A couple years ago, some friends asked us to join them at a Dinner Theater in KC. The show was going to be the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Coat.” I had never seen it but I had heard rave reviews and was eager to see if for myself. My husband, Tommy, came along for the buffet.
The show lived up to the hype. In the opening scene, the costumes were vibrant, the music captivating, the orchestra full of energy. But as the first song came to an end, Tommy leans over and with dismay in his voice says, “Is this a musical?!?” It would be a long 2.5 hours for him.
Musical fan or not, the story of Joseph makes great material for a musical. Dreams, drama, violence, despair, redemption, and forgiveness, the whole package. Early on in the show, Joseph comes rolling out in his new, colorful coat of special favor and sings (in classical musical fashion of course with a longing, forlorn look in his eye), “Any dream will do!” Apparently the specifics of the dream are immaterial; what matters is the dream, the “big something” beyond this provincial life. You get the sense that Joseph is a wide-eyed dreamer, dreaming dreams of greatness, something beyond this small life as a shepherd. Who cares about the details.
THE DREAMER STORY
It’s a narrative that we are all too familiar with…the wide-eyed dreamer, the idealized image of a person whose dreams are bigger than this place, than this town (whatever town they happen to live in), and that if they just believe, the will achieve their dreams!
This dreamer narrative is rooted in humanism, a philosophy of optimism that suggests that humankind, out of our sheer goodness, power, and fortitude, can not only dream big dreams, but can make them happen!
But let me be clear: That is NOT the narrative of the Joseph story. The musical gets it wrong. Joseph is not some wide-eyed dreamer, who longingly gazes over his family’s herds and longs from something more. He is a young man who, through the providence of God, finds himself dreaming the very dreams of God. And that’s a totally different ballgame.
God’s dream has always been to save his beloved creation, to restore it and redeem it, to call Creation and humankind into God’s good future. And his chosen method is through Abraham and his family. God’s Dream is, through the children of Abraham, to make for himself a people that will be a light to all people that everyone might come to know and love God the way God knows and loves them. That is the big Dream of God. The dream is not Joseph’s dream. It is God’s dream.
God’s dream has always been to save his beloved creation, to restore it and redeem it, to call Creation and humankind into God’s good future.
But if you know the story, you know that Joseph’s brother’s don’t see it that way. They don’t have the ears to hear the story that God is telling, that through Joseph, God plans to bring about his salvation for the family of Jacob and ultimately salvation for the world through Jacob’s descendants, namely through Jesus. They don’t have hearts to receive the dreams for what they are: the very Dream of God’s self, expressed through his young man.
In the brothers’ defense, dreams can be scary, and I’m not talking about nightmares that leave you sweaty and breathless in the night. Dreams, the deepest imaginings of the heart, the “what ifs” and “what could be’s”, can be scary because they threaten the status quo. The “what could be” is always a threat to the “what currently is.” And those who benefit from the status quo, those who are living well in the “what currently is” are always the ones most deeply threatened by the dreams and the dreamers.
And so when these dreams of God come to Joseph, the brothers are resistant, violently resistant, plagued by fear, resentment, and rage. The Dream comes in as a disruptive power, breaking into their status quo, upsetting the good thing they got going. So is it any wonder they chuck their brother into a pit and intend to leave him for dead, ultimately selling Joseph into slavery where he suffers hardship after hardship, including years in a prison cell?
The brothers found the Dream of God expressed through Joseph to be too much to bear, too disruptive. The status quo is preferable, so preferable that they will resort to violence to keep it so. But the violence they commit, while it is certainly directed as Joseph, isn’t really violence against a person; it is violence against the Dream of God. They are utterly resistant to God’s future. It is not to be trusted. Joseph pays a price for their disobedient fear.
Where is the dream now? Is it on the ground of the dark, dusty pit, shuffled under rocks and pebbles, to be forgotten forever? Is the dream in shackles, stumbling next to a camel on the sandy path to Egypt? Is this finally the end of the road for God’s Dream, and the promise wrapped up within it? The promise has endured for decades now, through barrenness, through violence, through lies, through profound deception, through rebellion, through greed and disobedience. But is this the end? Because, the Dreamer of God’s dreams is in chains. And the promise tucked inside seems withered and dry.
Is the Dream of God dead?
Back in the 1950’s, as the US seemed to flourish in the post-WWII world, a poet named Langston Hughes began to write about his experience and the experience of his people. Langston was black, and unlike many of his white counterparts in the booming post-WWII economy who were achieving the American dream of a good job, a home of their own, a car, and a yard, Langston saw himself and his black peers floundering. In his mind’s eye, he saw his dream withering…the dream of equality, the dream of financial stability, of freedom. And he wrote a poem called “Harlem” or sometimes called, “A Dream Deferred.” It says:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Can you hear the hurt, the question, the encroaching despair in his words? The question he asks is the same as Joseph, as he sat in that pit, as he stumbled forward into Egypt, as he was thrown into prison unjustly and left their for years: Is the Dream dead?
IS THE DREAM DEAD?
And it’s the same question we ask: Is the dream dead? Is the Dream of God, God’s promise, of God’s good intention of salvation, restoration, and redemption for humankind, dead? Is God’s Dream of a good future of a world set right, healed, and made new, dead?
This weekend, as I followed the demonstrations in Charlottesvillle, VA, I found myself asking that very question. As race relations continue to deteriorate, as protestors and counter protestors do battle in the street and we cannot seem to find a way to live together in respect and peace and equality, when all around us seems to scream despair, chaos, brokenness, and war, from Virginia to North Korea and everywhere in between… we ask the question, is the Dream of God dead, the Dream of God for healed and whole world? Are we so far gone in our selfishness, in our own agendas, in our own violent commitment to the status quo that the dream of God for salvation, restoration, redemption and healing is withered on the vine? Is the path to God’s good future so off the rails, so “not what we expected”, so “not the path we would have chosen”, that like the brothers we push back in anger or resign ourselves in despair to the status quo?
THE GOOD NEWS
But, there is the Good News, there is always Good News, the Gospel to Joseph and to us:
Pits can’t kill God’s dream, no matter how deep and dark.
Shackles can’t kill God’s dream, no matter how tight.
Prison cells can’t kill God’s dream, no matter how lonely and forgotten.
Waiting, even seemingly interminable waiting, can’t kill God’s dream.
Our sin, our selfishness, our violent commitment to the self-serving status quo, can’t kill God’s dream.
God’s Dream is a stubborn old mule that doesn’t know when to quit. God’s Dream is that tenacious weed keeps coming back. God’s Dream for us is a deep crack in the darkness that, given time, will spread and deepen until the light of God’s Dream bursts into creation. God’s Dream for us, for his beloved Creation is resilient, it endures all hardship, it is persistent and it is eternal.
God’s Dream for us is a deep crack in the darkness that, given time, will spread and deepen until the light of God’s Dream bursts into creation.
And so we, even when we are deep in the pit, or bound in chains, or forgotten and alone, keep dreaming. We keep dreaming. But not any ol’ dream will do. We dream the dreams of God, the Dream of God that says, "I have a good future for this world, I will bring about my salvation; I will unleash my redemptive, restorative action in the world through my people, the Church."
As we wait, we put to death our own dreams, our own ego-based dreams, those dreams that are more about us and our agenda and our egos than they are about God’s good work in the world, and instead throw ourselves fully into the dreaming the Dream of God as the Spirit enables us. We put those dreams down like a sick, old dog. It’s a mercy.
There are bigger, deeper, richer dreams to dream, the Dream of God himself, of Creation made new, of a Church living in her calling to be the embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.