For Want of Imagination

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Shane Claiborne & Michael Martin. Hope for people weary of violence.

In this month to consider the place of violence in our times, I want to contemplate the notion that violence reflects a lack of imagination about possibility, hope, or mutuality. Or as Claiborne puts it: “violence is the instrument of those who cannot wait on justice, freedom, or redemption.”

At almost twice Claiborne’s age, elder at large, Parker J. Palmer writes “On the Brink of Everything” as if it will be one of his final works. In his last chapter he writes about the relationship between violence and suffering:

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering…

“Violence is not limited to inflicting physical harm. We do violence every time we violate the sanctity off the human self, our own or another person’s. Sometimes we try to numb the pain of suffering in ways that dishonour our souls. We turn to noise, frenzy, nonstop work, and substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own.”

Suffering Breaks the Heart

With the insight of a man who’s traveled the long arc of a short live, Palmer observes that suffering is the head water of violence – and – it is suffering that can break our hearts in two ways:

“When we lack the moral imagination to do something else with our suffering, we do violence…

Suffering breaks our heart, but the heart can break in two quite different ways:

There’s the brittle heart that breaks into shards, shattering the one who suffers as it explodes, and sometimes taking others down when it’s thrown like a grenade at the ostensible source of its pain.

Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, the one that can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new live.”

All of us live with broken hearts; I suppose the dynamic of the spiritual life is how to live with it – how to have a supple heart able to break open for love’s sake – how to have a tender heart open to the One who made us for Himself.

Jesus’ insight on our Heart Condition:

In Mark 8 Jesus had just fed 4000 and warned His disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees” (self-righteousness). But His disciples thought He was rebuking them because they had no bread (?).

Jesus asked,

Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?

What is Jesus reacting to? What’s the big deal? The big deal is that Jesus sees a heart condition that becomes fatal when He asks: “are your hearts hardened?”

The word used here (Poro-o); it is the root word for our word “petrified”: something that started off living – but like petrified wood, over years and under pressure a heart can get petrified, brittle, impenetrable.

Jesus says the process works like this:

    • You have eyes but fail to look
    • You have ears but fail to listen
    • You have a memory/experience but fail to remember

It’s like every time we have an opportunity to respond to God but don’t – our eyes become more clouded, our ears more dull, our memories more porous – forgetful of the goodness of God. Over time our hearts just get hard – impenetrable to the touch of God.

In short – our hearts become like stone in the way a piece of living tree becomes petrified wood – a slow process of getting rigid and densified.

The good news is that even rocks will praise God – for it is in the DNA of all creation to worship the Creator:

If you keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

Jesus in Luke 19:40.

What to do with a Broken Heart

If you have lived and loved then chances are – you have experienced a broken heart.  

If you have dreamed and had your dreams crushed – you know what it means to be broken hearted.  

If you have put all your effort toward justice and have only experienced injustice – then you know what means to be broken hearted.

The Psalms gives us a breadth of human emotions – including the broken heart:

The Lord is close to the Broken Hearted and heals those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

He heals the Broken Hearted and binds up their wounds.”Psalm 147:3

Our broken hearts are no defence against the imaginative and redemptive purposes of God for us. The truth is, our broken heart is a place that is tender to God. Far from over-looking us, He waits with us; it is the time and place for His presence to be close, to heal and bind up.

Violence may be an instrument of those who are impatient, those who lack imagination, those who cannot wait on justice, freedom, or redemption – but it is peace – the peace of Christ – that is the place of patient waiting and imagination with the One who made us for Himself.

What are you doing with your Imagination?