Friday, February 14, 2014

Seeds, Soil, and Dreaming in the Now

What do you think when you hear the words "dreams," "dreaming," or "dreamer?" Does it conjure images and feelings of things ethereal or distant, or a substance so heavy yet so light that you cannot quite grasp it? Dreams are typically thought of as just out of reach, whether we are talking about the images that flow through our minds while we sleep or the life visions that propel our lives forward through the mundane in pursuit of something better. I, for one, am a big dreamer, and today I would like to explore something that inspired me in a podcast I listened to last night entitled "Living the Dream" by Danny Silk. The idea I want to explore is, <i>What if we could actually experience and give out of the substance of our dream (or dreams) right now in the present?

For those of you who don't know, Danny Silk is a pastor on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and he is one of the many speakers there whose sermons rock my world on a regular basis. You may be wondering at this point, "Wait a minute. Did you just say that a sermon rocked your world? Are you kidding?" If that is you, I'm actually excited that you are reading this because you have an opportunity to experience something incredibly rich and life-giving that you have probably otherwise experienced as dull or irrelevant up until now. Just as there is a good way to cook chicken (insert vegetable of your choice here if you do not eat meat) and a bad way to cook chicken, and as chicken-eaters (or vegetable eaters) all have varying tastes, the same is true for the presentation of sermons. Some are full and juicy, some are bland and dry, in need of salt, and some are in between, neither the perfection of poultry nor culinary disaster. If you want to get a taste of the particular sermon I am talking about, check it out (and many others like it) here: If it ends up taking you to a general page, look for the podcast entitled "Living the Dream."

Now that I have hopefully piqued your interest in exploring the joy of sermons (think of 'em as inspirational talks with incredible revelation and truth packed in), one of the statements that struck me the most in Danny Silk's sermon was this idea that our dreams are primarily for the good of others. Yes, we get to enjoy our dreams, both in the process of pursuing them and in living them out, and that's such a gift, but if we make it all about ourselves and how good we are going to feel as we are pursuing or living out those dreams, we've missed the point, and they are likely to become an unhealthy weight in our lives. The truth is that all of our amazingness is meant to impact others in a positive way, not to simply sit as our own personal reservoir for us to drink from and enjoy. There's a reason the Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea. The salt water doesn't flow out anywhere. It remains within itself. What a waste to the waters around it. The same can be said for our lives and in this case, our dreams.

That brings me to another thought I was pondering with Jesus this morning and the reason for me writing this blog. I thought, "Okay, what is it that I want my dreams to do to others?" (in a good way) "and how can I pursue the heart of that right now even while the fullness of those dreams are not yet manifested?" To put it another way, what is at the heart of my dreams in terms of how they are going to affect people, and what can I do right now, today, to cultivate that in my life and in the lives of others?

I conjecture that we can actually perform the substance of our dreams right now, since the seed of those dreams lies within us, what God has put in each and every one of us, and the manifestation of those dreams just multiplies the scope of how many people we are able to reach with that substance. Let's break it down into very practical terms, using an example from my own life.

David (that's me) wants to revolutionize the mainstream theatre world from the inside out, taking what he sees as a broken system (albeit with some very beautiful working parts) and restoring it, with the help of others, to a glorious wholeness which produces greater life through the art that is created and the way that it is created. David wants to see greater opportunities for actors and other theatre artists of color who have historically been marginalized for reasons unjust. David wants to make high-quality theatre more accessible to the poor. David wants to foster theatre-making atmospheres in which every person involved, from the production crew to the actors with the smallest parts, feel incredibly vital to the community of which they are a part and thoroughly safe to be who they are. David wants to raise up an army of playwrights, producers, and directors who will create works of greater substance, honoring what's good, noble, pure, right, and exposing the very real evil and brokenness that exists in the world. (This means that not all art has to be pretty in order to be pure and potent. Sometimes dark chocolate tastes better than milk chocolate. Both have their place.) David wants to see more work like this get into the mainstream theatre sector, serving as a norm in the industry and not simply the unseen anomaly to be kept hidden underground for a select subculture. No. It's time to change the game. Serve one another and slay the dragon. If theatre became more about serving others than serving the self, it would look totally different. And it will.

So, that is some of my dream, in a nutshell. It actually doesn't fit into a nutshell, which is why there is more of it not even listed up there, and which is why it is a DREAM. Dreams don't fit into nuts...but they do begin as seeds, and grow beyond what at first appears minuscule to become something much bigger. We must not neglect the seeds of our dreams. Seeds need to be cultivated in the right soil before they can grow (most of the time, anyway...Some seeds will grow regardless. How cool is that?). I think that soil is our hearts, and the more we cultivate that soil (or let God cultivate it with us, in his loving way), the more the seed begins to grow and the greater potential that beanstalk or tree has to develop into something MASSIVE.

In this analogy, there are two things that I feel we can do. One is to ask, "What is the seed--not the big tree that the dream will be but the heart of the dream?"

In my case, it's a heart to see worship of God returned to the center of theatre-making, broken hearts made whole, fractured lives mended, and relationships restored. It is to see people step into who they are meant to be as individuals and as communities and through stepping into their destinies, to make the world give the world CHAI! If I could condense all of this into one sentence, one thought, perhaps it's found again in my chai imagery, that I want the chai of God to caffeinate people's souls and awaken them to new realities, brightening the world as they step into their destinies as individuals and communities. I want people to taste Jesus' chai and come to life.

The question here then becomes, "What can I do with this seed right now?" or "How can I pursue these things at this very moment, without the external parts of my dream having taken place fully yet?"

If we continue to use my own dreams as an example for this breakdown, I can call people into their destinies on a daily basis through encouraging them and speaking words of identity over them. I can be a peacemaker in the lives of my friends and others, helping to restore relationships. I can create works of life or simply BE the work of life that God has made me and so allow others to drink of the chai that he has put in me. I can write a blogpost like this!

What about you? What are the seeds of your dreams, and what can YOU do to cultivate them right now? Take a minute and actually think about it. It might just change your whole day. Ha! Once you've done that (or if you need some further help fleshing this out), read on.

The second big right-now thing that we can do is to cultivate that soil I mentioned, namely the condition of our hearts. If that is where the seed is to grow, then we surely want the soil to give it the best potential for growing into the most full expression of dream that it can. Perhaps our hearts determine how far a dream will grow, or if it will grow at all.

So how can we cultivate that soil? For me, it has a lot to do with letting Jesus, Holy Spirit, and God the Father, soften that soil through daily conversation, meditation on the truth (as revealed in the Bible and in other congruent things that have been spoken to me through others), and taking risks where God wants to stir the soil up. If I just remain a sessile piece of earth and say, "No God! No stirring today! I'm just gonna stay right here and you're not gonna move any of this dirt around!" I'll just become a hardened mound of dry soil and clay. And we know how hard it is to work with hardened clay. If, however, I say, "Okay, God, you want to shift things around? I'll let you," then the soil is tilled and things that were hard or were becoming too heavy are aerated and even watered where needed.

This also implies action on our part. Sometimes, we get to till the soil of our own heart along with God. Jesus might say, "Hey, see that patch over there? It needs some water" or "Let's throw some manure over there." And we can say, "What? Water? MANURE?" and resist even stepping in that direction for fear of a mess, or we can say "Okay, I'm not sure about this, but your fertilizer worked well last time, so I'm willing to give this a go. Just help me with the manure part, alright?"

In my life, this looks like reaching out to people whom I wouldn't otherwise reach out to, or considering working with a student population in theatre that brings me outside of my comfort zone but reminds me that it is important to give to people whose differences challenge me.

What about you? Which area of soil is God wanting to cultivate in your heart right now? If you don't believe in God, you're certainly welcome to try to cultivate that soil on your own, and I would applaud you for your noble effort. However, from personal experience trying to fix myself up in my own strength, I can tell you that it's hard to work with the manure from the outside when there's plenty of manure I can't deal with on the inside. Sometimes a whole new heart is the only way to reset the pH levels in the soil. And to quote the title of a song my mom, Cat Ello, wrote, ("Jesus, Gardener of my Heart") "Jesus" is the only gardener that can do that kind of soil transplant. (See Matthew 13 if you are interested in looking further into this imagery of Jesus as a gardener.)

So what are the seeds of your dreams? What is the thrust of them, the heart behind all of the activity? How can you engage in that thrust today, RIGHT NOW? And how is the soil of your heart in which your dreams can truly thrive and grow into all they were meant to be? How can you cultivate that soil, not tomorrow, not in the future, but RIGHT NOW, TODAY? If you need some gardening tips, I've got a guy you can talk to. ;-) Let's get

"Jesus Gardener of my heart,
break this fallow ground apart.
Loosen every layer of the hardness that's in me.
You have plans that I don't know.
Fruitful seeds in me you'll sow.
Come prepare the soil.
You're the Gardener of my heart."
-From "Jesus, Gardener of My Heart" on Cat Ello's upcoming CD of original music.

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