Reclaiming the Imagination


by Gary     Expanding thinking and imagination is very important to me. Too often we separate those two things: believing that thinking is mature but that using the imagination is immature. But the two must work in tandem for full potential to be reached in communicating, teaching, planning and living. So I was excited recently to attend a conference at Lipscomb University titled Reclaiming the Imagination

That is, I was excited until I saw the subtitle: The Exodus as Paradigmatic Narrative for Preaching. My first impression of this was that the conference was going to kill the theme of Imagination by tying the weight of academia around its neck and casting it into the sea of study methods, hermeneutics and didactic lectures. I know those who hold scores of hours in post-grad Bible degrees would argue that academic pursuits enhance imagination but I’ve always found that making God an academic pursuit causes me distractions from the day-to-day call to have time and emotional energy for close relationships with people and help form them to discipleship. This is just my judgement upon myself; no one else. There’s no need for you DMin folks to email me!

I’m happy to report that I was wrong about almost all of this preconception. I found that the ministers attending the conference were lively and engaging. And while a few seemed to give the air of being caught up in the pride of academic achievements, the vast majority were a joy to be with. And the theme, once the subtitle was dissected and translated to the common tongue, was very accurate and closely followed. The lecturers presented imaginative thoughts and challenges. Two well known authors were there: Walter Brueggemann and Brian McLaren.

I appreciate the access we had to the presenters. I had an opportunity to speak personally with Dr. Brueggemann with some thoughts he’d stirred in me during his first talk. The thoughts had to do with his grandparent metaphor for our role as churches. Brueggemann suggested that the role of grandparents in the family is to show that daily life is sacramental and to tell the lore and history of their family, which provides the needed roots and deepness to sustain the family. He claims that this should be the role of the Church in communities. I like his thinking and his imagination.

This metaphor caused me to consider the actual ‘grandparents’ within our churches. This consideration made me realize that I’ve not received much, if any, lore or story-heritage from the older folks in my childhood church or in my current church family. And the stories I’m thinking of are personal stories. I received a lot of teaching on Biblical stories, which are very important. But over the years, I’ve heard virtually no local stories of spiritual history from the oldest generation in my church families.

I wondered for a few hours on this: whether the oldest generation in my churches hadn’t passed on local lore/history of spiritual matters/events because we as younger generations weren’t listening, or if that generation hadn’t passed the lore on because they’d never been given permission to do so in our decently-and-in-order Church of Christ heritage, which played down or squelched the practice of personal testimonies. Are these failings in story telling from the ‘grandparents’ generic to all Christian groups in America, specific to churches of Christ or specific to my geographic area?

No matter what the cause, I began to feel cheated of my history and heritage; a heritage that should be personal and local and could help deepen who I am and deepen what my church family can be. These are the things that I was able to speak with Brueggemann about and he was gracious, patient and insightful as I explained my thoughts and as he responded.

Now that my imagination is pulling my mind down this road of thought, I want some reflections from others. Maybe the oldest generation in your church family does a wonderful job passing on personal and local histories of spiritual events and happenings. Or maybe, you’re like me and haven’t experienced much of it.

How can we change this? How can we, as younger generations, give ‘permission’ to the oldest generation to tell us these thing? How do we carve out the time for them to share: in worship time, in writings for our bulletins, in their living rooms? How can the members of the oldest generation make themselves more approachable and how might they take the lead on passing this important lore on to us; a personal, local, living piece of history that can deepen and strengthen who we are? And in passing all of this on, to help make our church families vibrant, sustainable and imaginative about the future.

What have you experienced? What are your thoughts? What should we do?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Reclaiming the Imagination

  1. I found this article quite interesting. I take very personally the responsibility of passing the baton from one generation to another. The solution could simply be in asking questions. I have been in ministry for 32 years and rarely does anyone ask me questions about my journey. My spiritual leader is 70 years old. I ask him questions all of the time. I love hearing his stories of when he was a boy; the way his father disciplined him and the effect it has had on his walk with the Lord. I have learned from him about finances and wisdom. I have learned the practical application of walking with God in our everyday life. I learn these things because I draw upon his history at every opportunity. When he mentions an anecdote in a sermon I question him later to get the whole story.

    I spent time, once, searching out people in nursing homes, interested in hearing their stories. I have found that if you will ask the question, and then settle in for the ride, many of these wonderful people will outline for us much history that will help us complete our journey and leave a legacy to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am the baby in my family. However I inquire of my oldest sister concerning many things. Sometimes I do not even need the advice or instruction. But in giving her the honor to answer I learn some things I did not know, especially about her and how she managed through the maze of her life, maintaining her strong constitution.

    As I get older I hunger for people to ask me the question: How did you do what you did? Why did you do that? Why did you pick that place to live? How do you know you were supposed to do what you are doing? Only one person in 30 years has ever asked me that one.

    God only answers questions we ask and we only get answers to questions we ask.

    I believe that the older generation is not sure how to make themselves more approachable. The moment they begin to talk, they can sense whether or not an individual is really interested in what they have to say. They have been silenced so much, they would rather keep quiet and not risk not being invited at all. I believe we have to do the approaching, weed through their seeming lack of interest and continue to present ourselves so that their trust is rekindled.

    As I have gone through my mother’s photo albums I realize I never asked enough questions. I have been making myself available to my nieces and nephews in the event they would begin to ask me questions. I want to make sure that I do not appear too busy or that their questions are trivial. As a result my oldest niece has begun to call me more often and ask for my advice. That is a start. She is beginning to ask me questions.

  2. purduepetty

    I wish I could have / would have gone to the conference, that is right up my alley. I just gone done taking a good hermeneutics class, and I agree that too much academia stifles the time and ability for close relationships. Shouldn’t be that way, but we are human. At least I am.

  3. purduepetty

    This definitely isn’t a localized problem, and it isn’t a church of Christ problem either (although possibly more pronounced as a result). In fact, I think it is less of a problem in the rural areas of the midwest and the south than it is anywhere else. What causes that gap between generations that results in the lack of spiritual formation in the form of mentoring and story telling? You’re right it goes both ways. 1. Our families are generally not as close (physically) as we used to be. In our grandparents’ generation, the youth generally stayed in or around the hometown they grew up in (except for military service). College education wasn’t as widespread or necessary. So the job at the local mill provided an adequate living, and what better place to raise a family than with your family? That has gotten lost with higher education (requires relocation), and in general a busier lifestyle in which we try to keep up with society. A simple life is very nearly looked down upon. As a result of all this, distance geographically creates distance emotionally. Technology hurts and helps that some too, but I digress. This is why I think it is actually less prevalent in rural America, since extended families actually stay together more there than in cities. Look at the hispanic communities for great examples of a close-knit family. If you don’t have them in Mitchell, come on over to Washington, I’ll introduce you to some great people.

    2. I believe our older generations don’t recognize the need to tell these stories as much as their elders did. Consider their time: hard working, country first, and a very formal worship focused on deeds and details. People talk about those being the good ol’ days. I think they have selective memory. Sounds very stifling to me. Hearing it from the few older folks who have continued to adjust and develop their faith, imagination and application weren’t encouraged. “Worship was worship and that is that. You just do it this way.” “And life is life, you just gotta work hard and avoid the temptation of those heathens.” That’s what I hear from them, so I’m not making it up. If this is true, then there isn’t much there “upstairs” for these folks to feel the need to share, except to talk about how far we’ve fallen.

    So it goes both ways. How to get it back? I think we’re setting the stage to be able to do this without realizing it. Technology will allow the next generations to see our lives and learn from us through images, video, audio, and words more than ever. But the bad comes with the good, since there is more useless information now than ever. Our generation is very reflective though, and our experiences are catalogued in our brain. I pull mine out from time to time already. We just must continue to share these thoughts and understand the future generations so we can get a message sent in a way they will understand. Who knows yet what that really means?

  4. dmd

    After doing some thinking I remembered something that the youth group at my home congregation did for a while. When I say a while I mean a very short time. Two to three months.

    Anyways, once a month during these three months we would go and visit one of the older members at our church. I remember going to visit my great grandmother, I remember visiting an elder and his wife, and I remember going to the house of an older man that was a veteran.

    This would have been the perfect oppurtunity to ask questions about the history of the church and their spiritual walks, but those of us that went were more interested in asking about how much gas cost, or how much this was, or what movies were going on. Not that these were bad questions, just that they should have been accompanied by other ones.

    Looking back now, I see that half of these great people, who were goldmines of history and information that could have shared their stories and experiences, are gone. The sad thing is that we didn’t ask them the things that we probably should have. I’ll definitely keep this in mind for future interaction with older Christians.

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