The world looks completely different.
Sometimes it lasts for a day or even a week.
After reading a really good book it can take time to recover, to reorient oneself to the world outside of the world of the story. The same is true of a concert that elevates us to a new level of heightened experience and emotion.
All of us have had experiences with art that enable us to transcend reality, if even for a few short moments. Whether a theatrical production, film, music, a painting, a book, or design; art resonates with us in a deeply satisfying way. It also connects us to those with a shared experience.
We cannot always put our finger on what it is that is creating this reaction when we feel it, sense it, and experience it. For those of us who do this for a living — crafting experiences and art to move people into closer relationship with and obedience to Jesus — we cannot afford to not know. We cannot afford to guess.
Drawing people into closer relationship with Jesus and encouraging them on their journey of discipleship involves tapping into imagination and emotion. Indeed, the only way to encourage others to change is through imagination and emotion.
Imagination and emotion are the most potent forces we know, and we don’t just make them available to anyone for any reason. Manipulating my emotions is the quickest way for me to disengage. That right needs to be earned, not taken. Especially in church. Not only do we have built-in inhibitions, our sacred spaces — the literal otherwordliness about our architecture and liturgy — create additional barriers. Our imagination and emotions are precious treasures and watchful dragons protect them. What can steal past those watchful dragons?
“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”
C. S. Lewis
Imagination in the stories of Narnia do in fact steal past the watchful dragons and allow us to reimagine the timeless truths about God and the sufferings of Christ in an uninhibited way.
The only way to elicit that response in others is to be willing to give it first.
True vulnerability is the exposure of our true imagination (longings) and emotion without barrier. But we can influence (not compel) each other’s choices through the mediating channels of imagination and emotion.
(Feelings don’t compel you either; your will can choose whether to follow your feelings or not.)”
― Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them?
No one can demand that others release their imagination and emotions. We can only expose our own.
Vulnerability = the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
The word “vulnerable” comes to English through Latin with a root that literally means to wound.
So how does this relate to our services being good?
I could have said a service is good when it taps into emotion and imagination.
I could have said a service is good when it is vulnerable.
Instead, I chose to say “exposing vulnerability” on purpose.
Our services must open the door for vulnerability to exist. We must platform vulnerability and expose it. It is literally the first step that we make that produces the desired results. And we must never forget, without vulnerability there can be no change.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
We must risk rejection. We must risk misunderstanding. We must embrace the possibility of being harmed if we want others to risk all they know and have for deeper relationship with Jesus.
When we choose the exposure of our longings and emotions without barrier, others will open their longings and emotions to influence.
Consider the above example of C.S. Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles and his vulnerability. When Digory in The Magician’s Nephew was tempted to steal the Narnian apple and give it to his dying mother, you better believe C. S. Lewis was exposing the deep longings he experienced in watching his own mother die when he was just a boy. The story never demands that we feel a certain way. But our emotions are stirred. We perceive the weight of this choice and are then ready to be overwhelmed by the goodness of Aslan.
It can be easy to hide in the stories of the Bible; to let them speak in a way that masks our true feelings. Ascribing mistakes to Moses or David or Peter, allows us to shift the weight of vulnerability to them. We don’t own it in ourselves, we just point it out in others.
Who wouldn’t choose to be celebrated instead of wounded? And the difference between the Psalms and our own, too often anemic, expressions of worship are right there in the hiding of our true longings.
I wonder if we have missed the forest for the trees. The Bible is full of incredibly vulnerable stories. In a word, the Bible exposes vulnerability. When we use it to mask our own vulnerability, we are outside the spirit of God’s revealed truth. If our worship gatherings serve as a mask to true spirituality and allow others to maintain a mask of spirituality, we can never get to good.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Exposing vulnerability is a Spirit-led process. There is a way to accomplish this through the power of our own intellect, emotions, and will. This is why I am very careful about who I loan my imagination to. Not everyone is trustworthy with that gift.
As Christians, we believe there is such a thing as our fallen natures and soul power. Often art meets us directly through the artist’s soul. It can touch us very deeply but cannot bring new life. When this turns negative, this art can be a distortion of God’s beauty and inflames our sinful desires and promises fulfillment of longings outside of God.
It requires the Spirit to give life. We have that anointing and must not be afraid of it. We don’t take it for granted and we don’t abuse it. We must be good stewards of the anointing that God has placed in our communities.
Exposing vulnerability is a Spirit-led process that He does both in us and through us.
Are your services dry and routine? Are they lacking life?
My guess is that there is a disconnect in this area. Someone needs to get real. Someone is holding back vulnerability, and in the process there is nothing for the congregation’s imagination and emotion to connect with.
So do you know? Do you know what your true imaginations (longings) are?
Have you been honest about them at the feet of Jesus?
Have you allowed Him to shape them and refine them?
It is not outside the realm of possibility for Him to birth new longings and imaginations in us. In fact, if He hasn’t, if we have not submitted to that process, how on earth can we expect to help lead others to deeper relationship with Christ?
It starts with us.
It then continues when we craft elements bathed in prayer and spirit-life that expose that vulnerability in honesty and maturity.