If you are reading me, I bet you never read Walter Wink.
I have not read much of Wink’s work, but I did read a couple of books and a handful of articles. His work on Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers is deeply influential in Christian theology. He has offered us much and deserves our respect. But I find I love him and hate him almost paradoxically. He feels so liberal at the start of a sentence only to be so conservative at the end. His work trips me out!
Well enough about the man and his contribution. I only mention him because he helps me think prophetically. He opens me up. I can’t have stale thoughts after reading Wink. He makes me think anything is possible.
When reading his book The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man, I found a nugget regarding George Bernard Shaw’s play called Saint Joan. Even a quick glance in the story of Joan of Arc reveals this historic figure as both remarkable and weird all at once. But it is Shaw’s account, which I found amid Wink’s exposition of Jesus that sets my imagination free.
Here is the line that does it all:
Joan: God speaks to me.
Robert: That’s just your imagination.
Joan: Of course. That’s how God speaks to me.
Let that bake your noodle.
Wink’s quote of Shaw has never let me go. I grew up in a worldview where the Bible was sovereign. But if God is truly sovereign, then even your imagination must submit. But that does not mean you shouldn’t imagine it.
Somehow I am still a person of the book. I take my guidelines from the book. Joan, as history tells us, was all too willing to kill her enemies in the name of God. I cannot imagine that. But the more I seek to imagine the world differently, the more I find worship of God to be the foundation and the means of ordering the world. But the world I think I see ordered there can only be imagined.
This freed imagination gives me the desire and the means to prophesy.
Let us read a passage from the prophet Isaiah.
Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up
And every mountain and hill be made low
And let every rough ground become a plain
And every rugged terrain a broad valley
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
Then couple that passage, as the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke do with the introduction of Jesus in ministry to the people of Israel. It takes imagination to see that Jesus there prophetically embodies God. He has taken the role of God in the play – so to speak. And you have to learn to imagine that.
Not only does your imagination have to learn to accept that Jesus takes the role of God; your imagination has to learn to accept that this prophet will show us what it looks like when God takes the crown and throne of Israel. And your imagination has to learn to accept that all of that has bearing on the world we live in today too.
That is a lot to imagine.
Your science community can’t do it. Your political community does not have the will for it. You can’t even begin to imagine what this has to do with your 401K, your daughter’s wedding plans, or what your neighbors will have for dinner tonight. There is hardly an ounce of relevance in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for anything we do or say – it would seem. And the only cause for pause in saying it is that we just don’t want it to be true. (Ask any atheist.)
So what I have to say from here on is going to run a huge risk of sounding like not only is it just pie-in-the-sky, but it admits to it too! But I am not going to give up on the space/time universe. Isaiah doesn’t and neither should we. But we must marry up the idea that the image of God has a powerful effect on the creation. And as I see it, our worship plays an integral role in revealing the image of God. But the kicker is that we only can imagine it. Imagination is our access.
I sense strongly that our imagination is very weak and small, and that is too bad. We really must grow into the imagination God gives us. Here’s the thing:
You need a really big and rich imagination if you expect this God to live in it.
It’s like when you were a child and you pretended to be a grown up driving a car or pretended to be a parent to those baby dolls. You dressed up and pretended to be a soldier or doctor. There was a lot of pretending going on – a lot of play acting. It was like as a child you could try on a role almost like putting on a coat. There was no real bullets in your toy gun and you did not cut a real patient with a real scalpel, but you could imagine yourself in those kinds of roles.
Imagination was no substitute for the very real schooling and training that a student must acquire in order to achieve these lofty goals, but nearly every soldier and doctor pretended those kinds of roles as children before attaining them in reality. Nearly every parent pretended to have babies and nearly every driver pretended to drive.
I am not saying that pretending to be a dog or a superhero will achieve the same kind of goal. There are limits on what your imagination can and cannot do. I will not explore those kinds of limitations in a post like this. On the contrary, it is enough for me to make the case for the necessity of imagination without getting bogged down in other particularities.
So, what I am saying is that playing with your imagination is an important part of the process. In fact, I believe it is God-given. Almost all children do it. It is an important part of growing up. Somehow it seems to get jettisoned along the way, and I think that is a shame. Perhaps this could be at least an element of Jesus’s directive in Matthew 18:3. Especially when you consider that all my talk here about imagination and play is rather humbling.
Here is what I am getting at:
We followers of Jesus need to pretend to be disciples. We need to take on that role at that level of imagination. We need to play at it. And in fact, I think this has a lot to do with prophecy.
Consider Ezekiel laying siege to a brick (Ezek. 4:1-3). Why couldn’t Ezekiel just tell the people of Jerusalem, “Hey, God is going to overpower you by means of your enemies and destroy your city.”? Is there something wrong with that message? On the other hand, the method of communication Ezekiel is instructed to use is almost like child’s play: an old man hopping around beating a brick with a stick has got to be humbling for the prophet and for anyone who would heed him. Plus, it is just plain strange.
But it is a way of playing and imagining. It is a dark drama, to be sure, but it is still play. And God uses it. God uses Israel’s imagination to speak to Israel.
Here at Fat Beggars School of Prophets, we believe God is using Lubbock’s imagination to speak to Lubbock through us. We imagine we are called by God to be prophets and to take up the role of Jesus we find in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 3:20. We also imagine that in the worship – especially in the breaking of bread, that the Luke 24:30-31 Jesus will be revealed to Lubbock in our midst. All of this we find congruent with our foundational role as the Fat Beggars of II Kings 6:24-7:20.
Somehow I am still a person of the book. But even there, I imagine God speaks to me and through me. I invite you to imagine it too.