Bird of Passage
Belly of the Ekklesia
Breath of Life
In this dream, I remember that while swimming at a neighborhood pool, I was trying to explain the mechanics of floating to someone. They were struggling to do it themselves, and I wanted to help. “You will float as long as there is air in your lungs.” The basics for sure. The day was otherwise bright and beautiful; it was almost perfect. If only such a day were common. However, in the middle of its perfection and at the end of my lesson, things changed dramatically. The pool floor, its edges, and its shallows were gone in a moment. On top of that, the sky above seemed somehow distorted. Many of the cheerful swimmers just moments ago were now still and unmoving, drifting slowly and ominously towards an infinitely expansive floor as far as the eye could see.
It was as if the pool had been at the bottom of the ocean, and we were just now aware of it. A wrecked ship lay below, and corpses settled near it. Fearfully aware of our situation, the rest of us fought towards the sun, whose light helped orient us and simultaneously made the dead that much easier to see. There was so much water; I swam for my life, arms flailing desperately and legs kicking vigorously. It almost wasn’t enough. I thank God that I made it to the surface, but when I looked around, I was the only one that made it. The water was so still and so calm, not even the tiniest wave for as far as the eye could see. My respite would only be a moment; taking a deep breath, I went right back under, fighting with all that I had to return from whence I had come.
Why? Why would I do this, one might imagine? I’ll tell you why. My brother was down there. Not even a second thought would be enough to deter me from what I had in mind, nor a third. With a breath for me and a breath for him, I sought him out beneath the waves and spotted him quickly. He was alive and fighting with equal determination toward the calm above us. Regardless of the distance, I could see that he was running out of air through his struggle. Halfway between the surface and the depths, we met alone; nobody else had reached this point. Lifeless bodies sunk or continued struggling for life far below us. They likely wouldn’t make it, but here, in the twilight of heaven and hell, we had more of a chance than anyone. Without a second thought, I gave him half the supply of hope in my lungs, and from that moment on, we would be sharing life or the inevitable. If he didn’t have enough to make it, neither did I. With nothing but our lives to lose and rebellion in our hearts, we slipped through the icy grip of Death, breaking free of a watery grave. Despite the victory, our struggle was far from over. Under a gathering audience of stars, the vastness of the ocean stretched out around us with nothing to grab hold of except each other.
Immediately after this moment, the dream focuses on another protagonist on a lonely island. The distance between us, however great, was crossed in the blink of an eye. The island stretched towards heaven through a singular mountain at its center. It is a shame that its beauty would not last as the entire island began to shake violently. The earth quacked and rolled beneath the feet of a man and a woman running towards the ocean shore, terror painted across their faces. Far beneath their feet snaked the tendrils and appendages of things that had begun to stir up towards the surface, pushing through the earth as if it was mud. In response, the ground gave way where these tendrils stretched highest towards the surface, causing miles of rock to rise hundreds of feet in the air in response. The land rose high under the fleeing couple; they did not pause even to catch their breath; they just kept on running. Whatever was coming had nearly reached the surface, nearing the peak of its violent parturition.
For a sweet moment, smoke and magma nearly skewed from the view of this unholy miracle of life, but not quite. What crawled forth were abominations, truly beautiful monstrosities. At first glance, I could only see white glowing skin, but no matter, I would be getting a much closer look soon. The young man was pulled away from the young woman by a black object that looked like a big bullet. The thing quickly carried the young man into the air, through the stratosphere, and past the earth’s exosphere. And this wasn’t even the end of it. Before he could have the pleasure of dying, he found himself face to face with one of the beasts that had crawled up from the earth. It was beautiful. It had glowing skin that was white as snow. It also seemed quadrupedal in its stance, wings perhaps, and a humanoid face for sure. This description does not do it justice in the slightest; furthermore, it was so big that the man was likely only as big as one of its fingernails. In one horrifying move, its face opened up in a way much like a crocodile to receive him, the gape of its mouth seemingly stretching back beyond the length of its neck. The monsters back on earth were very similar to the ones here, but this one lacked the tendrils and smoke to veil itself as the others did.
As the nameless man continued his ascent into its mouth, he soared past slithering guts and flesh from around the stomach lining that reached hungrily for him. His story ends here without resolution; simultaneously, here is where my story begins again. My brother and I found ourselves in the guts of this monster, where we found ourselves standing on a cement floor. It was part of a facility established in the beast’s stomach; it reminded me of a cathedral. We crept through the facility, hiding in the shadows as men in white and gray armor wielding guns patrolled the area. Hiding ultimately didn’t work out too well; we were spotted pretty quickly and had to defend ourselves from their advances. After incapacitating a good number of them in a fight I don’t remember, we continued through the facility until we reached a central room. It appeared to be the sanctuary. At the center of the room was a stage; upon it was a seat of honor.
Here we are greeted by a man and one of my sisters from back here on earth, and we sit down to talk instead of fight. I don’t remember the conversation very well, but I remember eating snacks while we all spoke. The snacks were from a trip outside of the United States that my brother and I had taken. I wish I could remember the taste. In the dream, our sister was excited because, on that day, she would be meeting her “new dad.” A guide, perhaps? Our sister decided to show us the way home, but only after her first introduction and meeting with her new father. He might have asked her for money to gamble at a casino, but I can’t remember. The dream ends here.
I look at the monsters as churches and denominations. To be swallowed up is to be taken in by one of these atrocities and not let go, bound by philosophies and theologies that ultimately don’t matter at all. Those consumed all remain blissfully divided, content to be secluded from the whole of the ekklesia of Christ. And for what? Over Christians attending more than one church, marrying outside their denomination, full submersion, and tithing? Is this all it takes to distract us?
The faces of the beasts were beautiful. If the opposite of those things is the church, what could we surmise by considering their beauty? Just like these things, the church seeks to seduce its prey. We entice people very well, but we train them very poorly. The church grows fat and prosperous while heaven starves. We do this best through many events while giving only a basic understanding of the faith to avoid losing people. If they knew the cost, they might walk away. Christianity is not pretty as we make it out to be; the gospel promises suffering in this life, not prosperity. One need only look at our Messiah; the cross wasn’t pretty.
I translate the act of building a home in the belly of the beast as someone who sticks to a church and does not go, preach the gospel, or make disciples. These are ultimately signs of spiritual growth and development. It sounds intimidating for sure, but one need only consider that discipleship, on average, should not take thirty years. It shouldn’t take five or six for the average person. Going to church on Sunday and listening to a sermon is not discipleship; it hardly qualifies as the community aspect God calls us to because it doesn’t involve doing everyday life together personally and emotionally. Naked and unashamed. Saying goodbye is hard, but for Christians, it should be normal. Yes, routine is comforting, but the gospel is more important than the comfort of a familiar face. However, the beast swallows us up, and we don’t put up a fight.
For these reasons and more, I have no desire to be tied down to any particular church or denomination. I don’t want a church home; I want Christ and His body. Let Christ be my father, and His church become my mother. I will thank God for the Calvinists because through them, I have learned that God is in control; I will thank God for the Armenian because through them, I’ve learned that I must choose to align myself with what I see God doing for His glory.
Furthermore, I will thank God for the Charismatic because they taught me to wait on my God. After all, He is still active today, and I thank God for the Baptists because they taught me to recognize how God moves in scripture. I will also thank God for the Seventh Day Adventist, who reminds me that God’s law was/is good, even though I don’t practice it. Many more denominations exist, but I’m tired of traditions and half-truths. Honestly, I’m not sure where my faith journey is leading me. For now, I guess I’m a bird of passage searching for something that I might not ever find. Meanwhile, I think I’ll start listening to speakers and teachers from many denominations and attend different churches filled with saints from every nation under heaven like I used to.