I saw Satan last night, but he was a woman and he looked even better than my wife. It was a little weird. And scary. Because I easily could have kissed him, especially when he cried. It's a good thing it was only a dream.
This was one of those really bizarre dreams, as far as dreams go - not the "whoa, God just spoke to me" kind of thing, but more along the lines of "whoa, where the heck did THAT come from?" I mean, I know I got up way too early (4:15 AM, to take the kids fishing), and then I stayed up way too late (1 AM, to watch the fireworks), but I had a nap in between and everything. Maybe it was the salmon that our new friend Mitt cooked us for dinner...
One of the stranger things about this dream was that it unfolded like a screen play, where I was both the author and the lead, and things kind of got rewound and rewritten without warning. Here's what I remember.
It's a dark and stormy night. Thunder flashes in the distance. Rain clouds loom ominously overhead. The small band of road-weary travelers makes their way along the narrow path, mountain on the one side, chasm on the other. The whole scene seems right out of the Hobbit. And suddenly, aaaahhhh - it's SATAN HIMSELF, ROARING LIKE A BALROG, "YOU CANNOT PASS!!!!" (I know, that's Gandalf's line, but its my dream, so cut me some slack). The point is, it's one of those freaky moments in the movie where we all recoil in terror. In this case, panic ensues as we all wet ourselves and then jump shrieking to our deaths. So much for a happy ending.
Then, suddenly - ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound) - the scene undoes itself and we are half-way up the cliff again, only this time we are met by the beautiful woman I mentioned earlier. She has voluptuous breasts, a low cut shirt, and she looks like like a frightened young woman who wants me to hold her.
I'd really like to kiss her now, to feel her lips on mine while I run my hand tenderly up her back. Instead I utter my lines stoically, "You must let us pass. We are on our way to see God."
"I can't." She starts to cry those little-daughter tears that just melt your heart. "I cannot let you go on, because God cannot be found. I know because I have tried. Only if you tell me how to find God, only then will I let you pass."
She speaks with such heartfelt empathy, God must not be there. I have no idea what to say, but since I'm a pastor, I feel like I have to say something. So I mutter something silly. Or stupid. Or maybe both. Details are fuzzy; the only part that is staggeringly clear is the realization that for me, God is far too abstract, far too far off. She, on the other hand, is way more convincing than we are - her tears are genuine; she knows that of which she speaks.
Clarity returns when a new voice beside me speaks, quiet yet confident: "I know where to find God, and I know what to do when you meet him - you kick his ass
(I realize that doesn't quite seem to follow what she said - it's answering the 'what' not the 'where' - but that's what happened, and it made for a nice dramatic moment in the screenplay of my dreams, so let's just run with it, shall we?).
I turn to see the speaker, only to discover my fifteen year old son. I'm more than a little shocked to hear such language from him (perhaps I hear too much of myself in those words?) but I am pleased nonetheless. He is speaking with conviction, lovingly even, as a boy-becoming-a-man, little David staring down Goliath, oblivious to her breasts because he sees beyond them to something better.
There is a tear rolling down his face, and fear aplenty, but nevertheless, here is Samwise the Stout, staring down Shelob. And when he speaks of kicking God's ass, he says it as a loyal soldier, as a longing lover, as Jacob-renamed-Israel limping out of the sunrise, as someone who has encountered God face to face and lived to tell about it. He realizes the only way into the kingdom if to lay hold of it forcefully, throwing yourself into mortal combat with the King of Kings himself - we kick his ass only because he has already kicked it himself for us. The secret then, is to lay hold of the angel and to not let go until he blesses you, even if it means your own hind end is going to get kicked in the process.
Malachi too knows that of which he speaks, and this is his defining moment, the one where he alone stands up and defies the giant, saying, 'Oh yeah, well I'm with him!' as he points to the memory of the God of his fathers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. It makes his father proud, even if it is just a dream.
The reaction, of course, is immediate, volcanic. The camera zooms in close to the woman as her face explodes in wrath and rage, the balrog within unmasked again: "YOU. CANNOT. PASS! I will destroy you if you try!"
It's my turn to shout now, in the face of the maelstrom, freaked out and afraid: "Oh yes we can! IN THE NAME OF JESUS, GET OUT OF OUR WAY!"
Ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound).
"Oh yes, we can. In the name of Jesus, get out of our way."
Hmm. That was an interesting little change. I'm speaking in a much calmer voice now, quietly, matter of fact - I wonder why? Maybe it's so I will look better on screen: calm, cool, collected. But if that's the case, why didn't they fix my thinning hair and sagging midsection? Maybe we should just see where this goes.
"In the name of Jesus, you need to let us pass."
"Never!" shrieks the balrog.
"In the name of Jesus, you need to step aside. Repent. Stop opposing God. Maybe he will forgive you."
"Never, ever!" shrieks the balrog, whose breasts are looking decidedly less sexy with every passing moment.
"In the name of Jesus, you need to turn to God. Now!
"Never, ever, ever!" shrieks the balrog. "God doesn't exist. He is nothing but a delusion. Besides, there would be no forgiveness for me." Her breasts are gone. She is an undead fire-corpse, Durin's Bane, threatening to engulf us all.
The repartee continues like this for several minutes. Back and forth, me-the-actor beginning every phrase with those same simple words, me-the-spectator puzzling over the way the conversation is unfolding. Back and forth we parry. Back and forth I ponder. Then suddenly, it is over, Satan is gone. Not because I argued, not because I won, certainly not because I listened sympathetically to his plausible arguments. He is simply wrong. And we are on a mission to find God. And he must repent or step aside. Not because we say so, but because Jesus does.
Satan leaves simply because we speak in the name of Jesus
Maybe there is a reason Peter used those words when he speaks to the crippled beggar in the gate named Beautiful. Maybe I should use them more. Not in a shout-real-loud-cause-I'm-scared-of-the-freaking-demon sort of way, but simply, quietly, matter-of-factly, as a servant who knows who his orders. How would this change the way we talk with unbelievers, with one another? How would this change the way we plant this church here in Missoula?
There is no time to ponder, because the dream lurches onwards as dreams always do. For the first time, I realize that friend Mitt is also present in our little party, and now it's his turn on center stage.
First though, some background on Mitt. We haven't known him long, but already he seems like an old friend (perhaps because he lived with us for a couple of weeks). He reminds me a lot of myself-as-a-church-planter. I think this is because he's a journalist - an 'immersive journalist' at that - and he is fascinated by all sorts of people; he will talk to anyone, and he loves to climb into their lives and try to see the world through their eyes. Mitt is a great writer. But he is also a good friend, so their are some things he can't write about as freely - it's that whole conflict-of-interest thing: How could he write objectively about someone he really likes? How could he write an article about our church plant, if he himself is kind of interested in it?
Given all this, the next words out of my mouth shock me as much as him: "Mitt, God wants you to write an article and tell everyone what you just saw."
I feel like someone else is speaking through me; I am Merlin reborn in That Hideous Strength
, uttering oracles in the midst of otherwise normal conversations. Everyone else just looks at me like I've gone loopy: Satan has vanished, and now Christian-who-would-be-Gandalf sounds demon possessed. This is one really trippy dream.
(Aside to Mitt: dude, if you are reading this, remember, it's a dream. I have no idea where this came from. I'm certainly not suggesting that God actually wants you to do this. Honest. What did
you marinate that salmon in, anyway?)
"Christian, how can I do this? I'm you're friend. You are planting a church. How can I write about this journey you are on and make any claim to objectivity?" Mitt's response is completely understandable. But in my dream it's simply wrong and unacceptable.
"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need to tell people that this is what God is doing, and that they need to be a part of it."
"Christian, no one will believe me! We just ran into a really hot balrog-Satan-babe. People will think I am freaking insane!
" (I told you he's a good journalist - very in touch with his audience, Mitt is).
"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you must tell them that this is what God says."
"But what am I supposed to write? And what about the fact that whenever I write something I am always writing from my own perspective, my own interpretation of 'the facts'? What if I get something wrong? How will anyone know which parts are true?"
The wide-awake-me is nodding vigorously in agreement with Mitt right now; unfortunately, the mouthpiece-of-God-me isn't buying it.
"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need to write what you have seen. I will ensure that the parts which are true get said truly. And I will also ensure that the people who need to hear this truth recognize it when they hear it. Anything less is simply errancy
This strikes the watching-this-as-drama-me as a fascinating way of thinking about in
errancy - not that every jot and tittle is 'true' in the abstract, historical, impersonal sense (is there even such a thing?), but that the real, true, ultimate meaning of every jot and tittle is preserved truly, irrepressibly, by an ultimate author who is infinitely capable, not just of speaking, but of communicating, of being heard by those he intends to hear. Anything less is simply errant
- it may be true, in a factual sort of sense, but it is nevertheless wrong because it fails to say all that is meant to be said. Facts alone never get us to meaning, and yet life is clearly loaded with intent, and anything that hides that is ultimately false.
"What if they don't believe?" Mitt is Moses now, and I feel like the burning bush: on fire, in the middle of someone else's conversation, and completely unable to do anything about it.
"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need do what God is telling you, or you need to step aside and he will use another. Now!
" Same quiet voice. Same quiet name. Same sense of urgency. Same demand to decide.
To my shock and horror, Mitt makes his decision, but in a way that completely surprises me. He turns aside. He steps away and disappears from the dream. Poof. Mitt is gone. Just like the balrog.
I find myself shaken, not by Mitt's failure, but by my own (remember, this is my dream, not his). My confidence is so easily misplaced. In friends. In my own ability. In how others think about me. There is so much 'me' in this journey, so much 'in my name', 'in my time', 'according to my plan'. Maybe it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with someone else. Why do both friend and foe hear the same words - repent, believe, follow, all in his name
? Behold, I tell you a mystery...
Just as I think this, there is one last... Ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound).
The scene vanishes and I am lying wide awake, listening to my alarm scream tidings of good news: Satan is gone, morning has come. Time to wake from my death and arise.