I shared this story several years ago, but it seems just as pertinent today.
The 10-year-old boy is beside his mother at the museum, waiting for the performance to begin, though clearly not too concerned with what is about to transpire. He’s buried in a large, hard-bound book — a fantasy novel from the looks of the cover, the latest incarnation of Tolkien or MacDonald or Rowling. It’s clearly advanced reading for a typical kid of his age.
Most of the children are between the ages of 5 and 12 — some of the parents are sitting with their kids, but others are behind them. I begin my performance with a piece I often tell in such family settings, a story about an “off the hook, crazy fun party at my house with so many people you can hardly move around.” The kids all laugh and I ask them, “But here’s the thing. I was all by myself. Can you have a ‘crazy, off the hook party’ all by yourself?”
They all chime, “No!” “That’s impossible.”
I smile and say, “You can if you use your . . .”
And in one voice they say, “I-ma-gin-a-tion!”
With that, I start into the story when suddenly the Precocious One, the one with The Book, raises his hand and states quite authoritatively, “Well . . . Actually . . . That isn’t true!”
I stop playing the guitar as the kids all turn in response to his interruption. His mother is “shushing” him sweetly, “Not now, Honey.”
“But, Mom,” my challenger insists, “He’s wrong!”
I address the young scholar, “You had your hand up?”
“Yes,” the 10-year old child genius proudly asserts. “If it is in your imagination then it didn’t happen. So it isn’t true.”
“Well,” I say, “That is an interesting point. May I test your theory and ask you a question?”
His mother is now smiling at me and back at her son.
The rest of the audience is quite caught up in our sudden theoretical venture. I ask him, “What are you reading?”
He looks a little guilty at first, as though I’m reprimanding his inattentiveness to my performance, to which I respond, “I mean, it looks very interesting and maybe even pretty complicated.”
He gets excited and starts rattling off run-on sentences, “It’s called ‘Elfin Hunter: The Brave,’ it’s Part II in the Altera Series, World Dominion. It has elves and trolls and magic . . . and . . .”
I’m lost in the descriptions and critique and kids’ eyes glaze over. So I stop him and ask, “That sounds awesome. But it’s fantasy, right? I mean it isn’t real, right?”
“Of course not!” he asserts.
“But it’s exciting?”
“Yeah, especially when . . .”
I stop him again, “Does it ever get scary?”
“Well, yeah, there’s this time when the great Troll, Darthmit, attacks . . .”
I interrupt, “But you feel a little scared? You feel a little excited, even adventurous?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Then much more slowly I pose to him, “So . . . when you’re reading the story . . . are those feelings you feel . . . real?”
For the first time, he’s speechless and looks at me curiously.
I ask, “Here’s the interesting thing about the imagination. How can a story . . . that’s not real . . . cause REAL feelings?”
He’s suddenly stumped and looks up at his mother, astonished. His mom simply smiles back, puts her hands to her head and then makes a soft explosive sound as her hands gesture — mind blown!
It seems like we are at a particularly important time in our church (the UMC as a whole), our country, and our world, where our imaginations are needed now more than ever. Hatred, division, violence, fear . . . These seem to be the headlines and messages dominating our reality. But where’s the truth in all of this noise and fear?
This is essentially the question the Lawyer asks Jesus before he is told the story of the Good Samaritan — “What must we do to have eternal life?” It is not a question of afterlife, as much as a profound longing for life now. Is it possible? Can we get there?
This Sunday, I want to explore with you the story of the Good Samaritan in a new light, in a way that might just rekindle in our imaginations a path to peace and deep gratitude, and Jesus’ story about finding eternal life.
I hope you can join us.