Following the plan…or “livin’ the dream?”
But first, a pop quiz – do they have a Fourth of July in England? Answer in a moment.
This past weekend family – siblings from Illinois, Minnesota, California, and Alaska – gathered to chat, reconnect, and enjoy the gift of family. Sadly, we also remembered my brother from New York who died earlier this year. While we missed him, we shared memories, and I am grateful for the expressions of sympathy and support that we have received over the past few months. Thank you!
This week also brought the Fourth of July. So, the answer? Of course they have a “fourth of July” in England, just like they have a “third” and “fifth” of July. They just don’t celebrate! (Ha-ha!)
OK, so that’s a 3rd grade joke. But this week I did read Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution, by Kathleen DuVal.
DuVal’s book examines the impact of the Revolution in the Gulf Coast region – from Florida to New Orleans, and up the Mississippi River. She looks at how American, British, French, Spanish, and Indians all made choices based on their best interest. She considers how that led to shifting alliances, where one’s enemy might later become one’s ally, and how decisions sometimes paid off, and other times did not. In the end, there were many who celebrated new freedoms, and others who lost greatly in the struggle, especially Indians, who tried to create a nation of their own, but couldn’t quite overcome the same challenges facing the colonies (give up some freedom for the stability of a strong central government), and who in the end were forced to move west to what is now Oklahoma. Not one of our better moments as a nation!
Although I don’t agree with all of her conclusions (for example, she takes Georgian colonists to task for indiscriminate killing of Creek Indians – as well she should – but glosses over similar actions by tribes against white settlers), nevertheless, the book is a fascinating exploration of a part of our history that gets lost behind Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and Yorktown. Moreover, as DuVal writes, she does a remarkable job of weaving stories of real people in the midst of the narrative of states, nations, and empires. It was worth reading!
But as the week wore on, it was not the reading that stuck with me the most. Early in the week I came across an article in Christian Century, a journal I receive. The article, “Letting Go of the Plan and Embracing the Dream,” by Debie Thomas, hit home, in part because its what I’ve pondered for many years. Thomas argues that the idea that God has a plan for you misses badly in the context of both faith and real life. She proposes, instead, that we think of God’s “dream.”
Here’s the problem: suppose God has a plan for my life. I go to Ace Hardware, then to Hansen’s. At Hansen’s I run into someone who is struggling, and I am able to make a difference in their life. See? It was God’s plan that I go to Hansen’s after Ace. I did exactly what God’s plan called for.
But does that make me a mere puppet in God’s hands – God pulls the strings and I act?
And does that mean that if I had walked in on an armed robbery and was killed by a criminal’s bullet, that God is at work in my killing, because it is part of the “plan?”
Or…consider next week, I go to Subway first, then to Hansen’s, and the stop off at Ace. Nothing happens. I’m fine, but I didn’t make a difference in someone’s life. Did I miss something? Maybe I should have done Ace-Subway-Hansen’s or…something else?
To imagine that God has a plan either requires me to see myself as a puppet and whatever happens, happens, or it puts the pressure on me to make the right choices. Because if I don’t…oops!
Thomas proposes something else, something she calls “more tender, riskier, more fragile.”
She says, “I believe that human freedom isn’t an illusion; it’s the real deal. God works with the free choices we make in the free universe we live in. God dreams for us, hopes with us, and grieves with us in real time. God works in subtle, mysterious ways, always and everywhere, to redeem us without violating our freedom.”
She goes on to suggest that:
“A plan-less God doesn’t predetermine our days and nights. God walks into them with us, hoping, dreaming, and engaging with us in all the messy, complicated situations we face as vulnerable human beings. God doesn’t hover over creation with a giant planner, ticking off events as they occur; God experiences reality on the ground, just as we do. Determined to accompany us, God rounds every bend in the road, gasping at each glorious landscape, celebrating every mile we conquer, mourning the weary aches and broken ankles we suffer along the way, and working at every instant to birth fresh possibility and goodness into the lives we shape.”
I like that. I like it because that’s what I have experienced. God endows me with lots of abilities, talents, and what we call “spiritual gifts.” God then sets me loose, and calls me to be a wise steward of what I have, to use it well as a faithful disciple of Jesus. In essence, God says to me, “Go ahead, surprise me!”
I move forward into the world, not as a puppet, and not in fear, but in confidence that God has sent me forth. I’m not acting out a preconceived plan, but “livin’ the dream,” and doing with God at my side. God’s embrace guides me, yes, and empowers me, certainly, but also comforts and renews me when I stumble, when my path turns out to be a lot more rocky than I thought.
And not just me – but “we,” as a community of faith, as a congregation. Maybe we too might think of “livin’ the dream,” with God by our side, instead of trying to figure out some imagined cosmic plan for us as a congregation.
Perhaps then, for me and for you, and for us as a congregation, as we I walk in God’s embrace, “livin’ the dream,” we might also discover an incredible new depth to prayer.
Thompson puts it this way: “Prayer can cease to function as a talisman, warding off misfortune and punishment, and become instead an intimate conversation between lover and beloved.”
To be fully engaged, not just as citizens or even as church folk, but rather as beloved children of God and disciples of Jesus. To be in a deep relationship with a caring and loving God, and to engage that relationship through the simple gift of prayer. And then to discover that as we pray, we are enveloped by God’s gift of life and hope.
That is the independence promised and delivered through the cross of Jesus, the grace of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the fullness of life.
And yes, they have that in England too!