catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 9 :: 2007.05.04 — 2007.05.18


Friction makes fire

Two of the articles in this issue touch on the energizing qualities of imagination, which has gotten my mind turning on the ways in which the things that give me energy are dependent upon my ability to imagine.  Planting seeds requires the ability to imagine a time of harvest and bloom.  Reading a novel requires my ability to imagine three-dimensional characters and settings.  Writing requires my ability to imagine a reading recipient and an eternity in which words matter.  Editing this magazine requires my ability to imagine that I and other readers will continue to experience revelations by participating in this community of shared observations and stories.

I think of the times when I’ve experienced my lowest points of despair (which have been thankfully few) and I realize that beneath the excessive crying and swearing is a false conviction that things will never be any different than they are at that particular time.  It’s a bit embarrassing to admit what a mess I become in these rare moments.  However, I recognize such behavior as an important catharsis that inevitably leads to a renewal of my perspective and commitments.  A period of escape, usually sleep, allows me to believe again in the fact of being on a journey and my capacity to engage in Spirited motion toward a vision of the world as it will be.

If I as an individual need imagination and have moments of despair characterized by an inability to imagine, I believe communities behave in the same way.  A recent point of tension at the college where I work has involved commitment to environmental sustainability.  Students, who are at a point in their lives when imagination thrives, are struggling to see their value of creation become manifest on campus in the face of skeptical statements coming out of administration such as, “We spend money on solar panels even if they have no economic viability because we’re trying to make a statement.  In Michigan, solar panels are never going to pay off.”  It’s a classic friction between the forces of ‘the way things are’ and the forces of ‘the way things could be’ and both sides have rituals that reinforce their commitments.  The Way Things Are folks calculate the bottom line meticulously and derive energy from an image of the future as a straight line going up and up.  In the meantime, The Way Things Could Be folks are having animated conversations, passionately pursuing organically grown ideas, and gaining energy from an image of the future as a perennial garden where planned surprises delight.

As much as someone like myself is tempted to objectify and dismiss proponents of The Way Things Are, the fact is that the realists and the dreamers need each other.  The realists challenge the dreamers to cultivate new and more accessible technologies and to integrate change winsomely.  Friction creates heat, heat creates fire and fire refines and transforms.  In the case of solar panels that “are never going to pay off”, for example, the Are’s have challenged the Could Be’s to come up with a new thin-film photovoltaic laminate that is easier to install and on its way to becoming more economical than panels.  And this is just one example of an idea that became reality.

I gain energy from ideas, even ideas I can never make good on myself or good ideas that other people have already had and realized: programs that introduce children from urban low-income families to the farms where seeds turn into food or to the library with a proclamation that, “This is yours!”; plans to install solar panels on the roof of every building in a historic downtown district; proposals for community gardens, neighborhood renewal, films, worship gatherings.  Just as motivation to incarnate ideas in a community often comes from the friction between the naysayers and the doers, my own energy is partially generated by the memory of my despairing self in tension with my hopeful self.  Certainly, the questions lurk: what happens if the dark moment of despair never ends?  What happens if the naysayers have their way?  But we are residents of a reality within a God who never fails to grant permission for the good, who is all light, who is the beginning and end of all things and who delights in our creative energy.

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