Thursday, May 14, 2009


About three years ago, I was living in Albuquerque and getting ready to make the transition back to Minneapolis. I had been an active board member of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice—a kick ass organization that funds cutting edge community organizing work in Minnesota and Wisconsin—before I left for New Mexico. So, in preparation for my return to Minnesota, I started kicking up my activity level with Headwaters again and flew home in March 2006 to participate in a strategic planning retreat.

On the night before the last day of the retreat, I had a dream. In my dream I was conversing with a rabbi in Hebrew. I was fairly certain that what I was speaking was in fact really Hebrew. Which is odd considering I know approximately two words in Hebrew that are not actually the names of High Holy Days or other Jewish festivals. Too much beyond shalom and l’chaim and you might as well be speaking Old Norse (which, incidentally, you can learn and earn a PhD in at the University of Minnesota…the only university in the nation to award a doctorate in that area).

The next morning, I was at the retreat, and the facilitators decided to close the day by asking folks to talk about something interesting that had happened the previous evening. So, when it got to me, I shared the story about my dream.

We closed out the circle and the meeting officially ended. No sooner had the last thank you been said than the four or five Jews in the room made a direct beeline for me. One woman, who I completely adore (Barb Weiner), told me a story about her Father, who, as he was in the hospital dying, spoke to his family in Hebrew…a language he had never learned. Another woman told a similar story…and they all agreed that I must have Jewish ancestry (which I do) and that I was probably making a connection with a former life or an ancestor.

At the time I had also been considering a conversion to Judaism. Judaic philosophy, specifically tikkun olam—or the directive to all Jews to heal the world of its wounds and ills—is something that resonates deeply with me. My Jewish Mother, mentor, and friend Beth Zemsky approached me that day and asked me if I was still considering conversion. For the last three years, I have been in perfect balance between my love of Jesus and his teachings and the understanding that of all the world’s religions…Judaism is the one that resonates most closely with my personal life philosophy.

So I have been going to Buddhist chanting (gongyo)…that seemed like a happy middle ground. I can keep Jesus and still incorporate a more social justice focused philosophy of being as evinced by Nichiren Buddhism.

Of course just as I get comfortable with where I am at with my faith...I have another damn dream.

This time, I found myself at a Shabbat celebration. The cantor was singing in Hebrew and the congregants were reciting the Shema. Again, I am absolutely convinced that, in my dream, the Shema that was being recited was, in fact, the Shema. The difference in this dream was that I was a Jew who didn’t understand Hebrew and could not recite the Shema.

Talk about being rejected.

The other Jews around me in my dream were smiling encouragingly. When I finally couldn’t take it and bolted for the temple door, folks eagerly encouraged me to come back. Everyone I met on the street was wearing a yarmulke…the men’s were black and the women’s where white (I have no idea the significance of this other than I believe in my dream I thought that the women wearing white yarmulkes were married—which is consistent with conservative Catholic women that wear white veils in church if they are married and black if they are widowed).

I believe in signs, portents, spirits and that God speaks directly to each person all the time. But, if he is trying to tell me something…I wish he would send me a note or something. Maybe a letter or a post card…but sending me dreams in Hebrew is just plain crazy making.

In the end, I am not sure how to take the dream or what the spirits and my subconscious are trying to tell me. Perhaps it was another past life flashback or maybe it was a foretelling of what is to come. If only there were a way to reconcile my love of Jesus, my love of Judaism, and my new found respect for Nichiren Buddhism without resorting to creating a new faith or becoming B’hai. I am denominationally schizophrenic enough—having grown up Lutheran, Baptist, and Catholic—adding an entire other faith path to the mix outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition is more than I can take. What a shtunk!

(P.S. I grew up with that picture of black Jesus on the wall of our house alongside the traditional picture of white Jesus. I used to feel badly because I thought black Jesus was hot...I would totally do him!)


  1. Brandon... if it was real for you, it was real. I firmly believe God is speaking in new (or perhaps not so new) ways to us...


  2. Hey John:

    I am absolutely with's not, for me, so much a question of whether it was real or not. It felt real. I believe that the dream world is as real (and sometimes more real) than the waking just has a different purpose. I am just trying to figure out what the dream means for me, my life, and my faith journey.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!