Words give us the ability to think. So it stands to reason, the more words we add to our vocabulary, the better we are able to think. My friend, Dr. Louis Markos calls poetry the “highest art form” for this very reason. The myriad layers of emotion and meaning expressed by poetry come from words. Words are parlous. Words are impervious. Words are exact.
When tribes of people (i.e. churches) neglect to incorporate essential words, they lose a vital part of who they were created to be. It could be termed as a “censorship of essence.”
Here are seven words that I feel the church has somehow lost.
1. Imagination – “Routine dulls our perceptions. Anxiety makes us listless. Life becomes mundane and time hastens by. But imagination gives us breathtaking wonder.
Renowned physicist Albert Einstein once said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Our imaginations should not be bound by time and space.
In today’s world of quick-fixes, ‘seven steps to this and five steps to that’ thinking, imagination has gone hungry, gone wanting; been stepped out, educated out, spanked out, and churched out—of our vocabulary.
But look deep inside your mind. Emerson comments, ‘If we can touch the imagination, we serve others…’, not if we touch ‘their’ imagination, but if we touch ‘the’ imagination. God didn’t make the imagination some small, human thing. It is larger than any single person, indeed, larger than any church. Without imagination, there is no understanding. But with it, there is every possibility we can imagine and more.
It is power. It is potential. It is transcendent. It is wonder. It is replete with unexpected gifts. Unless we use our imagination, we are not fully alive. Wendell Berrysays it this way: ‘The imagination is our way into the divine Imagination, permitting us to see wholly—as whole and holy—what we perceive to be scattered, as order what we perceive as random.’ Imagine the possibilities if we expanded the power of our imagination as a bridge to a deeper and exciting relationship with God.”
-paraphrased from p. 59 & 60 of Sex, Lies & Religion
2. Pleasure – We are hot-wired for pleasure. In essence, we all crave sensual activities that cause enjoyment. The following description of pleasure comes from C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters which contains musings of a fictional elder demon teaching a younger, less experienced demon:
‘Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An everincreasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula….To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.’
I love Eric Liddel’s quote in the film Chariots of Fire, “I must run, because when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” When do you feel God’s pleasure?
3. Creativity – One of the greatest descriptions of creativity comes from author Madeline L’Engle, “your intuition and your intellect working together . . . making love.”
Creatives are fleeing the church (and the United States) by the millions. Read Richard Florida’s eye-opening book, The Flight of the Creative Class. Creatives feel caught in a nether world, lost somewhere between the church and the world. A church leader once told me, “Don’t use the words experience or intuition, Randy, those words don’t belong in the church. Give me something solid. Something black and white, something scientific.”
Our seminary trained leaders have been taught systematic theology which methodically strips away the layers of art until the black and white, scientific truth is revealed. And, voilà!, the church has rendered scripture into a set of orderly, step-by-step principles and propositions organized by topic.
The creativity of the Bible is lost.
We have lost the knowledge that the Bible is a book of art. Eugene Peterson says, “More than half our scripture was written by poets”. Tim Downs writes, “Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions? Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words on the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable? Is it an accident that the average adult knows almost nothing about Jesus but can remember at least one of his parables?”
Whenever we have something to say, creativity asks how do we say it. The church has the greatest story ever told, but she has lost the creativity to tell it.
4. Sensuality – God placed one of the most sensual books ever written and made it the centerfold of the Bible. It is called The Song of Songs. If you think sensuality does not have a place in the church, you should take time to honestly read this book.
I will never forget a very obese pastor bragging about strongly confronting a trembling tiny female volunteer who led the dance ministry at his church. She had made the unthinkable mistake of designing ivory costumes that were opaque – but looked transparent. He proudly recounted forbidding them to perform the dance they had created and rehearsed for the service until they awkwardly donned baptismal robes to wear over their sensual costumes.
Who created us as sensual beings? A sensual God sent his Son to earth to redeem not only our soul, but also our bodies – our senses. Why? As St. Athanasius wrote in the 4th century, ““God chose to humbly ‘meet us where we look for Him most, and that is in our sensuality.’”
Since this essay has grown so large, I have decided to write about the remaining three words in my next post.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree?
When was the last time you heard a sermon title with any of these words?
What other words have we lost as a church?
Join the conversation.
By the way, here are the other three words.