Two weeks ago, Marissa had her adorable daughter, Eva, and if you’ve seen her, you know
how beautiful a baby she really is, with her long thick dark hair, her soft skin, the way she wraps her fist around your finger. I was so taken by her that I told Marissa that the next baby she produces should go to me, because I want one! I am older and wiser now than when I was raising my own babies and I think, finally, I might actually be up to the task of being a good father. Your wishes for Eva are probably the same as my own. I wish her a life full of laughter and fun and delight. I wish her a long life, safety and security, with two parents to love her unconditionally. I wish her a career that is guided by the Spirit of God above all else, and I wish her a life free from want and violence. When I was a baby, it would never have occurred to my parents to pray for my safety from violence. It never occurred to my godparents that I might encounter drugs in high school, that I would be a silent victim of abuse, that I would lose some older neighbor boys to the war in Viet Nam. It never occurred to anyone that I would live to see the day when children die on playgrounds by gunfire, when children go to
bed hungry in the wealthiest country in the world, when little boys and girls don’t get the love and nurture they need to become full, happy adults.
So, there is a sobering sense of sadness as I hold these wishes for little Eva, because the world she has been brought into is less secure and less predictable than ever before. She has loving, devoted parents and she is so fortunate. But there are so many other children in our city whose dreams will be stifled and stunted by
the harsh realities of their everyday lives.
To be honest, there’s a certain sadness in me on this Pentecost Sunday, the “Birthday of the Church”, as we call it, because it seems clear to me that the community on which the power of the Spirit was unleashed 2,000 years ago has somehow, through the centuries, become content and limited in its dreams for the future, stifled and stunted by its own choices. I’m not saying that the Church doesn’t dream because certainly, we do dream! But too often our dreams and visions are shaped, not by the promises of God, but by the promises of our surrounding culture. Too often our dreams and visions are shaped, not by the deep underlying realities and promises of God, but by the shallow demands and desires of our everyday lives. Too often our dreams and visions are shaped, not by the wind-in-your-face freedom of the Spirit, but by the false security of what we think we know to be true. It’s not that we don’t dream, it’s that we are dreaming so small.
The Spirit calls us to dream with the prophet Isaiah of a world of simple abundance, one where everybody has enough, a plot of land and a home to live in, while the Church tends to dream of bigger buildings and more staff and more possessions.
The Spirit calls us to dream with the prophet Micah of a reality where weapons have been melted down into farm implements and children don’t even study war anymore because it hasn’t happened in so long, while the Church dreams of safety and security, and, by and large, allows the governments of the world dictate to us
what that means, instead of relying solely on the promises of God.
The Spirit calls us to dream of justice with the prophet Amos, not just trickle down justice, but flowing-down-like-a-mighty-river justice, while the Church arms itself with policies, disciplines and regulations that effectively dam up the waters of justice in order to keep people who are divorced and remarried, or gay and lesbian “out there.” Nevermind that Jesus’ whole teaching is based fundamentally on the idea that there is no “out there” in God’s eyes.
The Spirit calls us to dream with Mary the mother of Jesus about radical social change, about a world where the poor have been lifted up and exalted, and the rich brought down from their thrones, but the Church today says, “Well, she couldn’t have meant that literally!,” and colludes enthusiastically with the Powers That Be.
Ruben Alves, a liberation theologian from Brazil, says that, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” The Spirit calls us to imagine this world as it should be, to hear the melody of God’s future, and to have the courage to dance to God’s music!
That’s exactly what happened to Jesus’ disciples. One minute they were praying, waiting in fear, looking for the Spirit to come, and a few days later, they were selling their possessions, pooling their resources, and living a lifestyle we would later condemn as “socialism”. The Spirit completely changed their lives!
Henri Nouwen writes, “The world is waiting for new saints, ecstatic men and women who are so
deeply rooted in the love of God that they are free to imagine a new international order…Most people despair that (it) is possible. They cling to old ways and prefer the security of their misery to the insecurity of their
joy. But the few who dare to sing a new song of peace are the new St. Francises of our time, offering a glimpse of a new order that is being born out of the ruin of the old.”
The prophet Joel, as quoted by Simon Peter on that first Pentecost Sunday, talks about young men and old men, sons and daughters, and even slaves seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Notice, Joel is listing those who live on the margins of life, not those to whom we would normally look for leadership–not the middle-aged
CEOs of multinational corporations, but the young, the old, the sons, the daughters, the poor, the alcoholics, the divorced, the gays…
Of course, I know that some of us have been dreaming along the margins for quite awhile
now. As we’ve turned our face more and more toward the world, with all of its desperate need, as we’ve sought to find ways to live in solidarity and simplicity, we’ve found ourselves turning our faces away from the institutional Church. We’re disappointed and disillusioned by the Church’s inability to separate what is healing and good for people from the man-made rules and regulations that are hurting them.
But, we need to proclaim our truth ever more boldly because the larger Church needs ecstatic men and women, the Church needs to hear the voices from the margins. “We are called,” says William Sloane Coffin, “not to mirror but to challenge culture, not to sustain but to upend the status quo, and if that to some sounds overly
bold, isn’t it true that God is always beckoning us toward the horizons we aren’t sure we want to reach?” (Credo, pg. 146)
And so, despite my own disappointments on this Pentecost Sunday, I think I have learned some things on this journey through life. This much I know is true: each of us has to figure out what it is we are hoping for, and then decide to live inside that hope no matter what. We can’t just have high sounding words and principles that we admire from a distance: we have to move in, shack up, cohabitate with our dreams.
The Spirit calls us to figure out what it is we hope for, and then to live inside that hope, under its roof, to run up and down its halls touching its walls on both sides (to steal a line from Barbara Kingsolver!) The Spirit calls us to envision the future as it should be, and then to live as if that future is already here. We owe that much to ourselves. We owe that much to little Eva.