I dreamt years ago about an upheaval, a catastrophe. I understood it to be futuristic. Not internal. Because those of us who are a bit narcissistic and suffering from too many pronouncements by strangers of the “call of God” on our lives would not dare to think that a scary futuristic zombie-apocalypse dream would be the revealing of our internal struggles.
The dream lingers fresh in my mind. I recall the days before the dream:
It was my second year of seminary. I felt a burning passion to love the marginalized. Yet the church in America seemed to be on the decline or all about being produced or famous. On a whim, I joined a class on “Urban Missions” and church planting. We traveled to the Windy City, and settled into a small wood-frame church on the Southside.
Every morning our small group soaked in prayer. We sat in a circle. My slightly socially awkward friend squirmed to my left. The Russian beauty sat elegantly in front. The Chinese Cara leaned to my right and my friend Nelms sat across me.
Nathaniel went from 0 to 60 in nothing flat. He was the type of hyper Pentecostal that all of us closeted charismatics in the mainline fear. The one who is weird. The one who starts speaking in tongues. The one who moves in and out of prayer with the radical glow of God all over his face. Nathaniel took heat for being odd at the seminary due to the fact that he wanted to share his crazy God experiences with all those who built their life around orthodoxy and intellectual acumen. Nathaniel talked about the anointing that had been on his life. The fiery jolt of heaven kisses and healing power that coursed through his body like bolts of electricity. While he had his haters at seminary, and those who discounted him, I saw what he saw and felt what he felt. Nathaniel did not mean to boast- and his pride, it was not intentional. He seemed to never hear any new information in our classes, but rather stubbornly believed like most TBN evangelists. He could not hear about rethinking his extreme Zionist and dispensational eschatology. But what Nathaniel did hear loudly was the voice of God. He could see things that others could not, and although they viewed him as “the fool on the hill” I saw a man who had the faith to raise the Dead with his faith.
The Russian student displayed a contemplative countenance. Her steely librarian appearance protected her meekness.
Cara stayed in my room. We talked well into the mornings about her previous devotion to Buddha and her experience with Christ. She prayed to Buddha to help her, and she said Buddha showed her Jesus.
Lastly Brian Nelms joined our class roster. He possessed a heart of gold and never minded people cussing around him. He wasn’t religious like some of the tight wads who pranced proudly down the halls in their piety at the seminary, nor was he power hungry like the guys who sat around discussing why females weren’t attracted to them at our social gatherings.
We visited the sights, the Mosques, the churches, the Southside. We saw everything from the American Islamic Center to Father Michael Pflegger in his most Pentecostal of Catholic services ever. Seven days in Chicago to look at being the Church. We gathered to think about missions and the bible every morning in the small church where we slept. The day before the dream seemed momentous. My pink and blue hair poked out every which way. I read the scriptures and passed the devotion to Cara. Despite the sleep being in our eyes, and the tooth paste on our breath, we were moved to pray for one another: each in our tradition, each with our own heritage.
Mine being Pentecostal. I could never shake it. I could not shake the holiness from the UPC camp meetings my parents drug me to in those hot summer nights of my early childhood. I couldn’t shake the anointing oil and altar calls from my Assembly of God Childhood. I couldn’t shake the prophetic announcements from evangelists travelling to the Church of Gods we attended as a teenager. I couldn’t stop the message of faith heard at The Word of Faith churches my parents attended as I was a young adult. My Baptist roots couldn’t be shaken, either: Every grandmother, ever friend, every summer, every VBS for the tri-county area. I knew the Roman Road better than any other kid ever.
It all rushed back although I tried to push it away. Every hurt accumulated in every church. The first time I was betrayed. The first time I was sexually molested. The first time I was spiritually abused. The first time I was told I was a sinner. The first time I was told I was going to Hell. Everything painful that happened to me was in the house of God. My father’s misinterpretation of the voice of God coupled with his bi-polar and paranoid schizophrenia. The tattered bible that sat on the family table. The small demons that tried to choke me as a child. My mother speaking in tongues and praying at the altar for hours. The bright lights of the big evangelists at the Omni and the Cobb Civic Center. The aged nurseries with orange light glowing and rainbows painted on the walls. The felt boards and blonde Jesus. The Sunday school lessons about Daniel and the Lion’s Den. The Jericho marches. The missionaries’ projected images from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. All of it seemed fresh.
And in that small gathering of understanding missional church, the five of us seminarians prayed. The weeping started. Nathaniel jolted up with great God given authority and began to prophesy over everyone there, freaking us all out. He surveyed the room speaking words over every student, from Nelms to the Russian, Cara and lastly to me.
He gathered near me. Shaking. He knelt beside me and touched my feet. He wept bitterly as he said what he saw. He said oceans of church-hurt people, gays, lesbians, tattooed, Goths, punks and atheists filled my lap. He said my lap was huge. (Not a fat joke, but we all snickered.) He went on to say that I held them like Jesus held children. He laughed about a rainbow flag dawning our church door, but then he wept again as he said I showed great love. And he said he saw Jesus standing up for me, waving me onward.
I felt again as though my desire to be missional came from the Creator.
And then the dream happened that night:
She stumbled. She reached. She moved. Clothed in the night. She was now clandestine and underground from the threat. she was not to blame, but she was. Her steeples lay overturned and shattered. Her cathedrals, broken down. In the cloudy orange haze she walked forward. She moved strong, face against the wind. Her head high. She had been humbled. She was NOW persecuted. Skies like tattered fabric.smoke ash. concrete. rebar. She regained her step, forced to do things differently. She walked on, her monolithic mausoleums of religiosity crushed against the new institution of a different religion. She would seek to be the true church.
Her garments: robes like the night sky. Her hair was red with truth and radiance. She was middle aged in my dream.
I thought this dream at the time to be about the future as anyone battling with ingrained doctrine about the book of Revelation might. Maybe this dream featured the destruction of the church as we know it in America. During the trip, I had been to mosques and had been exposed to Islam for the first time outside of academia. I had also taken it upon myself to hop the L down to China town and visit a Buddhist temple. But wherever I went I did not escape the presence of God. I saw his worshippers seeking him in these places. Places that I had been told were evil. I struggled to understand what God was showing me. I am not willing to dismiss any man made religion as completely false-even Christianity, so I leaned in to learn. There has always been something so real about Jesus to me. It could be all the drugs I did, and that fateful encounter in 2002 when my heart stopped, my world dimmed, and Christ met me before my accusers. No one can argue with my experience. Even the best apologists and theologians always moved their head to the side as I told of my drug overdose and post mortem salvation.
Maybe my experience could have been the result on some neurons firing and the drugs taking affect. But for me it grounded the person of Jesus Christ in my heart.
I never realized the dream told of my upheaval. About my own death of the institutional church, but also my deep desire to be the church and a missional one at that.
A year after that dream, I followed my call to be missional. (Whatever that means) Starting a church in my home. Meeting in a pub. Finding a park bench to share a conversation. The funds never followed the walk. I guess missional church isn’t as glamorous as opening a church plant in a suburb and having 500 people show up for free giveaways on the first day. But the walk invigorates my soul. I walked through all the cognitive dissidence, intellectual upheaval and dark nights of questioning my hurt and beliefs. I am forever grateful for friends who helped me navigate the past five painful years as I watched my future in one denomination disappear over a few internet postings on loving the LGBT community as our neighbor and finding hope among the mainline churches.
I am thankful for my friends who love the Bible but never worshipped it showing me the good parts of my tradition.
I am ready to claim my heritage as a bapticostal misfit and jump back into the church to love the next child of tradition who has questions.
And as for the dream, I did go on.
And I will go on.
I am the church. The crazy missional church in the night, amongst the ruins of what once stood, finding her footing on the failures of modernism and stumbling to love postmodernity.
And all though it’s small, relational, eating a common meal, laughing, sharing a beer, and talking about spirituality I think its church. At least for a few lesbians, agnostics, anarchists, librarians, and artists in West Georgia.