This time of year always reminds me of my childhood, growing up in central Indiana. Childhood can be a grand experience – perhaps only fully appreciated in hind sight. My own childhood was safe, happy and filled with things that I enjoyed.
As the youngest of five children in my family of origin, and living in a rural setting, I was often my own best play mate. I utilized my imagination to fully engage in daily basketball games on the court in the backyard. I played all the players – tossing the ball to myself from myself – giving myself names of South Putnam High School or Purdue University players I admired, and narrating the radio call of the game in my head – or out loud.
And you know what? I never lost a game!It was amazing. My team won the sectional and often advanced right on down the line in the state tourney. Or, we won the Big Ten and played in the NCAA Final Four. I can still imagine becoming Joe Barry Carroll, Bruce Parkinson, and the Walker brothers from Frankfort, IN.
About the only time I veered from these basketball imaginings was during the month of May when my attention and interest turned to the Indianapolis 500. For those few weeks I put aside my basketball and hopped on my bike. I road it up and down the long lane that ran through our property – back and forth, imagining myself in the cockpit, going through turn two, on the backstretch and fighting it out for the lead. I was (in my imagination) Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. And guess what? I always won!
I was thinking about this the other day while out on my bicycle during a ride. In a moment I was pulled back to that childhood memory, those May days on the bike, on that gravel lane, absorbed in imagination. It was a warm memory. But it made me think how the gift of imagination, which is so often a childhood companion, so easily gets set aside in adulthood.
Why is that? Why do we feel as though we have to set aside the God-given gift of imagination for a serious world of work, or business, or even church? Why do we repress our imagination, or allow others to so easily squelch it?
If congregations (and the people who make them up) are going to succeed in overcoming the challenges many of them face in ministry today, imagination is going to be a key ingredient in that overcoming. Imagination is a God-given ability to dream, to stretch, to visualize what might be possible with God. It’s the creativity of the Creator coming to the surface of our being. We share it too infrequently – as adults – and to our own detriment.
Even when we give persons permission to imagine a different future, or new outcome; they often, initially, find that freedom to imagine overwhelming and go blank. Seems to me imagination left unused often recedes into the dormant parts of our thinking, and life together. Perhaps the saddest of all situations is when imagination has all but died.
I remember our first family trip to Disney – not too long after my basketball and bicycle imaginings had kicked in. In Epcot Center we learned about people called “Imagineers”. These were adults getting paid to imagine. They’d not checked their imagination at the gates of young adulthood. They had embraced it – used it – and shared it.
As Jesus engaged his disciples he often invited them to imagine a world – the Kingdom of God – that was vastly different from the hard-sided reality of their day. He does the same with us. The Spirit of God resides among the people of God, waiting to be released, waiting to be imagined. . . . . makes me want to take another bike ride!