Remembering the whole dream is hard, but (tonight/this morning/what time is it?) I remember the last part. For some reason our church was meeting in our old movie theater, even though it was today's era (we now meet in a new building). As best as I can piece together, I'd given the order of service to a couple of our staff guys and left the room to collect my thoughts once service began. That's when things got chaotic... for even in my dreams (apparently) I care about what happens in our services because everyone knows they affect people who are thee to connect with God.
The band was supposed to play a song, and then play some instrumental music while the bandleader prayed. Instead, I heard (from outside the theater) that this wasn't happening - instead, people were spontaneously praying about different things - no microphone, but rather random praying around a room (which included the power talkers who could project and the quiet talkers who said important things, but no one could hear them). As I made my way in, someone was praying that the Republican Party would eventually come back into Presidential power. Even though it was a dream, I was about to lose it... fearing that we'd crossed some line of political ethics that the IRS would feed on and shut us down... because everyone knows you're not supposed to do that.
So I made a hand gesture to one of our staff guys that looked like a keyboard. This was my baseball-esque signal to go back on stage and play some music so I could grab a microphone and steer us back into a God-focused direction vs a GOP one... because everyone knows that a service isn't supposed to be patriotic or in favor of a political party... right?
The only problem was as I was about to do this another person behind the computer started rolling a video on the main screen. There were two... no, three problems with this.
One - it was an unrelated video to anything we were doing. Apparently, it was one of those videos people send in an email and want you to watch, only you're not sure it's a virus so you don't watch them and it sits in your email forever - like that bottle of mystery condiments most refrigerators have in them (you're afraid to use it, but don't want to throw it away because one day you might need it). The video was some odd, YouTube-esque cartoon that mused about nothing in particular, then it ended with some random credits, followed by pure silence while personal pictures of the person who sent the video began being displayed in an automatic slide show of some sort. I kept fearing that a pornographic picture would cap it all off, but thankfully/sadly it was just camera phone style pics of them doing daily life.
The second problem was that the video intended for that moment got washed away in the process of it all. That one brought us deeper into the Scripture we'd be studying that day... somehow I know it did, even though (because it was a dream) I can't tell you what it was. But whenever we use a video in our services it's with intentionality - to either provoke a thought, raise a question, help someone identify with the topic at hand (or vice-versa, help build a bridge into their lives), or make us laugh about something we need to laugh about (laughter is way overrated). We stay away from all the cutesy Christian videos that preach tradition and fear with cheesy solutions that don't practically play out in real life, because everyone knows they have no value... right?
Oh, and the third thing wrong with this moment? Well, I sort of misspoke - the video wasn't being projected onto the movie screen. Rather, it was being projected where the screen should have been. For some reason a large movie screen curtain was sort of covering the whole screen area, and so this lame video was being projected right onto textured, fluffy, foo-foo fabric.
I remember needing to sit down in the dream... to find an aisle somewhere... so I could scream. We were doing an awful thing (I thought and felt and feared), for someone who had come to service that day had to be thinking, "These people are so messed up that they can't even operate A/V equipment properly. Now I have my reason to give up on church and God and heaven and all of that." I'd broken an overly spoken, unspoken rule that my type-AAA church background had tried to drill into my type-B personality - you don't create a bad first impression, because everyone knows people won't come back if you do... right?
Keep in mind, I don't really believe that is always true but I do know that it is important to give your best swing at everything when lives and souls are on the line.
Here's where it gets real interesting, though.
Just at the point in my dream when I'm about to explode in exasperation, I start laughing. Hard... out loud... deliriously. Not because I've lost my mind, but rather the opposite. As I look down at the screen (stadium seating, and all) I see one of our staff guys - our worship leader - jumping up with all of his might to grab high for the string that pulls the curtain open. For some reason, though, the curtain doesn't open to the side or have an automatic mechanism to make it move - instead, it opens up like a window blind might. And so as he jumps up and down trying to pull the cord, this large movie screen curtain keeps going up and down with him... up and down... up and down... while the slide show cavalcade continues, again, in pure silence.
Except for the sound of the curtain going up and down. It even sounds like a cheap window blind, in fact.
The best part was the look on his face. He was actually smiling while he did it, as if somehow in the midst of all of this chaos he realized, "Yeah, we messed this up. But so what? Let's fix it and not worry about what we can't worry about." He got that from me, I think... because I often say that when things go wrong.
Because everyone knows things go wrong a lot when it comes to church life. Whether it's the things that do or don't happen in service that become mental splinters to anyone who cares the phone calls that don't get made when someone is in crisis (leaving them feeling alone), a human community handling Divine things will always fall short of perfection. Watching our worship leader enjoy swinging around one the curtain ropes to try to get them to cooperate was such an amazing symbol of that truth.
As I sank into my stadium seating, fluffy high back theater chair in my dream and watched it all, I felt as if I'd woken up.
And that's when I actually did.
This is simply me dumping out my dream over the course of 40 minutes, because I knew there was something in here I needed to pay attention to.
On one hand this can be a parable about what matters and doesn't matter in church world. As I hinted at earlier, I came to Jesus in an environment that valued goals, trackable data, above-the-waterline leadership, and excellence in effort. After all, we're talking about people's eternal destinies and that certainly demands our absolute best. Keep in mind my natural DNA that valued relationships, process, below-the-waterline integrity, and faithfulness in ministry... so I feel I walk around with a decent toolbox that is at God's disposal.
But really, it isn't about church world.
It's about that thought - "because everyone knows." If you've ever thought or said that, you've expected that the people in your life see, understand, and value the things you see, understand, and value just as you do.
Maybe it's how a house is supposed to be cleaned, "because everyone knows" you do a certain way. Or how a meal is to be prepared, "because everyone knows" you cook it at this temperature with these ingredients... and not at that temperature with those ingredients. It might even be how a husband and wife relate to one another intimately, "because everyone knows" what is considered acceptable versus profane in the bedroom.
What is ironic is that when we occasionally do recognize "because everyone knows" that no one knows the same thing, we use it as an excuse to not do the things that we really are supposed to know.
Think about that a moment.
In my dream and in my life, I hope that others see, understand, and value the things I do. I believe that "lost" and "found" people matter to God and that they are finicky people... so if by chance they are willing to let someone into their lives to share insights and challenges from the Lord that those opportunities shouldn't be treated lightly. Such "challengers" or "teachers" or "leaders" or "fellow believers" need to call them when they will receive phone calls from us, study together when they will study with us, empower them when they will be empowered by us, and rebuke them when they will receive rebuking from us (you know, we all need a little rebuking from time to time - even though we hate it when it happens - as long as it's done in pure love).
So when I feel like those things that seem so "obvious" to me aren't as valued in the people around me, I start to pace around in my head and feel my heart develop a chaotic rhythm. "Don't they get it?" I want to scream? Only I don't scream, because everyone knows that if you scream you run the risk of making people angry, and you don't want to get people angry because everyone knows angry people shut down lines of communication and you won't be able to talk with them about the stuff that matters most.
Hopefully by now the application and analogy is clear to you. And if for some reason it isn't, just pay attention to those moments when you also want to scream "Grow up!" and "Don't you people get it!" and "Come on already, stop living so selfishly and see the BIG PICTURE here!" Is it possible that you are holding people to your standards instead of their own?
And if it is a standard they should hold to (or say that they do, but they don't seem to live it out) is it possible for you to be the smiling fool on the curtain strings, helping them glimpse at how there is a better way than just sitting in front of the closed curtain that they've chosen to be silent spectators of?
"With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." (Matthew 15:37-38)
"...whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (2 Corinthians 3:16)
Because everyone knows what that means, it's time for me to try to go back to bed.