Growing the Imagination through Books

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I know you’re all busy reading about Sir Harry Potter and figuring out who died, so I’ll make this short. When you’re done, come on back and leave a comment or something.

I wanted to draw our attention to a statement made recently on the Mars Hill Audio site by Ken Myers about the importance of arts to a full appreciation of creation (and shame on me for not mentioning the Audio Journal before which is chock full of fun goodies this month–sign up at the website):

"What would happen if theologically conservative Christians were noted for their commitment to improving arts education in public schools more than for their opposition to the teaching of evolution? Is it possible that a commitment to a well-trained imagination is a necessary asset in properly apprehending the kind of thing Creation is?"

A "well-trained imagination" seems like a worthwhile subject to explore. In an essay for The Christian Imagination, Leland Ryken points out that the writer of Ecclesiastes made a similar proposition about the teaching of literature specifically, "Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth" (12:9-10, ESV). Can we equate imaginative arts with words that delight? According to this passage, the content and technique of arts education should be teaching and delight respectively. We certainly aspire to this in our writing, don’t we?

When I look at a sunset, I’m never thinking, "I wonder what God is trying to teach me through this." At least not specifically. But if you asked, I’d tell you that through that sunset, I learned things. Things I probably couldn’t have learned another way. And I’m only more grateful as time passes that God never requires me to learn anything or sends down a message just in case I miss it, "This sunset brought to you by God, appropriate for inciting gratitude and spontaneous worship." Maybe it’s just me, but I get the feeling some of those good people fighting evolution in the schools would prefer it if he did.

But Myers makes a great point about refocusing on the true goal behind teaching and delighting as we "educate" readers of our books: to help develop the imagination so that it can grow to encompass more than it could before. (Alright, so I’m sort of paraphraing that, but it makes a point.)

Anyway, that’s all for now. Come on back after you’ve read Deathly Hallows and see if it breaks any of these kinds of thoughts loose.

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13 thoughts on “Growing the Imagination through Books”

  1. Could it be that a well trained imagination would help us to see the world as it could be rather than how it is? Could we find ourselves imagining the shortcomings in our fellow man to be no different than the trials faced by our favorite characters and therefore be much more forgiving toward one another?
    Could we find room in our imaginations for a God who is larger than previously thought; whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways? Is our faith inextricably linked to our fear? Are they perhaps two sides of the same coin?
    Fantastic substance for chewing on! Thanks Mick…

  2. “Faith and imagination are sisters.” Or so someone (me) once wrote in an epigraph.
    Since we walk by faith, not sight, I’m inclined to think our vision reaches only as far as imagination can take us. I often think our faith is small because our imaginations are stunted.
    When Jesus said become as a child to enter the kingdom, perhaps this was part of His meaning?

  3. I actually felt a real thrill at the conclusion of DEATHLY HALLOWS (SPOILERS COMING) because of the great care that Rowling took to tie up the finale in such a way that there is a beautiful sort of logic, symmetry, and resonance of the theme of the power of love. The ending of Harry’s life (or the pseudo-ending) is so like the beginning of his life and his mother’s end, only the power is multiplied because he’s not just protecting the ONE person (Lily her son) but all those that he loves (his friends, their families, the students). I wish I had that sort of plotting prowess, so that after I read it it felt utterly inevitable, but so much more than what I had theorized (which was similar but not as perfect).
    I would love for us to be patrons of the arts (I’ve tried my part through actually sponsoring fiction and poetry contests, through pro-bono editing at magazines, through donating to journals of the arts, and yes, I subscribe to Mars HIll Audio), because the art world is one that is in sore need of light and greater delight.
    I think we should labor more in the areas of YES and of creation, because we’re associated with the NOs and of suppression. We risk seeming Pharisaical and dour.
    Mir

  4. MIR!! I’m still reading! I’ve been so good to avoid all posts about HP!
    When everything is handed to us, we don’t need an imagination. Why imagine new places when I can travel? Why imagine golden lands when I can fill my land with gold? This is what I learned while staring at my bathroom countertop that we can’t afford to replace, a counter laced with glitter that wreaks of the early 80s, possibly late 70s. Then I discovered, or I should say my imagination discovered, that the glitter is actually fairy dust. The secret to being content…

  5. The eyes of art look from the inside out and project from there.
    Without the measure of God that our faith allows, what do we see? Tainted replicas with lack of insight as to true creation both on earth, in life, and in the “arts”.

  6. “To promote literature in this rising empire, and to encourage the arts, have ever been amongst the warmest wishes of my heart.”—George Washington, 1798
    I agree wholeheartedly with George. He was my favorite Beatle. And I agree with Mir. I want my vote to be Yes, much more often then No.

  7. I am the Reflections Director for my daughter’s elementary school. Reflections is a national arts program for public schools.
    Every year it is a chore pulling this program together. Last year was my first year as Director and I was disappointed in the lack of support I received from the Christian Community(many of whom were Christian authors, musicians, business owners.) I thought the program, which I had secured local and state media attention for our particular school would provide free advertising to my fellow artists brothers and sisters. It was great way to introduce their books and whatever to their local community. They gave me every excuse in the book.
    The program was a hit. Two of our students went all the way to national. We had judges who were CNN producers, national acclaimed visual artists, and a record producer.
    I have big things planned for this year, but I have learned my lesson to not limit my judges and vendors to Christians. Sad.

  8. By the way, Mir, I finished the book. I hadn’t actually read your comment, but as I scrolled, I saw your reference to the ending of HP’s life. At about pg. 700, I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the pages. But then, I’m an emotional person.
    I love when churches – such as mine – sponser arts weeks (akin to vbs) for the kids. I wish they would do it for adults too!

  9. the arts, imagination, and the Christian…hmmm…not a new concept. Go back in time…so much sculpture, writing, painting, etc. had divine inspiration…it was not only accepted, but expected, sought after, commissioned. DaVinci, Michelangelo, and countless others explored their own beliefs, questions, and conclusions through their art. No apologies. Although their work was not only about the “divine” and included aspects of every other part of their lives and pursuits, I do not believe there are two boxes to fit into. If I believed that, how could I be a Christian teacher in the public schools for the past 22 years? God is bigger than the boxes we put him in.

  10. That quote in bold…it made me envision Christ-followers being known for sponsoring the arts instead of for what we oppose. I was still thinking about that yesterday when I went to see the Italian “Ashes of Vesuvius in Stabiano” exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. And I paid special attention to the sponsors. One was a group that would like to cut Romans 1 out of the Bible. None were Christian organizations. So now I’m thinking about how I can change that. Thanks.

  11. This quote is very interesting and challenging as it opens the door to the fascinating dialogue of faith and creativity. I wonder if it is possible for a group which defines itself as theologically conservative to make this shift in emphasis. Can an approach to the study of God that is “slow to accept change” (or choose your own definition of conservative; they are all about the same) – can this approach to God focus on the imagination in its approach to the world? Or, to be more pointed, given that this creation-evolution debate centers on what a well-trained scientist needs to teach, what does the term “well-trained imagination” mean in the context of theological conservatism?
    On the more positive side, what would happen to our thinking about this if we instead defined ourselves as theologically imaginative Christians?

  12. Ted, it does seem a steep climb. Imagination is not one of our strong suits. We want practical, actual, static, stable, honest, true, pure, real. Imagination invites mystery and abstract “poppycock.” But you know, in the end, George does come around to see Peter’s ship sailing away in the sky. And it reminds him.
    Given our restraints, I think there is hope for those with eyes to see. We can invite change by being the change. There is more beauty in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy. On that point, no one can argue.

  13. Hi Mick, Thanks for the return thoughts. I don’t mean to imply that ‘conservative’ and ‘imaginative’ are opposites; it just seems that they mostly lean in different directions. This was a particularly thought- provoking entry in your long list of good posts. And when the spirited Sandra Glahn says she is thinking about ways to change things, it makes you wonder what might be going on in her mind, too. Thanks.

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