Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wish Dreams and Lutheranism: Part II

Since I called Pr. Weedon's idea a "wish dream," I thought I should provide a definition of what this is.

In my first term at Concordia Seminary we were required to read Bonhoeffer's Life Together. It's a pretty good book, though I haven't looked at it in 13 years (13!!). The following passage seized the imagination of my friends and I, and ever since we have identified the "what-if's" and "if onlies" of ministry and parish life as the "wish dream."

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 disillusonment 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 his 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.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day? Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together - the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship. (Quoted from Downshore Drift)

However, as I hinted in the previous post, I don't think a Wish Dream is always bad. Calls for repentance, for recapturing, for a return to orthodoxy, for reform (not transform) are necessary and real.

The distinction before is: if we desire a change, is it only a wish dream, or are we willing to do something about it?


  1. William Weedon said...

    Amen! And the way to "do" something about it is twofold: to hold up the vision for others to embrace (which I hope the original blog post did) and to move toward its realization in places where we already serve. It won't come all at once, and it won't come by unilaterally decreeing it. It will come by patient working toward it, a piece at a time. The Treasury gives us a great leg up on restoring the Daily Offices. The single divine service is one that I'd really like for the congregation to think through, but I'm thinking it's going to be a longer time in coming than other things on the list.

  2. William Weedon said...

    P.S. One way to introduce Matins is to sing it (unaccompanied even!) before the great feasts at first. Another thing is to offer the Divine Service in a spoken form on the saints days, basically requiring nothing more than the pastor, who will of course set up and tend to all the things that elders and ushers usually do. We've done that before and offered Matins at 6:30 with the Mass at 7 on those weekdays. Never more than a handful, but I never had a single one where there wasn't SOME other person present to say the "amen" and thus to hold the Mass. I'm trying to figure out how to go BACK to that practice!