Queen Defender of the faith: "Rural Declaration"... these words came to me in a dream today

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Rural Declaration"... these words came to me in a dream today

Unconventional wisdom
To dream the dream of God is to be instilled with an unconventional wisdom. (9) It is a wisdom that tums the plans of this world upside down and inside out. We hold instinctively to some clear and distinct ideas about the meaning of family, wealth, honor, and religion. In conventional wisdom, the family refers to those to whom we are related by blood kinship. These are the ones we owe unconditional loyalty. In conventional wisdom, wealth is a sign of God's favor and blessing. Blessed are the rich, for they can buy whatever they want. According to conventional wisdom, honor means having status and power over others. It assigns one to the top of the social hierarchy. In conventional wisdom, religion means living a decent life according to the prevailing values. To be religious is the equivalent of being a good citizen.
The dream of God contradicts every assertion of conventional wisdom. Jesus turned the standards of this world topsyturvy. Who is your family? All those who do the will of God are your brothers and sisters, the family of disciples. What is wealth? The greatest danger of all to your spiritual wellbeing. You cannot serve God and mammon. Who are the honored ones? According to the dream of God, they are the least. The one who would be great must become the servant of all, the ones who wash dirty feet. What is true religion? Only this--to trust above all else that God is near and that God is merciful.
Yet exactly this one, the one who spread the dream of God and was crucified for bringing unconventional wisdom, is the one God raised from the dead. God vindicated the life and ministry of Jesus by raising him up to new and resurrection life. This Jesus is the one God gave us as a Living Lord to be the source of our hope in every difficult circumstance.
Worship: catching the dream of God
In a recent study of "leadership practices that form communities for mission," Shannon Jung and Russ May examined the qualities that make certain congregations vital centers of faith. The primary practice that characterizes congregations that are alive for mission is worship. (10) It is my deep conviction that if we are to live by hope and not despair over the economic and social problems that threaten to consume us, we must renew our understanding and appreciation for what God is seeking to do to us when we gather for worship. Worship is the inexhaustible source of Christian hope because it is at worship that we encounter the living God of hope. It is at worship that we catch anew the very dream of God.
Worship renews our hope because at worship we enter into an alternative reality with God at the center. I like to use the analogy of what happens to me when I play basketball. When I play basketball I enter into an alternative world defined by the lines on the court. In this world, all that exists is my team trying to put the ball through one hoop and prevent the other team from doing the same in another hoop. Nothing else matters during the time I am engaged in this activity. I become fully immersed in the activity of playing basket-ball. I become another person. I dwell in another world.
Others may have had a profound experience listening to music. I once sat in the very front row at a performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. As the large choir struck up the final chorus, it was as though I had been translated into heaven itself. Never before and never thereafter have I experienced a clearer revelation of what heaven will be like. And I will never be the same again.
The nature of such experience goes by different names: aesthetic experience, deep play, ritual. I sometimes refer to such experience as "pre-tending." (11) When one pre-tends, the boundary between the so-called real world and the world of the imagination dissolves. The world of pretend becomes so compelling that the ordinary world ceases to exist. Just try calling a child for dinner who is wrapped up in the world of pretend. Schizophrenia is an illness where there is no return from the world of alternative reality to our real world. As I am defining the word, to pre-tend is not trivial but profound, not false but true. To pre-tend has nothing to do with pretense or deception. To pre-tend is to enter into an alternative world that profoundly alters and shapes one's life in the ordinary world.
Albert Einstein once commented that imagination is more important than knowledge. It is imagination that so grips our awareness that our lives are forever changed. While knowledge spares us from delusions, there are limits to what reason and argument can accomplish. I think that it is rare that someone actually changes an opinion because of rational arguments, for example, about politics or religion. What changes us is what we dream. What changes us is the power to imagine that things can be otherwise.
When we worship, I propose, we enter into an alternative world. It is the world in which we catch the dream of God, the very same dream Jesus proclaimed and lived out. The danger is great that we fail to grasp the significance of what we do when we gather together for Christian worship. So often we fail in our exercise of the imagination. There is an urgent need for us to reawaken the mystery of God's purposes in worship. God is at work at worship to instill in us the dream of God, the dream that gives us hope. As we perform the ritual of worship, God brings into our midst the dream that transforms not only our lives but also the entire world.
Victor Turner describes the ritual process as passing out of the world of structure into the world of communitas. The world of structure is the world of everyday life, characterized by an established order with its hierarchical structure. The world of communitas, by contrast, is an alternative world characterized by freedom. One enters into ritual time and ritual space by passing over a limen, a threshold, such as one finds at a doorway. In the world of ritual, communitas, reversals take place. The powerful become subject to the powerless. The bottom becomes top and up becomes down.
Turner uses the example of an African ritual that in some ways resembles our April Fools Day. I will call it Ridicule the Chief Day. Every other day of the year the chief is in charge and everyone knows his or her place. The hierarchy of roles is intact. However, on Ridicule the Chief Day one may embarrass the chief. One may insult the chief. One may even throw excrement at the chief. The very next day everything goes back to normal. The chief is in charge and everyone else resumes an accustomed standard place. On the one hand, it appears that nothing has changed and the ritual was a mere curiosity. On the other hand, everything has changed. The chief is reminded that on any given day the people can take control and depose the chief. The chief is accountable to the people and dependent on their good favor. And the people become aware of their immense power, that on any given day they can topple the hierarchy.
"Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the dream of God" (cf. Mt 18:3). Imagination is at the heart of ritual. People in our culture have starving imaginations. The reason that movies, sports, virtual reality, and even television are so popular among us is that we are starving for something worthwhile to imagine. The media create for us alternative worlds that we can enter for a while. As we go to the movies, for example, we see the world through the eyes of another. We become so caught up in that world that we find ourselves laughing and crying, as though we belonged in that world. We experience relief from our tensions. Our own problems become relativized. And in the best of cases, we begin to see new possibilities.
Each element of the liturgy invites us to catch the dream of God. The word of invocation marks our transition into God's world. We tell the truth about ourselves through the confession, that we are sinners, because God's world is a world of truth. Yet we receive a more permanent truth, hearing that in Christ our sins are forgiven. We sing songs that immerse us in the dream of God. We implore God's mercy for ourselves, the church, and the world, because in God's world there is peace for all. We pay attention to God's Word by reading ancient texts and hearing a sermon, because in God's world this Word is the very center of existence. We pledge allegiance in the Creed, for in God's world we would even sacrifice our lives for what we believe. We pray for the needs of all, expressing our concern even for those that we do not know, because that's the way it is in God's world. We share a sign of peace, even with people we cannot stand, because peace reigns among all, according to the dream of God. We offer our first fruits, pretending this is the very best we have to give, because that is the nature of stewardship in God's world. We gather at a meal where all are welcome and there is enough to satisfy the needs of all, as we enact God's dream of reconciliation. We depart with a blessing that the dream of God that has come over us at worship transform our entire lives.
It is my deep conviction that worship is the most important activity that congregations do. At worship we catch the dream of God and have our hope renewed. If this is the case, then planning for worship becomes one of the central activities of those called to Word and Sacrament ministry. It is vital that we devote significant time to planning for worship in concert with others, in order that the people in our congregations catch the dream of God and regain hope for the living of their lives. We need to prepare for worship, employing our best imaginations, because what happens at worship is a matter of life or death.
The wonder of worship is not, however, finally what we plan and prepare, or what we pre-tend or dream. If the best we can do is seek to invoke the dream of God among our people, God does something far better. Through Word and Sacrament, God in Christ actually meets us to create that which we dream. God employs the eucharistic drama as the means for transforming the world. God comes to us as bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, in the service of Holy Communion to give us the hope we need to face the circumstances that threaten to crush us.
As we enter into the alternative world of God's dream at worship, we find our values and priorities change. We even begin to question the nature of the "real" world. Is the everyday world of foreclosures and divorce and violence the real world? Or, is instead the world of worship, the world where we gather to catch the dream of God, really the world that lasts forever? Time and again, I find myself affirming that the real world, the world that lasts forever, is the world of worship where together we dream the dream of God. And I find myself renewed in hope that God is alive, empowered to see God at work in my ministry and in the lives of all those who by faith have caught the dream of God. "We walk by faith and not by sight..." restored in hope by the vision God lends us as we worship in the name of Jesus and walk in his way.
Craig L. Nessan observes that while there is widespread prosperity in the United States, young people and people in rural communities and inner cities know another reality An undertow of hopelessness threatens to lead many to despair. Only God has the power to ground our hopes for the future. The crucifixion of Jesus raised a radical question about God's reliability in keeping promises, and only the power of God to raise the dead could vindicate all that Jesus had claimed for God. A fresh way to describe the kingdom Jesus promised is to call it the dream of God. Wherever that dream intervenes, there is a dramatic reversal of expectations and values. Two central characteristics distinguish this dream: God is near, and God is merciful. According to this dream all those who do the will of God are our family. Wealth is the greatest danger to our spiritual well-being, and the most honored ones are "the least." The one who would be great becomes the servant of all. If we are to live by hope and not despair, we must renew our understanding of what God is seeking to do to us when we gather for worship. There we enter into an alternative world that profoundly alters and shapes our life in the ordinary world. God is at work at worship to instill in us the dream of God. At worship we catch the dream of God and have our hope renewed. Hence, planning for worship becomes one of the central activities of those called to Word and Sacrament ministry.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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