Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John Lennon Was Right

Jack King, my friend and dentist (and no, that is not an oxymoron), recently put me onto a book by James Hollis entitled What Matters Most. I have read the preface and the first chapter and it is one of those books that grabs me from the very first page. On that page, Hollis concludes, with William Blake, that our highest faculty is not reason, useful and necessary as that is, but the imagination.

Perhaps a question for some of us today is how intimate are we with our imagination? Do we frequently know the interruption of being pricked with an idea, letting it perk for a little while, then begin to enlarge our dreams around that "new baby" and imagine it into reality. Ah, there may not be a rush quite like it. And if you say that you know nothing of any such rush, I can only be sad for your momentary loss of imaginative skill. I know it's there somewhere; perhaps it is just not being exercised.

And are we so derailed as to believe that imagination is only the playground of the child? To be sure, a child can get lost in her own little world, relate to imaginary friends, and create a scenario that defies anything Hollywood can produce. But adults can journey in that land also and it must not be seen as a waste of time, else how could we have entrepreneurship, invention, technical advancement or any kind of progress.

I sat on the side porch of an old farmhouse in Yancey County in the summer of 1982 and began to dream about a direct service effort that could provide food, clothing, and other essentials for the impoverished. I knew nothing about developing a non-profit program, but I knew how to ask questions, and soon the dots began to connect and the porch-side dream became "Reconciliation House," a local crisis center. Then in 1988, Patti and I began ping-ponging questions and statements off of each other and another dream was birthed. The result of even more dot-connecting was "Diakonos," the organization that eventually became the parent to what is now Fifth Street Ministries. Those two efforts, that were pivotal, solidified for me the value, even the necessity, of letting our imaginations run wild. I learned to say with John Lennon that I am a "...dreamer, but I am not the only one."

Probably the most noted Christian scholar of the Hebrew Bible today is Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann is a prolific author who has written, among other works, The Prophetic Imagination. He traces the notion from Moses through Isaiah and other prophets on up to Jesus that those who respond to the call of God must understand themselves as being in a counter-cultural relationship with the world. Truly, "This world is not our home, we're just a-passin' through." Those today who stand with Brueggemann say forcefully that our final allegiance is not to any Pharaoh or Caesar or any other organized, power-driven, self-enhanced entity. The operative word in all of this is "transformative." We are to become more and other than we are at any given moment. And that will take a large dose of imagination.

Look at what the contemporary church is, bless its gifts (which are many), forgive its idolatries (which are probably more) and then imagine what could be. I'm not so sure but that, on some days at least, imagination is synonymous with what we know as Holy Spirit.


  1. Imagination is a powerful asset; as you suggest, it is an essential catalyst for transformation especially when we contemplate service to our fellow humans. Your ability to imagine Diakonos, which later became Fifth Street, is a testimony that genuine response is often generated not from a bureaucratic labyrinth or some hegemonic institution; rather, it grows from the conflation of imagination and conscience. Citing Brueggerman’s admonition that our “final allegiance is not to any Pharaoh or Caesar or any other organized, power-driven, self-enhanced entity” portends, I believe, an important lesson concerning the power of our creative imaginations motivated by our conscience. Civil authority and hierarchy while necessary cannot adequately inspire the vision of the dreamer.

    Our current economic and social challenges will test not only our resolve but also the methodology that we will embrace. Will we look to Pharaoh or Caesar to provide the inspiration for our imagination or will we take a journey inward, examine our convictions, then explore what fascinating possibilities we can realize not only for ourselves but for those around us? Pharaoh and Caesar will not go away, nor should they entirely. I believe that our voluntary association with our community of faith rouses and defines our individual imaginations in this area. Embrace the variety of our gifts, be cognizant of our idolatries and dare as you say “imagine what could be”. Thank you for thoughts!

  2. Thank you for letting those of us who call you friend imagine with you and for you what this next "new thing" in your life might be.

    Thank you for letting us sit beside you on the porch and dream of a church that fills its pulpit with all kinds of voices from all kinds of places ... dream of a relationship between congregation and shelter ministry that serves as both retreat and learning center for others ... dream of a day when every prayer is ended with "help me be an answer to my own prayer", followed by the taking of another's hand who you know will be beside you on the journey.

    Imagine that!