Performed at Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, Cincinnati, Evening worship, Thursday, July 4, 1996
I don’t know. Maybe you can help me out with this thing that’s bothering me. I mean, you’re religious people, you’re big on dreams, right? I mean, Joseph and Jacob and Mary and Pilate’s wife and all that stuff… I wrote it all down here so I could tell you everything and I wouldn’t forget.
Okay, so a while ago I had this dream. Not a dream where you wake up and say, “Hey, that was a dream,” but one of those 3-D Technicolor dreams where there are sights and sounds and smells and you feel the wind through your hair—well, some of us do, anyway—and the sun on your face, and when you lift your glass from the table it leaves a ring.
That’s it—it was a table, a banquet table. And there were people there, and I was a guest at this intimate little dinner party, and we were all happy and relieved about… well, something… just happy that the moment was here and we were all together. Finally. At last. That was the feeling, not words that were said, but the feeling. At last.
And people kept arriving at this party, more and more people, and you could see all of them. But the funny thing was, the table didn’t seem to be getting any bigger, but somehow everyone had a place there as soon as they arrived. You know how dreams are. It was like a circus trick in reverse: instead of wondering how they got all those clowns out of that little car, how were they getting all these people at this table? And still they kept coming. And we were all waiting for the hosts to arrive; we could hardly wait to see them. At last, we were all thinking. Finally.
And as they arrived I started recognizing them, and I was so happy to see them, more and more coming in, that I started greeting them at the door, shaking their hands, hugging them, taking their coats, showing them to their seats, and I was so happy, and then suddenly I was not quite so happy, and then definitely less happy, because I noticed that there were people showing up at the door that I wasn’t all that glad to see. And then it was, “waaaaaaaait a minute, just hold it right here, hold everything. There’s gotta be a mistake here.” I mean, I couldn’t believe these kind of people belonged at the same banquet as me. I mean, you know…
So finally, this one guy I recognized—I mean, I just felt like his kind of people was going to ruin everything. You know, I was answering the door; this was an important event; I had some responsibility for who got in. So I said, trying to be civil, I said, “Excuse me, but can I see your invitation?” And the guy… starts laughing. He thinks it’s a joke. This really hacks me off. And he’s still laughing, he says, “Sure, sure, pal,” he shows me his driver’s license, walks right past me into the banquet.
Now I’m really ticked. Everyone else in the room but me is having a great time. It’s like they don’t care who’s coming in the door. So I grab a waiter and I say, “Look, I don’t want to embarrass the hosts, I don’t want you to make a big thing about this, but do you see who’s coming in here?” The waiter gives me a big smile, like he’s humoring me, and says, “Uh huh.” I say [extreme distaste] “Well, these people are hear, but what about so and so, and so and so—I name several people of real quality—”Where are they?” And the waiter looks suddenly sad, deeply sad, and says, “Well, they’re invited. We keep calling, but we’re still just getting their machines. We’re still trying. Have an hors-d’ourve.” And I say, “I don’t want an hors-d’ourve! Don’t you understand what’s going on here? The wrong people are getting into your boss’s banquet! I have a JOB to do here, and my job is to keep the wrong people out!”
And then—this is the real confusing part—all of a sudden the waiter’s face is very, very close to mine. And the waiter puts a hand on my shoulder and looks at me with great sadness and a little anger, and he says, “Your JOB is to WELCOME as you HAVE BEEN WELCOMED.”
And for a split second I feel the greatest shame I’ve ever felt in my life… but I’m a confident guy, I have a lot of positive self-esteem, I decide I’m not going to take this from a waiter. More and more people are pouring through the door now, people I wouldn’t give the time of day to. I’m surrounded by them, and I turn to give the waiter a piece of my mind, but the waiter has vanished.
Everyone’s having a great time now, except me; I’m furious. It’s not fair! It’s not fair! I’m only doing my job at the door, and some servant tells me off! I’m not like these other people! I deserve to be at this banquet, and I deserve to be with the right people! I deserve to be around people I’m comfortable with! I deserve it!” And everyone laughs and says, “No you don’t, none of us does,” and they go on laughing and celebrating and I keep looking for that waiter who, it strikes me, looked really familiar,
and I wake up all tangled in the sheets, shouting out loud, “Well, if that’s the way it is, I’m leaving! I’m gonna have my own banquet, even if I’m the only one there!”
Even if I’m the only one there.
Some dream, huh? Whew. They say you shouldn’t read too much into dreams. Just brain cells blowing off some steam at night.
But I’m finding myself jumping up and racing to the door when the doorbell rings. Why is that? Why is it that I insist now that people come in, and I can hardly bear to let them leave? Our mail carrier says I’m beginning to interfere with her work… And I turn around in crowds, half expecting to see the face of that waiter, telling me to welcome as I have been welcomed…
You’re religious people, you know about dreams. Can you help me?