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The Wish-Dream, Escaping Again Into the Woods, and True Belonging

Nutrients for your spiritual life. An essay newsletter on spiritual formation, community, and culture
The Wish-Dream, Escaping Again Into the Woods, and True Belonging
By Jeremy Linneman • Issue #5 • View online
Nutrients for your spiritual life. An essay newsletter on spiritual formation, community, and culture.

In the 18th century, along the East Coast of our country as it was being colonized, there were two groups of people living side by side in their own communities. The first group, the Native Americans, maintained a simple way of life that been unchanged for thousands of years. The second group, the European Colonists, represented the most modernized society in terms of their economy, culture, industry, and technology. 
Despite very little interaction between the two groups, one of the communities began to be very interested in the other, and many individuals and families began to leave their own social group to join the other. But, in what has been normally described as a historical curiosity: It was the British Colonists leaving their own society and joining the tribes of the indigenous people—not the other way around.
Escaping Again Into the Woods
The story is told in journalist Sebastian Junger’s great book, Tribe: On Belonging and Homecoming. In several instances, British Colonists were captured during battle by the indigenous people. But rather than being killed or imprisoned, the Colonists were simply integrated as members of the Native communities. When the Colonists would finally rescue these individuals, and return them to their colonies, the captives would often seek to return to their tribes. 
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote to a friend in 1753:
“Though ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life… and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods.”  
Still others voluntarily left British society to join the tribes of the Natives. They simply “walked off into the tree line and never came home.”
French historian Hector de Crevecouer wrote in 1782,
“Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European. There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.”
The seeds of radical individualism were being planted, and already the early Americans began looking for a deeper, more connected, more relational way of life
The Wish-Dream
One of the great Christian writers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, described something he called the “wish-dream.”
He wrote Life Together in German, and for lack of a better word, his original English translators came up with the phrase “wish-dream.” Although newer translations of LT use other words, the phrase wish-dream perfectly encapsulates his thinking.
The wish-dream is the ideal of life as we think it should be, a life of happiness and meaning and satisfaction. It’s a life without pain, without setbacks, without conflict, without suffering. 
In the wish-dream, our work is always meaningful and satisfying. In the wish-dream, our friends never let us down. In the wish-dream, marriage is always a joy, and children are consistently sweet and affordable
But Bonhoeffer wasn’t writing of the wish-dream of work ambition or family happiness, he was writing of the ideals we lay upon our Christian friends and communities. He writes:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams…
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.
We are all familiar with the wish-dream of Christian community, either because we’re still wondering why it isn’t coming true, or because we can think back to the exact time and place when it died… and we finally buried it beneath six feet of cold dark earth. 
What we most need is not a grand vision for community, but a gritty, committed fidelity to our actual community.
Fidelity: Faithfulness to God, Self, and One Another
The wish-dream of success in a new world led those early European-American colonists to cross an ocean, risk their lives, and threaten the lives of others.
America is Land of the Wish-Dream.
But what they underestimated, and what most Westerners continue to underestimate today, is that personal happiness, well-being, and flourishing are not found in the achievement of individual freedom and material wealth.
Instead: Happiness, well-being, and flourishing are discovered only in relationship, in community.
As we often say here at the GOOD SOIL headquarters:
We are relational beings, made in the image of a triune God, who has eternally existed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship. To be made in his image is to be a person-in-relationship, and to be fully alive is to to belong to others.
True belonging, as I define it, is being fully known and fully loved.
As St. Paul writes,
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)
It doesn’t mean everyone always fulfills your wish-dream for what church should be. But you belong. Even amid an individualistic culture, our ultimate belonging is secure.
In Christ, it always has been.
Fidelity Sports: Football is Back! (And I'm Conflicted)
My love of sports is usually clean and simple. Sports teach us teamwork and perseverance; sports bring people together and build community; sports reveal our shared desire to belong to something bigger than ourselves; sports take (some of) the pressure off holidays with family.
But with football, it’s not clean and simple.
Ever since my friend Kevin sent me a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, I can barely watch football. Gladwell leads us through the examples of coal mining and cigarette smoking, both of which were strongly defended by, well, coal and cigarette companies as perfectly good for your health. Even though there were years of research that revealed the health affects of both, the general public believed working in a coal mine or smoking a cig were essentially harmless. The proof was there, but we didn’t want to see it.
Then, Gladwell says that we do this everyday, especially in the fall. He’s talking about football. We have just as much evidence, and have for several decades, that football causes concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and mental illness. Yet we keep watching.
And then last week’s news hit: Andrew Luck, a 29-year old quarterback that Sports Illustrated predicted would win the MVP award this year, retired with $64 million dollars left on his contract. He cited mental fatigue and an accumulation of injuries among his reasons, but he was no doubt considering his long-term mental health. (And, after losing to the Chiefs in the playoffs last year, he probably recognized he’d never make it to the Super Bowl anyway.)
It’s no real surprise. Top-level players have been retiring from the NFL in their twenties for many years. But Luck is highest-profile player, and the first quarterback, to quit before an injury forced him to retire.
I don’t have a simple solution to a complicated problem. I haven’t yet boycotted football. It is still a great source of community in a college town like Columbia, Mo. It is still something that brings people together. And yes, the players are willingly choosing to play. (I can easily boycott tackle football before high school, when the brain is still in critical development, and our boys will not be playing tackle football any time soon.)
But like many of you, I have an uneasy relationship to football, and insist that much needs to be done to fundamentally change the game for the safety of the players at every level.
And, fully aware of the hypocrisy, here are my…
NFL Predictions
The Chiefs, again, go 12-4 and take the #1 overall AFC playoff seed, followed by the Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Steelers, and Colts. (The Browns and Chargers miss the playoffs.) The Chiefs beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game. Sweet revenge.
The Rams, Eagles, Saints, Packers, Bears, and Cowboys make the playoffs in the NFC, and the AZ Cardinals go 0-16. The Eagles beat the Rams for the NFC championship.
And of course, behind Patrick Mahomes, patron saint of all our hopes and dreams, the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV over the Eagles, 42-17.
Trust me. Have I ever been wrong?
Benediction: A Blessing for the Road
This week, we enjoyed our second-ever Celebration Dinner at Trinity Community Church. It’s one part servant-appreciation, one part vision night, and three parts “let’s all get babysitters and enjoy a massive feast paid for by the church.”
110 percent of people agree it’s the best thing we do as a young church.
Casey, our pastor of worship and liturgy, led us in this opening prayer, which he pulled from Every Moment Holy, a modern liturgical book.
May this our feast fall like a great hammer blow against that brittle night, shattering the gloom, reawakening our hearts, stirring our imaginations, focusing our vision on the kingdom of heaven that is to come, on the kingdom that is promised, on the kingdom that is already, indeed, among us, for the resurrection of all good things has already joyfully begun. 
All participants now lift their glasses.
May this feast be an echo of that great Supper of the Lamb, a foreshadowing of the great celebration that awaits the children of God. Take joy, O King, in this our feast.
And all God’s people say:
Amen!

Have a great weekend, folks. Thanks for reading GOOD SOIL.
Much love,
JSL

Post Script. For those who have asked, I am recovering nicely from a recent bike crash. Last Friday, I was pedaling in early-morning rain when I hit a ridge in the road and landed on my hip on the pavement at 20 mph. My x-rays were clean, and a week later, I’m off crutches and don’t seem to have any muscle/ligament damage, but I still need more rest before I know for sure. Thanks for your prayers! (And yes, obviously, I rode home after the accident.)

Next time (Friday, September 20th)—Two Years In: My First Published Reflections on Church Planting; Questioning Christianity, a new study on serious questions and strong faith; the return of Three Good Reads; and more hard-hitting Fidelity Sports journalism/tomfoolery. 
Did you enjoy this issue?
Jeremy Linneman

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