Taking Another Way Home

January 05, 2014

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I have often said that the most important part of any relationship, a marriage, a partnership, a friendship, and an employee/employer relationship is the balance of power. Things go well when the power is very equal and when both parties feel that they are in charge. Things go badly when the power is skewed and one party has bossy pants and the other feels subjugated. Thus, in marriage counseling, I love to right the balance of power. My goal is that both parties feel in charge of the relationship. That usually means negotiating differences and changing the scales. You might call it burden management, which is to say equalizing the burdens as well as the blessings. I feel the same way about Pharaohs. The more power their people have, the more power the Pharaoh will have.

In this text, Pharaoh is about to misuse his power. He is threatened by the celestial excitement. Joseph gets word in a dream, from an angel. He should not return home by the same route. He should go another way. The dream captures his attention.

Dreams don’t just happen in our sleep. Dreams are our unconscious lives speaking up. They also come as fiction – where artists announce and shape what our depths saying. Alan Weisman wrote a book called THE WORLD WITHOUT US. Perhaps some of you have read it. It describes the world after humans are gone, when only radiation and plastic is left and trees grow out of the top of the Empire State Building. Like Jacob’s dream, it is full of danger. If we disappeared, what would nature do? Many of us find ourselves fired by the question of how colossal or recoverable our damage to nature is. Like Rachel Carson in SILENT SPRING, Weisman looks at what we have already done. Her book, you will recall, opens with the morning being silent because the birds are gone due to the pesticides. THE WORLD WITHOUT US is a similar dream, using fiction as its delivery. It acts as a great warning, that we turn around and return home another way. By the way dreams can also be full of promise and not just warning: I think of Barry Lopez’ Arctic Dreams in which the Aurora Borealis is described as the human destination. In fact, you could argue that a really good dream is one that has great warning and danger combined with even more fabulous resolution and safety. Note the powers of danger and promise balancing.

Consider also Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” One of the major actors in that fictional dream is the willow tree. In the first act the tree is barren. In the second act, the willow tree has sprouted four or five leaves. Most people who really see the play are astonished at the quiet hope, lifted out of the quiet despair, which is the play. It actually begs us to try to get home another way.

And now I want to tell you of a dream of my own. Please know that I am appropriately skeptical of the first person and also don’t know how to do without it. That explanation will join this apology as you hear the dream, which visits me every couple of years to keep me in shape.

I know where the dream comes from: it comes from a wedding I did for a lesbian couple in Maine. One of the brides was on the governor’s staff and his helicopter truly landed just as the wedding was about to begin. But the dream may have had its source in a deeper reality – as Jacob’s did too. Alan Weisman and Rachel Carson’s dream of a world without us or without birds also have a basis in reality. Like any good warning dream they go straight to the dangerous and frighten the hell out of us from there. In my dream, after this real wedding, with its loud helicopter landing, I was asked by President Bush to marry his daughter secretly to a lesbian. No one was to know. We would arrive by helicopter. Everything would be ready to go. We arrive. The brides are waiflike figures, with their backs turned to me, wearing long light blue gowns. I peak to see their faces – and noticed that they are skeletons. They also have two mean, growling waif like dogs with them. President Bush had commanded that the wedding start immediately, despite my interest in getting the women to face me for the service. He said that if it didn’t start by 12 noon at the absolute latest – it was 11 a.m. – that the world would be destroyed. There would be utter nuclear annihilation. Obviously I got very nervous. But there were no guests, the brides wouldn’t turn towards me, I couldn’t find my robe or my bible or the service order. And thus I franticly ran around the Bush compound in Kennebunkport trying to locate my props or at least some people or barring that, to get the brides to turn around and face the music. More and more soldiers arrived by helicopters and the noise was terrifying. The sky was getting dark, even though it was midday. There was a giant clock, ticking in a terrifying way. Here was coming the end of the world, and I was alone, and only I could stop it by getting my act together. (Yes, centuries of therapy have ensued.) The clock arrived at ten minutes till 12. I was hopeless. The brides remained in position. The uniformed soldiers were getting mean. The dogs meaner. President Bush was yelling at me. And that’s when my best friend and mentor appeared in the dream and handed me a bible. Then another dear friend came from out of nowhere and she handed me a robe and put it on me. Then I realized we could do this thing and I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I had completely forgotten the words for the wedding service. I had almost been saved by my friends and the world had almost been saved by my friends but here I was blowing it again, not able to speak. That is when John whispered, “Dearly Beloved,” and I repeated “Dearly Beloved,” we did the service, the brides turned around and had faces, they kissed and the wedding was over by a minute till noon.

I know my dream goes from absurdity to self-obsession. I appear not to be able to worry about the world, only about my personal liturgical and political performance. And this has warned me in a dream, over and over, and I am still not sure if I know how to get home another way. What would that other way be? Being able to count on others as well as yourself. Being less self-obsessed. Living in a world larger than self-consciousness and performance. These are the things that attack cruel economic systems at their root. They can also stop the use of fossil fuel. They can let us trust another way.

That’s why I look Weisman’s book so much. It confronts the self-obsession. And why I love that willow tree in Godot. It shows the deeper hope, the one under our excellent community organizing. (Sarcasm)

There is a chance that the world could continue with us – but not as we now are.

There is a chance that the birds could sing in a desilenced spring – but not as we are now.

I took a writing class once where the teacher said that great writing doesn’t predict its own outcomes. We don’t really know if Joseph’s turn in the desert sand saved Jesus. Eventually the powers that were got him. But we do know that Joseph turned that day and kept the baby alive for long enough to do what he needed to do. While we are hiding in Pharaoh’s land, trying to stay safe, as the angel told us to do, we also can find new ways home.

Why is that photo on our front cover the most popular from the New York Times ever? Because of the way it distinguishes small and large. By the way the brides look like those skaters in my dream. The backdrop is much larger than the human figures. What I read in that photographer’s picture is that it is very important to pay attention to the backdrop and less important to pay attention to the skaters. Very important to lose some of the self-obsession of the day and take a look at the willow tree. Perhaps we need to begin to think in ten thousand year segments, instead of about 2014. And surely we need to get home by another way.

Remember I talked about the balance of power as God’s intention at the beginning? In relationships especially. There is a deeper balance of power required today. It has to do with how we balance our power with the birds and the willow tree and the fuels the fossils left behind for us, long ago. It has to do with how we balance our power with each other and with Pharaoh – and how we convince the Pharaoh in us and outside us that balanced power is best for us all.

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