Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bible and Christian Imagination, part 2

For generations now, many Christians have really believed, and acted on the belief, that the arts, the imagination, are the pretty bits around the edge, the kind of decorative border, whereas the middle bit, the main bit, whatever it is, is the kind of solid, stodgy, chunky bit in the middle which is Christian truth, dogma, belief, and ethics, and all that stuff, and then you can kind of go away and play sometimes around the edge if you're lucky. H.T. Wright

H.T. Wright spoke the above words in an address called The Bible and Christian Imagination at Seattle Pacific University. He could have been talking about me. I struggled for years, realizing on the one hand that my imagination was one of the most important parts of my being--the thing that made me uniquely me. On the other hand, I thought it couldn't be important to anyone else. It felt like a gift from God, but not one I could make any real use of for his kingdom. Not like being able to go out as a missionary doctor or engineer, or even a great teacher.

But Wright speaks of "God's call to Christian artists to have this unique vocation of enabling people to see what they can't otherwise see, to see that the world is already full of the glory of God, and that it will one day be filled yet fuller. " Earlier in his address, Wright spoke of how we live in a world that is on the one hand incredibly beautiful and good, but also filled with ugliness. It's already filled with God's glory, but not in the way that the world to come will be, when God heals all hurts and the lion will lie down with the lamb. The Christian artist, through their works, can help erect signposts, helping them imagine the world to come. Helping them to see the glory of God when they feel surrounded by ugliness.

Wright mentions that, once, when he was speaking of this calling, a woman in the audience broke down into tears. Later she told him that she was a Christian artist who never felt as if she belonged with the others in her congregation. "I've always thought that I just had to do this stuff and that nobody really understood why and didn't want it in the middle of what they were doing."

As Wright says, "We've got something which is a signpost pointing us to something further which has yet to be discovered. That is what the beauty of this earth is like. It is a true signpost. God has put us in a beautiful world, and wants us to celebrate it, but he wants us then to use our imaginations to write those other parts. We'll get it wrong, we will imagine it wrong, but then we'll get glimmers which are getting it right, and the music will grow, and swell, and we will teach one another, and enlarge one another's horizons so that we can actually glimpse and see that there is to be a yet fuller beauty, a beauty in which the ugliness of this world is redeemed, in which the violence is rebuked, in which the possibilities of this world are finally fulfilled."

If you'd like to read this address in full, click here.