Our Sacred Imagination (part one)

"Take a drink, Mommy!"

My eldest daughter offers me a sip from her little tin tea cup.

"Mmmm! Delicious! What is it?"

"Applesauce. I made it myself."

I love watching my eldest's imagination blossom and flourish. Already, her younger sister is joining in the pretend play, offering me a bite from her fork or a sip from her cup.

Our imaginations are a beautiful gift from God.

Imagination helps us to create inviting homes, solve difficult problems, invent new ways of doing things, build beautiful buildings, plan delicious gardens, come up with ways of serving others.

Imagination is what allows us to create...anything.

But does it belong in our God-life? Does imagination belong in our prayer, our Bible reading, our relationship with our Father?

Many would say no. Many would say that using our imagination when it comes to Scripture or to God is dangerous, allowing our own selves to take precedence over what God has spoken.

When God looked at what He had made, His earth and His man, He declared it to be good. Very good.

I presume that He did not mean "it is all very good except for that imagination piece of man's soul". In fact, God asked Adam to use his imagination right away when He asked him to give names to all of the animals.

Our imagination, along with everything else in our lives, is to be made sacred.

How? How can we use our imagination in our God-life in a way that is good and sacred?

In his book, Resounding Truth, Jeremy Begbie says that using imagination is required when thinking through issues of theology. He is quick, of course, to offer the qualification that 
this is not an invitation to uncontrolled fantasy or fiction, as if we should conjure up ideas out of thin air. By imagination here I am speaking of the ability to perceive connections between things that are not spelled out, not immediately apparent on the surface, as well as between what we see now in the present and what we could or will see in the future.

Begbie says that our imagination should be applied to our reading of Scripture:
...trying to perceive broad patterns and unifying threads and to be alert to the themes and counter-themes that crisscross its pages and that together throw into relief guiding convictions about who this Creator God is, what kind of world He has created and relates to, and what our place within this world might be.

He also says that imagination helps us to discern connections between what we perceive in the world and what we perceive in Scripture.

One more aspect of what I wrote about last week!

The third way that Begbie discusses the sacred use of imagination is in living in and living out the connections between Scripture and the world:
The Bible does not spell out the details of Christian behavior for all times, prescribing exact courses of action for every circumstance...Because not all is given to us now, imagination is needed. The church needs to improvise imaginatively - that is, to be so schooled in these texts and scriptural tradition that it can...act in ways that are true to the texts yet engage with the world as it now is, responding in ever fresh and fruitful ways to whatever life throws at us.
What do you think of these ideas? Are these sacred ways of using our imagination or is this too dangerous, having too much potential for abuse?

(photo of the Pulsar is from NASA)


Science, Faith, and Fear

Why are so many Christians afraid of science?

So many Christians get incredibly defensive and angry when it comes to debates and discussions about science, particularly when our origin is the topic under scrutiny. People will argue fiercely and loudly against theories such as evolution or big bang cosmology.

Some would even go so far as to state that Christians cannot also be scientists.

Why do we get so defensive and angry?


While most would not admit it, many are, deep down inside, afraid that if such theories are true than their God does not exist. They fear that God is unable to defend Himself and so they get angry in order to drive out their fear.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship
I have fear too.

I am afraid that this divide between Christians and science is driving people away from our faith rather than drawing them in.

How can we possibly think that science could destroy God? How can we believe that science could ever come up with a truth that would cause God to cease to exist?

We worship and serve God Who is Truth and science cannot help but point to Him.

Perhaps part of the trouble is that Christians have mistaken the purpose of science.

Science tries to figure out how things work. Science does not give ultimate explanation for the origin and existence of the universe or answer questions concerning the purpose of the universe or of our existence.

What if evolution is true? What if the big bang theory is true? Does that take God out of the picture at all?

God created our universe. The Bible is clear on that point. 

As Richard T. Wright writes in Biology Through the Eyes of Faith:
Whether you believe that His gifts were bestowed at the outset of creation, or periodically over time, or all at once recently, you should see design in what He has done. What we see doesn't prove His existence, but it does point people in the right direction, and for Christians, what we see and learn should cause us to thank Him and give Him the glory for such a wonderful creation.
Why should we fear science when science can give us more and more insight into how beautiful and complex is God's design? Science doesn't deny God, science glorifies God! 

God reveals Himself through His Word: 
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching...
God also reveals Himself through His created world: 
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Why do we try to throw out one of His revelations?

At the end of one of his papers, the biologist David Wilcox says this:
In our speculations, we must be limited by God's self-revelations - both by Scripture and in His created world. As we seek to be guided by these two sources of truth, let us humbly acknowledge that our interpretations of both sources of knowledge are worldview guided and fallible. We will always need to be guided - and corrected - by the Spirit of Truth, in science or in theology. And when we get home...won't we have a good laugh at ourselves?!
Perhaps we should trust God. Trust that He is able to defend Himself, trust that He is Truth and that science can never knock Him off His throne.

Whether you believe that the earth is young or old, whether you believe that we humans were created in one day or over billions of years through evolution, when we have debates and discussions with other Christians and with non-Christians, please remember that the most important thing to God is not our origin but that we love Him and love each other.

It is not wrong to have your opinion, to study science and debate with others about various issues, but don't fear those who disagree--love them. In the end, our love and respect, our willingness to listen and prayerfully consider new ideas is a much stronger way to show Jesus to the world around us than attacking others or becoming defensive out of fear.

...But perfect love drives out fear...
As we think about how we love, may I end with one last thought from Wright's book?

Over the years, I have realized that even though it is necessary to look at these origins issues and problems, the more important problems are those that are facing us today as we try to learn how to take care of the creation and how best to use its gifts. (If God were to ask us a question about His Creation,) would He ask us what we thought about how He made the world, or would He ask us what we did with it?

Art credits: DNA photo by Tomislav Alajbeg; photos of Eagle Nebula and Supernova from NASA; microscopic view of a lime tree by Kriss Szkurlatowski


The Future of the Church

I overheard someone the other day. 

I wasn't trying to "drop any eaves", but he was speaking quite loudly. 

"Our churches are turning into places of moral relativism, places where young people come to hear abstract ideas that have no bearing on their daily lives. What's the matter with young people today? Why can't they understand Truth?"

It's a fair question. It does seem as though many who claim to follow Christ show up at church every now and then but ignore Him at all other times.

This older man's complaint made me think of a book I read a few months ago: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He speaks of this idea quite a bit and says things such as this: 
Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens.
Many things in this book caused wonderings to whirl about inside of me (Dallas Willard does this to you). Is this really true, that Consumer Christianity is normative in our time and place? If so, how can I protect my children against this? How can we, as a Church, change this?

It is not often that I find a book that directly and perfectly answers a set of ideas and questions that I have been mulling over, but I found it in this case in a book called Souls in Transition by Christian Smith. 

This is a book full of numbers, statistics and research, a book that I struggled in places to understand, but it is also a book about what young adults believe about God and religion and, more importantly to me, what in their youth caused them to believe those things. 

I won't bore you with the details of their research; for this essay suffice it to say that there were significant numbers of youth that were followed and interviewed over many years as they grew up.  I surmise that even my statistician brother would be content with their procedures and numbers.

I was, I admit, overwhelmed and saddened to read about the common beliefs in the majority of these young adults:  
  • that the purpose of religion is to help people live good lives 
  • that the church is not a place of belonging for them so they turn to other, non-religious groups for a sense of belonging from others
  • that the religious beliefs that they do hold are abstract - they do not affect the way they live
  • that religion is blind faith and without evidence or proof no one can know the truth

How has this happened? How is it that our churches are not giving our teens and young adults a sense of belonging? How is it that even those who attend church have such a disconnect between what they believe and how they live?

As frightening as all of the statistics were, however, the statistics about those young adults who did have a strong internal and external faith were encouraging. It has almost everything to do with the parents.

Did you hear that?

Even in this day when peers are so very influential to teenagers, the parents still have the most influence of all!

That is a beautiful thought.

The importance of faith, prayer and Bible reading in the parents' lives makes "enormous substantive difference in religious outcomes during emerging adulthood".

Be encouraged, you parents.

Those of you who pray with your children, read the Bible with your children, show your children how to live a life of faith - it is affecting your children's hearts and it will be the most important factor (earthly factor, of course!) in the shaping of their adult lives.

I was so relieved when I read those words. I get nervous about the teen years, as do most parents, and was grateful to discover that I and my husband will still be the most important influencers in their lives, even as teenagers.

Yet I still wondered about all of the children who do not have godly parents. Are those children simply out of luck? 

And then I read this: almost as effective as having faithful parents was having another supportive, religious adult who played a major role in the teenager's life. 

What grace from God! What a beautiful way to design things: even if the parents of a child do not obey God, as long as someone else is willing to step into that role, the teen will still remain faithful as a young adult.

Do you see what that means? 

It is up to us, the church, to influence our world, our teens for God. Grandparents, parents, singles, young adults, it is up to you. 

Be encouraged, you church.

God has given you the power to change lives. You who pray, read the Bible and serve - bring a teenager into your circle. You can be a huge influence in shaping their adult life, even if you are not their parent.

Talk with your youth minister, your children's minister; look around your neighborhood. Find out if there are any nearby who need your support, who need you to listen and to speak truth into their lives.

If we each only took one? I imagine that we could change that "normative consumer Christianity" into normative discipleship Christianity. 

That is a beautiful thought.



Beyond the pain

Beyond the shame

Beyond the love

Beyond the joy

There is Christ.

Beyond the hurt

Beyond the dirt

Beyond the beauty

Beyond the light

There is Christ.

Beyond life

Beyond death

Beyond this world

Beyond the next

There is Christ.

If all were taken away,

If beauty were turned into grey,

Beyond all that I am and all that I have,

There is Christ.

Art credits: photo of Christ statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; picture of heaven by Miguel Meki; Christ Healing the Blind Man by Eustache Le Sueur; mosaic in the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes