Thursday, September 22, 2016

Symbols in My Dreams

            Last night I had another vivid dream. As a student of Scripture, I pay attention to dreams. Sometimes God speaks to us in dreams. When it’s not God speaking, it’s still sometimes the spearhead of revelation. Spiritually, there is much going on around us. For someone with a mind always churning like mine, slumber is often the only time the brain is quiet enough to hear what the spirit has to say. One thing I’ve found, both through dreams and intuition, is we often know things before we understand them.
            In last night’s dream, I was back in college. I don’t think I was a student, but it was a college environment. I remember I didn’t need to walk. I was able to move just by thinking. Everywhere I went, it was like I was skiing over the surface. I even was able to ski over carpet, which was a new sensation. It’s hard to describe the sensation. I was gliding so effortlessly and quickly.
            Of course, I don’t remember all the details of the dream. This is pretty common when I dream. But, the sensation was extremely vivid. And, as I was in that half-wake state after dreaming, it brought up memories of doing this before. I had never done this before; but, I had clearly dreamed that skiing sensation before. So, what does it mean? Well, I thought it might be useful to look at some of the recurring themes and sensations I’ve had in dreams, and try to investigate what I think either God or my spirit is trying to reveal.
            I wonder if this represents walking in the Spirit. Is God bringing me into a season of life where he just propels me, and I glide along effortlessly? Is this gliding representative of his blessing, open doors, and ease of movement? Is this a possible picture of a period of time where I will have God’s favor in a particularly strong way?
            College has been a recurring theme in my dreams. With the most recent dreams, I think it just represents a new direction—a fresh start on life. I’ve had a few dreams where I’ve been teaching and speaking to large college audiences. I think that might be representative of ministry—that God may be preparing me to have some sort of impactful ministry to young people.
            Many of my dreams have included flying. This one is a little difficult, because there is a fine distinction between flying on one’s own power and being carried by God. I think proper discernment sometimes relies as much on the feeling of a dream as it does the images of a dream. In at least a few dreams, I think the flying is representative of God empowering and taking me somewhere. In other cases, I suspect it’s just that I’m a free spirit that likes to be creative and find my own path.
            I’ve had several military-themed dreams. I suspect these dreams often reveal spiritual warfare. I likely need to be on guard when I experience one of these dreams. Perhaps they serve as a warning that what I’m seeing and experiencing in the physical isn’t the whole story.
            It’s somewhat hard to explain the sensation of these dreams. I dream I’m driving a car, but I’m not at the wheel. I’m far behind the car trying to keep it going the right direction. Obviously, steering is difficult, and the car always ends up feeling out of control. I suspect the out of control is part of what these dreams mean, but I also think it has to do with me trying to control a situation when I just need to let God be in control. Go ahead, say it! Say it! I know you want to!
            “Jesus take the wheel!”
            Okay, do you feel better now? Good, because I’m not so sure about me. I’m talking to people who aren’t even there! Anyhow, I think these dreams mean I’m trying to be a back, back, back, way-far-back seat driver, when I just need to relax and let God drive. I might be missing some great scenery or a chance to get a good nap.
            This is another sensation that recurs in my dreams. I’m trying to walk (or run at times) and everything feels thick and heavy. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to make any headway. This could have a few different meanings. Perhaps my body needs better care than I’ve been giving it, so things are moving slowly. Or, at times this might mean I’m trying to walk in the flesh instead of the spirit.
            I think in some ways these recurring themes are like traffic signals. The skiing sensation may be a green light—God is granting me favor, so hit the gas and enjoy the ride. The sensation of walking through heaviness may be a red light—slow down, because I'm trying to do things in my flesh. The disembodied driving may be a yellow warning—I'm starting to get out of control, so slow down and put things in their proper perspective. The warfare might be like a deer crossing sign, showing me that just outside my vision of the road ahead, many dangers are lurking. It may be telling me I’m too myopically focused on the road, and I need to be aware of things I can’t immediately see. The college symbol might be like a sign telling me of an upcoming on-ramp: both new opportunities and experiences I should be open to, as well as a possible indication of the future road I should follow. Flying might be like an unlimited speed limit sign—something that is rare that is going to transport me in ways I’ve never experienced before.
            We’ve all had those relationships that we allowed to continue far too long. We knew in our gut, but our brain was behind the game in telling us to get out. Or, we may have had that relationship we missed, and afterwards we knew we missed something special. It may not have been a relationship. It may have been a job or family situation—either that was allowed to continue for too long, or was missed entirely. At times our brain is too slow to process things. We knew before we understood, but waited for understanding; and, in the waiting made a big mistake. Paying attention to dreams can help us decipher where we’re at on the road of life. On rare occasions, a dream may be a word or warning from God. Most of the time, I think dreams reveal to us the things we know before our brain understands them. Dreams can be wonderful traffic symbols on the road of life, but only if we start to pay attention to them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Filling or Baptism of the Spirit?

            Last night I had wonderful fellowship with fellow believers. During our meeting, we laid hands and prayed over a young man. Almost immediately, God presence could be felt. God was all around us and moving on this young man. After the prayer, his countenance was completely changed. He was glowing. It was quite evident that God was working deeply in his heart and spirit.
            Later, as I was in bed thinking of these things, I began to ponder how God’s Spirit moves. Was this a filling of the Spirit? Or, a baptism of the spirit? And, why was God’s Spirit more palpable once we started praying? The moment the group gathered, God’s Spirit was there. But, when he began to work in this young man’s life, it was like his volume knob was being turned up. I think everyone felt it. God wasn’t just moving on this young man. He was moving inside each person in that room.
            I’ve heard all kinds of explanations for how God’s Spirit moves. People throw around ideas like indwelling, filling, and baptism. Some people claim God’s Spirit is with a person when they’re saved, and then at a later point endues them with greater power. People throw around big words, and sometimes their explanations sound more like a magical, spiritual carnival ride than something I can wrap my mind around. So, last night, was this young man filled or baptized in the Spirit?
            Maybe things become simpler if we just consider the words and take them literally. Filled means something is put into something else. For example, I can fill a cup with water. Maybe that is all the filling of the Spirit is. Maybe it’s simply God coming into the inside of us. Once there, he begins to change us from the inside—transforming our heart, our mind, and our spirit.
            Baptized comes from a Greek word that means being immersed into something. So, let’s say I take that cup and put it in a swimming pool. The cup is now baptized in water. It is surrounded by water. But, it is also filled with water. Maybe that’s how God’s Spirit works. He fills us, working on the inside. But, he also surrounds us—changing the atmosphere. That’s really what it felt like last night. As the water of God’s Spirit rose, we could each feel it overflow the lip of our spiritual cup. And, once the water level was that high, it began to flow in.
            I’ve found these types of experiences are common with this group. Certainly this could happen while someone is alone. I’ve had similar experiences while all alone. But, it seems to happen more readily in a group. To use a water analogy, more water can flow when more pipes are open.
            But, why is it so common in this group? In this group, we have no formal liturgy, sermon, or order of service. Everyone is free to share, free to operate within their gifts, free to ask questions, and free to fully participate. To use a water analogy, there’s not only more pipes, but because each person is free to operate, the valve on each pipe is easily opened. The water of the Spirit flows.
            The group has no hierarchy. There’s no clergy-laity distinction. When there is hierarchy, God’s Spirit can flow, but it can’t flow as easily. Those in the clergy position function like a main water pipe, and those in the laity often rely on the flow from the main pipe. While the laity doesn’t have to function that way  (they can have their own independent valve to God’s Spirit), the flow is usually routed through the main pipes, because only a select few share, lead, and control. Without hierarchy, pipes generally flow side by side, with each pipe increasing the amount that can flow. With hierarchy, at least some of the pipes are laid end to end. When pipes are laid end to end, the flow can only equal the capacity of the smaller pipe.

            Have I figured all these mysteries out? No. And, I certainly haven’t come to any conclusions with this blog. Basically, it’s just me thinking aloud and hoping to start a dialogue. So, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mission Without Hierarchy

            The professor crashes through the door and throws his coffee mug across the faculty breakroom. “Oh, these students! These students are killing me!”
            “Whoa, whoa. Calm down, Joe. What’s wrong?”
            “I pour my energy into the classroom, and what do those useless slugs do? They just sit there! Passive little pains in the, . . .”
            “Asterisk is the word you’re looking for.”
            “That wasn’t the word I had in mind!”
            “Just once, I’d like them to bring the same passion to the topic that I do.”
            “It’s never going to happen, Joe.”
            “Well, why not?”
            “These kids these days. They’re just not leaders.”
            A pastor is crying in his office. It’s been a tough week—three funerals, a wedding, and VBS. “Oh, those kids. Somedays I hate those kids! Some days I hate all my congregants!”
            “What’s wrong, John?”
            “Um, . . . oh, . . . um, I didn’t know you were there.”
            “Yep. I’m right here. Being your assistant pastor, we share the office.”
            “Why? Why can’t our members bring the same passion to the church that we do?”
            “You know many of them are working hard to help build the ministry.”
            “Sure, sure. But, the weight of everyone’s burden always falls on us. And, as senior pastor, it always seems to roll up hill. Everyone looks to me to carry their burden. Why can’t they carry their own? And, why can’t they carry each other’s? Why’s it always fall on me?”
            “It’s just the day we live in. No one is a leader anymore.”
            The creative director closes the door of his office. “Why? Why can’t these people come up with ideas? Do I have to do everything around here?”
            There’s a rap at her door. “Who is it?”
            “It’s me, honey.”
            “Come on in.”
            “You looked stressed. What’s wrong, beautiful?”
            “These people are driving me crazy.”
            “Well, that’s what people do.”
            “Once! Just once, I’d like them to bring the same creativity to a meeting that I do. Why? Why can’t they do that?”
            “I guess there’s just a lack of leadership in the advertising field.”
            On the surface, it seems like there is a lack of leadership. But, maybe that analysis is flawed. Maybe the problem is there is too much leadership. Seems like a weird thing to say, because anyone that’s been a leader at any level knows the torment in the preceding examples. They’ve been there. They’ve lived it.
            Let’s begin by how people normally defined leadership. A leader is someone that has followers. Leadership is setting the direction—creating a vision that others will execute. In our Western mindset, we tend to view leadership in an over-under relationship. The leader is the head—the top, the chief, the Big Kahuna that makes the Big Decisions. Followers are the employees, the students, the little cogs that do the small chores.
            Behaviors are merely an outgrowth of the roots of self-perception. Followers perceive themselves as the little cogs. As long as that perception exists, they simply won’t have the same gumption as the leader.
            Two lovers sit on the park bench, fingers intertwined. It doesn’t have to be lovers. It could be a student and teacher talking in the cafeteria. Or, a clergy and laity having lunch after service. Or, a boss and employee having a chat by the water cooler. The relationship will ultimately be defined by how each person views and treats themselves and the other person. In order for both parties to bring the same energy to whatever topic at hand, both parties must view themselves as a person of great energy, enthusiasm, abilities, and worth. Low self-worth never produces positive energy.
            Other conditions must also exist. Both parties must view the other person as an equal. And, both parties must treat the other person as an equal.
            As we go back to our initial scenarios, here is where the problem begins. People in authority want their way—the final say, the last word, the power of veto. But, they also want those underneath them to bring the same energy to the table as they do. They want an inequality of authority, but an equality in terms of both parties taking ownership. But, inequality and equality mix as well as oil and water.
            I used to teach college. I wanted an equality in ownership—with my students bringing the same energy to the table as I did. I didn’t want to poke, prod, stand on my head, and bend over backwards just to pull effort out of them. Honestly, I didn’t even want an inequality of authority. I’ve taught outside the classroom, where I was merely an equal with others. That type of teaching is so satisfying. But, inside the higher education system, I could never have that satisfaction. There came a point where I had to assign a grade, enforce an attendance policy, or tell a disruptive student to quiet down. The system was a hierarchy, with some people above others, and some people below others. In a hierarchy, the system dictates an inequality of authority. This always leads to an inequality of effort. I’m going to use the term “exertional ownership”. By that, I mean someone that is fully engaged—both psychologically as well as physical and mental effort. It is possible to exert effort without having one’s heart in it, and the lack of psychological engagement always eventually leads to apathetic performance.
            It is possible to increase effort through reward and punishment. However, this never produces maximum involvement. Because such systems increase fear, they wreak havoc on the creative process. Fear puts the brain into flight or fight, and under such conditions, the brain’s focus is on survival—not creativity, innovation, or even maximum effort (because survival dictates conservation of resources).
            I’ve only been involved in two settings that approach the ideal of equality of authority combined with the equality of exertional ownership. One is a writer’s group I’ve been involved in over the last couple years. The increase in creative output I’ve seen from the group has been enormous. The environment is fertile for growth—and, growth is happening quickly.
            The other setting I’ve seen is in a small, house church I’m involved with. I’ve never experienced spiritual growth as quickly as I am with this group. It’s a fertile environment, and great things are happening.
            Let’s say I decide to teach a college class in the future. I walk into the classroom, and I renounce all my authority. Say I let students decide what they’re going to do, how they going to do it, and how the grades will be assigned. I then walk out and never return until the final day of class. What will happen? I can say with a great deal of certainty, that on that final day of class, no one will be in the classroom. No one will have written any papers. No projects will have been completed. No group presentations will have been performed. And, I’m going to be having a less than cordial conversation with the dean.
            Imagine if the pastor or creative director were to try the same thing? If we remove a person of authority, people turn into directionless Jell-O. Is it because people don’t have any internal drive? No! We could do the same thing with two-year olds, and things would happen! Two-year olds exercise exertional ownership over their environment—often in destructive, self-serving ways, but left to their own devices, they do have an internal drive! A two-year old is an example of someone who combines exertional ownership with a desire for authority.
            What happens to the two-year? Over time, they lose their exertional ownership. Anyone who teaches college freshman knows what I’m talking about. What a college freshman really wants to know from their professor is, “What do you want me to say, and how do you want me to say it.”
            Our Western society constantly puts people into hierarchies—over/under relationships, where most attempts at equality of authority are squashed. Attempt to deal with your boss as an equal—in an honest, open fashion, and you’ll likely see the door. Try to do that with a member of the clergy, and you’ll likely be looking for a new congregation. Try to do that with your college professor. He might be open to some of your ideas, but the system doesn’t allow complete equality. Society constantly puts us in the position of being under as opposed to being equal. A two-year old fights it. A five-year old fights it. But, by eighteen, most either conform or are headed to prison.
            There may be certain situations where inequality in authority is necessary. A young child that doesn’t submit to their parents may end up burnt, bruised, or even dead. “Don’t play in traffic!” If a building is burning, I’m going to listen if a firefighter barks an order at me. There are times where one person knows more than the other, and the less-knowledgeable person is wise to heed instruction. I mention this, because I know how people will react when I make the argument I’m making. Rather than considering what I’m saying, they’ll try to push me into an extreme position that doesn’t see any use for authority. I’m not promoting anarchy. However, as a whole, our society is far too dependent on hierarchal organizations and relationships.
            Over time, too much hierarchy ends up producing an unhealthy addiction to leadership. People become dependent on someone else telling them what to do, and when separated from that, don’t know how to act. It’s the authoritarian equivalent to the Stockholm syndrome.
            Our society doesn’t have a lack of leadership. It has too much leadership—at least if leadership is defined in over/under relationships, with the corresponding concepts of leaders and followers. Too much of this kind of leadership has produced a society that as a whole view themselves as followers.
            Groups and organizations can exist and thrive without hierarchy. In facts, groups and organizations are often capable of far greater accomplishments when hierarchy is removed, but there are caveats. That state of existence is impossible without both an equality of authority and an equality of exertional ownership.
But, here’s the rub. Groups and organizations cannot exist without leadership. People need to take charge to get things done, and others must follow. This might seem contradictory to what has previously been discussed, but it’s not.
Let’s assume for every task a group must complete, or obstacle they face, there is always one person in the group that is the most capable of understanding that situation. The logical conclusion is the most knowledgeable person needs to lead. Here’s what’s important to understand. Since situations change, it isn’t always the same person. In one situation, it might be Joe. In another situation, it might be Brittany. For another situation, Susan may need to step forward. But, how do we know who is most qualified? Each person must have a great deal of self-awareness (knowing strengths and weaknesses), and each person must also deeply know the other people in the group. A group without hierarchy cannot accomplish much unless deep relationships exist between the members. Without this deep relationship, no one can know who should lead or who should follow in any given situation.
Can you see this type of leadership is far different than hierarchical leadership? Hierarchical leadership is authority based on a position. Hierarchical-less leadership is authority that is situational—based on the talents of the group, and the needs of the situation. In this type of group, over time, everyone ends up exercising authority and also submitting to authority, so there is equality.
I’ve been involved in two settings where I’m seeing things approach this ideal. Both of the groups I’ve been involved in have been extremely fulfilling, and both have seen great growth. But, do these groups just happen? Or, can they be created?
Let’s say ten people were randomly thrown together to start a group. To give myself a fighting chance, let’s say these people all shared similar interests and a common purpose. Maybe they all enjoy writing and want to publish their writing. Given those ten random people, could I achieve my ideal, hierarchical-less group, where everyone shared: equality in authority, equality in exertional ownership, self-awareness, and a deep relationship with others so we all knew our strengths and weaknesses? It’s pretty obvious the relationship part of the equation would take some time. So, let’s say two years pass. Everyone is good friends. We all like each other, and we all know each other’s talents. Will the magical group all of a sudden appear? In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the answer is a resounding no!
There are two pulls that will lead the group to hierarchy. One is selfishness. People want to be in charge. The second pull is the unhealthy addiction to leadership. Let’s start with the second one. As a teacher, I’ve dealt with that one more frequently.
Let’s remember that behavior is an outgrowth of the roots of self-perception. People develop an unhealthy addiction of leadership, because they view themselves as a lesser cog. The way to change that is to see them through other eyes. I must look past the externals, and see the hidden gems (gifts, talents, personality traits) within each person that makes them special. I must nurture those gems—by speaking them, encouraging them, and challenging them. I must see people not for who they are, but for their most glorious potential. And, I must love them—not a directionless love, but a love that shepherds them towards that potential. Until the members of the group begin to view themselves through the eyes of their most glorious potential, they will never see themselves as worthy of equality in ownership. Correcting the unhealthy addiction of leadership starts and ends with love.
Dealing with equality of authority is more difficult—particularly when one wants power. It also requires love. The Napoleon in the group is also capable of glorious potential. I must see, express, nurture, and love them to that potential. Sometimes love is enough to melt their heart. Sometimes the person needs to be asked to leave—or, in the worst of cases, forced to leave. This is never ideal and should always be the last resort, but sometimes there’s no way around it.

As I describe the mythical hierarchical-less group or organization, it does break my heart. I’ve only seen anything approaching what I’m talking about twice. And, in both cases, there was a synergy, creativity, and potential that is so far beyond anything that I’ve seen exist within hierarchies. Honestly, I want to create such groups and organizations. But, here’s the rub. I can’t create the magic. Once I try to create it, I’m trying to control others, and inequality of authority begins to creep in from my end. The best I can do is become a person of such great love, that barriers begin to break. I must become a person that views others—not just as equals, but through the lens of God—seeing people not just for who they are, but for their glorious potential. I must know myself—with a deep understanding of both strengths and weaknesses. I must form deep relationships with others—loving them unconditionally. Hierarchical-less groups and organizations aren’t something we create. The best I can do is become a catalyst—and, when the right conditions exist, the spark will ignite.