Saturday, August 8, 2015

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

Christ Church, West River - I am the bread of life part 2
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal …Ephesians 4:30
John 6: I am the living bread that came down from heaven

This week I find myself thinking about and singing this song by Ed McCurdy, a folk singer, who wrote it in 1950 in the early days of the Cold War and the aftermath of WWII which concluded once and for all with the dropping of nuclear weapons over two cities in Japan.  McCurdy’s song has been recorded by countless musicians from Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio to Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Mason Proffit, John Denver, and artists all around the world.  It is probably one of the least known most recorded songs in music history.

I never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
Music and words: ED MCCURDY
Performed by Johnny Cash

An historical note: as the Berlin Wall was finally being dismantled in November 1989, Tom Brokaw directed the NBC cameras to focus on a group of school children on the East Berlin side of the wall singing, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.

We come from love, we return to love and love is all around. All of life is a homecoming, a coming home to God. We are God’s Beloved – signed and sealed by water and the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever.

This of course is directly related to the immutable fact of our creation: imago Dei – in the image of God.

So if we are imago Dei, and we are God’s Beloved, perhaps some time spent contemplating just what this means about who we are, whose we are, and what, if anything, we ought to be doing.

Our Baptismal Covenant asks us to make two key promises: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace for all people, respecting the dignity of every human being?

To which we respond, I will with God’s help.

To serve Christ in all persons we need to truly accept that all people, not some people, not most people, but all people have something of Christ in them already. This is a bold assertion, and one not without controversy. But if, as John’s gospel has it, the Word, the logos, was with God and is God “in the beginning,” and all things came to be through this Word, and the Word is Jesus, God who became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood, there is no one and no thing in all of creation that does not have some of the Word, the logos, the Christ, within them. All people are imago Dei.

We are those people called to recognize that, accept that and serve that in all persons. We do that by striving, not simply being in favor of, but working, striving and bringing about justice and peace for all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

This week we stop to reflect on three very important anniversaries. August 6 commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law – thus fulfilling the promises of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution which were enacted as a result of the Civil War. I watched a film clip of President Lyndon B. Johnson urging congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. As part of his speech he concludes, “We shall overcome….we shall overcome.” A song Pete Seeger adapted from the labor movement, who in turn had adapted it from a Negro Spiritual. Pete Seeger and Martin King had a dream, fueled by the Word of God, that one day all the people of the United States would be free, participating citizens.

August 6th was also the 70th anniversary of the US dropping a nuclear weapon on the city of Hiroshima. Today, August 9th commemorates the dropping of a second nuclear weapon over Nagasaki. Under orders by President Harry S. Truman, the US became the first and only country in history to use a nuclear weapon, and to use it to kill over 120,000 men, women and children, non-combatants, and to level two entire cities, leaving thousands more to live with the consequences of radiation sickness and what today we would call PTSD.  
In a blinding flash of white light, two cities and the people therein were incinerated. Most, if not all, were non-combatants.

It is perhaps an irony of history that August 6th is also the Feast of the Transfiguration – commemorating that event on a mountain top in which Jesus was seen by Peter, James and John to be blindingly white, dazzling in the sunlight, talking to Moses and Elijah. These events are forever linked.

The further irony, pointed out by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens [Abingdon Press, 2014 25th Anniversary Edition], is that President Truman was considered by many to be a faithful Christian, a faithful Baptist – the man who on the Feast of the Transfiguration inaugurated the threat and actuality of Nuclear Holocaust.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” We have been incorporated into the Body of Christ. We are to become the bread of life for the world. Jesus urges us to love our enemies. Jesus urges us to respect the dignity of every human being – not some, not most, but all human beings. Jesus says we cannot live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from God. The bread of life that comes down from heaven that we need to hear this 9th day of August come from Isaiah, a fellow prophet in the tradition of Elijah:

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

How are we to be people of the Word of God as we reflect on these words of Isaiah and the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth?Paul in his letter to the Ephesians urges us, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal.” It is very difficult to imagine that what happened in Japan in 1945 does not grieve the Holy Spirit.

Digging around the internet I discovered that Ed McCurdy’s original lyrics concluded this way:

Last night I had the strangest dream, I’d ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war
When I awoke, ‘twas but a dream and peace a dirty word
I tried to tell them of my dream, but not a word they heard

And then I got me fighting mad, and I knew just what I’d do
I’d fight non-violently for peace, until my dream came true

Ed’s dream is the dream of God for all people – a world of justice and peace and dignity for all people.  This is the essence of the living bread that comes down from heaven. This is the daily bread God wants us to have, to accept as gift from the one who calls us to be his beloved. This is the daily bread we are to become – living bread for the whole world. It’s a complex world, we all get that. But the bread we are given to shape all that we do and all that we say promises that we can live up to our belovedness, we can act as if we truly believe we are imago Dei, created in the image of God. There is much that can be done non-violently to make the dream come true. Together we can make a world in which everyone is closer to God, closer to one another and closer to themselves.

Where have all the flowers gone…..
When will we ever learn,
When will we ever learn


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