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Dreams to shape our future

Bishop Beckwith reads the community "Dream Board" inspired by Paul's dream in Acts 16:6-15. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Bishop Beckwith reads the community "Dream Board" inspired by Paul's dream in Acts 16:6-15. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Many of us in the diocese have been listening to St. Paul's dream as outlined in Acts 16:6-15, which has been a passage used by several groups in their regular Dwelling in the Word practice. Paul's dream took his entourage to Philippi in Macedonia. They didn't expect to go in that direction, but the dream led them there – and on the Sabbath they ventured outside the city walls to a group of women who had gathered there to pray. The dream took them past proper protocol (Jewish men didn't venture outside the city on the Sabbath; and it was near sacrilege to engage in conversation with women). But the dream led them to yet another unexpected place and a heretofore forbidden encounter – and it transformed the development of the church.

A small group of people from across the diocese "dwelt" in this Acts passage for six months. As they listened and were drawn into the power of Paul's dream, they designed an experiment that involved putting up a "Dream Board" to enable people to post their dreams, hopes and visions for their congregation and their community, rather than focusing on just “the killer Bs” (budgets, boilers, buildings, and blame for what's not working). One congregation was so intrigued by this experiment that they decided to try it out, putting up their own "Dream Board" first in the parish hall and then in the community. They invited people to write their dreams on the board. And people did. Some of the dreams were rather generic – peace and harmony in the community; some were specific about that particular neighborhood. And some were glib: one kid's dream was "no more school." But there was an invitation to exercise imagination; and there was a new dimension of engagement between church and community. And there was a curiosity to see what God might be up to.

As I live into my 66th year, I find myself filled with moments of nostalgia. Looking back, savoring memories, honoring moments of transformation. Nostalgia can warm the heart, but it can also short-circuit the capacity to dream. Nostalgia often ends up being a temptation to retrench, to freeze a memory that has been airbrushed of the negative dynamics that were involved in the original experience. I hear "Make America Great Again" as a call to nostalgia – and a deep resistance to acknowledge that the world is much different now than how people want to remember it. I hear similar statements in some conversations I have about the church: “we need to stop Sunday morning sports for kids;” “we need to go back to Friday movie and pizza nights with teens.” Those aren't dreams. Beneath the nostalgia is an unspoken grief – of a world that does not have the same benchmarks it once did.

God is calling us out. To join in and be transformed by the biblical Dream. It is the Dream of faith – borne by community, carried forward by faith and imagination. Martin Luther King was brought up on this Dream, and he prayed and preached it until he was cut down by someone who couldn't abide any challenge to a system that protects some at the expense of others. Too many have suffered a similar fate. Our joining God in shaping our future, our intentional journeys into our neighborhoods bear witness to God's Dream. These forays open our souls even more to the wideness of God's mercy, and can perhaps provide an opening for the millions of people to discover a hope that is beyond what their hearts and minds can currently grasp. A hope that is offered to "all God's children," not just some. A hope that believes in spite of the evidence, and then watches the evidence change.

We are inheritors of the biblical Dream. We have a responsibility to carry that Dream into the world. God sent Jesus to incarnate the Dream, and we, as his followers are to be bearers of it – doing whatever we can to join God in bringing our blessedness and belovedness into moments, if not movements, of justice and blessing. It is an extraordinary Dream. Let us join with God and one another by engaging dreams to shape our future.

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