Session 5b: Nurturing a Holy Imagination by Brian Keeper

What a great word about living with longing and loss and to embrace chaos in the midst of change. That takes a lot of courage. So thanks for the good word. Brian, would you be willing and ready to share a good word about holy imagination, man?

Yes. Thank you. It’s so great to be with you all. Jill, that was wonderful. I took copious notes here. We didn’t talk about this, but as I listened to you talk, I thought maybe I could say a little bit something from the perspective of a pastor about the how. In fact, what you did at the end is exactly what I want to use my time to just reflect with you all on, how do we grow our capacity to be able to hold the longing and the loss? How do we grow our capacity for pain, uncertainty, and chaos? For the writers of scripture and for the Christians through the ages, the way that we move forward is by looking back. and not looking back in the sense of trying to repeat the past or go back and copy the past, or get back to the past.

But we are catapulted into the future by looking back and finding our selves caught up in the biblical story of God. And one of my deep convictions, I like to talk about a missional imagination. I think a holy imagination that there’s a lot of resonance between the two, but as Keith has said, an imagination of holy imagination is it’s a capacity. It’s the capacity and the courage to see how the kingdom of God is already breaking in. What God is doing in our midst. And what is yet to come, this hopeful future. And so, the way that I think that we do that is I want to continue to find ways to help people indwell scripture. I think the way in which we live in this liminal space, the way that we move forward together with courage and faithfulness is by finding ourselves in the biblical story where God transforms us into the image of Jesus.

And God, in the power of the spirit gives us the capacity then to be able to participate in the work that God is doing. I want to share my screen with you. I’m going to try this here.

So one of the most important practices, I guess, that I want to offer you today is this practice of indwelling scripture. And again, this is my deep conviction I think for all of us, whatever vocation we’re in, whatever kind of leadership we’re doing, how do we find ourselves in the biblical story? How do we indwell scripture in such a way that we really are being formed as a people who have the courage and the capacity to see and to act? And so one of the persons, and for those of you who were part of pillar, you’ve probably heard Leslie [Neubegin], Pastor John Brown, both of us have been deeply impacted by Neubegin, but I love the way that Neubegin and talks about this. He says, “The important thing in the use of the Bible is not to understand the text, but to understand the world through the text.”

And really what Neubegin is saying is that the goal of engaging the Bible is not to look at the Bible so much, which I think is the primary way that we’ve been taught to engage scripture is to look at it, to dissect it, to study it. And there’s a place for that. But I think that the holy imagination is cultivated and nurtured when we learn, not just to look at the Bible, but to look through it. That are proper relation to the Bible is not that we examine it from the outside, but we indwell it from within, to seek to understand and cope with what is out there. In other words, the Bible furnishes us with our plausibility structure. And that’s Neubegin’s way of talking about a holy imagination. Again, it’s a way of seeing the world, a way of seeing ourselves in the world, how are we called to be faithful to God in new circumstances?

“So the structure is the form of a story,” he says. “It is in narrative that character is revealed and there is no substitute for this.” He goes on to say this, I love this next one as well. “So as we face new opportunities, the way forward is by looking back. As we face new opportunities and dangers, we are the people who know what it is to cross the Red Sea on dry land, to be fed with manna in the wilderness, to return with singing from Babylon, to stand before the cross and to meet the risen Lord and the breaking of the bread. This is our story, and it defines who we are. Who am I can only be given if we ask what is my story? And that can only be answered if there is an answer to the further question, what is the whole story of which my story is a part. To indwell the Bible is to live with an answer to those questions, to know who I am and who is the one and who I am finally accountable.”

So let me just reflect with you a little bit more on that. This key of indwelling scripture, of learning really how to not just look at the Bible, but to look through the biblical text, to really come to understand our story personally, and our story together as a community in light of the biblical narrative. Just a few practical kind of implications. Again, these are some of my convictions as a pastor. So I offer them to you. But I think number one, I think we need to recover the centrality of scripture in our lives and in the life of our communities. We need to learn to engage the Bible in a different way. I just see this of helping people, teaching people, to engage the Bible in a different way. And for me, I think if we’re going to do what Neubegin is inviting us to do, to see the world from inside the biblical story, that really requires a shift from reading the Bible just for information and learning to read for transformation.

That this is about what kind of people are we becoming? I believe that one of the most important questions we need to answer in this kind of liminal space. What we’re called to do is important, but I think to God, the larger question is who are we called to be? And what kind of people are we called to continue to become, as we seek to improvise our part in the spirit?

I think this requires then a shift when I talk about moving or at least learning to engage the Bible differently, really from application to implication. And by that, I mean, again, I think the way that a lot so many of us have been taught to engage the Bible is through analyzing and study and figuring out how do I apply this to my life. And there’s a place for that. But the problem with that posture is it’s so often what happens is that we see ourselves as the ones who master the text as opposed to those who humbly are willing to be mastered by it. Again, the idea is to find ourselves drawn in to this story where we’re transformed by the God that we encounter in this story.

One of the key practices for me has been memorizing scripture and learning to interiorize scripture, getting it in me individually. And also this has been a practice that we’ve taken on, even in our congregation. I think learning to engage scripture deeply in community, where really there are three primary questions. I think that if we’re going to engage scripture in such a way that it’s not just about how do I apply this, but how are we implicated in this story? How are we called to live this out here and now? Three key questions is what does the scripture say about who God is and what God is up to? Neubegin would say that it’s about scripture renders to us, the story of who God is, God’s character, God’s action, and God’s purposes. So what does this say about God? But then the second question is what does this say about who we are? How is God calling us to respond here and now. And then I think a third question, and this is a question that we’re wrestling with and continuing to wrestle with as a community in the church that I serve.

And again, I want to emphasize the importance of reading in community together is how is the living God speaking to us today through the scripture? How is God calling us through the scripture to be able to respond to the most urgent challenges that are in front of us, to join him in his redemptive work? I want to just close by sharing with you, maybe a couple of ways that we’re doing this. So I would commend this to you in terms of… One in terms of your own practice, what would it look like for you to engage scripture. And Jill, again, Jill did this for us at the end, in terms of the Psalm that she invited us into this morning. But also to think about, I wonder how you can do this in community. And one of the things that we just did, we’ve done this a couple of times is that I’ve invited a group of people in community with me in the congregation.

We’ve committed to memorizing either a text together or a book in the Bible together. And we’ve done this the last two years in a row in the season from epiphany really through lent up to Easter. But there was a group of us that memorized the sermon on the Mount together. So we would meet every Wednesday night and we broke it up and we would spend time memorizing the scripture together. But part of it too, was learning to listen to what God was saying to our community together as we interiorize the word. And then we did it with the book of Ephesians this last year, which it’s a larger book. And again, we would meet together every Wednesday night for the duration of a couple months, two to three months. And then on Palm Sunday, we got up on and together we offered this, we recited the scripture to the congregation and offered it to the congregation.

That was cool. And people responded really well to it. But I think if you would ask those who participated in that class, I think that they would say to you that it was the practice. It was getting to be a part of memorizing scripture and engaging it together deeply in community that had the most transformational impact on their lives. So we can’t learn to be different in the world without learning to see differently and scripture, getting into the story and letting the story of God get into us is what I think will continue to give us the courage and the capacity to faithfully improvise our part in this land in between.

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