The Next-Wave Ezine: Issue #94

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Imagination and God’s Future

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

In recent years we in the western church have been enamored with words. As a writer, I understand that passion. As a lover, I am intimately acquainted with their limits.

The direction of my soul when I am in love is toward knowledge. Artists are lovers, in love with the world, in love with a particular means of expressing their attachment. Art is a particular way of knowing, and imagination is the link to artistic expression – to incarnation.

And incarnation, we know, is the path to God’s future. On this day in the history of the world, and on this day in God’s story, we are like those awakening from a long sleep. We have taken the red pill, and we are discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes. We are seeing how deeply immersed and accommodated we have become to a narrow set of values, anchored solidly in a limited Enlightenment epistemology.. a particular way of knowing the world. Parker Palmer  and others are helping us discern the violence of that method, and we are discovering that while science illuminated one set of truths, it lost another. Holy imagination is helping us to rediscover our heart, and in the process, we might also reclaim the church as an alternative culture. Rodney Clapp writes,
"Reclaiming Christianity as culture enables us to move from decontextualized propositions to traditioned, storied, inhabitable truths; from absolute certainty to humble confidence; from austere mathematical purity to the rich if less predictable world of relational trust; from control of the data to respect of the other in all its created variety; from individualist knowing to communal knowing and being known; and from once-for-all rational justification to the ongoing pilgrimage of testimony."

What journey could be more important in this hour? The journey to renewed hearts won’t be made by those who are immersed in propositions. Walter Ong writes, “Written words are residue…When an often told story is not actually being told, all that exists of it is the potential in certain human beings to tell it.”  The Hebrew word for “word,” dabar means both word and event. Only what unites mind and heart, word and spirit, is incarnational. What is born of the Spirit in the Holy imagination may then take flesh.

Sadly, artists and poets have not been welcome in the western church. Artists and poets reach for an unseen world, they grasp at transcendence. Moreover, “Poets remove the veil and give language to what people are experiencing. The poet listens to the rhythms and meanings occurring beneath the surface."   
What we see today in the west, according to Walter Brueggemann, is largely a religion of immanence. With the Christendom compact, what had been a missional movement became a civil and settled religion. Civil religion is about immanence, the economics of affluence and the politics of oppression.  
When Israel moved from a theocracy to a monarchy then God and the temple become a part of the royal landscape, with the sovereignty of God subordinated to the purpose of the king. From this point forward God is "on call" and access to him is controlled by the royal court. Royal reality overpowers the dimension of hope and the place of imagination. When a nation (or a church) establishes a comfortable and static rule, the last thing they want is people with new ideas to shake things up. And in terms of the economics of affluence, you don’t want people delaying gratification in favor of some future hope, you want them seeking pleasure in the eternal now.
The result of all that pleasure is that, “in place of passion comes satiation.” Brueggemann argues that one of the reasons we lose passion and imagination is precisely due to our success at achieving comfort and security. He states that, “Passion as the capacity and readiness to care and suffer, to die and to feel, is the enemy of imperial reality.”  TS Eliot links sacrifice and knowledge in “The Dry Salvages,”

But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint--
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self surrender...   

It would be easy to assume a dichotomy between word and Spirit for the Holy imagination, but it would be a serious error. I am fascinated that the second story of the creation of humanity displays Adam as the first poet. We observe God’s invitation to Adam to name the animals. Imagination is at the heart of knowing, and humankind is a language-maker, invoking new worlds of meaning, a sacramental task. In the act of creation we make visible what was only implied; we connect matter with spirit. Imagination is God’s power in us, part of the imago Dei, and it has the power to unite heart and mind and so move us forward into God’s future.

"We now know that human transformation does not happen through didacticism or through excessive certitude, but through the playful entertainment of another scripting of reality that may subvert the old given text and its interpretation and lead to the embrace of an alternative text and its redescription of reality."

These are desperate times. We need artists who are prophetic and poetic. We no longer have the luxury of assuming that the old models or established leaders have the capacity to lead us forward. The prophetic task is to criticize the dominant consciousness. We must think seriously and creatively in two worlds simultaneously. Symbols that promise life but breed death are exposed as frauds and alternate symbols are offered.  The poetic task is to evoke an alternative future among a people who are so satiated that they have lost the capacity to imagine a new world.

In The Sky is Falling Alan Roxburgh notes that the imagination of poets is not expressed in a modern manner. Poets "are not so much advice-givers as image and metaphor framers… What churches need are not more entrepreneurial leaders with wonderful plans for their congregation's life, but poets with the imagination and gifting to cultivate environments within which people might again understand how their traditional narratives apply to them today.” 

Artists redefine the symbolic world of people so that people begin to see the kingdom of God at work in their everyday lives.  I close this article with the words of Peter Senge in  Presence. Senge writes that a new way forward will emerge from building three integrated capacities: “a new capacity for observing that no longer fragments the observer from what is observed; a new capacity for stillness that no longer fragments who we really are from what’s emerging; a new capacity for creating alternative realities that no longer fragments the wisdom of the head, heart and hand; a new capacity for cooperation that harnesses the intelligence and spirit of all people at all levels.”

  1. In particular his work, To Know as We are Known, and A Hidden Wholeness (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004)
  2. A Peculiar People, (Downer’s Grove, Ill: IVP, 1996) 186
  3. Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (London: Routledge, 1982) 11.
  4. One of the most profound discourses on the Trinity as a creative paradigm was penned by Miss Dorothy Sayers: The Mind of the Maker.
  5. Alan Roxburgh, The Sky is Falling (Eagle, ID: ACI Publications, 2005) 164
  6. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001) 30.
  7. Ibid. 35
 8.   Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) 29
 9.  John Frye. Online .
 10. Ibid. 166
 11. John Frye, Op Cit.
  12. Senge, Scharmer, Jaworkski, Flowers, Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future (New York: Society for Organizational Learning, 2005)

Len and Betty HjalmarsonLen Hjalmarson and his family live in the dry, but fruitful,  Okanagan region of BC. Len is a part time journalist, part time student, part time narcissist, and wishes he were a vintner. Occasionally he ponders the mysteries of life and the ambiguities of leadership, but mostly he reads, designs add-ons for combat simulations and wonders what will be the next ekklesial fad after spiritual formation. Len and Betty participate in a learning community. Betty works with NOW Canada and women in transition.



Rick, peace to you and your household. John, John, John.. let's agree to pray for one another. Peace.

Good. I appreciate your response. Maybe I can be somewhat of a representative conduit from "the other side" (some would say the far side, oh yea, that's you guys!). I can have a calm disposition when disagreeing over methodology (we'll use that term as a catch all), but some emergents (Burke) not only walk the edge, but sometimes fall into it. I know some from this side have the stakes lit, but some on your side marginalize and are dismissive of our historical perspective.

And really, some of us are not Neanderthals, but sometimes we read your writings and get lost in the shuffle. And like you say, you take into account your audience, so maybe a couple times a year give us an obligatory, token article and revert back to a former colloquial language and stroke us, man. What frightens many of us is that you cannot do that because you have moved not just in methodology but in "doctrinal substance" (refer to traditional evangelical thesaurus). But to be honest, just recently I have found a couple of "emergent types" (sorry) who have been humble enough to admit that, yes, they are fundamental in their basic beliefs. So why don't all the emergents do that so we can identify who we should burn and who we let live! (oops, did I say that?)

I look forward to conversing with you. My e-mail is on my blog (You will appreciate some of my writings more than others!) And remember, Len, great peace have they which love thy law and nothing shall offend them.


Henry, now I think we are talking as brothers. The spirit in which we dialogue will determine the amount of Spirit who will enter the conversation with us. He is often offended by the way we approach one another.. let us "discern the body."

I doubt if my answer will be entirely satisfying to you, but here goes. We all enter such conversations from a particular location. My article assumes a particular location, an ethos, and a prior history in this conversation. IN other words, I am writing primarily to emergent types. Those ones already know me, or assume some things about me. If I don't assume that background, then I have to qualify everything I say. I don't have the space or time to do that. OTOH, if I meet you in person and you are concerned to know that I am "in" the faith in a similar manner to you, I would be happy to offer that agreement. I am "born again" and "filled with the Spirit" granted I tend to leak a bit. I believe, further, as CS Lewis said, that the imagination is the vehicle of understanding. For the most part, much of the church has lost that perspective, being mired in a baptized but none the less very secular Enlightenment worldview. I'm concerned about that. Dare I say.. Jesus is concerned and His Spirit motivates my concern.

As to the level of dialogue, I am aware of the variety of philosophical frameworks out there. I am also aware that a particular language comes with its own baggage or worldview, an ethos. We have some work to do to redeem language, and unfortunately we don't have the option of merely using the old words in the old way. While that may work within a certain context.. on Sunday morning at the local glory barn.. it isn't that helpful in most other places. I'll choose the place I speak and attempt to be aware of the context.. but I know that not all my hearers will understand that framework. In our fragmented world, where we all stand within a particular interpretive tradition not to mention local ethos, we are stuck with this problem.

I repeat:

"And we on the other side are consumed with the abject and disgusting pride that accompanies "holding the fort" without much remedying behavior that would bring the power we need, God's. If the emergent movement is dismantling the foundations of Christianity why are not the church houses open every night for fasting and prayer? Why do you never see tears from the pulpits, only anger sometimes? And if internet chatter like this comment could change anything, the problem would have been long ago solved.

No, we all are in a mess. What, you ask, is the answer? Maybe unusual prayer, fasting, and an elongated season of self denial? And maybe a brokenheartedness over our brethren that have gone a-whoring after their own minds and left the Scarifice. And sometimes taking John the Baptist off the pulpit and let Jeremiah take a turn?"

Anyway, Len, I cannot but wonder why your words in your second comment were not part of the original manuscript to which we could all say "Amen". I'll admit it, you emergent guys are very difficult to figure out, and I know you are intellectual enough (!) to realize what we poor traditionalists are listening for. So if you hold to what you know we hold to in orthodox terms we can identify with, let us know and then go ahead with your journey to "boldly go where no man has gone before".

And when someone says to us, "You know that guy Les, he's a heretic" we can reply "No, I have him on record in espousing these tenents of the faith, so in reality he's not a heretic, just a little kooky!". I mean really, wouldn't that make life a little easier? Unless we are the only ones on the planet who don't deserve relevant interaction.

And as far as some being rude, pay no attention, they called the holiest man that ever lived "Beelzebub", so for any of us to absorb a little rudeness, well, let us collectively consider ourselves of no reputation!

To Albert,Connie, Mike, Chris, "wondering" the anonymous, Henry, and John,

I am forced, by having lost a little time reading your responses, to identify with Len Hjalmarson in his being not just a little, but significantly ashamed for the spirit demonstrated in each one of your responses. Your curious rhetoric is disqualified by your rude and insensitive response to whom I know to be a man of excellent character and conduct in our community. Hopefully, very few will read or be unnecessarily encumbered by your collective unkindness, blindness and immaturity. I admit to being ashamed of myself for being disinterested in your responses to many questions that demand presentation but will remain unasked. To quote Oliver Cromwell, I would beseech you in the bowels of Christ to at least entertain the possibility of your own error" and to embrace the spirit of the One you claim to serve. You are not shooting at decoys, but real people with real hearts.

Actually, on rereading the last two comments, I'll say AMEN also. We need repentance. We need to repent of our independence, our trust in "church growth" methods, our confidence that capitalism or "the American way" can save us. We need to repent of our prayerlessness, our lack of faith, our trust in ourselves or in science. We need to repent of our many books and conferences offering the latest method.. for another $150. We desperately need a Deliverer... and it won't be us.

YOWSER.. actually, I had a good laugh at all this, thanks! You all have collectively more imagination than I do.. my hat is off to you!

People.. PEOPLE.. am I really supposed to take you seriously? If you had done me the honor of assuming I am a serious Jesus follower, I would have some inclination to respond. But frankly, I feel a bit ashamed of you all.

Is it not enviably self gratifying to offer literary musings about anything that fills one's imagination, which by definition, become truth.

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

We now have entered an embryonic stage of Christianity where the creative caverns of men's cerebellum are the cauldron, that like a carnal kaleidoscope fueled by serotonin rather than the parakletos, mix and stir different portions of formerly accepted truths to make a "thought provoking" hemlock that they think will cure the bride's ills when in fact it is killing her.

And we on the other side are consumed with the abject and disgusting pride that accompanies "holding the fort" without much remedying behavior that would bring the power we need, God's. If the emergent movement is dismantling the foundations of Christianity why are not the church houses open every night for fasting and prayer? Why do you never see tears from the pulpits, only anger sometimes? And if internet chatter like this comment could change anything, the problem would have been long ago solved.

No, we all are in a mess. What, you ask, is the answer? Maybe unusual prayer, fasting, and an elongated season of self denial? And maybe a brokenheartedness over our brethren that have gone a-whoring after their own minds and left the Scarifice. And sometimes taking John the Baptist off the pulpit and let Jeremiah take a turn?

Maybe? Nah, what movie is playing tonight?

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Next-Wave Ezine - Issue #94
Issue Credits
Cover Story

Suggestions for Critics of the Emerging Church
Featured Article: At the Top
Oh, Spencer
Featured Article: Spotlight
Brand Name Jesusâ„¢
Church Culture
Are the Popular Methods of Doing Church Working?
What’s a Faithmap?
Imagination and God’s Future
Kingdom Living
Paying to Follow Christ
Real Life
Church Life
Equal Time on Video Venues
Off Broadway
I went fishing the other day and do I have a fishing story...
Eckhart 11
Adventures in Emerging
The question of the hour...