Dreams and Visions: Duane Arnold, PhD
…Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions…”
“Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
Sen. Robert Kennedy
I have a good friend who likes to dream. When she was a young girl, she somehow captured a small room under the stairs in her parents’ house. It’s where she went to create. There she would do drawings, design clothes for herself and her friends, read, and clip illustrations from magazines and pin them to the wall. Always, though, she would dream – dream of what she would create next, dream of the future and what it might hold for her. Today, with a busy life as an executive, she finds it more difficult to find the place and time for dreaming. She recognizes, however, that dreaming is not a luxury but a necessity. So, there is one place that she has found suitable – in the air. On an airplane, with no distractions, flying 30,000 feet above the ground, she can once again dream and she knows that those dreams will help to shape the future.
Note that I say her dreams are oriented toward the future. My dreams are all to often oriented toward the past (a failing of church historians), but, then again, I’ve always considered my friend to be smarter than myself.
Might I suggest, especially to the more mature (I hate to use the word, “old”) readers of this article, that these days we are sadly lacking in dreams. The quotation from Robert Kennedy (cribbed from George Bernard Shaw) seems to apply to many of us these days… or at least the first half of the quote – “Some men see things as they are and say, why…” We are constantly looking around us at what is happening, from the profound to the mundane, and asking, “Why?”. Evangelicals and Trump… Why? The loss of a younger generation in the Church… Why? The decline of so many religious institutions… Why? The failure of church leaders… Why? The breakdown of moral standards… Why?
Indeed, if one wishes to have a successful blog, you should ask all the “Why?” questions you are able to summon… and you should be angry when you ask them. You will attract an audience. People will be more than willing to share comments, as they will share in your anger or your outrage. A slight problem with this model, however, is that for such readers you must continue to serve up “red meat” on a continuing basis. Now, admittedly, there is much that can be served up out of the present cultural milieu. Yet, I wonder, are we missing something here?
There are many blog sites in which it seems that at least every other article is a denunciation of same sex marriages, LGBTQ issues, financial miscreants, denominational misconduct, or the sexual transgressions of church leaders. Maybe there is value in looking at all these issues and asking, “Why?”. Yet, might I suggest that the value is limited. The New Testament Church was born and grew in a world of rampant immorality, political violence, gladiatorial games, cruel public executions, theistic pluralism and religious persecution. Also, it is without doubt that some of the early Christian communities had real internal issues with regard to moral issues, false teachers and all the rest. Yet, while certain of these subjects are touched upon in the Gospels and the writings of the apostles, they do not form the core of the New Testament. Instead, we see the presentation of Christ in all his glory in the Gospels, a history of the growth of the Church in Acts, the pastoral guidance of early believers in the Epistles and the glorious consummation of the Revelation. There is actually very little asking, “Why?” when it comes to the surrounding culture. They knew “why” – it is a fallen world. They had moved on. They were looking for a new creation. They realized, as my old friend Larry Norman used to sing, “This world is not my home.”
“I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
J.I. Packer famously wrote, “You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.” I would expand that thought slightly to include the Church as the primary vehicle to disseminate that knowledge. The apostolic writers dreamed of something that never was and said, “why not?” They lived their lives and, indeed, gave their lives, for Christ and the Church as the unique vehicle of that knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.
Now, obviously, there is much more that could be said and discussed concerning the central message of the apostolic writers, but, nevertheless, almost two-thirds of the New Testament is directed toward the Church… or local churches… or individuals involved with the Church. Moreover, for every reference to the culture of the day there are twenty references to how Christians were to interact with each other and, indeed, the world at large and very little had to do with the issues that provide “red meat” for so many blogs today.
My wish, my hope, my prayer, is that those of us who are mature in the faith (whether old or young) might turn ourselves from the “hot button” issues of the day, constantly asking, “Why?”, and begin to dream of something better, asking, “Why not?”. Moreover, just as the first generation of Christians dreamed their dreams of the spread of the Gospel throughout the world, their followers in the second and third generations were given a vision to do just that. Our faith is a faith of both dreams and visions.
I wonder, are we, like my friend, taking the time to dream? Are we passing those dreams on to those following behind us so that they might have the vision to make those dreams realities. Perhaps even more to the point, are we acting on our dreams? If we dream of the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for the unity of the Church, what are we doing to promote that unity? If we dream of a Church in which Biblical literacy is the norm, rather than the exception, what are we doing to make that happen? There are so many dreams to be dreamed – dreams of Christian compassion, a rebirth of Christian charity in thought and deed, the fostering of a knowledge of the rich history of the Church and so much more. Yet, instead of dreaming and acting with the future in mind, all too often we spend our time, energy, intellect and passion on momentary “hot button” issues. All too often, we wait to have our anger and indignation aroused by the “red meat” offered day by day, week by week and year by year, presented by those who are content to keep us in the fruitless pursuit of asking “Why?”.
For myself, I know the clock is ticking. There are many fewer years before me than behind. Like my friend, I want to dream and as I dream say, “Why not?”