Main Article
This Imagination Life
Rodger Nishioka
Response Articles
Sight Overwhelmed
Kimberly L. Clayton
Author's Response
Rodger Nishioka Replies
Rodger Nishioka
Resources
Four Lesson Plans on Imagination
Sally Ann McKinsey Sisk
Editor's Notes
Note from the Editor
Mark Douglas

Four Lesson Plans on Imagination

Lesson Plan #1: Imagining the Divine

Concept
In “This Imagination Life,” Rodger Nishioka illustrates several different understandings of imagination and names ways in which individuals and communities have imagined God in their midst. In this lesson participants will explore the meaning of imagination and be led in an experience of primary and secondary imagination at work. They will also be invited to consider paradigms that may inhibit their imagination and gifts of grace that may allow them to expand the ways in which they imagine God.

Setting
This is intended to be the first of four 60-minute adult education classes on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe or may be incorporated into a larger series on imagination.

The room should be arranged with enough small tables in the middle of the room so that participants can gather in groups of 3 or 4 during the presenting, exploring, and responding sections of the course.

Objective
At the end of the teaching session, participants will be able to:
1. Identify multiple definitions of imagination,
2. Discuss the degree to which these definitions are helpful or unhelpful in forming a theology of imagination, and
3. Explore issues of primary and secondary imagination, paradigmatic imagination, and imagination as revelation through the use of images of and about God.

Materials
*(optional) The following articles on imagination may be assigned as reading before the class begins: “This Imagination Life”, by Rodger Nishioka and “Sight Overwhelmed,” by Kimberly L. Clayton
*Bible
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening section)
*Printed quotes (to be placed at tables around the room in the presenting section, see below)
*green, yellow and red small post-it notes (to be used in the presenting section)
*Color prints of Marc Chagall’s David and Bathsheba,1 one or two for each table (to be used in the responding section)

Course
Opening (5 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.

In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies for the lesson intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms anew and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.
--Prayer for Illumination:
God who imagined order out of chaos and light out of darkness, silence in us any voice but your own, that we may hear what you have to say to us today and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see you anew. Amen.
--Before beginning, invite participants to close their eyes during the reading or to use provided drawing materials to imagine the text. Depending on the comfort level of participants, a prompt may be helpful, such as “Imagine what the images in the text look like,” or “What does God look like in this text?”
--Reading: Psalm 104:1-23
--Allow 1 minute of silence for continued contemplation.
--Invite a few participants to share what the experience was like for them.

Presenting: (20 minutes)
Both Nishioka and Clayton discuss their own perspectives on imagination and name other scholars who contribute to a definition of imagination, including Kant, Coleridge, Green, Dykstra, and Ford. Use these different understandings of imagination to facilitate conversation around a theology of imagination.

Print the following quotes onto paper and hang them on the walls at different points around the room. Invite participants to move around the room for about 5-7 minutes and to reflect upon the quotes as they do. Provide them with small colored post-it notes, green for “I agree with this one,” red for “I don’t agree with this one,” and yellow for “I’m still thinking about this one.” Invite them to place a post-it beside quotes accordingly. In order to guard against each participant placing a green post-it at each quote, instruct the class that they may use only 3 green post-its. If they agree with many of the quotes, they must choose the 3 that are most compelling.

Once they have had time to read all the quotes, invite participants to find their seats. Walk around the room and read through the quotes one-by-one, pausing at each to survey the colored post-it notes and give a brief background of the quotation.

Quote #1: “Imagination is the faculty of representing in intuition an object that is not itself present.” Immanuel Kant

Quote #2: “The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the ethereal act of creation in the infinite I AM.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In your presentation of this quote’s background, you may want to use this interpretation of Coleridge from Rodger Nishioka in “This Imagination Life”: “[the primary imagination] moves us beyond the use of imagination as merely the ability to represent something concrete that is not present in our direct experience…to a new ability to see even beyond the concrete realm to a God who is both in our experience and beyond it.”

Quote #3: “[the secondary imagination is the ability to] transcend this primary organization, to reassemble perceptual elements or fragments and create new meaning, ultimately grasping for fuller and deeper meaning in our search for union with the Divine.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In your presentation of this quote’s background, you may want to use this interpretation of Coleridge from Rodger Nishioka in “This Imagination Life”: “In the faithful and creative imagination gifted to humankind by God, we do not keep these experiences of God to ourselves but rather we naturally share them so that others may come to imagine and know God as well.”

Quote #4: “Garret Green, in his book ‘Imagining God—Theology and the Religious Imagination,’ describes a ‘paradigmatic imagination.’ For Green, imagination depends on one’s paradigms. A paradigm is what one has come to believe as normative and it therefore forms the basis of one’s constitutive structure. We rely on our paradigms as the basis of our imagination.” Rodger Nishioka

Quote #5: “Imagination is all about creating—in our minds or with clay or paint or in work with other people—things that do not exist. It means seeing what is not, and then, perhaps, bringing it into being.” Craig Dykstra

Quote #6: “[Imagination] involves what one might call ‘seeing in depth.’ It is the capacity to perceive the ‘more’ in what is already before us. It is the capacity to see beneath the surface of things, to get beyond the obvious and the merely conventional, to note the many aspects of any particular situation, to attend to the deep meaning of things.” Craig Dykstra

Quote #7: “Ecclesial Imagination is a way of seeing and being that emerges when a community of faith, together as a community, comes increasingly to share the knowledge of God and to live in the way of abundant life—not only in church but also in the many contexts where they live their daily lives.” Craig Dykstra

Quote #8: “Jesus Christ is an embodiment of multiple overwhelmings” David Ford
Here we see a different definition of imagination, outlined in Clayton’s article. David Ford anchors imagination in baptism, in which we are “shaped by Christ of multiple overwhelmings,” says Clayton.

Exploring: (10 minutes)
You may ask some or all of the following:
What two parts does Coleridge include in his definition of imagination?
What similarities or differences do you see among the quotes by Dykstra?
Which of these quotes do you see at work in your daily life, if any? How?
Which of these understandings of imagination makes the most sense to you?
Which makes the least sense to you?

Responding: (10 minutes)
Nishioka illustrates Coleridge’s understanding of primary and secondary imagination in Act Two and Act Three of “This Imagination Life.” To further illustrate the concepts of primary and secondary imagination, divide the class into small groups of three or four. Place a print of Chagall’s David and Bathsheba at each table, but do not reveal the title of the work yet.

First, give 3 minutes for participants to view the image and think about what they see, answering the following question for themselves:
Where do I see God at work in this image?
Invite participants to share their reflections with one another in small groups of three or four.

Next, tell the class that the work they have been viewing is entitled, David and Bathsheba. Ask them to repeat the process: think for a minute or so about how God is at work in this image, knowing that this is about David and Bathsheba.
Invite participants again to share their thoughts in their small groups for about a minute.

Finally, invite each group to step back from their process and reflect on the experience itself, answering the following questions:
In what ways did your sharing sessions contribute to your ability to imagine new possibilities?
What paradigms did you discover throughout the process that may have hindered your ability to imagine?
What grace did you find in the process?

 


Closing (5 minutes)
Read Psalm 104:1-23 again.
Ask the following questions:
What, if anything, did you hear differently this time around?
Why do you think that is?

End with your own prayer or the following (adapted from Psalm 104:30-34):
You send your Spirit, O God, and we are created.
You renew the face of the earth with new life, and we are amazed.
Lead us in the way of your imagination,
that we may sing your glory as long as we live
And praise you with our whole being.
In the name of Christ, who is God with us, we pray.
Amen.

Lesson Plan #2: Living This Imagination Life

Concept
In her response to Nishioka’s lead essay, Clayton discusses biblical figures that exhibit “this imagination life at work.” This second session in a series on imagination invites participants to consider what it means to exhibit imagination by exploring the stories of biblical characters and people in their own lives. The lesson incorporates ideas of post-modern education from Thompson’s response article as well, inviting participants to imagine their way into scripture.

Setting
This lesson plan is intended for a 60-minute adult education class as part of a series on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe.

The room should be arranged with a circle of chairs in the middle of the space for the opening, presenting and closing sections of the lesson. Additionally, enough small tables should be placed around the outside of the room so that participants can gather in groups of 3 or 4 during the exploring and responding sections.

Objective: At the end of the teaching session, participants will be able to
1. Identify biblical figures that illustrate imagination,
2. Describe the ways in which these figures reveal the meaning of imagination for us using images provided, and
3. Tell stories and/or create drawings to explore people and situations in which they recognize imagination at work in their own lives.

Materials:
*(optional) “This Imagination Life” by Rodger Nishioka, “Cultivating a Biblical Imagination” by Sarah Hylen, “A Response/Reflection, for Rodger Nishioka’s lead essay: This Imagination Life” by Kimberly Clayton, and Response Essay by Casey Thompson
*Bible
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening and responding sections)
*Color prints of the images below (see the exploring section)

Course
Opening (7 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.

In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.

--Prayer for Illumination (From Garth House, Litanies for All Occasions)
O wind that sways no branches,
Fire that does not burn,
Unimaginable light that does not blind,
Fountain of life that has no end,
Infinite river of joy,
Flawless mirror of God’s power,
Kind laughing agent of God’s mirth,
Gentle consolation of God’s mercy,
O Holy Spirit of God,
Abide with your people; come to us now. Amen.

--Reading: Psalm 40
--Before beginning, invite participants to close their eyes during the reading or use the drawing materials provided to imagine the text. Invite participants to imagine themselves in the place of the psalmist during the reading.
--Leave about 30 seconds for silence following the reading.
--Invite a few participants to share what the experience was like for them. You may ask, “In what ways does the psalmist demonstrate imagination?”

Presenting (10 minutes)
Clayton recognizes that imaginative individuals in scripture often demonstrate great bravery, daring, creativity, and conviction. She references Dykstra, who believes imagination is characterized by humility and gratitude, and the novelist Carson McCullers. who said that imagination takes humility, love and great courage. She names many in the Old Testament and the New Testament whose imagination was evident in their ability to see God’s vision in the midst of paradigms that refused God’s ways of justice, mercy, and peace. To begin a dialogue about some of these characters, present the story of Shiphrah and Puah, including the visual interpretation, Shiphrah and Puah Midwives of Egypt, 1989, by Dina Cormick.

Read Exodus 1:8-20. Walk through the story beginning at v. 15.
Next review a Craig Dykstra quote used in Clayton’s article and the previous lesson, “[Imagination] involves what one might call ‘seeing in depth.’ It is the capacity to perceive the ‘more’ in what is already before us. It is the capacity to see beneath the surface of things, to get beyond the obvious and the merely conventional, to note the many aspects of any particular situation, to attend to the deep meaning of things.”

The midwives are given a clear command from Pharaoh that they do not follow. When Pharaoh catches them, they lie in order that they might live to continue breaking Pharaoh’s command. Because of the midwives, the Hebrew people grow, Moses is saved from death, and the people are eventually able to escape to freedom. The midwives “see in depth,” imagining a different way. Their imagination is fueled by a fear of God. In the midst of a system of slavery, these women were able to imagine beyond Pharaoh’s intention for the Hebrew people to see the “more,” that is, God’s intention for humanity and for the Hebrew people.

Exploring (20 minutes)
Nishioka’s discussion of Coleridge’s “secondary imagination” and Clayton’s discussion of Dykstra’s “ecclesial imagination” remind us that imagination is not individual but communal. Divide the class into groups of two or three and ask them to move to the tables around the room so that they may explore together others in scripture that exhibit imagination. Each group should be given the characters and texts they are to study. Provide an image at each table that may help the group think more deeply about their story. Invite each group to (1.) Read the passage provided, (2.) Examine the image provided, and (3.) Discuss provided questions (note: Depending on the number of participants you have, you may have to add or subtract characters to be discussed. Other possibilities are Moses, Joshua, Esther, Ruth, the story of the healing of the bleeding woman and Jairus’ daughter from Mark, and Paul.). Inform groups that they will be asked to share their thoughts with the class.

1. Jacob
text: Genesis 28:10-22
art: “The Dream of Jacob” He Qi2

2. Isaiah’s dream
text: Isaiah 11
art: “Peaceable Kingdom” John August Swanson3

Fra Angelico

3. The Annunciation
text: Luke 1:26-38
art: “The Annunciation” Fra Angelico4 and “The Annunciation,” a mosaic from the Philippines at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth5

Philippines Annunciation in Nazareth

4. John the Baptist
text: Luke 3:1-18
art: details from The Isenheim Altarpiece6

Isenheim Altarpiece
Giotto image

5. The story of Lazarus
text: John 11:1-44
art: “Raising of Lazarus” Giotto7 and “Raising of Lazarus” Lee Porter8

6. The Syrophoenician Woman
text: Mark 7:24-30
art: “Icon of the Syrophoenician Woman” Robert Lentz9

Lentz image

Questions for conversation in each group:
Which character or characters exhibit(s) imagination in this text?
In what ways do they exhibit imagination?
Are there characters in this story for whom imagination seems hard?
Does the image given illumine new dimensions of the character’s imagination for you?
What is the verb that most communicates this character’s imaginative qualities?
How might you enact this verb in your own life?

After the groups have had about 10 minutes for conversation, ask each group to take about two minutes to read their passage and present the highlights of their conversation and ideas to the class.

Responding (15 minutes)
Invite participants, still in their groups, to use drawing materials to draw or write the story of (1.) Someone in your life who has exhibited imagination or (2.) A time when you have recognized imagination at work in your faith journey. Give participants an opportunity to tell their stories, drawn or written, to those in their group.

Closing (7 minutes)
Gather the class again in the center of the room, sitting in the circle of chairs.
Read Psalm 40 again.
Ask the following questions:
What, if anything, did you hear differently this time around?
Why do you think that is?

End with the following prayer or create your own, leaving room for participants to offer their own prayers for imagination.

O God, none can compare with you,
for your wondrous deeds for our salvation are without number,
and your faithfulness is beyond imagination.
Send us from this place alive with your Spirit,
who from age to age has led your people
in the way of imagination and in paths of new life.
Make us bold and creative witnesses to your love,
that all the earth may rejoice
until the day when all will be made new
and we will see you face to face.
Amen.

Lesson Plan #3: Imagination in Scripture and Storytelling

Concept
Sarah Hylen considers imagination an “essential tool” for faithful biblical interpretation. Imagination is at work in the lives of biblical characters and is key to our interpretation of the text. But imagination was also a vital force for the writers of biblical texts as they imaginatively interpreted what they experienced of God, crafting the narrative, poetry, and letters we read today. Each of these dimensions of imagination at work in and around scripture form the basis for this lesson.

Setting
This lesson plan is intended for a 60-minute adult education class as part of a series on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe.

The room should be arranged with a circle of chairs in the middle of the space for the opening, presenting, and closing sections. Tables should be arranged around the room for participants to sit in groups during the exploring and responding portions of the class.

Objective
At the end of the teaching session participants will be able to
1. Name unique aspects of each gospel
2. Reflect on the role imagination played in the writing of the gospels and plays in our interpretation of them, given the unique aspects discovered in various texts, and
3. Create a narrative interpretation of a given story, discussing the impact of the experience on the reading of the gospels.

Materials
*(optional) “Cultivating a Biblical Imagination,” by Sarah E. Hylen
*Bible
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening section)
*Computer and projector to show the short film, “La Luna”

Course
Opening (10 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.

In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.

--Prayer for Illumination:
God who imagined order out of chaos and light out of darkness, silence in us any voice but your own, that we may hear what you have to say to us today and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see you anew. Amen.

--Reading: Psalm 22
--Invite participants to close their eyes during the reading.
--Once the reading is over, ask participants to take about 2 minutes to re-tell the story on a piece of paper. This can be written or drawn. You will return to these at the end of class, so you can ask participants to put them aside.

Presenting (10 minutes)1
Give a brief overview of each gospel, its audience, timeframe, and theology. Recognize publicly that these are not certain facts, but they are mostly agreed-upon by scholars. These are at best a starting point in discussing the gospels and imagination, a reference and a tool.

Matthew:
Date: around 80-90
Author: Traditionally Matthew, a tax collector and disciple of Jesus, though likely not an eye witness, may have drawn on sayings of Jesus, oral and written tradition, and Mark’s gospel, most likely a Jewish Christian.
Theology: Matthew is concerned with portraying Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies and takes care to develop stories to echo Old Testament narratives. His Christology may be higher than Mark’s but not as high as John’s.
Audience: Most likely addressed to a Jewish Christian church that includes some Gentiles.

Mark
Time written: around 60-75
Author: Mark, perhaps John Mark of Acts, who traveled with Paul and Barnabas and followed Peter, not an eye witness of Jesus’ ministry but probably used oral and written tradition to craft his gospel.
Theology: It is clear that Mark expected Christ to come again soon, and wrote with a sense of urgency. The mystery of Christ is maintained in this gospel.
Audience: Possibly Gentiles not familiar with Judaism, but likely Christians converted by people familiar with the Jewish Christian tradition. Some believe the community to which he wrote had undergone persecution.

Luke
Time written: around 85
Author: Traditionally Luke, a physician, who traveled with Paul, not an eye witness of Jesus’ ministry, but used Mark and other available sources. Some believe he could have been a convert to Judaism before he became a Christian, but most feel that he was not raised a Jew.
Theology: Luke’s gospel prepares for the events of Acts, the second part of his narrative. He gives attention to the continuity between Jesus’ ministry and the mission of the early church. Luke is concerned for Gentiles and for those on the margins of society.
Audience: Most likely a largely Gentile community evangelized by the Pauline mission.

John
Time written: 80-110
Author: Traditionally John, one of Jesus’ disciples, likely someone who considered himself part of John’s tradition.
Theology: John’s Christology is high and his theology of incarnation central to his message. John’s Jesus often uses metaphor and image to describe himself. He also uses twofold meanings and irony in his discourse, and takes time to explain even in the midst of misunderstanding.
Audience: Traditionally located in the Ephesus area, likely Syria.


Exploring (10 minutes)
Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a story that occurs in all 4 of the gospels and the passages in which they can find it (below). Invite them to compare and contrast each telling, looking for aspects of audience, timeframe, theology, and style. They should also consider the placement of their texts within each gospel and note the presence or absence of surrounding stories.

Group #1: The Calling of the First Disciples
Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11
Group #2: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand
Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13
Group #3: The Death of Christ
Matthew 27:35-44, Mark 15:24-32, Luke 23:33-43, John 19:18-27
Group #4: The Resurrection
Matthew 28:5-8, Mark 16:2-8, Luke 24:1-8, John 20:1

Responding (25 minutes)
Show the Pixar short film, La Luna,10 to the class as they remain in their groups. After showing the film, give participants 5 minutes to work in their groups (without sharing thoughts or ideas with other groups) to create a verbal narrative interpretation of “La Luna.” They should start by deciding what they think is going on in the story and create a new story to interpret what they see. They may give the characters names if they wish, but they do not have to. The narrative they construct should be short, since each group will tell their story to the class.

After each group has shared their narrative interpretation with the class, invite the class as a whole to step back from the process. You may ask the following or other questions:
What did you hear from other groups that was similar to your interpretation of the story?
What did you hear that was different?
What, if anything, do you feel was gained by hearing the story portrayed in multiple ways?
After hearing other stories, would you have changed anything about your own?
How does this experience influence the way you read the gospels?
Which telling to you think was the truest? Can you tell, and if so, how?
Which of the gospels do you think portrays the truest story? Can you tell, and if so, how? (may be framed as a trick question, since the gospels together expand our imaginations and bring us to a truer vision of God than one could alone.)

Closing (5 minutes)
Gather the class again in the center of the room, sitting in the circle of chairs.
Ask two volunteers to share what they wrote from the opening exercise.
Ask this of the creators:
What did you decide about the way in which you wanted to tell what you saw?

Ask the following questions of the class:
What did you hear that was different than what you remember of Psalm 22?
What did you hear that was consistent?

End with this or another prayer.

God of many names,
you come to us in diverse ways
and call us to unique ventures,
new interpretations, and special visions.
Thank you for the gift of perspective.
Send us to tell what we have seen,
But also to listen for what others have heard.
Call us to speak your truth,
But remind us that we cannot hold the truth alone.
Lift our imaginations beyond our small corners,
That together we may serve you more faithfully
And follow you more nearly,
In the name of Christ, our rock and redeemer, we pray.
Amen.

Lesson Plan #4: Imagining church

Concept
Nishioka ends his article with an image of church that resists some of the paradigms many mainline Christians may carry. He says, “Somehow, by God’s grace, I marvel how all of this is emerging into a new paradigm of being the church—the body of Christ—who, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work even in us is able to do far more abundantly that we can ask or…imagine…all for God’s glory now and forever. Amen.”
At the conclusion of his article, Thompson poses a question to all of us: “If God is doing a new thing, if there are now rivers in the desert, what can we bring forward from our tradition to provide good interpretive frameworks for those who engage the text in a new way?” This lesson plan seeks to ask, “Where are we being led as a church?” and “What does it mean to re-imagine church by the power of the Holy Spirit?”

Setting
This lesson plan is intended for a 60-minute adult education class as part of a series on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe.

The room should be arranged with a circle of chairs in the middle of the space and a table set up in the middle of the chairs. The table should only be used for the responding section of the lesson.

Objective
At the end of the teaching session, a participant will be able to
1. Identify different worshiping communities and the contexts that make them unique,
2. Discuss the role of imagination in the life of the church, and
3. Consider a new vision of church by creating a piece of art as a community.

Materials
*(optional) The following articles on imagination: “This Imagination Life,” by Rodger Nishioka and “Moderns, Post-moderns, and Imagination” by Casey Thompson
*Bible
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening section)
*Computer, projector and screen
*stoneware or earthenware clay

Course
Opening (7 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.

In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.

--Prayer for Illumination:
God who imagined order out of chaos and light out of darkness, silence in us any voice but your own, that we may hear what you have to say to us today and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see you anew. Amen.

--Reading: Psalm 126
--Before beginning, invite participants to close their eyes during the reading or use provided drawing media to imagine themselves in the place of the psalmist.
--Repeat the process one more time to give participants time to contemplate this short psalm.
--Invite participants to reflect briefly on the experience.

Presenting (15 minutes)

Nishioka and Thompson encourage us toward imagination in the church, from the ways in which we break bread to the ways in which we engage scripture.
Invite the class to consider an initiative of the PC(USA) called 1001 New Worshiping Communities. Refer the class to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities website, http://www.onethousandone.org. If possible, it will be helpful to use a projector so that the class can see the site for themselves. There you will find the following description of how 1001 New Worshiping Communities began,

“In June 2012, the 220th General Assembly declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that results in the creation of 1,001worshiping communities in the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, new worshiping communities are joining this site to create a presence and connect with one another. The Presbyterian Mission Agency is coming alongside to fan the flames of this movement, to inspire and equip the wider church to participate in the creation of 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next 10 years.”
Many of the worshiping communities featured on the site include videos telling their story. Show the videos for the following worshiping communities:
The Journey
The Upper Room
New Hope
Bare Bulb Coffee

Ask these questions after each video:
What is central in the life of this community?
What assumptions are at work in their ministry?
In what ways does this community exhibit imagination?

Read Acts 2:43-37 and ask the same three questions about this worshiping community.

Exploring (15 minutes)
Clayton uses Dykstra’s idea of “ecclesial imagination” to discuss ways of seeing God anew in community. Hylen discuss “a community of interpretation” that is necessary as we engage scripture and the world around us by the power of the Spirit. In his image of postmodern interpretation, Thompson suggests that imaginative interpretation and discernment happen in community. Nishioka’s fifth act suggests that mutual sharing, testimony, and honest questions create a community of imagination in which God is active in the experience and conversation of the community, and we are able, by God’s grace, to engage in a pattern of seeing that reaches beyond narrow paradigms that might shade our eyes. The purpose of this exploring section is to create an imaginative community and explore the ways in which God may be calling the church to live in new ways or to return to some of the ancient ways of being that extend all the way to Acts 2.

As a group, invite participants to consider the following questions:
What is central for your worshiping community?
What seems central in you worshiping community?
What paradigms are at work in your life as a community?
How might your community embrace in a new way what you feel should be central?
How might your community look in 10 years? 20 years?

Responding (15 minutes)
Offer each participant a piece of clay small enough for them to hold in their palm and ask them to respond to the question, “What do you hope for most in the church?” Give them 5 or more minutes to construct a small sculptural object expressing their understanding of church. To ease anxiety that may inhibit exploration, you will want to remind participants that there are no right or wrong answers here, no critique at the end of the session, and no expectations about what might or might not be an acceptable sculpture. Play contemplative music of your choice during this exercise.

When participants are finished with their work, invite them to the middle of the room to gather around a table that should be set up there. Participants will have created individual interpretations of the prompt given. Some will be pondering how they will display their sculpture when they get home, and some will be wishing they had never begun the activity. Offer an alternative to focusing on these individual concerns, though, by asking participants to work together to create an entirely new sculpture, comprised of each individual sculpture. This is an exercise in releasing control and opening oneself to imagining the community anew. Invite a few participants to make the foundation of the sculpture using their small creations and connecting them in any way they see fit while maintaining the integrity of each piece. These first contributors can then sit back down. Invite a few others to contribute another layer to the foundation, connecting pieces in any way they see fit while maintaining the integrity of each, then invite them to sit down. Move forward this way until all participants have contributed equally to the larger sculpture.
*note: The work should communicate a collaborative effort while showing concern for the value of each artist and their original work, thus illustrating issues of primary and secondary imagination that Coleridge discusses (see Nishioka’s “This Imagination Life”). The result may not look “beautiful” to some. In fact, in the end it may look like nothing but a huge pile of clay. However, the focus here is on the process, not the product.

Give participants a few minutes to view the sculpture after all have finished their work.
Ask the following questions of the group:
Can you see your original piece in the larger sculpture?
What did it feel like to contribute your piece to the whole?
What do you see happening in the sculpture?
What do you see happening in the community in this room?
Does this process make you think differently about what it means to be church or about what the church should look like? If so, how?
What most impacted you during this exercise?

Closing (7 minutes)
Read Psalm 126 again.
Ask the following questions:
What, if anything, did you hear differently this time around?
Why do you think that is?

End with this or another prayer.

Come, O Holy Spirit.
Come as Holy Fire and burn in us,
come as Holy Wind and cleanse us within,
come as Holy Light and lead us in the darkness,
come as Holy Truth and dispel our ignorance,
come as Holy Power and enable our weakness,
come as Holy Life and dwell in us.
Convict us, convert us, consecrate us,
until we are set free from the service of ourselves,
to be your servants to the world. Amen.
--from The Book of Common Worship of the PC(USA)

Notes

  1. David Chagall, “David and Bathsheba,” paper, 1956 (Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France). http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/marc-chagall/david-and-bathsheba-1956
  2. He Qi, “The Dream of Jacob,” 2001. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46092
  3. John August Swanson, “Peaceable Kingdom,” poster 1987. http://www.anppm.org/NonProfitStore/default.cfm?BodyNav=DisplayProducts.cfm&id=73816
  4. Fra Angelico, “The Annunciation,” fresco, 1437-46 (San Marco Museum, Florence).
  5. Unknown artist. For more information, see here: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/AnnunciationMosaics.html
  6. Matthias Gothart Grünewald, “Isenheim Altar,%rdquo; oil on panel, 1512-1516 (Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mathis_Gothart_Gr%C3%BCnewald_019.jpg
  7. Giotto di Bondone, “Raising of Lazarus,” fresco, 1236-1337 (Cappella Scrovegni, Padova, Italy)
  8. Lee Porter, “The Raising of Lazarus,” quilt, 1992 (Collection Samaritan Inns, Washington, D.C., USA) http://www.leeporterart.com/Story-RaisingLazarus.html
  9. Robert Lentz “The Syrophoenician Woman,” icon, various mediums. Available for sale at https://www.trinitystores.com/store/read-more/syro-phoenician-woman
  10. Enrico Casarosa, La Luna, Digital Short, Directed by Enrico Casarosa. Emeryville, CA: Pixar Animation Studios, 2011. Distributed with Brave (2011).

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