catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 15 :: 2003.07.18 — 2003.07.31


Is your church fantasy-friendly?

During a 1998 panel discussion on the merit of fantasy fiction at Calvin College?s Festival of Faith and Writing, a woman raised her hand to make a confession. She had left her Protestant Church to become a Catholic because the church she had been attending was bad for her fantasy life. As someone who loved to write fiction, the woman felt stifled by a church where using the imagination was not encouraged. As a Christian dedicated to the craft of writing, she needed to be in a place that would feed her creative curiosity and provide a supportive environment for wonderment and mystery.

One can understand this woman?s concern. In many Protestant churches, walls are naked and bare, glowing off-(or on-) white as an indication of the boring, shapeless heaven we expect to find when we leave the green earth behind. The blood of Jesus is offered in a plastic cup, the body in the form of a cube. The drenching of infants and adults enacted in baptism is often presented in very dry terms, as if the symbolism of the act were all that mattered, the clear sign all that needs to be understood. Hymns of praise come in carefully aligned stanzas and praise songs repeat the chorus until every hand is raised at or above a 90-degree angle. Even the unadorned pulpit, placed strategically front and center of the sanctuary, speaks to the overarching importance of theology

, the science of God which, as the discipline in which many of the mysteries of God?s Word are made understandable and universally true, is honored most highly while objects of art—such as banners and wall-hangings—serve only to accompany it.

Symbolic d?cor may be beneficial in passing on church dogma, but is that all we?re teaching in the church? If so, people are getting the wrong message about Christianity. In such a stale environment, people have to find their own ways of getting their fragile faith through the service. Daydreaming, fantasizing, free-form imagining, rafter-counting, bulletin-doodling are all helpful tools for the starved believer, but such activities must be done secretly during the sermon or longish prayer time. Your parents were the first to tell you that church is no place for such playful shenanigans and unfocused fun. This kind of behavior should be reserved for when you get home. But if you can?t feel at home in church, why would you want to come in the first place?!

Why does the orderliness of church worship have to limit the wandering ebb and flow of fantasy life? Worship services certainly ought to have their basis in Scripture, but do we have to stick soooo close to the script? There?s nothing wrong with having order and structure, but can?t we set aside some time away from time?an undetermined blast of fresh air squeezed in just to keep things interesting? A surprise?like the overwhelming force of the Spirit on Pentecost.

At a time like this, when believers are leaving churches on account of the health of their fantasy life, we ought to raise moistened fingers to see if the air in the sanctuary is getting stale. Does the breadth of God?s ages-old plan of salvation make congregants bow their humble heads at the awe-full reality of God?s mysterious love for all human beings despite the apparent insignificance of humanity? Does the Bible story come alive as a nuanced tale, rich in meaning and new every morning? Do church buildings wrap the pew-sitter in the warmth of God?s embrace?

If so, then the believer won?t help but wonder and dream about the things consciousness?with its preference for logical coherence and orderly systems?often keeps hidden. If church is fulfilling its proper function, people will feel encouraged to be free daydreamers and visionaries. Fantasies about ideal worlds where lions lie down with lambs will sprout out of the wondering minds of people surrounded by strange melodies and mysterious scenes depicting the peculiar relationship between God and His people. In a place where God?s Spirit moves in mysterious ways, daydreaminess will be found within the sermons, songs, prayers and petitions of the people. As Peter reminded the wondering spectators in Acts 2, ?In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams,? Such dreams are only possible in a place prepared to accept the Spirit, a place open to the fulfillment of God?s fantastic promises for His people.

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