By Dick Barrett
One of the responses that I seem to get more and more frequently from people whom I encounter, after asking them how they are doing is, “I am (just) living the dream!” Of course, for almost all of them that response is meant to be sarcastic and negative. What they really want me to know is that they are not living the dream.
Several years ago, one of my closest friends who always used that phrase, “I’m just living the dream,” took his own life. Apparently, he was not living the dream that he had hoped to be living. Recently I have been thinking about challenging people who respond with, “I am living the dream,” with the question, “What is your dream?” Thinking about asking others that question has challenged me to ask myself the same question: “What is my dream?”
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) says, “Where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Other versions use the word “revelation.” Where are our dreams, visions, and/or revelation supposed to come from? Clearly they need to come from God. The English Standard Version reads, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Perhaps Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message captures the true meaning of the verse best: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what God reveals, they are most blessed.”
God has revealed himself to us, and the way he wants us to live, in many different forms – in our selves who are created in his image, in nature, in Scripture, and most fully in Jesus Christ. Our dreams and visions for our own lives need to be bigger than ourselves. They need to fulfill God’s primary purposes, not just for us as individuals, but for the world.
When I think of someone who had a dream that was much bigger than himself and one that aligned with God’s dream for a more loving and just world, I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963. Unfortunately, Rev. King did not have the opportunity to see his dream being fulfilled, as he was assassinated less than five years after his speech, still pursuing the dream. We can look at King’s dream today, almost 60 years later, and point to many parts of the dream that have been fulfilled, yet others which have not. A good dream is always beyond us.
When I read Scripture I think particularly of two dreams that are beyond us – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and John’s vision in the book of Revelation. Just because a good dream is always beyond us, it doesn’t mean we should not try and live it out. In our own humanness, we cannot live out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but with the help of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible.
One of the dreams that has attracted my attention over the past several years now is “The Mennonite Dream,” penned by David Augsburger in 1970. But the Mennonite dream did not originate with him. It originated with our Anabaptist forefathers and foremothers some 500 years ago.
“The Mennonite Dream”
From the beginning in 1525 through the present, Mennonites have pursued a dream . . .
- That it is reasonable to follow Jesus Christ daily, radically, totally in life.
- That it is practical to obey the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the whole New Testament, literally, honestly, sacrificially.
- That it is thinkable to practice the way of reconciling love in human conflicts and warfare, nondefensively and nonresistantly.
- That it is possible to confess Jesus as Lord above all nationalism, racism or materialism.
- That it is feasible to build a communal church of brothers and sisters who are voluntarily, disciplined, and mutually committed to each other in Christ.
- That life can be lived simply, following the Jesus way in lifestyle, in possessions, in service.
What might be the result if all of us who call ourselves Mennonite tried living the Mennonite Dream, in both our own personal and congregational lives? Might we get glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth promised in the book of Revelation?