What are the dreams that offer us sustenance and hope? There are times I wake up and have a most vivid memory of where my brain took me in the middle of the night or perhaps just before waking. There are a few times I wake and am so disconcerted about the tenor of the dream that I’ve called my parents or close friends to make sure they’re alright because the dream seemed all too real. Then there are the other ones – the ones that seem to settle the spirit, the ones that offer a peace and beauty that allows a calm awakening and a feeling of wholeness.

We use that word dream to describe a variety of different moments that trend toward beyond-ness. What are your hopes and dreams I will sometimes ask those around me, often seeking for the conversation to move outward in perspective and toward a broader and deeper imagining than the details of the everyday that keep us bound. Those are waking dreams, the places we let our minds go where we seek and sometimes catch a glimpse of a vision, even the vision God has that continually create opportunities ever before us.

There are times when dreams are more difficult to come by than others. Times of deep grief, times of intense stress, times when simply surviving is the most we can muster with the days we live. And yet, it may be in those exact times that the veil between earth and heaven is most thin because our walls of security are less thick and our windows of vulnerability more open. Maybe then God’s grace which is ever-present comes more fully into our awareness because we’ve let go the self-imposed “strength” we believe we need to stay protected in the world in which we live.

As complex as these times are in this church we call United Methodist, I find I’m more drawn to dreaming what we may yet become than in any recent time. Maybe because everything is in flux, maybe because no one is sure where any of us will be a year or five or ten from now, maybe because all infrastructures are in question and while that is one of the more fearful places we might be, in it’s own way it’s also one of the most exciting, and if we’ll allow it, maybe the most creative and fertile places we’ve been in a long time.

There are moments I long for “the good old days” when we didn’t seem so focused on what divides us and the differences that seem now to polarize. And yet if I spend any time there I remember that those “good old days” weren’t so good for women who couldn’t be ordained and were certainly not accepted in leadership; weren’t so good for persons of color who were placed in a particular conference in United Methodism to serve primarily in churches of color – you know, separate but equal – which were always separate but NEVER equal; weren’t so good for Spanish speaking folks who were judged as outsiders regardless of place of birth or level of education, or profession or position or military service or investment in social service infrastructures. All of that inequality is indeed old, but it has NEVER been good.

In preparation for a presentation last Sunday afternoon at the invitation of Wide is God’s Welcome in Kansas City, a group of folks started at Asbury UMC advocating for inclusion long before it was trendy, I took myself back to the New Testament scripture reading from Easter and then the Sunday immediately preceding the UMNext Conference where UM representatives from across the country gathered in Kansas City to consider and dream where we might help lead the church in compassionate justice.

Both New Testament scriptures are from Acts and say in part this: “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him . . .And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon THEM just as it had upon US at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave THEM the same gift that God gave US when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God? When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given EVEN TO THE GENTILES the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 10:34-35; 11:15-18, NRSV).

See Peter had a sleeping/waking/trance/dream in Acts 10 where he sees a sheet lowered with all kinds of animals and the Lord tells him to get up and kill and eat, and Peter reminds the Lord that he has never eaten anything “unclean or profane” according to Jewish law. This happens three times and three times the Lord tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15, NRSV). All of these verses have to do with the Apostles trying to figure out after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, who may be invited into God’s community. So God makes clear in a dream that there is no longer a law of “them and us”, but rather all are invited. And in case you’ve forgotten, unless we are born Jewish, we are the Gentiles God is leading Peter in a dream to accept into God’s family.

Seemingly from the beginning we humans have struggled with wanting anyone different from us or our way of being to be acceptable to God. Then strangely, once we move from being unaccepted “outsiders” to accepted “insiders” we conveniently forget that we were once the judged and disdained. Should we talk about who are original and native citizens of our country and who are the immigrants? Really???

God comes to Peter in this dream and brings a new understanding. God comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him not to “put away” Mary, but that she is carrying Emmanuel, God-with-us. Jacob has a dream with a ladder of angels ascending and descending and God says in part, “And all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go . . .then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.’” (Gen. 23:14b-16, NRSV). And in Acts 2:17-18, quoting from Joel 2:28-32, Peter says at Pentecost, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

What are your dreams for a community of faith that is relevant, effective, and works in the intension of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit? We are at a place to dream big, to dream broad and high and deep and wide; in fact my spirit tells me, or perhaps God’s Spirit among us, tells me that there hasn’t been a more open time than this to let every dream imaginable enter our reality for consideration to witness to the good news of God’s grace through Jesus for all! There are so many who are dismissing faith communities, churches of all sizes and shapes, because we’re out of touch, we’re judged as exclusive and even hateful. We can either retreat and withdraw and know amongst ourselves that the truth is something different at a place like Grace OR we can choose to dream and imagine and let those dreams and imaginings guide us into new territory where we reach out in ways we’ve never thought before to live beside and partner with folks until they see and know for themselves that we, quite simply, are partners in the desire to grow and live in a better world for all God’s children.

My favorite verse in the Acts passages above is: “Who was I that I could hinder God?” (17:10b). I. Love. That. More than you even might imagine do I love that. We can’t, you know, hinder God. Everything is before us and God’s dreams are big. Let’s dream that dream together of beloved community. We. Are. Grace! And who are we to hinder God?!!?

The video below is one, oddly enough, I go back to when I want to be reminded that it is often the unexpected places and people that remind us that nothing is impossible with God. Both the song and the person she was, are witness to what we can do when we step out and risk ourselves to follow a dream.


I Will Survive

It was a live and silent auction for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, of course I wanted to go when asked. The table had been purchased, I knew a couple of the other guests and would be happy to meet the other tablemates who would not be there if they didn’t have a heart for this program as well. Then I found out . . . Diana Ross was the headliner for the entertainment! YES! THEEEEE Diana Ross . . . of the Supremes, even a little before my time, and of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; Reach Out and Touch; I Will Survive; and of course, Stop! In the Name of Love;” you should see my version of the choreography for that one. We all have it, right?!? Automatically one of our arms goes out straight in front of us, palm up, for the “Stop!”, and then with our arms remaining straight and palms up, we arc our arm to the left or to the right bouncing them on the beat, as we sing, “In the name of love . . . before you break my heart, think it o-o-o-ver . . . think it o-o-ver.” Oh my gosh, does it get any better than that???

My tablemates and I wondered what kind of shape she would be in. I mean seriously, we figured she must be over 70. In fact, we found out she just turned 75 in late March, less than a month ago! What kind of voice would she have? What kind of presence? Would it be one of those sad things about how life used to be? And then I looked around the room. We were all either well over 50, so would certainly remember her in her “hey-day” but probably not the get-up-and-dance type in our dress-up clothes. The rest of the crowd was certainly under 40. In fact, 4 of the 9 people at our table were under 35. How would a generation for whom Diana Ross is more of a relic than a rockstar respond to an artist singing hit songs from 30-40-50 years ago – before some of them were even born?

The band began to play, they sang some kind of chorus, and then from behind the curtain at the crescendo of the music out came the Diana Ross from the 1980’s – her hair crimped and dark, not one gray highlight! She’s wearing a form-fitting sparkly, red dress, perhaps a few extra inches here and there, I could only wish that few even now, from 40 years ago! And then she started to sing. Not one weak note, not one off-key-trying-to-slide-up-to-it, not one lack of volume or breath support or slight break in self-confidence! This woman was amazing! And do you know what happened?!? She electrified a room full of Midwesterners beyond prediction. After the first song people were standing at their chairs dancing and clapping, at the start of the second song, the masses began to pour toward the stage! Not. Even. Kidding! And the younger generation led the way! Our two under 35’s left the table to join the ocean of folks 30 or 40 deep at the front and surrounding the stage with their arms in the air and bouncing and dancing. It was so spontaneous we all simply looked at each other and shook our heads. Who’d-a thought?!?

Even Diana and her band were surprised. After the 3rd song she stopped and talked with her lead guitar for several minutes with her back to the crowd, turned back around, and said they’d changed the program because they didn’t realize the response would be like this and she wanted to do the rock songs rather than the ballads. And she rocked the house. I played a little air-piano at my seat and then sang, with her, into my air mic that finally had to turn into my fork, mostly licked clean, because I simply had to have a mic to sing those songs of my youth! She even had a costume change in the middle and came back out with the most gorgeous bluish-PURPLE gown. She probly only sang 45 minutes, but it was one song right after another – her energy level quite astounded everyone there I think. And the crowd in front of the stage singing and dancing and clapping never thinned until she was done, after an encore, of course.

I’m not enough of a fan to know what this woman’s life has been like. I don’t know what battles she’s fought, what relationships she’s had that have worked and have not so much. One of the table members knew she has a daughter that plays on a t.v. show, but I don’t know if she has other children and what kind of relationship she has with them and what struggles they may have had growing up during racial tensions with a famous mom who travelled more than not perhaps.

What I do know is that at 75 years, she’s still singing and, while not doing it for free by a long shot, I’m guessing the money isn’t the driving force. Why would she come to Kansas City to a Convention Center for a Live and Silent Auction? It’s not a tour stop where she was the headliner, not the Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime of work, not the Grammy’s, not even Las Vegas – a fundraiser in the heartland of America, not exactly the bastion of entertainment or diversity. What seems clear is a commitment she has to the Boys and Girls Clubs that reaches out to those in great need regardless of skin color or circumstance. It is one of the organizations she evidently believes can lift kids up from difficult places and offer opportunities for a future with unlimited potential.

I think she was as surprised by us as we were by her. I’m guessing her expectation of response from the crowd was not the highest. We were, in large part, Caucasian, dressed in “cocktail” garb, had just been through the “live auction” part of the evening with the Nigro brothers, and had shared a nice meal of beef and chicken with iced tea, water, and an open bar. Probably not the normative concert-going audience at Sprint Center. Yet there we all were on a random Friday night to raise money for an organization focused on kids in need and somehow it worked. Somehow her presence and music inspired the audience and the energy and responsiveness of the audience inspired her.

What do I take from that into this Holy Week? That miracles still happen? O.k. That I hope I have half that energy and look half that good when I’m 75? Absolutely. That there are certain voices and lives that seem to transcend time and generation and boundaries that in other parts of life are nothing but limiting? I think so. That music is a universal language? Of course. And maybe that the surprising gift of new life in unexpected places and unexpected times from unexpected voices is yet true? Yes!!!

I’m including a short video I took toward the end of her program. I didn’t realize at the time that it would be the perfect song for a pastor during Holy Week – but God has a great sense of humor and timing I think. snort And then I’ll include a video from 1996 when she originally came out with her version of this song. Maybe it’s another way to say what God says for us through this most Holy of Weeks!