I went with Jon and Jenna to the Wednesday night seminar at the Sea of Love Ministries. Last week, the one I missed, was the administrative introduction to the church. This week was the spiritual introduction. Some deacon started it off, and there was a reading list (several of those Max Lucado books were on there), then Reverend Dallas came in. He gave The Talk.
Dallas’s Talk is about thirty minutes long, and summarizing it really can’t give a sense of what he puts into it. It’s obvious that it’s his number one sermon, and that he’s delivered it countless times; but his energy and passion for the subject are still high.
He started with that funny wave gesture I saw at the mortage company some weeks back. Then he made all the newbies do it, which they did with varying degrees of amusement. Dallas laughed with them, and said, “Every society has its secret handshake. Something that tells them who’s in the club and who’s outside the club. Sometimes it’s a skin color or a set of plumbing. Sometimes it’s a code or language. Once in a while it’s an actual handshake.
“The earliest Christians had their own secret signs. They were persecuted and hunted, and for them passwords were a question of survival. They met under the symbol of the fish – that same fish you see on the back of your aunt’s Honda Civic. Why was a fish the symbol of Christ? Some of it was wordplay: if you spelled out Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour in Greek, the word came out ICHTHOS, which was Greek for fish. Also Jesus referred to himself as a fisher of men, and so here were his fish, gathered.
“It’s a fine symbol, and I say nothing against it. It is a good thing to be a fish. But in this church we don’t use that sign. We don’t worship the fish, for even a mighty fish is a small thing when you behold what it swims in. We worship the ocean. That ocean is God’s love. And our symbol is the wave.”
He went on in that vein for quite some time, and I couldn’t repeat it all if I wanted to. After a while I got caught up in the rhythm and feel of it and started to lose the actual words. Of course that was the whole point. He talked about depth and currents of love. He spoke of desert islands as a separation from God’s love. At some point he switched metaphors, and men went from being fish in the ocean to being sailors on the ocean. Or maybe they were different stages of growth; I can’t quite recall the details.
As he was talking about waves being highs and lows in our lives, his timbre changed a little, and I thought Holy shit, he’s hypnotizing me and yanked out of it. If I’d dared to make any noise – I was spying near the back, as usual – I’d probably have slapped myself. Instead I bit down on my thumb hard enough to hurt. Other people in the room were stirring a bit, too, and thinking about it now I wonder if Dallas had let it go deliberately. Perhaps he wanted us paying close attention to his next words.
“But there is a cost to this power,” he said. I can’t for the life of me remember what power he’d been talking about. “A fish can live a carefree life: it has nothing to reflect on but itself and the water it swims in. A sailor must rely on others; no one can navigate the ocean alone. And with that comes responsibility. We must be mindful, not just of ourselves, but of those around us. And when we come across those who are rudderless, or wrecked and adrift, or simply at a low trough in the wave, we are obliged to help them. All sailors would tell you that there is a maritime code to aid those in distress.”
He paused, and said, “A sailor would also tell you that when you have sailed long enough, and learned the sea as well as it can be learned, there is a special sense that develops. The ocean itself may speak to you. That may happen here, my friends. God may speak to you, once you have opened yourself to God’s love. The currents may turn you in unexpected directions. You may even receive visions, not of yourself, but of others who are in trouble. It has happened before in this church. If this happens, do not be troubled by it. Simply ride the wave, and go where the wind takes you. If you find yourself disturbed, come and speak to me any time.”
He smiled then, and closed with some words that weren’t that consequential. I saw Jenna and Jon (currently in his sixties mentally, and helpfully cynical) exchange glances. They closed with a hymn, and I stuck around to eavesdrop as some of the students waited to speak with Rev. Dallas. Mostly it was praise for his sermon; some of them seemed truly awestruck. Others wanted to recount all their problems. He took it all with courtesy, offered to meet privately later, and more than once said, “Just ride the wave. It’ll come to you.”
We only talked a little on the way home. Jenna couldn’t remember most of the middle of the sermon either, though she seemed to think it was powerful on the whole. Jon said, “It was all vapid nonsense. Just raising and lowering his voice shouldn’t have had that much effect.”
Yesterday we all converged at the bookstore and took Dana out to lunch, and she said we didn’t seem different than usual. (Well, Dana and I didn’t. For Jon there is no “usual.")
Conclusions? Rev. Dallas seems to know what he’s doing, and he seems to be doing it to a purpose. The shared memories are “God’s voice” to him. He never spoke of himself in that sermon, but it’s pretty clear he views himself as a captain on that ocean, and through his church he’s assembling a crew. Possibly even a fleet. If all that was sincere, than the purpose would be to identify and “rescue” those who are “adrift.”
I’m not precisely sure who that would be, but with two days’ perspective it doesn’t sound that good to me. At the time, though, it was hard for any of that to occur to me. He’s a damn good speaker.
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