First, a disclosure after my potentially sacrilegious headline: I’m not writing this to encourage you to skip church. This is just a story of how we as a family tried to stretch our theological-imagination-muscles (more on that in a second) and how our worship this Sunday led us into our community rather than into our regular church building. Again, not condoning church skiving. Just let me explain 😊
“Theological imagination” is a concept I’ve been inspired by for the better part of the last 12 months. I first heard the term from author Kaitlyn Schiess and love how she puts it into practice in linking faith and politics. The Holy Post Podcast has also been hugely formational in learning to think this way.
Theological imagination is intentionally and constantly examining how our beliefs can shape our behavior in our particular time and place. Loving a neighbor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2021 looks a lot different than loving a neighbor in 70 AD Palestine! Even if the command to love remains timeless, we need imagination to continue to apply it in our current, ever-changing contexts.
Theological imagination also involves a posture of being willing to reexamine our traditional interpretations of Scripture. This takes discernment, because not every interpretation is correct. But if we never explore other viewpoints we won’t ever stretch our imagination or discover others’ treasures of wisdom.
Bringing it back to this Sunday, I found myself and the kids with an opportunity to use some imagination. I had made the decision not to go to church. One, I honestly didn’t know if it was wise to go out in a large crowd with the rise of the Delta variant. News headlines are confusing, as is the CDC. The struggles! Two, Ben was working and getting three kids (soon to be four!) to church on time without a nervous breakdown is not my strong point. Nor is walking into the auditorium alone and sitting alone, hoping no one notices (introverts, unite).
So, with no plans to go to church but still the reality of it being Sunday, I sat down and devoted some prayer time to how we could still use this day to worship and glorify God. It took some wrestling (a prayer practice that I’ve been inspired to take up since reading this book), but after about a couple hours I had made the decision about what we would do.
This is where the imagination comes in. Since we were not at church, worship would look different. This was a great opportunity to teach the kids that worship is not exclusively bound to singing. It is also tied to how we treat the foreigner, alien, hungry, and oppressed. It is about holding love above legality. It is about how we use our money.
Since I deeply desire for us to be moving towards loving and interacting with our community’s different ethnic groups, I decided that we would go to our Sunday farmers’ market where most of the vendors are Hmong. We would take extra money than we usually spend and try to support as many of the stands as possible. We would make an effort to talk to the sellers instead of just exchanging money (preaching to myself, not just the kids!).
I don’t know how well I communicated the “why” behind all of this, but my hope was that the kids would understand that we were worshipping through using our time and money to intentionally support our neighbors of a different cultural background: people who must navigate language and other barriers that we do not. People close to God’s heart.
I don’t know how much of that they understood, I’m less than confident that I explained it as well as I wanted to (Lord, help us parents!). But I know they were excited and invested in the experience. When we were at the market, they happily to talked to the sellers, handed over their dollars, oohed and ahhed over the produce, and picked out their own flowers. We truly had a great time!
At the end of the day when Ben was back from work we were able to tell him about our morning worship. The kids remembered that worship can be singing but is not only singing. And that we had successfully interacted with a population of our city we are trying to love. It wasn’t church in any traditional sense of the word, but it was an exercise in imagination: applying the principles of Scripture to a different context, with the intent of glorifying our Savior. We will not do this every Sunday. But I’m so glad we were able to this time.
I’d encourage you to prayerfully examine where in your life you could be exercising some theological imagination. Do you need a fresh way to look at loving your neighbor? To understand that passage of Scripture that keeps tripping you up? To settle a debate in your heart? Go ahead and wrestle and explore. Look to trusted sources but don’t be afraid to trust sources that aren’t your traditional go to’s. I’ve referenced a couple in this post (Kaitlyn Schiess, The Holy Post) but I’ve also been learning a lot from NT Wright, Jemar Tisby, Esau McCaulley, and Dominique DuBois Gilliard, just to name a few. Discovery is one of the joys of life, and when our discoveries lead us closer to God it is reason to celebrate!
Keep living your own imperfect journey!
Also, in case you’re interested, here’s what we did with our produce:
-Made cucumber sandwiches on homemade bread (from the bread machine; no actual kneading takes place at this house)
– Sliced for kids’ lunches
Diced and frozen for a summer dessert reprieve in the dead of winter
Intended for a side dish for salmon and ribs. No comment as to whether these dinners actually materialized.
Joyfully displayed on the table for all to enjoy
Corn on the Cob:
As corn on the cob 🙂