A life of service

4

Today is the fifth day of Lent.

The following is an account of a dream I had on Saturday night, March 8th. It was the night before my first sermon in four years. Any comment is welcome as usual, but I’d like to suggest that the best response to a dream is to listen to it. Dreams speak to us from our unconscious. The symbols of a dream are often extreme, exaggerated, and reflective of inner fears and turmoil.

In my dream I was employed by some nonprofit organization. Its exact nature was not clear. It might have been connected to a religious group or not. The point of the organization was to be helpful to humanity in some way. I had a job in the organization that was mundane, and I believe that in the dream I questioned whether or not my role was helping the cause of humankind in any way.

In the dream I had just returned from a trip to India where I had seen shocking levels of poverty that distressed me. The memories of the trip existed in my dream as short visual sequences that were very realistic. In one of them I encountered some people who were sleeping in puddles of water, unable even to secure a dry place for their beds.

I set up a meeting with Ben Chappell. The Chappells are a delightful family at Covenant Baptist Church. They mean a great deal to me, and often my most powerful dreams will have a person from the Chappell family playing a key role. In the dream I wanted to speak to Ben about my job and about my trip to India. At issue was what I was doing in the foundation and whether or not my work was doing any real and measurable good in our world.

I said, “Well, as devastating as the poverty is in India, I am a realist. This is the world in which we live, and there won’t be any quick solutions to the problems we find. And I will say that there is a smaller percentage of humanity currently living in such dire straights now as compared to, say, 100 years ago.”

Ben considered this and then said, “Well, if so, the progress is certainly very slow.”

In the dream, Ben was not going to be placated or easily satisfied. He was not going to accept any easy rationalizations that might make my continued work in this organization easy for me to justify.

As we spoke other people from the organization came in and out of our presence. Everyone else seemed perfectly happy to work for the foundation with complete confidence that we were helping humanity. Only I had my doubts. I seemed to be the only one bothered by the troubling idea that the foundation wasn’t doing any good at all, but was merely providing jobs for its employees. Clearly I hoped to keep my job though. I did not relish the idea of losing security and taking up some idealistic crusade. However, Ben’s character seemed to be gently advocating that course of action.

I awoke with a start at 5am Sunday morning, interrupting the dream. My alarm was going off. It was time to prepare for the early service at Saint Francis. In the moments after awaking, the visit to India from the dream remained real to me. At first I thought I really did work for a non-profit foundation and had made a trip to India. For a few moments I was trying to understand the literal message of the dream. Should I continue my work at the foundation, despite feeling that, in fact, it was not having much affect on the evils and misfortunes of the world? Or should I resign and take up some more radical calling?

And then the truth became clear. I’ve not made a trip to India at all. I’ve not seen the poverty that I remembered in the dream. I’ve kept myself safe from that. Not only that, I don’t even work at a mundane job in a foundation that HOPES to help humanity. I work only for myself. I try to make enough money to take care of my family. That is what I do with my life in this season.

A sorrowful feeling of loneliness came over me, as though I had lost some great purpose in my life. And it took me almost an hour to get myself to a place where I wanted to go to church and even think about preaching a sermon.

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  • At the George

    Gordon, I enjoy your writing so much and have found a great deal of insight and shared sorrow here/there. Thank you for sharing this dream. I had a short-lived career in ministry, and the kind of disillusionment you describe having in your dream – feeling as if the church was largely serving to provide jobs to its employees, doing very little good in the world, but needing the job security myself – is painfully familiar. In the end I could not square my situation with what I knew to be right, and so I got out. I still feel as if I used the good will (and money) of others during that time, but it cannot be helped now. I am re-ordering my life so that I – hopefully – will be able to do good for others, directly.

    • Thank you George. I’m in a similar place myself these days.

  • KQ

    You have told this story before, I think.

  • pastordt

    That is an incredible dream. Thank you for writing it out. There is much to be mined there, some of it probably not quite as obvious as it might at first appear. . .