Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Sacredness of Your Child's Imagination: Part I

In the middle of the night, my six year old came into our bedroom wanting to crawl into bed with us, saying he had had a very bad dream. When I cuddled him close I asked him if he wanted to tell me about it. He said he didn't want to tell because it was so upsetting. I prayed for him and assured him of his safety. But he could not fall asleep again. He whispered, "When I close my eyes, the evil man is still alive."

Isn't that the case with all of our imaginations? It is the world fully alive when we close our eyes, when we gaze out the window, when we are still.

I knew that simply telling Becket that the evil man wasn't real was not going to resolve the vividness of the threat so alive in his imagination. For, in fact, his imagination was dealing with an evil that is real, only symbolized in the evil man. His six year old world is expanding to include an understanding of evil. What he needs from me is the help to know what his posture is to be to that evil. Is it fear? Is it placation? Is it denial?

So I told him that the next time he saw that man, I wanted him also to see the army of heavenly angels, armed with swords (it is easy for him to imagine any number of medieval knightly swords because of the books he pours over) standing with him against the evil man. Some time later after dozing in and out, I asked him how it was going. He said the evil man had been destroyed.

St. Michael slaying Satan

To say that what is in one's imagination is not real is to misunderstand the imagination. The imagination carries the symbols of the world that bind up realities seen and unseen, often realities too expansive to be expressed in anything other than images and symbols. The question is whether or not one's imagination has the true symbols, the symbols that express what is ultimately and eternally true. A healthy, true, vivid imagination is the greatest aid in living a life of virtue. Though Becket's battle was in his imagination, he was internalizing the courage to stand against evil with the weapons God has given his people and to see good triumph. This is real.

Our children have eternal souls, and they will participate during their lifetimes in the battle of all time--the battle between good and evil. As they mature, they have a growing realization of what that battle is and the forces that array the battlefield. The evil is an evil they will not always see, just as the courage and virtue required to overcome such evil is also forged in secret. Because we cannot see the spiritual entities that surround us--demons, angels, and more--and because the dark often poses as the light, and the good might come in an unassuming form, we will need healthy imaginations and mature, spiritually developed skills of discernment to recognize evil and know how to confront it with the victorious good.

Every person has an imagination.  It is either full of true riches and becomes a tremendous assistance in feeding wholesome vision, thought, action, and character. Or it is depleted, perhaps distorted, and actually prevents a person from becoming all he or she was meant to be.  We have a symbolic system for evil and for good, for God and for the Church.  We have imaginations replete with images of what it means to be a woman or a man or a family or a friend, what it means to be a successful person.  Sometimes these symbols embody the true real, and sometimes they are polluted with the false.  But our imaginations have everything to do with who we become as people.

Napoleon said, “Imagination governs the world.” Why? Because we can only live out what we are capable of imagining.  We can only be loyal if we can imagine loyalty.  We can only love God if we have a true imagination of who God is.  We can only sacrifice if we have an imagination for the joy beyond sacrifice. Napoleon's imagination was obviously populated with images of power, control, and personal aggrandizement, and he lived it out. But his imagination fell short because his imagination was not populated with the eternal real that would lead to lasting good. It could not win in the end.

Good requires a richer imagination.  Sadly, we often have more imagination for the unhealthy and twisted. We see this in Hollywood depictions of character--the good characters are often lacking depth and interest. They are predictable, boring, simple minded and insipid, while the bad characters are intriguing, multi-layered, intelligent and strong.

The writer, Graham Greene, said, “Hate is a lack of imagination.” It is easier to give into evil than to be governed by good, and it takes little imagination to distort or destroy something solid and beautiful, but it takes great imagination to create it. That's why hate and evil have a shelf life, but it is also why when left defenceless, we will drift toward the easy road--a weak imagination.

Every child is born with an imagination that will be captured by some system of thought, populated by images that shape who he or she grows to be.  As parents, we need to wake up and realize that our children have an enemy, Satan himself, and his first access to them is through their imaginations, and he is busy using anything at his disposal to gain ground, while we often are blinded to the battle raging already to steal their souls through the inroads of their imaginations.

Michael O'Brien, in his book, A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind, (a book I highly recommend), speaks of the danger of not recognizing the battle and inadvertently teaching children to "tame the dark side," to "embrace the shadow," rather than to teach our children how to approach evil with "confident realism." He says: " did strike me as odd the way so many people were beginning to talk about evil as if it were all a great misunderstanding, as if the complexity of the universe could be reduced to the operations of the psyche."

The battle is spiritually charged, this is why we cannot adjust and diminish the symbols that keep the lines of battle clear. In the symbolic world, trolls are always evil, as are dragons, goblins, and witches. They are not simply misunderstood and awaiting reformation. (Beware of stories in which the witches are good, for instance. This happens in The Wizard of Oz, the first children's book to make a witch, a good witch). And in the overarching REAL story, these figures are always eventually vanquished, even if for awhile they were able to deceive, control, and maim. This confidence of evil eventually being overcome by God and those who trust in him, must be in the gut of every child's symbolic system for him to live in more than what is immediately visible.

(Remember that we are talking about the symbols in these stories. Real life men or women who are witches are not beyond the redemption of Christ; but they would have to abandon their witchcraft. A dragon, troll, or other hideous creature is not a soul that Christ died to save. They are symbols of what he died to save us from.)

Satan uses the worldly culture in which we live to own our children’s imaginations. He wants them caught in the materialistic fray that will keep their eyes busy in the here and now, never able to lift them up to the transcendent MORE, the Unseen Real. And the culture is glad to be complicit. Your child will grow to be a consumer and put money in their pockets. Your child will watch their movies, eat their cereals, buy their toys, wear their clothes. Advertisers sit around and plan how they can capture your child’s imagination, how they can make your child into a life-long consumer.

Satan will also use educational systems to wear down the eternal values established in God's Word. He wants to create a false utopia, a kingdom he also calls love, not where one sacrifices for another out of love, but a kingdom in which each person is validated for their own selfish choices, a love of self. Of course the easy way of empty love will be more appealing to a sinful human being if the kingdom of real sacrificial love is not richly shaped in the imagination so that it is clear where self sacrifice leads and where self- aggrandizement ends up.

Joan of Arc by John Everett Millais: a woman who listened to God, cared little what others thought of her,
a valiant leader who fought on behalf of others with courage and self-sacrifice.

Through our imaginations, Satan can control our capacity to be fully alive by deadening us and reducing us to something very small and limited. He wants us to believe that this world is ALL there is. It is like the Green Lady in Lewis' Silver Chair who tries to hypnotize the children into believing that there is no sun, only the lamp in the room, no lion, but a small cat. It takes Puddleglum stamping out the fire with his bare feet, the rude awakening of burning flesh for the others to shake off the deception.

A well developed imagination can lift outside of the here and now, can rise up above and see beyond. A vibrant imagination can see the manipulations of an ad because the vision of the world they know in their imaginations is so much broader and richer than such drivel. A child being bullied at school who has had an imagination rich with story knows the end desserts of a bully and can be noble in the face of it, remembering that in due time, the noble knight wins the battle.

At one time, our cultures helped us shape the imaginations of our children, but now if our children are handed over to be shaped by our cultures, we will awaken to find that they are incapable of living like Christians--even if they were brought to church every week, even if they went to a Christian school, even if everything taught them verbally about morals and virtues was Christian. Unless their imaginations are shaped to have a vision of a life beyond this one, the need for the approval of others now, and the powerful measure of their own feelings in the present, will outweigh their capacity to live as Christians, who by necessity live in the constant awareness of the future.

We have to be intentional as parents in the way we shape our children’s imaginations simply so they can live like Christians. Are we giving as much time and energy to securing our childrens's imaginations for the good as others are working to secure their imaginations for their purposes?

In Isaiah it says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose imagination is stayed on you." If our imaginations are directed toward what is of God, what is true, good, beautiful, we will have internal peace. This is why the Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." This comes right after his admonition not to be anxious about anything. This is how we do it: we fill our imaginations with a resovoir that we can draw from in our day to day life. Is this maybe one of the reasons our children of today are wracked with anxiety? Their imaginations do not have the resources to conquer fear with love, ugliness with beauty, cheapness with what is costly and honorable.

Battle of Gideon Against the Midianites by Nicolas Poussin
(God taught Gideon how to fight creatively against the evil of his day. He told him to use music and hidden

How do we take authority over our children's imaginations? We are gatekeepers, inviting in riches, barricading against thieves.

We want our children to be captivated for what is so much greater, so much more solid and real.  We want them to be captivated by Christ, his kingdom, and the purpose to which they were brought into this world. We want them to see a world beyond this one that is so appealing because it embodies all we were created to be and experience.

Our children are completely susceptible to what the world says is beautiful, attractive, useful, and meaningful. We must be on the castle walls letting down the draw bridge to every friend that can expand and enlarge imagination space and fill it with the good, the true, and the beautiful and dropping down the portcullis on every fiend that wants to steal imagination space in the castle.  

As parents, we are the opener and closer of doors for our children.  We will not always discern correctly, but God is gracious and can help us there.  We also cannot control some flaming arrows that will come over the walls unbidded, even unallowed.  God, too, will show us how to snuff out those fires.  But we can certainly keep foreign forces from occupying the castle of our children’s imaginations. It is our a sober responsibility to have first and greatest access to our children's imaginations, and we must take up our places on the castle wall, not growing weary, but watching and praying.

In The Sacredness of your Child's Imagination, Part II, I will explore more practical ways to do this as parents.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Cup We Drink with Jesus: our Suffering and our Salvation

Throughout this Lent, I have been meditating on the call to drink the cup with the Lord. "Unless you drink this cup, you have no part in me."

The Last Supper, Pascal Dagnan Bouveret
What is the cup we are drinking?  Well, certainly in the Garden when Jesus asks that the cup be passed by, he is referring to the suffering he must endure.  The cup of Jesus we are to drink involves suffering.  We are to embrace the suffering that Jesus calls us into as his own people, his family. We have no part in him if we do not drink it.  In fact, Romans 8:17 says that we are "fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him..."

I am convicted about how much of my life is built around avoidance of suffering, how many decisions I make are based on my conviction that God would not ask me to suffer.  In fact, God has promised I would suffer.  When we choose him, we choose the kingdom of God which necessarily puts the comforts of this world, rewards of this world, the goals of this world in direct subordination and often even in conflict with the comforts, rewards, and goals of the kingdom. We are meant for this world only for a short while during which we unite ourselves to Christ and his loves and purposes for this world.

Sadly, we are disappointed with life when we suffer the very things Jesus said we would.  But Jesus is clear that to follow him means to deny self and take up a cross.  Denying self is a life long discipline that is active in rejecting the way of the world and our own responses of self-pity, anger, resentment, jealousy, unbelief.

Jesus spoke harshly to Peter, saying, "Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" after Peter rebuked Jesus when he foretold his own suffering.  Then he goes right on to say that if anyone would follow him, he would have to do exactly what Jesus is doing--take up a cross, deny self.  It is the draw of Satan for us to pull away from the suffering that is part of being in Jesus.

I find that one of the ways that we hesitate to drink the cup of Jesus is in our deep reluctance to be identified as Christians.  Honestly, one of the reasons we get so angry as Americans when our culture drifts so far from God and biblical truth is that we are then marginalized and mischaracterized.  Then we have to suffer through being misrepresented and even mocked.  That then requires of us courage and love and forgiveness that we would not like to have to press into.  As long as our culture is voicing what we feel is right, we don't have to rouse from our comfort and be troubled or uncomfortable.  This is a cup of suffering we are loath to drink.  I am amazed at how easily our American church has become ashamed of the Gospel, resorting to denial of what is really happening in our culture because we simply cannot bear the suffering of being labeled and dismissed.

We don't want to be the one in a conversation that disagrees.  We don't want to be the one who shares the truth that may unsettle those around us.  We don't want to be the one who corrects a misperception of Jesus or the Bible.  We don't want to be the one who refuses to engage in a conversation that misrepresents someone who happens to be the topic of conversation.  We don't want to be the only one who doesn't watch a movie or a series because it glorifies or desensitizes us to sin. We don't want to be the one whose child can't participate because an event is just plain worldly.

And these sufferings are small compared to the sufferings of the rest of the world where identification with Jesus may mean a beheading on your own front lawn.

Our desire for fellowship with the world precludes our fellowship with Jesus.  The cup of suffering is a fellowship with Christ;  we share his cup; we participate in it.  The fellowship we choose must be the fellowship with Jesus--whatever the cup contains for us, we must drink it.

Then there is the cup of suffering we must drink when we choose to obey Jesus when the easy thing would be to slip into a spiritual malaise of disappointment, resentment, and unbelief. Years ago we suffered several church splits during which my husband and I (he as the pastor) were regarded with suspicion and also suffered the regular mischaracterization, slights, and slander that accompany such divisions.  The Lord kept telling us to resist Satan, the true enemy, especially in our own souls.  We were to receive this suffering in silence, avoid self-defense and any form of retaliation, and wait on the Lord.  We were to receive this as a test that would prepare us for the leadership ahead and as a purifying from our own sin.  In humility, we were to look for any opportunity to restore peace even if at the cost of still being misunderstood.

That cup of suffering that lasted for years worked in us a companionship with Christ, purifying us of the need to people please, instilling in us an urgency to live for Christ's kingdom and not for ourselves, to love and serve others no matter what their perception of us, to receive our resources from the Lord instead of from the vacillation of positive feedback or the response of others.  What a trial it was, though, in my own soul, to quell the inner dialogue and imaginations of what I wished I could do or say!

Because of that season, though, when we face traces of the same suffering that simply comes with leadership, it doesn't blow us about as it once did.  We are simply more mature than we were.  Also, we have tasted the glory of the Lord when we are united both in his death and resurrection, which enables us to see more of the eternal perspective.

How is the cup of suffering we share with Jesus different from any suffering?  The suffering cup shared with Jesus involves a self-denial, an acceptance that the suffering I am enduring can and will purify me IF I receive it as such.  In other words, any suffering can be turned into a participation of Christ's suffering if it becomes for us a vehicle of life.  If I deny my self-indulgence and allow the Spirit to fill me so that instead of stewing in a slight, I forgive and bless;  instead of engaging in acts of the flesh, I choose to resist the devil and instead turn to Jesus for aid and freedom.

Side chapel in São Bento Monastery in Sãp Paulo, Brazil
the Latin imperative: "Accept and Eat; This is my Body."
And herein lies the motivation to drink the cup of Jesus:  it is not only our suffering;  it is our salvation.  Jesus drank his cup because he knew that in doing so he would save the world.  We drink with Jesus because in doing so we receive his salvation.  This cup is referred to as, The Cup of Salvation in the Psalms.  Jesus references it as the cup that gives us eternal life.  The Romans 8 passage I mentioned at the beginning says that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  We share Jesus' suffering, and he shares his glory with us.  The Romans passage goes on to say,

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."  When we avoid the suffering, we lose the glory.  We have a whole inheritance available to us when we participate in Jesus--an inheritance of God himself ministered to us by the Holy Spirit imparted to us NOW;  but it is accessed by drinking the cup.

God has given us the privilege of a particular kind of fellowship with him--sharing his suffering and his salvation.  Isn't one of the hardest parts of suffering the loneliness?  Jesus promised his companionship as we drink with him.  What is your current suffering?  Name it before the Lord and accept it as the way of the cross for you.  As we journey into Holy Week, accept the cup Jesus extends to you and know the fellowship of Christ.  It is your death and your means to eternal life.

"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead." Phil. 3:14

Other Holy Week posts:

The Word that Dispels all Darkness
Living in Vertical Time
Access information about Holy Week services at