If you spend a lot of time around the “I used to be evangelical but I’m much better now” church these days, you’ll hear a lot about the need to shape our imagination via liturgy and creativity. The essential point is that we need to allow the story of God expressed in Christ and testified to in the Scriptures to transform what we imagine to be possible in the world we live in.
I’m all for this—on a generic level. Our imaginations are largely held captive by the consumeristic complex in which we try to buy products that will hopefully associate us with the categories of hip, cool, desirable and to-be-envied. The type of imagination that the Gospel should engender within us is that another world is possible, and we should be trying much harder to cultivate that imagination.
As with all aspects of humanity, imagination is not without its pitfalls and temptations. I invite you to imagine with me for a moment your stereotype of a typical sci-fi geek, perhaps of the Trekkie variety. These are people who are so obviously living in a bizarre fantasy that they desperately want to be real. They may have themselves fooled, but not the rest of us.
These grossly stereotyped fantasy nerds do have one thing essentially right: they are clearly not placing their hope and trust within the ways of this world as it currently is. This is the hallmark of an apocalyptic imagination: that some day this world will be set to rights and another world of peace and justice will take its place. We Christians call this hope a new heaven and a new earth.
This apocalyptic imagination can, however, be lured into living within the mere imagination of another world rather than doing the hard work of beginning to live now as if the world to come is in some way really here. This is what Christian theology means when it tells us about the kingdom of God being both near and yet delayed. It requires both tremendous imagination and tenacity to live in the tension of the world to come being partly here but not fully realized.
It is too often the case, however, to choose one of two things that should be held together. I can easily think of those who work hard with no imagination, and those with well-developed imaginations who wouldn’t imagine doing anything practical to change the world around them. Although we live in a world filled with non-imaginative workers, I still hold that imagination without work devolves into a sad impotence.
We cannot be satisfied with either hard-headed pragmatists or esoteric fantasies. God, help us. What we need, in short, is a plethora of poet-activists. We need dreamers who are doers, and doers who are dreamers. I’m probably betraying my own captive imagination by leaving out vast swaths of important folk. We need people fully alive in their activities and imaginations. What we need is God.
God. Oh God, help us, your fragile servants.