About 5 years ago, I had the same vivid dream, three nights in a row. In the dream, the world was watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you hunted down and punished. Moving about out in the open was risky, so when I found a couple of orphaned, abandoned children out on the streets, I gathered them up and took them with me in order to protect them.
I was moving around with a realtor who was showing me various homes that had “for sale” signs out front. I was looking for a place to hold meetings without drawing undue attention from the totalitarian authorities. At the back of each home there was a large gardens. I am a gardener myself, so I was pleased that there were gardens. But I was puzzled to discover that the plants growing there were angular and unnatural looking, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of garden plants, so encountering so many odd plants that I couldn’t identify was mystifying.
Inside many of the homes I discovered a hidden door. The door lead to a cavernous underground area filled with more people than I could count. The underground area was so large that I could only see a small portion of it. The people there were clearly enjoying themselves. People were watching sports, movies and other entertainment on giant video screens. Others were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. Children were playing freely. There were families everywhere.
When I entered the underground area, the people close to the entrance turned and cheered to welcome me. I was able to find several families who were happy to take in the children I had brought with me. I remember being pleased to find so many people living in these underground areas, which was quite a contrast to the surface where I met very few people, most of them scared.
So that was my dream. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I set about praying and thinking on it. The understanding I came to was that the authoritarian power in my dream represented religious powers and hierarchies that claim the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. The houses are churches. They had sale signs out front because the church has put itself up for sale by pursuing money directly or generally adopting the methods, mores and priorities of a money-obsessed world. The gardens are the people, including the pastors and teachers, that the church grows. The plants were unknown and unattractive to me because they were not the sort of plants/people that God creates and grows – they were unnatural. The caverns and people underground represented the majority of people who are being kept in the dark by the church above them. These are God’s people as they are in a natural state. This is why these people were the ones to take the orphaned children in.
I’ve been thinking about this dream a lot lately. I am convinced that pretty much everyone is interested in spirituality and religion. I have talked about God with drunk men bars, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy running the weird massage/hypnotherapy place who believes that we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns, felons on parole, housewives and homeless people and really, just about every sort of person you can imagine. What I’ve learned is that most people have their own spiritual experiences and a deep belief that something more than we can see is going on here. And most of them rarely, if ever, set foot in a church.
The church is so fixated on maintaining control and keeping itself sanitized and clean that it’s lost its influence over probably most people. The church calls these people “lost” (or as a Charisma magazine headline described Super Bowl 50: 144 Million Americans Blatantly Ignore God’s Word). But in my experience, the people outside the church, even the atheists, often have more spiritual and moral maturity than at least 80% of the people you can find in church on Sunday.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been threatened with hell, shunned, chastised or otherwise judged and found wanting for believing wrong, talking wrong, looking wrong, thinking wrong, acting wrong. Now, I personally feel no need to give up even a smidge of my right to consider and present myself as a devoted, orthodox Christian in good standing. Defiance is a Christian virtue, after all. But a lot of people understandably decide that the church isn’t for them and go underground with their spirituality. It becomes something that they keep to themselves as they go about living like normal human beings who cuss and get rowdy and dress and speak and otherwise simply enjoy life without worrying about the judgment of some blow hard who wants to micromanage their most intimate thoughts and beliefs in the name of God.
Back on the surface, in the realm ruled by the religious powers, people have lost careers, income, housing, had their reputations trashed, lost family members, and been turned out of their communities for doing nothing more than speaking the truth as they see it or questioning the obvious errors and abuse they see happening around them. The religious authorities decide who gets published, who speaks at conferences, who gets access to their networks, whose music is heard, whose talents are recognized and nurtured. The result is that people who have a better vision for the church are marginalized and struggle to be heard. It’s getting better with the internet but it’s arduous for those trying to work against the tide of religious totalitarianism. The result is that voices which have the potential to offer an alternative, positive vision of the faith don’t get heard enough to be familiar and have credibility with most people.
On the other hand, the promise is that, just like in my dream, there are a lot more people who are simply enjoying life than there are stuck in the church’s gardens. While it’s always possible for a society to embrace secularism, we humans have a natural tendency towards religion and a lot of people are inside and outside the church would love nothing more than to come out from underground, so long as it doesn’t require submitting to the illegitimate totalitarian authority of religious power. Perhaps what we need is to find a way to amplify the voices of Christians who the church is eager to marginalize and silence. Maybe if the people underground joined in, we could raise the roof and break through. After all, you put seeds underground and eventually, when the conditions are right, seeds sprout.