Why my generation has done everything from kiss dating goodbye to give up Harry Potter in unnecessary penance.

Michelle Hindman

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When I attended summer camp growing up I would frequently hear 2 Corinthians 10:5 brandished about, reminding me to "take every thought captive." This admonition was usually applied to the topic of lust, but made me feel generally guilty about every thing, from thinking a boy was cute to reading "secular" books. Their interpretation of the command implied taking a Jack Bauer-like approach to any passing thoughts not sufficiently "God-centered" and beating them into sniveling submission. It seemed we were to practice a kind of thinkstop, an Orwellian mind control in which orthodoxy comes, not from the heart, but from constant vigilance.

That kind of intense focus epitomized, supposedly, the mind-made-captive-to-Christ. I had friends break up with unoffending significant others to "focus on God" instead. This attitude explains why my generation has done everything from kiss dating goodbye to give up Harry Potter in unnecessary penance. It was primarily a position of defensiveness and fear, driven by the anxiety that the regions of the imagination, and also the products of it, were full of danger and sin unless tightly controlled. This disengagement disguised itself as piety, but was instead simply dismissal; it was a refusal to risk venturing into territory not thoroughly comfortable, pre-approved, and sufficiently "God-centered" -- as though the presence of God's beauty in the world was dictated only by our concentration on Him.

This anxiety is all too often reinforced by much of what Christian culture deems to be distinctly "Christian art." With an emphasis on tidy morality and an avoidance of ambiguity, we believe that the imagination can be rendered safe. Stories are sanitized to the point of becoming saccharine or ludicrous. This is all done in the name of protecting our minds, taking captive even our entertainment so it will not pose a threat to our sanctity.

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IMG_6583-2-wb-690x1024Register now for the Anselm Society's event with Dr. Michael Ward, C.S. Lewis expert and author of Planet Narnia:

"Is Faith Without Imagination Dead? C.S. Lewis on Imagination and the Christian Life"

Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 6:30pm at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Gleneagle

Register

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But what if we assume that a Christian's imagination is formed in God's image? Unleashed, it might more reflect C.S. Lewis' Aslan – not safe, but good. Christ commanded his disciples to resist defining holiness by what things are avoided or by who is left out. This sort of disengagement keeps things simple, but robs us of real righteousness and faith. Our goodness has never been defined by that which we, by our own power, control. The faithful Christian knows that the only righteous posture is not one of defensiveness, but one of humble receptivity to the God who alone gives all good things. I cannot presume to give a decisive list of the things which Christians should and should not pursue; that is a line that only individuals can draw, with the guidance of the Spirit. I would suggest instead, however, that we flee the temptation to put imagination on "lockdown" out of fear, as I and so many others have in the past.

A Christian's imagination should not be defined by the things it avoids or rejects, in pride or in fear. Instead, a Christian's imagination should be set apart by a radical hope. Our scriptural precedent is one of incredible inclusiveness: bring in the Gentiles, lower the sheet full of 'unclean foods' to kill and eat as clean, use the altar to the "unknown God" as a starting point for conversation. We are not called to be iconoclasts, but rather seekers of God's image everywhere, for "Christ plays in ten thousand places." Awakening our imaginations, and partaking in a wide variety of imaginative works, displays trust in the goodness of God's creation and the prevalence of his grace rather than in our own legalism. We need not plunge into that which is offensive or utterly counter to Christian virtue, but we can, more than others, wade through dark content and still maintain a sense of the light. We can read Job and we can watch Christopher Nolan. We have nothing to fear.

We must, therefore, trust that the God who made our imaginations also does not fear, but rather delights in our use of them. We are not called to thinkstop, but to allow our imaginations also to be fruitful and multiply. We must hope that the Beauty which calls to us, secular and sacred, is not a distraction, but rather a direct path to the God who made all good and beautiful things. Whether the Rolling Stones or Bach, we can see God's creative image everywhere in human creation. Our goodness is not defined by how many rogue thoughts we can capture and control, but by the One who captivates our whole imaginations. We must be known not for what we renounce, but for what we affirm and welcome.

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Michelle Hindman is an instructor of English Literature at a classical school in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is a graduate of Westmont College. She is currently enthusiastic to be working with her church on behalf of the St. Anselm Society, which is rekindling a renaissance of the Christian imagination within the church community.

 
This post was originally published by the John Jay Institute, and is re-posted with permission.


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