Dream last night: I was on a school bus with my wife and son. The door to the bus was open as the bus travelled down the road. My wife stood on the steps of the bus, talking to the bus driver, and my son stood right on the edge of the steps next to the open air. As the bus careened along, my wife nonchalantly allowed my son to stand on the edge. In the dream, he looked like a miniature version of Barack Obama. I was furious with my wife for allowing our child to get so close to a certain death, but she seemed to act as if this were just a minor difference in parenting techniques. I tried to explain using logic why having our son stand right next to an open door where he would surely fall out was a bad idea, but in the dream world, my wife’s calm demeanor of this not being such a big deal seemed to prevail. I finally had to resort to using emotions to make my case, but all this did was get me kicked off the bus and made my wife (in the dream) decide that she didn’t need to be with me anymore.
I walked into a school or library and tried to find sympathy for my situation. People seemed to agree that what she had done was a terrible idea, but they were more upset by the fact that because my son looked so much like Barack Obama, his death would have been all the more a tragedy.
Hearing the passage in Mark where Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit in class today made me think of my own dark night of the soul. The more that I have embraced Christ in my life, the greater the temptations have been, and the more I have failed miserably in my efforts or non-efforts to avoid sinning. The idea of going out into the wilderness alone for forty days and forty nights has an enormous appeal to me, but I doubt that I will be able to swing it in this life. If my wife goes before me and I am not too old, I will certainly do this. I might even decide to just die alone out in the wilderness. The idea of dying surrounded by people who are faking their sorrow or not, and some of them hoping I will just hurry up and die–this leaves me feeling a little cold, though I suppose in the end we all pass into that good night alone whether we are surrounded by loved ones or not. I just like the idea of having my spirit depart in a natural area that is mostly free from anything manmade, and letting the wild beasts finish off my carcass–there is a lot about how our civilization handles dying that seems to me to be perplexing and overblown.
Immortality certainly has lost its appeal with me. I don’t like the idea of living in a world like this one in a body like this one forever. I do like the idea of coming back again as someone else in a different time period–not necessarily one in the future–or an alternate universe where I can experience living through the early 2000s minus George W. Bush and 9/11.
In theory, with God, all things are possible, although it does seem sometimes like what is possible is really very limited, even more limited than what you might think of as being probable. God has a finite and precise plan for me and others in this particular universe and time and place, and I should be trying to follow the plan as much as possible or I just end up miserable. I hope that my path now to become a parish pastor at a mid-size church in a mainline denomination is closer to the right path, but I can’t be too sure. I would love to see my son and possible other child grow up in a town like the one where I went to school–doing Little League, Scouts, Band, Sports, etc. more or less as I did or had the opportunity to do them. I would like to pass into retirement having spent at least a couple of decades being respectable and established in a nice, all-American community, but I am not counting on it 100%. There are dark days where I think the future for me and my family will look more like McCarthy’s The Road, than anything else.
As I write this, I am running on what should be enough sleep, but of course, I was awakened at 6 AM straight up by my young son, and I did my share of tossing and turning in the night. My 8 AM class was a bit of a struggle to attend, though I like the subject matter and professor. I have these days where I feel like I am just dragging myself through everything, and only animated by excessive amounts of coffee and caffeine pills. Then, when I come back here for a moment of rest and contemplation, all I can hear is the sound of construction taking place outside my window. I don’t know what kind of formation I am getting as a spiritual leader where some of my most desired and available moments for contemplation and introspection are spent with the sound of intense construction noises right outside my window. I suppose the argument could be made that I am receiving a constant prompting from God to get back up and go out and do something–that this is a calling of action more than it is one of introspection or book learning.
The books are very seductive, though. I find myself seduced by the warm embrace of well-turned phrases and lovely ideas and grand narratives. I am utterly charmed by the ancient and classical worlds–the modern era holds a lot of problems for me in terms of what I think is truly necessary and relevant to be human and happy, but I doubt I could survive in any era other than this one. The idea of immersing myself in the churchly life is also intensely appealing–I am talking about getting caught up in the smell of an old church–the mildew in the wood, the mothballs in the storage of paraments, the old books in the library, the peculiar odor of potluck luncheons and the perfume worn by old ladies…it all comes together and you know you are in church simply by the smell and the feeling of being warmly embraced by ancient, friendly ghosts–the ghosts of the departed who choose to haunt the older churches are loving, caring ghosts who long to see more little ones running up and down the halls. None of this is really about getting caught up in Jesus or God, or going out and feeding Jesus sheep–not directly, anyway. Of course, Jesus’ sheep are fed in the communion and the reading of the Word and its interpretation that comes in sermons. God is worshiped, and the Lord is present because two or more are gathered in the Lord’s name.
But, what I am talking about is probably dangerously close to idolatry of the classic, mainline Protestant American church building, and all of the accouterments that come with being a regular participant in church-y things. I don’t know if it’s quite idolatry, though. I am pretty sure that God would be happier with me caught up in all things church than all things sports, hunting, fishing, or stuff I typically do like reading secular fiction, poetry, history, etc. Obviously, being in love with church puts you in a world of a better place than being in love with, say, porn or drugs or alcohol or whatever.
My probable risk lies in the fact that I am carrying around an idealized version of what the perfect church looks like, and no church can quite live up to all of the wonderful expectations I have of it in my head. It is likely an amalgamation of all of my favorite churches and then some. It is a church that may actually be Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist and even Catholic and Assembly of God and other non-denominational churches I attended. Maybe it is the future Temple of the future Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t know. Probably not, since the members are mostly white and old and Midwestern or Texan, until I leave off from simply drawing from memories of churches that gave me comfort in childhood.