, and Babylon as a symbol within dreams.

For Daniel, Babylon was a symbol and a reality because he was a Jewish man living in exile in the court of the king. He knew what Babylon was like in real life, but also knew that Babylon was a symbol for his people of the corruption of a foreign ruling authority that dominated and oppressed the Israeli people.

For John, Babylon was only a symbol because it had ceased to be among the significant world powers at the time. Yet, having passed from present reality into myth, Babylon arguably became an even greater symbol of an evil power that had once oppressed the Jews and from which they had subsequently been freed.

For both men, and for us in our practice of interpreting scripture, Babylon is importantly understood as the dominant socio-economic, cultural, and political power of its day. So, for Daniel Babylon was both dominant in reality and in prophecy as a means of diving the future fall of a future Babylon; and, for John, Babylon was an excellent way of referring to the Roman Empire and the coming persecution of the Church and a powerful futuristic insight into the final triumph of Jesus Christ over the powers of this world.

But what does that mean for us?

Who is our Babylon?

Well, a more accurate question might be “who is the dominant socio-economic, cultural, and political force in our world?” and one answer might be “the West.” Now, let’s make sure that everyone understands me correctly because I’m certainly not making a one-to-one connection between the United States and Canada and Babylon in the book of Revelation; what I am saying is that we need to ask ourselves what kind of world we live in and whether or not it is a world that reflects the law of love or the laws of power.

I submit that our world, by-and-large though exceptions are everywhere, is a world governed by power and oppressive of love. And not only is that power dominant, but it is seductive – the lure of easy money, easy sexual fulfillment, and ever-increasing power calls to us which is why Babylon is described in Revelation as a Whore.

Because Power is seductive.

I think we live in a world where love is a fledgling ideal and the great machine of war chews on it daily…

And it’s our job to fight that machine with love.

There’s a powerful section in Revelation 18, which is really my motivation for talking about all of this today, where the angels of God announce to the world that Babylon is fallen, and the truly breathtaking sequence inherent in that fallenness is the tidal wave of simultaneous lamentation and rejoicing.

The angels rejoice.

And everyone in bed with the whore weeps.

Because now, finally, the rule of love has surpassed the rule of power and love has itself been vindicated as the greatest power. All those who have profited by subverting the weak and feeding on the poor are now toppled by the triumph of God, and all those who’ve lived as agents of love are free to love more now that this time has come.

For us, we’re left with a powerful set of questions. First, we’re left wondering if we can be honest about which side we’ve chosen. Money, after all, isn’t evil, and neither is power nor sex, nor a host of things that have been twisted by darkness. And having money, or being concerned with money, isn’t necessarily an indication of our allegiance to Babylon; rather, being consumed by Money, loving Money, and serving Money – these are the signs of false allegiance.

When we rack our minds for greater profit and cut ethical corners to increase our gains, then we have legislated ourselves in Babylon.

But when we hold everything loosely, as a gift from God that we are eager to use as a measure of His blessing, we reflect His heart and are governed by Love.

Which takes us to our second question: what will our reaction be when Babylon falls? Will we rejoice now that the kingdom of Love is established, or weep because our opportunities are at an end?

There was a trememdous book written a couple of years ago entitled “Mustard Seed Vs. McWorld” by Tom Seine which talked about how we might use wealth and influence to promote equality and free others from debt and the constraints of low-birth, and if you’re interested in this kind of thinking I suggest you give it a glance. For those of you more poeticly inclined, have a peek at Conversations with Bono by Michka Assayas and allow him to speak to your soul about making poverty history and the role of the privileged west in that process.

Finally, the question we are forced to ask is about where we have invested ourselves. Have we placed our seed in an economy of faith or a culture of greed? And, are we courageous enough to mold our dreams elsewhere?

The word courageous, by the way, comes from the french word “coeur” which means heart. And our measure of courage is always a measure of what we truly love and believe in.

Which brings us full circle back to our discussion about dreams – about where our hearts are at and what we value most.

If you’re like me, the most precious thing in all the world is Carmel and Jacob [though, for you, those names ought to be different]. My wife and son, and Anna – our daughter-to-be. And all my dreams are full of hope for these three, for their future with Jesus and the adventure of their lives that will enable them to touch Him, however briefly.

Even now I can close my eyes and see myself about Jacob’s bed every night, placing my hand on his forehead and kissing him softly praying that God would watch over his dreams and protect his heart. That he would cultivate a love for the Word and a love for Worship and that Jesus would always be held closely in his heart and that he would remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to the prompting of God.

And that’s my prayer for you – that your dreams would be sweet and your knowledge of Jesus a special knowledge. I dream that you would know God better than I and help me to get another piece of Him.

Good night.

Friday, January 27, 2006



The word metanoia is a Greek word, which we often translate as repentance. It comes from two root words, meta – beyond/change/transformation and noia – soul/intellect. Probably more accurate is the notion of metanoia which describes what we do as a kind of turning around, or – more accurately – "the shifting of minds", a new way of looking at a situation or a new understanding of an issue.

The study of metanoia makes an interesting study of repentance because we often think of repentance as guilt, when instead we might think of it as purpose. Remember the words of 1 John “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What’s funny is that we get the “forgiveness” part, but all too often forget the “cleansing” part and as a result we have churches full of people who know they’re forgiven but still feel dirty.

So now, when I think of being a Christ follower, I try to think of a daily metanoia rather than a simple conversion experience. I try and think of a daily process of being cleansed and shifting my mind, more than just my own guilt as an accomplice of corruption. I think following Jesus means actually daily changing my mind about something to conform a little more into a mind like God’s - a mind of peace, or justice, a mind of charity and generosity, a mind of gladness and gentleness, a mind of reward instead of requirement.

I’ve recently come to experience a little metanoia about life – specifically, the construction of life and the way in which we build our lives. To this end I’ve been looking, in broad strokes, at the plot of the biblical story of Job. It would be a great exercise for you all, by the way, just to read Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Job [5 pages] at the beginning of the Message rendering of the text, as a category creator for all that that book holds for god-followers.

Job is the oldest book in the bible, with the exception of the creation account, and invites us into a world absent of religion. It takes place in a mystical/poetic setting where the only thing that governs human interaction with God is God himself, where there are no rules and obvious liturgies and expectations, just gifts offered to God and a heart that seeks to pleasure Him.

It’s in this context where I’ve felt most truly impressed with notions of success and establishment, ambition and investment.

Job is a servant of God, not a priest or holy man just someone with a heart like God’s who seeks to keep the divine communication romantic, and we enter the story of Job when Job is already an older man with a complete set of adult children, incredible personal wealth and fortune, and every earthly desire. But through the events of the story all of these things are taken away from Job in what the author perceives to be a kind of celestial gamble, a heavenly wager. It’s during Job’s many crises that his worth as a servant is truly revealed and the story concludes with Job being rewarded for faithfulness and having everything restored to him even beyond what he lost.

The potshard is a powerful image in the story, because – at his lowest point – Job is forced to scratch his itching boils with scraps of pottery in an effort to find some momentary relief from his suffering. But the image is all the more powerful because of the other pieces of pottery were also used in ancient Sumerian contexts. Poor people wrote their family letters on broken pieces of pottery and then discarded them.

Now, this is merely conjecture, but I find it a wonderful kind of poetry to think of Job finding relief in the misapplication of family letters, that he would get a piece of peace from a family letter someone else has thrown away.

There are several poignant themes that I’d like to chit, themes that I’ll only flirt with but some other time will explore more fully and it’s these themes that I believe are meaningful for us today and meaningful for me at this moment and we might enjoy some peace together by pulling them apart.

First is the idea of salvation; salvation being a derivative of the root word “salve.” Salvation, by the way, is not the way we initially translated the early versions of the New Testament. Interestingly, Tyndale’s first translation of the Greek word was translated as health. The idea of health is, of course, closely connected with the notion of a “salve”, but even more so when we see that Jesus understood “health” or “salvation” as something much more fully integrated into our lives than just a spiritual attuning.

Health, for Jesus, was a body/mind/spirit that was fully integrated, a life led full throttle, embodied in everything that we do or are. Shalom, or “peace”, is a word wishing the best of health to another in ever circumstance of life.

I wonder if Job, who began in health and had it taken away, understood salvation differently at the end of his story than at the beginning.

I wonder if he understood life differently.

You’ve heard about the amazing change of perspective that people undergo once they’ve encountered trauma, that people who’ve come through the fire, so to speak, have a new way of seeing and living. One fellow remarked casually that it seemed a pity that all roses have thorns and that beauty must be marred in that way; while his companion remarked the obverse that even thorns have roses and that such beauty is only born as the companion of suffering.

Job found a very New Testament salvation – one of health and a full life - in a time that predates even the first covenant, and he – much like us – lived out a new life because of it.

Many theologians have often lobbied for us to change what we call our two sections of the bible, from “old and new testaments” to “first and second testaments”, their reasoning is that there is now a “third testament”, a relationship with God that is more vibrant than the one we have recorded – Yours.

In the middle of all that Job struggles through he experiences some failed attempts at comfort by some of his friends. These friends stink, by the way, they’re the kind of friends who say stuff like “you don’t look that fat” or “not everybody hates you, stupid.” What I find most interesting about these friends is that they don’t seem particularly concerned with Job being comforted, rather – they are concerned that they comfort Job.

Do you see the difference?

If I am concerned that my wife is unhappy, then I want to do what I can to make her more comfortable because I love her and am most concerned with her. If, however, I feel the need to make her happy then I’m not really concerned with her happiness as much as I am concerned with my own selfish need to be the solution to her problems.

I need to feel like I’ve fixed it. I need to have the satisfaction that I’ve made things better. If I do everything I can, and she’s not better, then I get angry with her because she is prohibiting me from accomplishing my goal of helping her - it’s a backwards approach – one that Job’s friends take, and ultimately – one that many of us take more frequently than we’d like to admit.

It’s also an approach that prioritizes answers over relationship.

Putting answers over relationships is always dangerous. The first time your kids make you breakfast and ask you how it tastes you’re left with a quandary of answers and relationships. If you’re honest, the will be hurt because their food tastes bad. If you grin and bear it you’re more likely to encourage your kids.

The same kind of thing is true in times of suffering. You may have a piece of advice or wisdom to share, but unless you share out of a loving relationship your advice will be destructive and counterproductive instead of helpful. It will seem scolding and critical instead of loving.

Relationship contextualizes everything – without relationship advice is never welcome, nor helpful. In the case of Job’s friends, they dispense advice without any thought for their relationship with Job, or God, or the relationship of their advice to God. The advice itself isn’t necessarily all bad, it’s just that it’s been divorced from the living God – it has become secularized wisdom; they are answers without intimacy. And that’s why Job rejects them, and why everyone who has ever read the account of Job has rejected them – because it is obvious to us that we don’t want these friends, nor are we interested in these characters and what they might tell us about how to live. They are only useful as examples of how not to foster friendships.

Remember, too, that there is little correlation between how much we suffer and how close we are to God. It’s very easy for us to make the mistake of thinking that if we are somehow more spiritual, life will be void of suffering, but Jesus never promised that.

God never promised that.

Quite the opposite – Jesus said we would have troubles because of him, that our sufferings would actually increase because of following God, which brings a wonderful dignity to suffering, and allows us to take strength from those brave soul who have endured much, instead of pitying them with a kind of condescension too common in churches.

Real faith, then, should not be about avoiding suffering, but about entering sufffering with those who suffer and allowing them to teach us. More than anything else, suffering produces wisdom, and everytime we let Job – or someone just like Job – give voice to our questions, our suffering gains in dignity and we are brought a step closer to the threshold of the voice and mystery of God.

I think this is where the mystery of regeneration occurs – when we let God’s mystery restore us, and that’s what happened to Job: he built a life, had it taken away, and allowed God to teach and restore him through his pain. At the end of Job’s story, remember, he has ten times what he began with because of his faithfulness to God in the midst of his suffering, but his faithfulness wasn’t tested by his wealth, his faithfulness was tested when he took the broken piece of pot and scraped his boils, when he lamented and called out to God for justification.

His faithfulness was tested in dialogue – and this is where we so often fail, in the dialogue.

The prophet Jeremiah gives us a powerful picture of God’s requirement for us to be in communication with him. God tells Jeremiah in chapter 19 to buy a pot and smash it into so many pieces it can never be put back together again because they’ve walked off and left God.

And this is what we cannot do – despair, abandon God, because in the middle of our sorrow he participates with us, taking our pain upon himself and carrying our burdens.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

left of center

We cannot help it.

The world is moving away from the influence of the affluent West, and Christianity is moving along with it. The center for world Christendom in the 21stC will be Africa, or perhaps South America, thus having made almost a complete circle of the globe since men first began to follow Jesus around A.D. 30. Europe and the United States have all but seen the end of our Christian dominion.

What does this mean for us? What does it mean for us to take on the role of a supporter? Or surrender our status as a world leader in faith? For many of us, the idea of “giving up” is supremely uncomfortable, and I am certainly not advocating this sentiment; rather, I am asserting that we ought to fight tool and nail for the soil of faith in our land, simultaneously cheering on those whose enthusiasm buoys them above the tide of contested revelation. We ought to cheer those who will become our faith heroes and trendsetters in Christian thought and experience. We ought to welcome them into the conversation early, rather than keeping them at bay until their influence outweighs our own. We ought to learn from the world while we still hold on to the position of privilege, while avoiding the tendency to think that Christianity can be saved by a migration South and East. On the contrary, we must become students so that such a migration might entertain the hope of multiplication rather than relocation.

It has never been the character of those in power to relinquish power when their time has come. Sadly, we are too much like Saul and not enough like David. We hold on to what we have and become adamant that we know “the way”, that we are certain of how to lead, and that others need follow.

But this attitude corrupts.

We need the world.

We need them to show us how to live without prosperity, before we learn through experience. We need them to show us how to love the stranger, before we fade into a truer version of our insides than our appearance. We need the world to show us how to see God without dualism, to love the earth without raping it, to think without modernity or postmodernity or any alternative, and to experience Him within every possible construct, system and lens. We have to understand that He is faithfully represented in all but contained by none, and we need red and yellow, black and white, to show us that He truly has the whole world in His hands.

And that His hand extends to us all.

Ubuntu: humanity to others

Ubuntu is a Zulu word meaning “humanity to others”[1] or, more strictly, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” It is the belief in a universal bond of sharing that “connects all humanity”[2] and a person with ubuntu is one who is “open and available to others, affirming of others [and] does not feel threatened that others are able and good.”[3] This comes from the knowledge that we all belong to a greater whole that is somehow diminished when others are humiliated, tortured or oppressed.[4] In politics, ubuntu is used to emphasize the need for consensus decision-making and “for a suitably humanitarian ethic to inform those decisions.”[5] It also has religious connotations for the Zulu whose maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabanta (“a person is a person through other persons”) connotes the idea that those who “uphold the principle of ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a unity with those still living.”[6]

Recently the concept of ubuntu has received a lot of press in the West because of its use by the open source programming community known as Linux, who have incidentally registered the domain as their homepage. In their words, “the ubuntu Linux distribution brings the spirit of ubuntu to the software world.”[7] Ubuntu typifies the unique nature of open source programming, allowing anyone with the necessary skill set to remotely recode the software from any computer with internet access.[8]

What I find so compelling about ubuntu is the way in which this online community is rapidly succeeding at a time when the world seems bankrupt in cooperation. Everything about our modern world has emphasized individuality, from commercials selling exclusive toys and encounters, to high priced education that isolates persons from one another in a competitive race for a capital edge. Ubuntu, on the other hand, teaches us to stay connected.

And it’s working.

Ubuntu models an effective counter community to the commerce-based community of the world marketplace. It is the product internet conversation and global word of mouth. Through the spirit of ubuntu, people are “discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed.”[9] Doc Searles identifies these conversations as “profound acts of humanity”[10] and describes discourse as a necessity in “divine dialogue”[11] required of our nature as spiritual people. Searles talks openly about his aims to reinsert a spiritual dimension into economics. He sees this happening through an “economy of voice”,[12] declaring that “companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.”[13]

This is the power of ubuntu – that it is both an ethical and a peg community.[14] It is an ethical community because of the shared belief that open source programming is based on long term commitments and a peg community because it is the language of systems that brings people together. Churches are also this kind of both/and community. They are ethical communities, bound together by their love for and devotion to Jesus Christ, and peg communities because of the common mission expressed in fellowship and outreach.

But is not yet an ecclesial reality, for our gatherings too often look like priests selling doves and our people like sheep without a shepherd. We are still consumers. We have become “gatherers of sensations”[15] and are almost enslaved to our “liquid, pick and mix, consumer oriented way of living.”[16] “The way society now shapes itself,” says Zygmund Bauman “is dictated first and foremost by the duty to play the role of the consumer”.[17] So we must fight for an alternative as the western, male, Christian hegemony slips into the recent past. We must design new ways to define ourselves, new symbols and clusters, that bring redemption not only localized to the church but also inside every believer and in every relationship. We have to fight the thoughts that say “there’s a product that will fill these holes, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete” [18] and instead let everything leverage on love.”[19]

Love defies isolation.

It is agape that will bring ubuntu most truly, agape that will allow us to “unconditionally ascribe worth to another at a cost to ourselves”,[20] and agape that will teach us that there is more than success or satisfaction. It is love that brings us all into the “eternal dance of the trinity, to participate in and glorify this unsurpassing loving fellowship.”[21] Love carries us off with God and man, but requires the “hard work of getting along”[22] as noted in the Book of James. It means we must sow seeds of consistent behavior, clear communication, honesty and serious promise if we are to reap credibility, which is the harvest of trust.[23]

This is a return to a more human kind of interaction, because ubuntu is fundamentally human. Where conflict has become state to state, it must return chin to chin; and where we have relegated solidarity to politics, we must once again stand shoulder to shoulder and feel the press of flesh and sweat. We can no longer hide behind business models and bureaucracy. We must speak from our hearts and see with our own eyes how the world could be better if we could learn to love being together, for we are nothing if we are not all.

[3] From Archibishop Desmond Tutu. Cf.
[4] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[8] In contrast to closed software like Microsoft Windows which requires Microsoft to make all changes.
[9] From the Cluetrain homepage.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Locke, Christopher and Rick Levine, Doc Searles, David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, (New York: Perseus, 2001), 167.
[13] Ibid, xxiv
[14] Zygmund Baumann introduced the idea of ethical and peg communities in Liquid Modernity (Warsaw: Polity Press, 2000).
[15] Ibid.
[16] Steve Taylor, The Out of Bounds Church. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 116.
[17] Bauman, Zygmund. Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 80.
[18] Locke, Christopher and Rick Levine, Doc Searles, David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, (New York: Perseus, 2001), 2.
[19] Boyd, Gregory. Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2004), 55.
[20] Ibid, 25.
[21] Ibid, 32.
[22] “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” James 3:18
[23] See the section “Watersheds of Trust” in Dale, Robert. Seeds for the Future: Growing Organic Leaders (Danvers: Lake Hickory Resources, 2005), 71.