I have an active dream life, and often have vivid dreams, for good or ill. This morning (while I am on vacation) is an example, and I share it because I think it speaks to some of the greatest anxiety I have regarding both my vocation and our culture. So below is the dream, followed by some thoughts as I wake from it:
I’ve run into a colleague in a bar, someone I have been close to and know I can speak without being judged. He asks how I am. In my response, I share that it’s a challenge to be helping to lead an institution that is in decline, that is struggling and failing to connect with people my age or younger. Another colleague comes by and shares that his church is going gang-busters after initiating some particular ministry; the innuendo clearly being that anyone who isn’t growing or successful is doing it wrong.
I’m on a porch with Lynn when a group of about half a dozen seniors walks up to me, bypassing Lynn completely, and drop a large stack of papers on my lap. “What do you think of these?” one of them asks, gruffly. I look down at the stack and ask what they are. “Applications for the nursing home.”
The church also operates a nursing home on its premises. Turns out, as (one of?) the pastor(s), I’m responsible for selecting new residents and overseeing the nursing home. I express a bit of dismay that this is something I’m expected to do, as well. One member of the group expresses a bit of empathy while others demand my review of the papers.
Looking at the first one, the paperwork has been filled out with a large handed scrawl. “This is terrible,” I comment, “my fourth grader can write more neatly and spell better than this.” I drop that one. The next one is a “request for roommate” form, completed by two women. The form seems filled out fine, but another hand has scrawled hastily written comments in the margins and throughout the form. I put it on the bottom.
One of the group comments that they want a recording of a funeral from the other day. I indicate that I don’t record them. They are shocked. The empathetic woman suggests that she could record from her phone. “Of course,” I share, “you could record it, but I’m not able to.”
The next form seems to be standard, and I realize that the top of it reads “Expects An Invitation.” The next form isn’t a form, but several copies of newspaper articles about a high school cheerleader. Someone in a shaky hand has written in mostly unreadable cursive comments about the girl throughout the pages, including one that clearly reads “lift up her skirts.” The implication given is that surely because of her immorality the girl, or a relative of hers?, wouldn’t be allowed in the nursing home…
Do you sense the anxiety I felt (or did you perhaps feel some of your own) reading the dream?
Some days, I think we are, generally speaking, getting meaner toward one another. Maybe we’ve always been this way, and I’m just growing out of innocent naivety to see it. Or maybe people really are becoming more free toe express gruffness, meanness, assertiveness bordering on (or crossing into) arrogance, and self-righteous entitlement.
I’ve given my life to growing (and serving) in love for God and neighbor; in pursuing “holiness.” I constantly work with others, and sometimes see degrees of this meanness expressed around me. How do I reconcile my commitment with the seeming failure I see around me?
In the last few years, as I really contemplate what a life with Christ/God means, I have gravitated toward Galatians 5:22-23a being the best descriptive of what “holiness” means to me. Here’s an amalgam of several translations of the verses:
“The result of God’s presence in our lives is love and unselfish concern for others; joy and exuberance about life; peace, serenity, and perseverance; patience and compassion in the heart; kindness; goodness, generosity, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people; faithfulness; gentleness; and self-control.”
These “fruits of the spirit” are the aspects prominent in persons of character that I respect and respond to. These are the transformative changes I pursue through my faith in Christ, and genuinely hope to help others to know, experience, and grow in. While neither I nor others are perfect in them, my hope is that we hold them as the ideals toward which we aspire and live.
Finally, an additional word of encouragement I find comes from both Romans 12:8 and Max Plank’s poem The Desiderata:
Romans 12:8, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you. live at peace with everyone”
Desiderata, “As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.”