Reimagine your purpose
When we speak of imagination, I’m reminded of Renoir.
Not because I’m enamored, per se, by Impressionist paintings, but because of his celebration of otherness, rather than sameness, as the focal point of beauty.
He once said:
"If you paint the leaf on a tree without using a model, your imagination will only supply you with a few leaves; but Nature offers you millions, all on the same tree. No two leaves are exactly the same. The artist who paints only what is in his mind must very soon repeat himself."
This, as opposed to Hegel—the quintessential Enlightenment thinker, who still holds sway today—who retreats solely to the mind, against Renoir's admonition. His Dialectic is an attempt to reconcile all things by means of abstract contemplation. It planes everything to the univocal singleness of self. Such thinking works within a limited repetition and therefore diminishes the variegated truth of reality. In the end, it cannot handle diversity, at all—only sameness.
We see this in our political dialogue. We see it, too, in the Church—how it fragments and separates, demarcates ruthlessly, creates an idol of god that looks like itself. This way of thinking does not comprehend, as Renoir comprehended, the irreducibility of Incarnational presence. In such, it inflicts a great violence on reality, as the theologian, David Bentley Hart, says: it is “the story of no more stories.” How it completely disregards the wisdom of the Psalmist: 'sing a new song unto the Lord.' (Psalm 96:1) Therefore, Paul writes to warn us against false teachers: 'See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.' (Colossians 2:8) How much more so, does the dialectical imagination do violence to God, who created the millions of leaves on the single tree and again the countless copses of trees and 'who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number?' (Job 5:9)
Hart agrees with Renoir:
"No instance of the beautiful can be contained with a dialectical structure of truth, or recognized apart from the aesthetic series; it is always situated in perspectives, vantages, points of departure, but is never fixed contained, exhausted or mastered."
As I reflect on how my imagination has been affected by my time at Christ City Church, it is through discourse with people who are very different than me—theologically, politically, ethnically; the endless series of differences that have situated their “perspectives, vantages, and points of view.” The gentle discussions we’ve had on race.
The challenge to hear God in dissimilarity without the necessity of being repetitions of each other. The humility of those who have endured my probing questions and, as Kierkegaard describes them, confidently, lovingly, and shyly capable of withdraw, allowing God alone to witness and dispel my illusions. It is in this way that my imagination has been enlarged.
Yet, as it is, still not large enough to reflect accurately Renoir’s tree, nor the beauty of our Christ, in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9) To that end, Christ City is for me a place, not of being imaginative, but of becoming continuously engaged in the discourse of imagination. Which means, every voice is a still, small voice.
And my purpose, if it has been re-imagined, is to set aside the need to be heard; rather, to seek spaces, ways of living, acts of service, to hear, especially the voices of those most unlike mine. In this way, I forsake the idolatry of my own singlemindedness.