Where Have the Dreams Gone, part 2
And so our dreamer has been bludgeoned, thrown into a pit, and finally sold into slavery by his angry, envious, offended brothers – barely escaping their murderous plans. But what of his dreams? Were they just illusive night time fantasies? Is that all our dreams really are – just fantasies that cannot hold up against the hostility of the world? Are our dreams a cruel trick to mislead us into thinking we can expand our spirits to embrace a more compassionate world?
Has Joseph’s dream died in the slave market? Yes, indeed it has. No longer can Joseph hope to stand in the center of family and tribe. He is the lowest of the low, barely rated as a human being.
But God’s dream when we finally understand it as vision lives on.
Joseph is sold to an Egyptian official. He struggles through his humiliation and proves to be a good worker. He rises in the esteem of that official until he is made the manager of his household. Joseph is on his way to re-birth and transformation. For the official it is simply practical to use his slaves to the best. But for God there is much, much more in favoring Joseph.
But humans being little less than gods forget that they are not God. And so their judgments are self-centered and arrogant. Joseph is wrongly accused by the official’s wife that he tried to seduce her. The official doesn’t question his wife – she must be right. He simply throws his best manager into the dungeon. But God will not be thwarted. God requires the compassionate community to emerge even in the face of defeat.
Joseph’s jailor takes a liking to him and gives him yet another managerial job: to organize and see after the prisoners. And during his tenure as jail manager two prisoners reveal their dreams to him. He is not alone! Others also dream. But these two, pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, do not understand their dreams. But Joseph does and tells them one will die and one will be freed. Now their dreams have become a frightening vision for one and a joyous vision for another.
Pharaoh was a creature of his day: dominate, demanding, a living god by his own people’s admission. He truly was allotted power over life and death. But he dreams too. And he is racked and torn by his dreams. And the cupbearer … the one he spared … and one of two dreamers to know Joseph tells him there is one in his prison who could turn his nightmare into a vision. And once again God favored Joseph, not because he was Joseph or he was Rachel’s son, but because God wanted the compassionate community to emerge and Joseph was his instrument and his steward …nothing else.
And so Joseph is released to Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s dreams are a vision of the coming famine. Joseph now knows it is not about him. His experience of slavery and prison and God’s ever presence with him has finally brought him into God’s vision. He says to pharaoh, not mine but God’s. God has sent him a savior… God’s own steward of the vision. And Egypt survives the famine with grain left over… and God’s steward stands on the threshold of power. What will he do with it? Does the dreamer finally understand what God is trying to do? Or will the power of pharaoh seduce him and he will again hijack God’s dream and return to his self-centered and arrogant interpretation?
For his stewardship of the grain, Joseph is generous and wise. He assures that all have what they need and no one has more than that…. a balanced budget of compassion and responsibility. But another challenge for Joseph will shortly arrive as we come to today’s readings.
The famine is wide and broad and stalks even the lands beyond Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and father are starving. Joseph’s brothers trek to Egypt for grain. They have learned there is a wise steward there who will help. The steward, whom they do not recognize, dealt with them. He gave them grain, but was suspicious of them. He held them hostage and let them go, insisting one stay so they return with the youngest, Benjamin. And returning he accuses them of theft. Why such treatment by this strange steward?
But Joseph knows them and wants to see his beloved Benjamin. He does not trust them. He has the expected … and justified … anger at what they did to him. But now as he ‘toys’ with them he is feeling ashamed of what he is doing. For out of their sin, he has become a servant of God. And is it not more holy, more loving, more important that he give back to God the grace that God has given him? And the sacred light dawns. Why constrict his soul with anger and vengeance? They have done what they have done and it is for God to demand recompense. It is for him, as a servant of God, to rejoice in God’s grace by giving grace back to God.
And grace for God is forgiveness and reconciliation no matter what his brothers have done. And Joseph’s soul expanded and embraced his wayward brothers… and he opened a door into the compassionate community.
But that all happened millennia ago. Where have all of our dreams gone? What has happened to the dream of rights for all? Of hope and opportunity for all? Of shared sacrifice and shared commitment? What has become of the dream of the children of God living in the compassionate community? Are our souls so constricted that we must reject those whom we do not trust, whom we don not understand, and whom we do not wish to help?
But we are only human. Even Jesus succumbed to human frailty and finiteness when he at first refused the Palestinian woman a share of the Kingdom. For a moment, his Judean and Galilean kin were the center of God’s community, not this poor woman of an alien race.
Did Jesus forget that the dream knows no bounds? That the God who called the teenage Mary out to birth him and set in motion the good news of the compassionate community was rejected because she had no husband? That in a future time she would have been rejected because she was Jewish? Did she not sing to him her magnificent song that God scatters the proud and lifts up the poor? Surely she did for every breath he breathed was a breath for the poor and a wind against the rich.
But he was human… and divine. The divine quickly corrected the human: this woman was faithful no matter her race. This unnamed faceless woman taught God a lesson of good stewardship of the dream. God forgives us as God forgave the incarnated God.
Truly if we will dream God’s dream and live in God’s vision, then we are not to serve ourselves or even to serve others. God loves us freely without any conditions whatsoever. God is always with us. God always cares for us. God never rejects us.
On the contrary it is we who abandon God, who do not care for God, and reject God. And when we do our souls are constricted and eventually wither into small, sad, lost spirits. And so when we dream God’s dream we do not see God, but our own greed and self-centeredness and desire for vengeance and retribution.
But God’s love always calls us to new birth, to new life, to new hope. If we give back love and hope to God, we will live in love and in hope. It doesn’t matter what a brother or sister or stranger does to us or how they respond to our giving of grace. God appreciates our stewardship of God’s love no matter how the world responds to it. In the end God knows we are living in God’s vision of the compassionate community and our soul expands to embrace God’s love.
So where are the dreamers in this current, self-centered, vengeful and uncivil age? They go mostly unknown. But there are dreamers giving back to God God’s wondrous vision of the compassionate community. But you have to go looking for them in the jungle and desert of our constricted and spiritually austere society.
One such vision come alive is the Faith for Change consortium of churches in seven cities that are committed to working with public schools by supplying tutors, books, mentoring, emergency funds, dental and medical clinics and counseling (The community schools movement: Reform that work; Amy Frykholm; Christian Century; August 9, 2011). This consortium recognizes that in poverty stricken communities the children come into the school already compromised. No matter how good a teacher is, he or she may never be able to educate a child from such an environment. The consortium was founded by Romal Tune who himself lived in poverty as a child. He was helped to overcome his circumstances when a stranger helped him get home once after school. His mom could not afford to give him lunch money, only bus fare. But he was hungry in school (how could you expect a teacher to teach a hungry child!). So he spent his bus fare on lunch. But now he couldn’t get home. A stranger gave him the $1.25 he needed. He realized that the community had a lot to contribute to the school.
One example of this movement is the Salazar Partnership in Santa Fe, NM. The principal spoke to the community of the problems in her Salazar Elementary School: all the students were eligible for government-funded lunches. 8% of the students were homeless. 60% needed help learning English. Their parents were not involved in the school.
One of the groups who joined the Partnership was the United Church of Christ in Santa Fe. After Principal Sewing spoke, seven parishioners volunteered to read to the children in kindergarten classes at Salazar. That was 13 years ago. Now 70 volunteers from the church go into the school to read. In this way, the children get one-on-one attention. That makes all the difference in the world to these children.
The Partnership also works with the Reading is Fundamental organization. Every child who graduates from the school goes home with 21 books … a start on their own home library. Since they started this program they have seen an improvement in student performance.
Tune and Sewing were dreamers. They embraced their dreams and saw the compassionate community … and have begun to bring it to their corners of the world. And the volunteers at the Santa Fe UCC are dreamers too who, I suspect, wanted to give something back to God. They had the vision that the children and the school in a poverty stricken area of town were part of God’s compassionate community just as they were. And so they gave back to God a portion of the grace that God gave them.
So God still dreams and we dream with God. And there are still dreamers quietly laboring in the fields of the compassionate community. They won’t be written up in a bible, but they give back to God the love that God has given us.
We too are dreamers. God offers everyone the opportunity to be part of the compassionate community. Each one of us like Joseph faces the trials of life. It is part of living. Sometimes our trials are the result of our own sin and mistakes. Many times they are the consequences of someone else’s mistake or social and economic difficulties. Hopefully, unlike Joseph we will not face slavery or prison. Our trials in the grand scheme of the cosmos are small. But they aren’t small when we have to face them.
God does not want us to suffer – God loves us too much for that. But God knows we will suffer. So God tries to help us get back on the track to the compassionate community when we go through suffering. But like Joseph we must interpret our dreams – the various events and decisions that we make in our lives – not based on our selfish egos, but on where God is acting in them. And in so doing we will be citizens in God’s compassionate community.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …