“There are two types of people in the world — those who think there are two types of people and those who don’t.” — Robert Benchley
“You don’t think your way into a new way of living as much as you live your way into a new way of thinking.”— Richard Rohr
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”— Mark Twain
When our oldest son was just 5 years old, we got into a lengthy discussion (okay, debate) with him regarding his negative attitude about some activity we were about to do (the actual activity has long since escaped me). The upshot was that he was not happy at all about the choice and refused to participate or see anything good about it.
Linda tried to inspire some insight and illuminated him on the difference between an optimist and a pessimist and that optimists are always happier.
“Tim,” she smiled, “An optimist is someone who always sees the good in something. That there is always something positive, even if we don’t see it at first. A pessimist is someone who only sees the negative in things. Everything is bad, and even what we don’t know about something is probably bad.”
Tim was surprisingly quiet and attentive.
“So,” she asked gently, “Would you rather be an optimist or a pessimist?”
Without hesitation, Tim answered, “I’d rather be an Episcopalian!”
Okay, aside from trying to figure out how that word ended up in his vocabulary, his answer did remind us of an important life lesson: things are not always black and white. There are often far more than two options with any issue. And things, people included, are more than two dimensional.
I think having a rebellious imagination may be one of our greatest skills. I might even go so far as to say, a rebellious imagination may be one of our most divinely inspired, though least utilized, talents.
Theologically, the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann called this kind of imagination the prophetic imagination — that imagination that arises out of human/global discord and division and misery to envision something more enduring and welcoming than a binary, dualistic world of either/ors.
This is imagination that sees beyond black or white, this or that.
Prophetic imagination is also counter-narrative vision. It reaches beyond the binary norms of comfort and discomfort, the social and biological defaults of fear and sticking to what’s familiar. The prophetic imagination trusts that the larger picture is rooted in the grace and grounding of God’s presence in the world. It leads us to ask, “What else is possible?”
I think this is the kind of imagination that enables us to heal from trauma, correct debilitating life patterns, keep history from repeating itself again and again, and quelling the oppression that tunes into our fears.
Of course, this brings to mind a story — that humorous scene in the genre/PC-breaking classic, “Blazing Saddles,” where the townspeople put up a toll gate in the middle of the prairie to delay the Governor’s henchmen and criminal posse from retaking their town while they prepare for the onslaught.
The posse of men galloping in on horseback come to an abrupt halt as they reach the toll gate. Then one of them says, “Dang it, now we’ve got to go back and get some change!” And of course, the humor here is that there is no fence or wall on either side of the toll gate — just the bar dropped in front of them!
Isn’t this true of so many of our personal, social, and spiritual stories? Don’t we too often become trapped by our own defaults, biases, or fear of change?
Prophetic imagination is how we can reframe these stories, see things differently, and create a new path or vision for what life can be.
So many of Jesus’ parables confronted prevailing ways of seeing things. This is often what made these stories so difficult for many listeners to hear — it disrupted their prevailing thoughts and offered a different way of seeing God. Through his parables, Jesus revealed a God of grace, inclusiveness, and hope.
This Sunday, November 10, in eleven:eleven, I will continue our series, Imagine That! As we think together about prophetic imagination and the power of re-framing our ways of seeing things — and the stories we tell ourselves. Beyond being just stories about ourselves, some of these are stories we tell and accept about our world.
I hope you’ll join us as we play with some of the “square pegs and round holes” of imagination — prophetic and otherwise. The band will join in with some music from John Fogarty, John Lennon, and Ed Sheeran!
See you then!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven