Throughout my life I’ve had a fairly active imagination. Up until the age of 7 or so, I was a rugged-individualist when it came to making my own rules about life, love, micro-machine floor placement, and which Disney soundtrack* would play in the background of my costumed parades through my parents’ suburban rancher.
And yes, the long hallways do provide excellent cat-walk space.
(*NOTE: a particular favorite was the Robin Williams-voiced “Prince Ali Fanfare” from the Aladdin soundtrack. My matching Arabian Nights-themed-pajamas cast a striking figure, even for a pudgy 2nd grader.)
But then my brother entered the picture, and ultimately forced a significant change in my formerly-unashamed air-guitar-solos laid brilliantly over Bruce Hornsby’s Scenes from the Southside played at room-clearing-volumes.
For the Record: 2PAC SAMPLED THIS MAN’S WORK
(casually brushes haters off)
No longer would I be able to shamelessly-with-2-fists-raised-in-the-air-celebrate my last second lay-up finally pushing the perennially basement dwelling Tennessee men’s basketball team of the 90s to the sweet 16 (rather than the finals, I was a whimsical middle schooler, not a crazy person), without first looking over my shoulder to make sure my brother hadn’t invited any of his friends over.
It only took a few red-faced encounters with those outside the family to tone down my outbursts, in favor of a more, let’s say, publicly reserved tenor towards the world.
Even now, my imagination still manages to express itself in fits and starts, but outside of stubbornly leading me to believe that Tennessee football will one day reclaim the glory of the late 90s or that grad school is at some point going to solve any of my financial or occupational aspirations, it has laid, for the most part, quite dormant.
Because, if there’s one thing we pick up over the course of our shared existences on this Earth, it’s that folks who spend the majority of their time staring dreamily out of windows are unbearable, bypass calculus, ultimately end up living long term in their parents’ basements, and never amount to anything.
Leaving many of us who were altogether not enticed by that description, to keep our heads buried in TPS reports and marketing meetings, until one day we become the very ones giving the speeches bemoaning the indolence of youth from the soapboxes of our brimming 401k’s and kid-picture-plastered-cubicles.
That’s the thing about our imaginations, much like old treadmills hiding in the corners of our grandparents’ wood-paneled Rec-rooms, the less we use them the more they turn into drying racks and long term cobweb storage facilities.
Which, however unexpectedly, reminds me of one of my least favorite movies:
An important caveat before we continue:
No, even for someone who once listened to Phil Collins’ Tarzan album for the entirety of a 12 hour road trip to Orlando, I do not have enough je ne se qua for a seemingly endless movie where people vanquish a witch with a pail of dirty mop water and burst into song about their wavering abilities to follow a clearly marked trail.
my favorite moment of my least favorite film is when the Dorothy-led band of witch-murderers returns to Oz to face the great and powerful wizard, and demand the promised bounty for their efforts.
During an argument over whether or not the Wizard is able to grant their requests, Toto, the dog, saunters over to a mysterious green shower curtain in the corner of the room, and pulls it back revealing a mustachioed, heavy-set banker turning knobs, pulling levers, and shouting into a voice amplifier.
Needless to say, the characters are a bit taken aback at the discovery that the giant green head in whom they had placed unending trust and risked their lives for was in fact not a wizard at all, but rather just an old white man with a sagging waistline.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
For much of my life this has been my experience with the Christian faith greeting me each Sunday (with greater and lesser degrees of effectiveness). Lots of lights and smoke and mirrors and guitars and dry-ice and lasers and requests from aging white men in straining dockers to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.
Leaving us asking time and again: “just so we’re clear, showing up for this, weekly, is the height of human existence?”
At a certain point there’s only so many curtains one can pull back on life before questioning the authenticity of every experience, every moment, every prayer, every song, and even every well-placed HD quality Invisible Children video set to Mumford & Sons
In short, for many of us at least: we’ve seen too many white dudes back there.
What we can’t see or touch or feel or see or taste or hear quickly becomes that of which we must, thanks to years of disappointment and irrelevance, remain skeptical.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the author mentions an oft-overlooked detail accompanying Jesus’ tragic execution about another curtain and another unexpected discovery:
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Leaving behind, what I can only assume, was the quite startling image of nothing staring them squarely in the face. And, just a few days later, Jesus manages to deliver a similar greeting to his closest followers expecting to find his body slowly decaying in a dark tomb:
No levers or pulleys or even heavy-set bankers
Nothing, once again, was the only thing on the other side of the stone covering the entrance to his grave.
The one thing keeping me tethered to this faith, even after the exhausting inauthenticity, the failures, the pain, the cheese, the abuse, the music, the embarrassment, the movies (OH, THE MOVIES!) and all the ways organizations and individuals have sullied the name of the divine throughout the history of this thing we call “Church,”
is the quiet absence greeting me behind the torn curtain and the empty tomb.
It’s the void that refuses to be filled in with explanations, and answers, and music, and sermons, and politicians, and government shutdowns, and bumper stickers, and jihads, reminding me that it’s only in the absence of an answer to my prayers that I eventually discover I’m it.
And just like our imaginations, the more we come alive to this truth, this way of seeing, this way of living in the world, the more we come to know the quiet reassurance of its unobtrusive consistency in our lives.
Because, just like that witch-murdering band of misfits, the courage you long for, the beauty you seek, and the compassion you desire, resides not in lightning bolts or wizards or the rise of indie arena folk, but deep in your own weary bones.
So may your sentences remain unfinished and your questions unanswered.
May your road be windy and your certainty dashed.
And lastly, may your void, your “god-shaped-hole,” or whatever it was termed in youth rooms of both ancient and recent past, may it remain empty. Leaving enough empty space for your imagination to join the unexpected heights of a God who always manages to escape the assurances of our truth and the shackles of our expectations.
To read more from Eric Minton at his blog.