We’ll always have JuneauSection 4A, Where's the Faith? Thursday, September 10th, 2015
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
When I was about 12 I cut a photo from a calendar, framed it and hung it over my bed. It was a picture of Juneau, Alaska, and its harbor. I’d look at it and imagine myself there. It wasn’t as much Juneau as it was Alaska. To this young sheltered kid who had already developed wanderlust, it defined adventure and yes, even escape, and dreams of travel and exploration were born.
In case you’re wondering, it took me over 35 years, and a series of circumstances but in 1996 I made it with a friend to Alaska for two weeks. And yes, Juneau. Let’s look at dreams and God’s role in them. I’ll tell you upfront that I may not give you a lot of answers; but I hope and pray that I leave you with much to think about.
One thing that I have pondered in my faith journey and I bet you have, too, is the whole idea of God granting us the desires of our heart. I mean, really? God does that? Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in God, and God will give you the desires of your heart.” It won’t surprise you that it has often been misinterpreted to mean, pray to God, go to church and God will give you what you want. Like “Let’s Make a Deal.” No, the psalmist here is not talking about a Rolex or a yacht, but something more profound and intrinsic. The Hebrew word translated as “delight” meant delicate or sensitive; it’s about seeking our pleasure and happiness, our friendship, in God, in being sensitive to God’s will for our lives.
Even in this modern day, “desire” is a loaded word. Its meanings range from ambition, lust and greed to passion, yearning and love. It’s almost two different words in one. And it’s the latter that the psalmist is addressing, saying be aligned with God in your spirit, with God’s will for your life, and God will place in your heart those desires and dreams that are good and right for you.
Desires, passions, dreams. In a Thesaurus they’re pretty much synonyms. They are deep, personal, even intense. They drive us, excite us, inspire us. They focus our thought and energy.
Sometimes dreams are goals we develop in childhood or inherit from parents or other loved ones. Sometimes they come as a surprise. Once visiting an antique fair where my good friend Jim Petersen had a booth, I came across a wooden, pendulum chiming wall clock. It had never occurred to me before but I suddenly realized, “I’ve always wanted one of those.” After Jim assured me it was a very good buy, I walked out of the fair with it. Much like another God-given passion: I know some time in my life I looked at a man, and though it had never occurred to me before, I suddenly realized, “I’ve always wanted one of those.”
Ultimately I think dreams are just very much a part of our DNA. Perhaps you’ve long dreamed of a specific career or seeing the Eiffel Tower or running a 10K or just finding peace and tranquility in life. Maybe you love football or giraffes or needlepoint or Broadway show tunes and have no idea why. OK. There could be an explanation for the Broadway show tunes. But I assure you that my passions for travel and writing did not come from my parents. In fact, they actually tried to douse them, which perhaps speaks to the resilience of dreams.
If dreams are really imbedded in our hearts, then doesn’t it make sense that they arrive there from someplace special, spiritual, and yes, even sacred? Yet, how do we know we’re hearing God and not our selfish wants or some whim or Baskin-Robbins’ flavor of the month? Maybe fear and self-doubt make it more complicated than it really is, holding us back from just trusting God and giving God the credit.
Fr. Michael Scanlon, former president of Franciscan University, hesitated to become a priest, because he knew that if he did, God would send him to Africa to be a missionary. While many people have a mission to minister in Africa, he hated that idea. Fr. Scanlon eventually shared his concern with his spiritual director, who gave him this insight: If God wanted to send him to Africa, God would put Africa in his heart. And it would be his deepest desire, his calling. Maybe it’s kind of like God putting in our heart to go to Juneau, rather than, say, Bakersfield.
Ultra-conservative evangelist Bill Keller says, “Where do you think you get the passion for the things you care about? From God! God gives each of us the passions and desires we have in our life.” Now, Keller’s theology and mine are about as close as San Diego and San Antonio, but in his statement I think there is a world of truth. He further adds that it is out of our God-given desires and passions that God directs and guides us in service. All of us.
In the words of John Lennon in “Imagine,”“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” What is your dream today? It may be as complex as creating a computer program, saving the rain forests or curing cancer or as simple as growing a garden, volunteering or giving love. You probably didn’t come here today without a Juneau. Some desire in your heart. A passion tugging at you. Or maybe a dream you feel is lost or buried.
Author Jonathan Malm has devised three filters to help us determine if our dream is really from God and give us peace that it is worth validating and pursuing.
Does it ultimately bring glory to God? God created everything for God’s glory. Malm points out that the dream doesn’t have to be labeled with a Christian fish or crucifixes. But it means the dream does not reflect poorly on God. If it’s ethical, honest, heartfelt, demonstrating hope, peace and love, God gets glory in that.
Does it benefit others? One of God’s biggest concerns for our life, as exemplified by Jesus, is how we treat others. A dream that lifts up others, looks out beyond ourselves, promotes the greater good and has universal value is likely going to pass muster here.
Does it seem bigger than what we can handle on our own? That doesn’t mean impossible, but from Malm’s perspective God doesn’t give small, easy dreams. God thinks big. The dream may require us to step out of our comfort zone, get our feet wet or hands muddy and seek the help of others. Even boldly go where no man … or woman … has gone before.
Doesn’t your dream pass the test?
I confess I wrote much of this sermon while I was high. That is, flying to and from Michigan for my 50th high school reunion. 32,000 feet gives you a whole different perspective. At that altitude things seem small … cars, towns, cornfields, interstates. But you realize feelings, emotions, desires and dreams have no constraints. Dreams rise sky high … And last.
In Pixar’s animated masterpiece Up, Carl and Ellie were an unlikely couple, she very outgoing and he quiet and reserved, but they shared two passions. A great love for each other and a dream of going to an imaginary place in South America called Paradise Falls. It was their Juneau. Though they tried hard to save for a trip, life got in the way: A flat tire, injury, home repair and finally Ellie’s failing health. After Ellie’s death Carl’s heart is aching that he didn’t fulfill their dream, their grand adventure. And then he looks through their picture book that Ellie handed back to him from her hospital bed.
In Ellie’s final written words “Thanks for the adventure, now go have a new one,” Carl realizes two things. That one of Ellie’s dreams had indeed come true: a wonderful life with a spouse she loved. And that the dream of Paradise Falls was still alive; it wasn’t too late. And in the movie, with the help of thousands of helium balloons that dream comes true.
I admit it. One of my dreams has always been having a partner. I know it fits that three point criteria I shared, and I’m not letting go of it. But how do you keep a dream alive and wait patiently? That’s a whole ‘nother sermon. Yet, doesn’t the scripture talk about God granting the desires of our heart? Desires. Notice that: plural, not singular. I do have other dreams still germinating. Travel, photography, the great American novel. A close friend repeatedly tells me write, write, write and gave me an inspirational reminder poster that simply says “Follow Your Dreams.”
Let’s hold fast to our dreams. As Humphrey Bogart famously said to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca,“We’ll always have Juneau.” OK, it was really Paris, but you get the idea. Let us always have our dreams. Be open to that antique clock when it presents itself and grab on to it. Know that dreams may change or evolve or morph. But most of all, acknowledge your dreams, your desires. Name them. Pray and meditate about them. Be confident that that’s not selfish. As long as they pass the filters, trust them and that they are not just of your own doing. Let them lift you up. Embrace them. Follow them and put effort into them. In faith, let yourself go to that place over the rainbow where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
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