I had a dream about you the other night.
I was hovering high in the air over the West Coast, able to see a massive expanse of land, from Seattle to Tijuana. As I looked down at the land and its people, I was moved to tears, in sorrow for the replication of trespass and iniquity I was observing. My sorrow was very personal, very deep, for the Lord told me that many of the people of the West Coast are generationally bound to the East Coast, having historically come from there. Our sins have become their sins, and the land and its people are crying out for redemption.
In repentance, I asked God to rescue, to save, and cleanse. As the words left my mouth I saw a huge tidal wave – a wave of the love of God – begin to muster momentum far out in the Pacific. It grew in power for a season; during that season, many people fled, including large numbers of people running out of the doors of churches all up and down the western-most states. Then, with fantastic force it broke upon the West Coast, obliterating everything in its path. Skyscrapers, warehouses, theaters, businesses, homes, churches; everything was flattened. The wave reworked the landscape of the West Coast so that low things were brought up and the high places were brought down.
The wave struck the people of the land in such a way that some were crushed, many were injured, and all were left without a home. Every person was massively affected, frozen in shock at the power of the wave. It seemed devastating. Then a group of people started to move. They were not in a cluster; they were spread out all up and down the coast. Moving among the people so drastically affected by the wave, I realized in a moment of grace and beauty, that these people were the Church. Without their buildings, without their prosperity, with nothing but a fresh soaking of the love of God, they moved among the shocked and lost people of the West Coast who did not know what to do with this wave and its effects. I saw the dead raised to new life, the sick were healed, the hopeless were given hope and all found a place a to belong together.
Then they began to sing a song I had never before heard… it was a new song. Then I awoke.
It was a great dream, and upon waking up, I felt a surge of joy (for you) and a stab of heartache (for us). I know the whole of the West Coast did not come from the East Coast, that a large Asian, Mexican and other ethnicities immigrant population is very present up and down and West Coast, but the vast majority of the West Coast population has historically moved there over recent centuries from the East Coast.
Very Interesting Point Of Note: West Coast religious history is not necessarily East Coast religious history. If you really want to press the point (and I do), American religious roots are not Puritan, Protestant or Anabaptist. Our earliest European religious roots are Spanish Catholic. Before the Puritans landed at Plymouth, Spanish explorers and missionaries were actively ministering in missions and ministry all across the American southwest. Coming through the gateway of Florida as early as 1598 (probably earlier), we know of Spanish mission settlements across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Those friars quickly made their way to and through California over the next two-hundred years. When East Coast families began pressing westward across the frontier, settling and making culture there, they took their northern European notions of truth and married them (in the southwest, at least) to the already present missional notions of grace through the Spanish Catholic tradition. Truth and Grace. See John 1.14-18 for a shot of awesomeness. I’d also conjecture that for Oregon and Washington, migrant European families married their strong notions of truth to the deep regard and stewardship of beauty from the northwest Native American tradition, producing a marriage of truth and beauty. Truth and Beauty. See Psalm 27.4 for another dose.
Anyway, I may be digressing…
So, I’m worried for you, Church of the West Coast. My worry for you stems from my observation of us on the East and your generational connection to us. We’re older so the generational systems and brokenness have had more time to become strongly entrenched and destructive. But I could see how they would be able to find you too. Three things particularly:
1. I’m worried you’ll selectively commoditize beauty in order to sustain a system of idolatry.
Not that beauty isn’t already a commodity out there; it clearly is. The briefest look at San Diego surfers, Hollywood actors, Silicon Valley moguls, Portland hipsters or Seattle musicians declares the diversity of West Coast beauty and if you have it or can make it, your stock rises. Problem is, then you The Person become the commodity to be bought and sold like so many inhuman shares of stock (for more info about this phenomena, see: Spears, Britney; Cobain, Kurt; Lohan, Lindsay; and countless others).
A Personal Example: On the East Coast, two major idols are independence and work, keeping people moving at a frenetic pace seven days a week, disconnected from one another and exhausted at every turn. To God, the most beautiful thing in the world is Christian community — His Bride the Church living in deep love toward one another. This notion of true community is quite literally impossible in many East Coast metropolitan areas. Outside of those metropolitan areas, community is often programmatic and fake. But the human spirit cannot live without beauty — particularly the beauty of community — so on the East Coast, we commoditize it, ignoring the beauty of community until we feel its absence and then we buy an experience of said beauty, demanding of the beauty merchant (usually a local church) a quenching of the thirst that we ourselves created through our idolatry. Then it becomes all about who has the best “water” to meet my felt needs. Seriously dangerous stuff.
The West Coast is amazingly full of beauty and its appreciation and creation, and for the most part, my experience/observation of the culture of the West Coast is that you encourage its release and perpetuate its life. Do not become like us, commoditizing and consuming beauty like some cheap ware. You’ve probably already crossed those lines, but you can get back. Proliferate, propagate, and produce beauty — true beauty, God’s beauty — and be satisfied to simply gaze.
2. I’m worried you’ll get trapped in the perpetuation of your institutions.
Denominationalism is killing us on the East Coast. I don’t fully know the denominational nature of the Church on the West Coast, but I don’t sense, observe or hear about its entrenchment and worship like I do on the East Coast. The bureaucracy, the structure, the history, the artifacts and norms; all of these things are becoming roadblocks to the work of the Gospel on the East Coast. More than ever, the people of God need to unite in regional connections — outside of heritage and denominational system — but so much energy and resource is being given to the perpetuation of dying institutions. It’s sucking us dry and destroying our foundation.
I’m praying for you, the Church of the West Coast, to step outside of your institutional selves and toward one another. Prayers for you to seek the greater unity of the people of God and not get stuck in your own institutions. You have a lot of megachurches. I encourage you to think about that the same way I wish someone had encouraged East Coast denominational leaders of the 1880s-1920s to think about the longterm effects of what they were building. We’re stuck; I don’t want the same for you.
3. I’m worried your heart will become hard.
This is what I am most worried about. People of the East Coast are a hard-hearted people. We do not have the slightest notion of the concept of true mercy, and grace is also pretty hard to find. Joy seems to have gone missing — a bygone casualty of some forgotten spiritual battle — and the concept of Sabbath rest is a collective culturally laughable joke. All of this is held within the confines of strangely kept secrets and unspoken rules that you’d better learn quickly to follow or you’ll pay for it. It is a hard place.
My wife and I visited the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco a couple years ago. There was a work there by German artist Anselm Kiefer (pictured), one of three pieces of his contemplation on the cultural devastation of the Third Reich. In front of this piece was a bench, and sitting on that bench was a woman old enough to have had parents or grandparents alive during World War II. Tears were running down her cheeks. I stood there off to the side for a while, looking at the piece, but moreso feeling the situation. Eventually she rose, crossed in front of me to a man about twenty feet away looking at a different piece. She gently grabbed his arm, turning him toward the Kiefer work, and I heard her speak to him in German. I don’t have a clue what she said, but I realized her heart was being deeply affected in ways I could not begin to understand.
The land of the West Coast enables and empowers experiences like this one, and the wiser regional and local church leaders of our western-most states will see that and embrace it. I pray you never lose it, and that the Church on the West Coast guards and cultivates a tender heart toward God, creating and opening experiences of process and healing for the broken and hurting people that God brings to your land.
A powerful wave of God’s love is coming to you. I am eager to hear your new song.
An East Coast Pastor