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art & the prophetic imagination

On Saturday night here in Sydney TEAR Australia hosted the first of its Art of Resistance events. We had a really fantastic set of works, both visual and performance-based, which provided a wonderful witness to the prophetic power of art. (You can download the catalogue of works here.)

Here is a very rough text version of the short reflection I gave during the night’s proceedings:

In talking about art I don’t want to take long, since too much talking can interfere with the power of art. It’s like the story of a dancer who, having completed a dance piece, was asked what it meant. She replied that if she could explain what it meant, she would not have had to dance!

Why are we doing this? Why would an organisation like TEAR, committed to fighting poverty, bother spending time on art?

Because art is important, because art is powerful.

I think Bono said it well: Read the rest of this entry

imagining: the most revolutionary thing we can do

A few days ago I posted a song of mine, entitled “Imagining”, on the Art of Resistance website. I thought I would post it here also:

Here is the blurb I wrote about the song: Read the rest of this entry

the deradicalisation of christianity?

A conversation with a friend today led to us asking the question – how did Christianity become so de-radicalised?

After all the story of the early Church, both in Acts and as implied in the Epistles and Revelation, seems to reflect a community that was at odds in almost every way with the surrounding culture.

(By being at odds with the dominant culture I do not mean abusing gays, doing apologetics or marginalising sex…)

How did we become so at home in the dominant culture? When did “taking up our crosses” come to refer to something other than directly confronting the dominant culture of idolatry and systems of injustice?[1]

Can we really say we are Christians, meaning “little Christs” or “followers of Christ”, when Jesus posed a real threat to the way of life represented by the dominant culture (enough to be liquidated) but most of us revel in it? Read the rest of this entry

talkin’ ‘bout your imagination

To know me is to know that I struggle with life as it is.

I am constantly frustrated.

Not with other people as much as with myself and my own life. My good friend Greg calls it dissonance between the internal and external; that is to say, there is a tension between what I feel and see on the inside and what actually happens in the external world.

This too often leads to deconstruction of the external. But there is only so long that the deconstruction piece can go on – it has to lead somewhere else, otherwise there is nothing left to deconstruct.

And the truth is there is somewhere else to go, even if we haven’t seen it. But of course very few of us have ever been taught to use our imaginations. Knowing that there is something bigger and better is a torturous experience when your imagination has been slowly sucked from the self by a sterile-but-seductive social system.

In the preface of his amazing book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, quoting Frederick Asals (who in turn is analysing Flannery O’Connor – complicated I know), writes;

The imagination, O’Connor discovered, might accomplish much more; it might become the channel of visionary awareness … For O’Connor, as for Aquinas, it is the imagination, with its roots deep in the human unconscious, that is the link between the depths of the self and the unseen reaches of the universe, that can reveal to finite man his apocalyptic destiny … the imagination for her is as dangerous a force as any named by Freud, for what it opens to, in those shattering climaxes when it achieves release, are the unwanted visions that ravage the lives of her protagonists.

… as the institutional guardian of the prophetic Word, the church has hardly been hospitable to the individual voice crying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

… Far from denying the body and the senses, the asceticism in the later fiction (of O’Connor) works consistently to affirm them, to release them from the false consciousness of her protagonists in order to experience reality. But reality, to the prophetic mind, is always double: “This world, no more shadow of ideas in an upper sphere, is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” For O’Connor’s sacramentalism, it is the natural world that becomes the vehicle for the supernatural, and her characters’ literal return to their senses becomes the means of opening their imaginations to receive it.

Suffering is central to the prophetic consciousness. “The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people’s capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain.” … This ascetic imperative in O’Connor is a part of that prophetic consciousness….

As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”

Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”

Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.

It has been a long time since I read anything that made my heart jump as much as those words, but reading them is like a much needed breath of air. My desire is that God would give to me and others the courage to use our imaginations in a way that bridges the deepest parts of the self and the outermost reaches of the universe, to have the Spirit of God working in us to prophetically imagine something different, bigger, greater.

And before anyone becomes concerned that I am advocating extremism, know well that such extremism is that of love and imagination, not violent action.

The truth is that I desperately want to be inspired, and to let my imagination run in freedom to create a world in which I and others want to live. I know that others feel the same. Perhaps together we can imagine a different reality.

May stars flood your dreams, and may we see something beyond what we ‘know’. May we breathe deep breaths and feel the beauty of the universe. May we become in touch with reality. May we become compatible with God.


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