Flights of Faith

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is Dreaming Safe...or Good? Conversation Is Needed.

Look! A quote for you:

"Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.

A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves this dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians which his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.

When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Living Together

If you don't know about Dietrich, here's a bio. What do people think about this quote? I'm not even sure if I have coherent thoughts on it (just more questions), but I want to dialogue about it in the comments section. Even if you don't comment regularly, please share your thoughts. I think it's a really important topic, especially considering our opportunity to dream in the world we live in now. And if you don't consider yourself a follower of Jesus, I still think there are ways to enter into the dialogue so don't let that stop you.


Blogger Juliet said...

I think that we need to dream, but I think that the hard thing about dreaming is realizing that our babies aren't actually our babies... they're seeds God has planted using us. I think we must keep dreaming, because God gave us our passions and our loves and our excitement for life is an expression of gratitude to him. We just have to be always ready to expect a God that's bigger than our vision, who's going to break apart whatever keeps us from him but still redeem the pieces for his kingdom.

I think maybe this guy cuts down dreams a little too much. Maybe when he was writing this he just got kind of caught up in the pain of disappointment and lost sight of the hope and joy that I think we are freed to experience once we give our dreams and our passions humbly to God. KEEP DREAMING!!!

8:51 PM  
Blogger Grand Master - 108 Tongues, Bustout! Family said...

Yea, let's talk. Looking forward to hearing others' thoughts.

The interesting thing about this selection is that I believe that Bonhoeffer was a visionary. A visionary whose vision was filled with the sight of God and His glory. I see him speaking to - rebuking? - himself here.

Bonhoeffer was also an immensely practical man.

As a philo major, I have to ask: what does Bonhoeffer mean by dream, and how does that track with how we would use the same word?

9:04 PM  
Blogger Ivy said...

i think i agree that attempting to keep the Christian community in a certain box is stifling and eventually becomes unsustainable. i think we see it often when those that make up the community are unwilling to continue abiding by the dream or vision of someone else, the creation of which they took no part in. then either a new community is formed or people enter other existing communities.
on the other hand, some sort of vision is necessary, at least to guide the group and make it more cohesive. and i personally think that dreams and visions for a community with energy behind them are very exciting. it becomes a problem when, like Bonhoeffer mentions, the people in the community aren't the focus but this idea of the community as a whole.
we should never dehumanize so much that we forget that people are individuals.
very fitting with ECV's message today! thanks!

12:04 AM  
Blogger Terrence said...

Mm, been thinking about this a lot, myself.

And must say I dont agree, but maybe because I dont want to. I want Christian community to be the wonderful, fulfilling thing I dream about, and I want that desire for it to make it true - much like what Christian says about prophecy - speaking things into existence, here praying them into existence.

I like to think along the lines of how you often talk - that you expect God to amaze you, to fulfill your dreams. That you challenge and have faith and that faith makes the unlikely commonplace.

But then again, everyone tells me Im naive. We'll see, hm?

7:45 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

After reading Ivy's post, I understand a little more of what Bonhoeffer may have been saying about avoiding dreams that consume the dreamer and end up not helping the community. Yet I still get stuck wondering what Bonhoeffer suggests we do. Dream up ugly or divisive communities? Those sound more like nightmares to me. And if God's all about His kingdom coming and His will being done here on Earth, then it sounds like dreaming big about community is crucial in order to move toward that kingdom break through.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Tina Colon said...'s complicated I think. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, the essence of Christianity seems kind of like unreasonable dreaming, believing in things that don't exist in the concrete tangible way we want them to. So in terms of Christian community, what are we hoping for? I think Deitrich is right is saying that we shouldn't set our hopes on this ideal of Christian community if it means denying the reality. But I think there's a way to be realistic, recognize how far we are from the ideal, without lowering our hopes/standards/faith. Like the bible verse that says 'be perfect as I am perfect', or 'not that I have already attained this...but i press on towards the goal...' (or something like that). I'd vote that we're still called to strive for ideal community, ideal relationships, not to be satisfied with unforgiveness or backbiting or other such things. But we should be aware of that fact that we're not there yet, and with the same patience Christ shows us, keep on working it out and hoping for more. Maybe?

8:38 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

It seems to me like Bonhoeffer is more calling for humility in Christian community than denying dreams (as we tend to think of them), speaking of the individual's dreams vs. the community as a collection of individuals vs. God's dreams.

That community is when we aren't clinging so desperately to dreams of what we each think it should be--or even what a small group of us think it should be, but rather humble ourselves and contribute to the conversation together, not just speaking, but hearing each other, and realizing that not everyone fits into our ideal and that there are imperfections. And when we do this together, in humility and with prayer, asking for guidance as opposed to assuming we know, perhaps we can come closer to His dream.

I get what Bonhoeffer is saying, though--a lot of horrible things have happened in church history when a community seems to think that their dream is what God is also dreaming of, but perhaps we always need to be kept in check on this, or keep ourselves in check on this?

That being said, I think dreams are incredible things--that dreaming allows for us to actualize his wonderful plans for our community and for the world, and if we aren't dreaming, we aren't doing that which we are made for. Answer? Keep dreaming, humbly??

8:47 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

So...some questions.

If we share our dreams and look for support from others, does that ease the pride or pretension that might come from individual dreams imposed from the top down?

Is dreaming unique when it lays out a vision about righting wrongs that have become normalized i.e. prayer as religious unfeeling practice versus dynamic communication or the Gospel without a commitment to doing justice? Is it "more okay" to cling to these dreams than to a musical style for church even if they still produce the same tensions between dreamers and community?

Or maybe if God confirms a dream or a vision (through Word, prophecy, other forms of God speech discerned and supported by community) it ceases to be a dream, and it becomes a pregnant reality - waiting to be born? This would separate the unconfirmed "I want Christian xylophone music" from I want my church to stop gossiping in order for us to be family to one another. Is that helpful?

Also, this is a text in translation. So maybe the German word translated as dream is a bit more complex.

Still, I'm struck by how if you do hold onto anything (even something like a dream for justice and Jesus going together) you do risk your relationships with people. These are relationships that Jesus values strongly. And community tensions leave you open to emotional wounding, frustration, and a prideful(?) separation. Is this risk worth it for people?

The main reasons for post-Jesus separation in communities are differences in belief/strategic disagreements (Acts 15), sinful practices (1 Cor 5), and some unknown reasons for Paul's journeymen. Does this give us insight?

This has been good and helpful conversation. Thanks for it, and I hope it can continue.

6:47 AM  

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