Essay: Worthy of Imagination

Let’s begin with a reading from the Book of Lucas. 1974 Edition. Scene 12. From a manuscript that in 1974 was called “The Star Wars.”

The Darth Vader we know today would have no difficulty hiding a smile.

What a far cry this tall, grim looking general is from the 7-foot tall, black cloaked and helmeted, half-machine that has now appeared in, I think, 7 movies–A character so iconic that I feel you could take a respirator to most parts of the world, and evoke not only his image, but his theme song and the voice of James Earl Jones.

There’s a lot of ways to talk about his transformation from the grim, grinning general to the Dark Lord of the Sith, but I like to think he was loved into it. By George Lucas and others who worked and reworked the story, by a costume designer who figured out every nob on his chestpiece, by John Williams who translated the character into music, by James Earl Jones who gave him his voice.


My wife began a habit with our 2-year old that at first I thought was strange– and in truth, I still do–but now I think it’s important. Whenever we meet someone we don’t know, whether down the street or at a Wal-mart across the country, she will refer to that person as “Our Neighbor.”

She started this after watching the beautiful documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” which details the story of Fred Rogers and the creation of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”

Mr Rogers was extremely particular about the naming of his show and that the universe of his show was referred to as a “Neighborhood.” It became a place where children from across the country, of any race, of any sex, could gather together and call one another “neighbor.”

Rogers was of course channeling Jesus and the First and Second great commandments.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39

Frederick Buechner put it this way.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary


Each summer my wife and I attend the Glen Workshop–a meeting of artists of faith in the Santa Fe mountains. Every year is transformative, but of all the workshops, lectures, seminars, readings or whatever, the thing that has weighed heaviest on me actually came from an audience member during a Q and A session the first time we attended. I don’t even remember what the topic of the seminar was, but I remember a man standing up and asking “How do we determine who is worth our imagination?”

This question forced me to completely reassess my understanding of imagination because it framed imagination as a currency–something we can choose to spend or not to spend.

In some ways this is completely obvious and something I face every time I drive somewhere. Rather than spend my currency of imagination on other drivers, it’s far easier to go to the discount shelf and buy them the faces of Goofy and Snidely Whiplash and assume that, unlike me, they are fueled by pure ignorance or malice, which is directed at (who else but) me.

But it goes further. If we combine this idea of imagination as currency with Buechner’s quote, we discover that imagination is a currency of Love–particularly Christ-like love.

There are a million applications for this–how we treat our spouses, our friends, our students, our enemies–but I want to go one step further.

At that same Workshop in Santa Fe, there was a poet name Malcolm Guite who has written a series of poems elucidating the first and second greatest commandments — A poem titled “With All Your Strength“, another “With All Your Mind” etc. Below is “With All Your Heart.”

With all my heart? You know my heart too well,

It’s Yeats’s rag and bone shop. Will it do

To start my loving in that little hell,

Closed on itself and still excluding you?

Could I not offer you some empty room,

Some small apartment full of light and air,

Some portion of my life, above the gloom,

But not this pit of pride, not this despair.

Only your heart will do. Let me begin,

To break the ground and plant a seed that grows

Up through the closing darkness of your sin

Till your unsightly roots brings forth my rose.

For I have learned to make the broken true

Since my heart too was broken once for you.’

I think often of Christ dying for me, but never as having a broken heart for me.

But of course, Hebrews tells us

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:15-16

We serve a God who has so much currency of imagination that his words become flesh, in Creation and the person of Jesus Christ. We serve a god Who was not satisfied, in Beuchner’s terms, to simply see the life behind and within our faces, but to experience it. It’s incarnational.

Darth Vader was loved by lavish imagination into who he became.

By God’s grace, We are being loved By a divine imagination into who we are meant to become. That is to say, like Christ.

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