failure of imagination

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 7:10-17; NRSVue

If there’s anything the Christianity I’ve seen is plagued with by and large, though with some notable exceptions, it’s simply the failure of imagination. And I mean imagination in the realm and reality of faith, not just our own imaginations. God wants us in faith to imagine better things with regard to our own lives, the lives of those we love, the world which we know and in which we live, and the world at large.

In the case of Ahaz, he was not only a weak king, but one who was not committed to God, and acted and lived accordingly. Yet God appealed to him as one who was a part of God’s people, in fact king of Judah at that point in time. And Ahaz refused to respond. Since Ahaz did not act in faith, he would receive the fruit of the way that he had chosen, as God’s word makes plain in the account above.

For us who profess faith in God through Jesus, what kind of faith do we have? Is only the inevitable going to happen, or can we imagine something better from God? And imagination here can mean simply an openness to say, I don’t know, but I do know that God can do what we possibly can’t imagine. At the same time though, God can give us an image and help us imagine something of what God might do, which even if not knowing the specifics, can sense the grandeur, glory and goodness of it.

It’s good though hard to really be aware of the dangers present in this time or any time. But it’s also just as important, if not more so, to become aware that God neither loses sight of this, nor is God not at work in it. And we need to know that God’s light is going to shine in this present darkness in ways we might not anticipate or want. But we have to steel ourselves for whatever that might involve, only by God’s grace. And hold on and not lose out on the blessed imagination that God wants to give us. In and through Jesus.

we bear witness to a better day

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today in the United States is Memorial Day when Americans who lost their lives in military service are honored. We indeed should remember them and their sacrifice. But we as followers of Christ and the church of Christ ought to point to a better day when violence is not only the last resort alas unlike today, but when war will be no more.

That thought sounds so unreasonable when there’s so much violence and evil in the world. We have to remember that violence is not ended with more violence. Sooner or later that cycle continues as old grievances surface. Unfortunately what ought to be and what actually is are so far apart. It’s like you have to use a hopefully sanctified imagination to think of anything which could be different.

Violence is a fact of life, embedded in the human existence. There is not the necessary trust in God, in Christ with the hope/anticipation of the resurrection to make the commitment to something else. But if churches of Christ aren’t doing this, then what does that say about our witness? Are we just supposed to be okaying, even strongly supporting military action and wars of the state? Surely not.

We in Jesus point to a better day. By how we live along with our telling of this. We encourage nations to make peacemaking the priority, along with trying to understand and address underlying issues behind the violence. Realizing indeed that all violence will not be vanquished until Christ returns. Nevertheless doing all we can to point ourselves and others to a better day. And hopefully seeing that played out more in creative ways in opposition to oppressive regimes, with the commitment to do good to the distressed, and ultimately to all. A tall order indeed. But a large part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

the great need for sanctified imagination

It was A.W. Tozer who wrote and spoke of the great need in the church for a “sanctified imagination”. And we need to look for that and see it not just in terms of individuals, but in terms of the entire church itself, certainly drawing from individuals. We need the gift of being able to “think outside the box.”

Tradition is a great gift, and one that is too easily dispensed of by the church. “If we’ve always done it this way,” means for some that we need to do it in a different way. But certain practices and habits of life are indispensable as the backdrop and even the means of entering into something new and fresh. I think of Monastic orders and practices in this context, and the newness of life and vision which can arise from them.

A sanctified imagination as in thinking outside the box is certainly not confined in just how one does church, but in how we are the church. And we should always be thinking and praying on just how we can meet our neighbor in showing the love of Jesus, whoever that neighbor may be. And we may want to give our attention to this, not only to those with whom we have some kind of natural affinity, but perhaps especially those with whom we may seem to have little if anything in common at all. And particularly to those who are regarded as outcasts either by the world (often the refugees fleeing war torn countries) and even, sadly enough to say, by the church (I think of transgenders, which are at the center of a hot issue right now). We want to be well grounded in the truth and love that is in Jesus, and that’s going to mean being present in and through Jesus for all, for everyone, insofar as that’s possible. And where it seems impossible, trying to reach the unreachable through prayer, which is our first priority of practice, anyhow, being in the word of God (scripture) and prayer in the fellowship of the church.

Perhaps a main thought here is that while certain things may remain the same, like in our Anglican tradition, the liturgy for the gathering and for Holy Communion, there can be added some variations even within such liturgy at times in keeping with insights on how to be more faithful in light of cultural context. And most importantly in the mission we’re strengthened for even after the worship gatherings.

Change can be incremental, setting in place new traditions at the time, which may be helpful for a while. We need to be open to being stretched outside of our comfort zone. It is easy for me to simply settle in and try to do well within a certain practice, doing this day after day, week in and week out. But I need to be open to what might perhaps be small changes which can be helpful in letting in the gentle yet powerful breezes of the Spirit. A way of thinking, “sanctified imagination,” I believe supported by the New Testament which in itself ought to be part of our tradition.