First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
April 22, 2018 – Earth Day
Scripture: Daniel 2:1-3
Sermon: “Awake”

This Scripture is about the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon
In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.”

Know that feeling when your sleep is disrupted and you wake up in the middle of a dream? I call it the “in between” stage of trying to figure out what was real, and what was the dream. It’s an interesting experience—wondering if reality is the dream or if the dream is reality. When I hear that half the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016; that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic floating in the ocean, is twice the size of Texas and creating a catastrophe for marine life; that in three more years the Amazon Rainforest will have a portion the size of Nebraska deforested, I hope it’s all a nightmare and I’ll wake up.

In 1969, Kathy would wake up in the morning and walk along the beach before going to high school. She lived in Santa Barbara, California and loved going to the harbor to hear the crashing of the waves while birds and seals seemed to be in perfect rhythm with the ocean. On a February morning, a reporter from the local newspaper found Kathy in tears as she sat not far from the sandbar on the beach. As his eyes followed her gaze, the reporter could see why she was crying—for nearby on the sand was a dying seagull convulsing, covered from head to foot in sticky oil. Around it were the corpses of dolphins and seals. At age 15, Kathy explained to the reporter that she had hope and dreams for the future—that one day her own kids would walk the beach and experience nature as she did. Her tears were for the environment and realization that her dream was shattered.

Media coverage of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil spill galvanized 20 million Americans to wake up to the devastation caused by offshore oil and gas exploration. On April 22, 1970, long before social media, high school and college students organized protests for the earth. Earth Day 1970 rallied Republicans and Democrats, students and parents, farmers and business workers, rich and poor to create the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Great hope for the future was shared. People dreamed for change.

In Scripture stories, God communicates quite a bit through dreams and visions. In our reading from Daniel, the King of Babylon has a dream that troubles him and needs to be interpreted. Maybe dreams were like the Netflix of the Old Testament and ancient times—yet much more powerful. For the night invited the spirit of the soul to escape the confines of the body to explore the world freely, to enter the dream world. Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that “The ancients dared to imagine…that {dreams are} one venue in which the holy purposes of God, perplexing and unreasonable as they might be, come to us. They knew too that this communication is not obvious. It requires interpretation.” To Nebuchadnezzar, his troubling dreams were not in sync with his awakened life of comfort. He did not like his settled life of exploitative power being disrupted.

I wonder if that could be the main cause of climate change. Humanity does not want their exploitive power over the earth being disrupted. As a result, our planet’s entire eco-system is what gets disrupted.

We all have our own thoughts and opinions about dreams. Some may be scientifically grounded. Or psychological. Or spiritual. In the Bible, about 40 Scripture stories reference dreams and visions. What if hidden truths we cannot understand when we are awake are more discernible in our dreams? The concept of spiritual awakening calls us to live in the present, in the now. Spiritual leaders who call us to spiritual awakening, like Jesus, St. Francis, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama… speak to how all life is connected. Every one of us participates in a living web of connection. And yet, most of us have been shaped in philosophical paradigms of individualism, not community. We see it in politics. We see it in our economy. And we see it in religion. I think we need the church community to help us on our spiritual journey in order to experience a life that escapes the consumerism and individualism that is disrupting our connection to Earth.

Whenever I go to bookstores, I am easily distracted. About a year ago, I was drawn to a book because its cover looked like a starry night. Entitled, Why We Sleep, the book’s author suggests that dreams help us learn from painful experiences that happen to us so we can move on with our lives. Dreams are often considered to be the mirror to the unconscious mind and can help us consciously understand emotional conflicts that drain our energy.

In the Old Testament, I am always amazed at how well people remember their dreams. The more hours we sleep, the better our chance at remembering a dream. For me, meditation and yoga help me to be more aware of the unconsciousness in order to be more conscience.

Where I practice yoga, the instructor reads from a book based on Toltec wisdom entitled The Five Levels of Attachment. The author states that the mind’s main job is to dream and observes:
We perceive and project our lives and our dreams. This dream is constructed through our thoughts and experiences of being alive…this is our personal dream—we can make it the most beautiful paradise or the most perfect nightmare—it is all based on what we believe in and what we think, what we know.

In the Toltec wisdom, every living creature is in communion. The communion between us can be as small as you and I or it can be as big as a church, a city, a nation, a continent. In the Christian tradition, we are in communion with one another and united to one another and Christ through baptism. The waters of baptism are a visible sign of our Creator involved in our spiritual journey.

The spiritual journey calls us to wake up. We think we are so advanced and evolved, but what if we are so lost and disoriented that we’ve become totally disconnected from our own internal guide that helps us stay connected to not only our Creator, but Creation? More than 45,000 years ago the first explorers entered mainland Australia. We identify them as aborigines, and they were very spiritually connected to the land. To them, time was not linear—they had no word for the past or future, for time was Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is the Aboriginal understanding of the world. All life as it is today – Human, Animal, Bird and Fish is part of one vast unchanging network of relationships which can be traced to the great spirit ancestors of the Dreamtime.

Fifty years ago, when oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean, people responded with grief and courage. Today, oil spills from the Dakota Access Pipeline caused many to rally and support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Dreams are an important part of Sioux culture. I have a feeling many here may have a dreamcatcher in your home. Elders teach that in life many forces help or interfere with the harmony of nature. The dreamcatcher captures the good thoughts that the Great Spirit communicates in dreams and visions. Thoughts that will help us to grasp that we are one in the web of life. We are the river. We are the water. We are where all life begins. In Lakota, many prayers and songs begin with Mitakuye Oyasin which means “All our relations”—everything that has a spirit—is interconnected.

Disconnection from the earth takes its toll on us—we sleep less, we dream less, but one aspect that still connects us to our dreams and the unconsciousness is realized in music. Environmental activist and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore knew the power of music to transcend social and cultural barriers to connect people all over the world in order to start solving environmental issues, and brought musicians together in 2007 for Live Earth. At that concert, Melissa Etheridge sang “I Need to Wake Up” which accompanied the documentary about climate change, Inconvenient Truth. The song won an Academy Award which was unheard of for a documentary. Wanting to raise awareness for environmental justice, Michael Jackson put to music these words: “I used to dream, I used to glance beyond the stars; now I don’t know where we are although I know we’ve drifted far.” The Earth Song was the last song Michael Jackson ever performed before his spirit left this life.

I believe the spiritual journey calls us to wake up. I know I am overwhelmed by the daily clutter in my life that I feel like I am spending more time moving one landfill of distraction from one place to another that I totally forget about my connection to God. I feel like I am living in this “in between” stage of consumerism/individualism and a desire to be connected to God echoes that “in between” stage of waking up after a dream. Surely, all that is happening to our earth is not real. Part of me wants to go back to sleep and not deal with the reality of climate change.

We are all one. Each of us can make a difference. I encourage you to look at the insert in your bulletin for actionable ideas. But first, we have to wake up. For it will take a conscious spiritual climate change in our soul to fully grasp that under the sun, we truly are one.