I have had a recurring dream for years. I call it my “big wave” dream. I am on the shore, a hotel balcony, or boardwalk looking out at the ocean as enormous waves build – 50 feet high or higher. It is awesome and frightening. These waves crash and foam and the tide always comes very close to me, around my feet, even – but the waves are never destructive and I am not swept away.
These dreams come at anxious times, when things feel overwhelming.
I have come to interpret my “big wave” dream in this way: “Yes, things may seem overwhelming. You think you will be swamped. But you will not be overcome.”
And in fact, in the dream world and in the real world, I have survived. I like having this dream. It means that something important is going on. I have to hang in there and see what happens.
Dreams need to be interpreted and responded to. You should pay attention to dreams.
Jacob had a dream. His dream also arose out of stress. He had stolen the birthright from his twin brother Esau and now, once again, through trickery Esau had stolen his father’s blessing. Mother Rebekah warned him: Jacob, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you…flee at once to my brother Laban.” (27:42-43) So Jacob runs north towards Haran (where Abraham first heard the voice of God) and he comes to this place in the middle of nowhere and he lays his head on a stone for a pillow.
And in the agitation of restless sleep he sees a ladder set up on earth extending into the heavens; the angels of God ascending and descending. And God promises Jacob that all will be well – he will return to the land. Jacob receives the Abrahamic promise “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring.” Dreams expand vision.
Jacob declares: “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I didn’t know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
And from that “thin” place where heaven and earth touch, Jacob sets forth – the dream sets him in motion. If you read on you will know that it takes a while, a long while for Jacob to return to the land of promise. He will have many more restless nights during his time with his uncle Laban – and he will have to face Esau again. The fear of that meeting will cause another night time encounter. Dreams take a while to unfold their true meanings.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and we know it well. It had been a hard year in 1963. Amidst great racial tension in our nation Dr. King spoke: “So I say to you my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Right there, on the stone steps of the American temple to honor President Lincoln, right at the gate of our civic religious memorial – Dr. King planted a ladder, he stood on the middle step and called us to action.
Dreams agitate us to action.
It is very important that every year we return to Dr. King’s dream. It is a dream of blessing for all people. I am glad that we return to Jacob’s dream – again, God blesses all. And every once in a while I get to have my big wave dream. It means something important is happening!
The crucible of history and the exigencies of day to day living agitate deeply and often during times when you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere, deep in the unconscious God moves so that you can too. Without dreams and visions the people perish.
But what happens to a dream not acted upon, a dream deferred? As Langston Hughes wrote:
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore— And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
What have you been dreaming about?
On this Sunday when we remember the life and ministry of Dr. King, I am struck that we live in a time of great tension; great racial tension; great spiritual tension; we’re in the wilderness and the rocks are hard.
I heard about a Mike Trivasonno radio show on WTAM several weeks ago. People were calling in about how dangerous Cleveland Heights is. How they won’t send their children to the schools. It is hard to hear. Some of the comments dripped with explicit and implicit racism. It causes me nightmares.
But then yesterday at Heights High, students from all over gathered at a musical festival. In the lunch room a group of mostly African American young men from Heights sang “Calendar Girl” to a table of all white girls from Mentor – and they were flirting and swooning and laughing and it moved me deeply – the dream is coming, the dream is coming.
What dreams are arising? God, what are you calling me to do, us to do?
Forest Hill Church can’t change the world, but we can raise an altar from these stones on our little crossroad.
One of the collective dreams of this church is articulated in our core values: to be and become a welcoming inclusive and diverse community of faith. It is one thing to dream it; quite another to do it. Just like it is one thing to say: “I will follow Christ” and quite another to actually pick up the cross and follow.
If this church is going to be vital into the future we need to be intentional and strategic about our growth, intentional about counting heads and making heads count. It can’t be too much longer that our program staff is all white. If we are going to be the community we dream about becoming it can’t be a dream deferred. There is a job opening for the Director of Children, Youth and Families – what are we going to do?
We are neither the first nor are we the only community to dream this dream – but that is of no matter – we have no excuses.
It is time to wake up and place our pillow stone on its end and build an altar grounded on the promises of God’s love and faithfulness. We are attached to a long line of dreams and dreamers; visions and visionaries, like Isaiah, like Jacob, like Dr. King who all, in one way or another, keep pointing in the direction of the upward call of Jesus Christ.
Forest Hill Church – where dreams are welcomed!
Surely the Lord is in this place!
How awesome is this place!
“This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
From this place we will go forth – a joyful, diverse and inclusive people – riding the big waves, climbing the ladders, carrying the cross…becoming what we have dreamed about.
So help us God!