Last week I had a dream reminiscent of many childhood nightmares.
The communists were coming then, putting me in prison because I was a Christian. In the adult version of the dream, the characters and scene had changed. I was not part of a crowd, gathering in a large hall set up for a crusade-style service.
The seats were divided into two sections. By far the largest group was reserved for Christians who were carrying Bibles, smiling, greeting one another. A roped section at the back of the auditorium was marked for nonbelievers.
This was a world in which the political divisions had turned upside down and around. The Christians were in power. The enemy was no longer fascists or communists on the march. It wasn’t even drug dealers or mafia murderers. The enemy was “respectable” citizens who did not believe; or if they did believe, they did not express their faith in acceptable terminology.
The “we-they” mindset of the Christians in control was as rigid and harsh as that of the shoe-thumping Khruschev who once threatened my premature burial because I refused to stand on his side of the battlefield. Though I heard no pulpit pronouncement, I knew the significance of the auditorium’s division: Anyone sitting in the roped section for nonbelievers was in danger of losing livelihood, if not life.
Now in control, Christian leaders were separating the goats from the sheep, the tares from the wheat. You – in. You – out. We. They.
From a side aisle, I watched the scene for a minute. I wasn’t smiling and couldn’t understand why most of the congregation was so happy that they were chosen. They didn’t feel the tension that was disturbing my restful sleep.
As in those childhood nightmares I felt forced to decide where I’d stand. I was a believer. I knew it. I could honestly say the words that would save my life. Yet I could not walk toward safety and away from the accused. The choice was mine …The choice was mine…The choice was mine. I could not bring myself to walk toward safety and desert the damned.
When I woke up I was short of breath and fearing for my fate, though I was quickly relieved that I was at home in my bed, in no immediate, obvious danger. Outside my window the darkness turned to dawning. But now, a week later, the dream still digs into my mind.
A few hours ago I sat down to try to pull out the thorn – the new twist in the nightmare I thought I’d out-grown. I closed my eyes and placed myself back in the crusade auditorium lined with chairs.
Again I felt the tension and fear of choice. Would I stand with the church in power, but that I felt was out of line? Would I skirt the confrontation that would likely cost my life?
Suddenly the dream took on another dimension. The monumental decision was no longer mine. It was midway through Holy Week and the quandary, even the tension and fear, was Jesus’. There were two groups of sinners with which he could stand.
And he didn’t choose the self-righteous.