Knowledge – Imagination – Memory: Developing Faith in Our Children

Offered here are some sources of insight and overflow discovered in preparation of the final sermon in our series: You Asked For It! Remember, these are "ponderings," thoughts to provoke thinking (the creation of a stew of knowledge, imagination & mystery), not to provide you easy answers. So eat hearty and enjoy!!


God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom, by Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio

One of the most exciting finds I've run across in a long time! Not because (ok, not ONLY because) I'm a Harry Potter fan and feel that J.K.Rowling has gotten an undeserved bad wrap with many in the Christian community, but because this thin volume is an amazing way to understand theology for the non-academic adult, and provide them with a vehicle to dialogue about the tenants of the Faith with a young audience.

What I find most helpful about the book is the way that in each short chapter you are introduced to two or three of the historic positions taken on the theme of theology being addressed (The Problem of Evil, Sin, Christology, Sacrifice, The Eucharist, Salvation, Revelation, Grace, & End Times) in a way that is simple but not simplistic. So with this you can speak intelligently when your children ask the difficult questions of faith, like "Why is there evil if God is good?" And Tumminio's perspective on how (or not) the Christian perspective is demonstrated in the various characters and actions in the Harry Potter books provide you with bridges into the culture inhabited by our kids that could make for some lively (and faith building) conversations.


Theatrical Theology: Explorations in Performing the Faith, edited by Wesley Vander Lugt and Trevor A. Hart

This book is the product of an international conference hosted by the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews in August, 2012 and represents the thinking of 15 presenter and the Q&A sessions with the audience. More academic than Tumminio's book, I've included some quotations from the various presenters that caught my attention.

From the Introduction:

"Theology is inherently theatrical, and it is so by virtue of its object, mode, and goal. First, theology is theatrical because its object is the triune God who says and does things in the theatre of the world. God created this cosmic theatre, but he also performs the lead role. He does this not merely by speaking from offstage, but by entering into the action, preeminently by becoming flesh and dwelling among us as Jesus of Nazareth. Theology is a response to and reflection on God’s incarnate performance and his continual involvement in the world theatre as Spirit." (pp. xiii-xix)

How might this perspective on theological study differ from the more traditional view of theology which tends to be a wrestling with propositions about God and his actions in the world?

From “At Play in the Theodrama of the Lord: The Triune God of the Gospel” by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

“John Calvin makes frequent reference to the world (i. e., the heavens and the earth) as the theatrum gloriae: a theater in which to behold God’s glory.” (p. 1)

How might we help our children learn to view the world as a theater in which to behold God's glory in spite of all the evil and dysfunction we daily experience?

From “In Praise of Empty Churches” by Shannon Craigo-Snell

“Empty churches are making a lot of Christians nervous.… However, there is a kind of emptiness that is vital to church. This emptiness comes into view when we begin to think of church not as an institution or even a community, but rather as a performance. I understand church as a disciplined performance of relationship with God in Jesus mediated by Scripture, in the hope of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 88)

“[When Robert Webber was asked what worship was he responded,] ‘Worship does God’s story!’ Please note the verb ‘to do.’ Worship does not primarily tell God’s story (though it does), nor does it primarily celebrate God’s story (though it does). Worship does God’s story. It enacts it. It embodies it. Worship puts flesh and blood on God’s story of salvation—the ongoing story of God’s faithfulness—and the promises that define the vision of the future of God’s story.” (p. 157)

From “Holy Theatre: Enfleshing the Word” by Richard Carter and Samuel Wells

“…before the Bible became a book, it was a collection of scrolls. It was not a vehicle for private devotions, encased in leather and cocooned by a zip. It was a script for performance, a rallying cry for mission, a tirade seeking repentance, and a chorus of comfort. It was a community-forming sacrament, and reading it aloud was a church-creating event. It did not have a static meaning; it was not reduced to easily memorized fundamentals. Every time it was read aloud in a congregation its truth became new in the context of its hearers, and every time those hearers returned to listen again they were a new and different community to the one that had heard it before. When Jesus laid down the book in the synagogue in Nazareth and said, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21), he set a template for every reading of Scripture ever since. Rather than the familiar ‘This is the word of the Lord’ or the somewhat tame ‘Here ends the reading,’ the announcement after the reading might better be, ‘Lord, fulfill this Scripture today.’ Furthermore, and in the same spirit, the response might be, ‘And make our lives and our deeds a scripture for the blessing of your people in days to come.’” (pp. 224-225)


Seeking the Lord of Middle Earth: Theological Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien by Jeffrey L. Morrow

Lewis' Narnia tales are openly Christian allegory. Tolkien's works are not as transparently Christian, but his Christian faith oozes from every pore of the stories. For example, the parallel between Jesus' rejection of "Satan's way" during his temptation in the wilderness and the rejection, by two of the worthy and wise characters, of the encouragement to take the Ring of Power in order to use it for good ends. They recognized that simply possessing the ring would corrupt them and render them helpless servants of evil purposes.

This book doesn't offer a specifically theological education, like the first book does. But there are a multitude of expamples of Tolkien's characters struggling to live in alignment with God's ways that will prepare you for conversation with young readers who have experienced the works. Here are some quotes that speak to the importance of the imagination for faith development:

"My love of J. R. R. Tolkien began prior to my love for theology. Early in my seventh-grade year, self-identifying as an agnostic Jew, I was rummaging through the boxes of books in my grandparents’ attic. I stumbled across aged copies of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. Leafing through their torn covers, the attractive smell of old and dry book pages wafting up, I decided I would try to read them in my spare time. By the end of the week, I had finished the entire series. Just shy of a decade later, after my baptism, I would begin to describe Tolkien’s work as having baptized my imagination.”

“Tolkien argued that fantasy was an escape into reality, not from it. He contended that fantasy helped us to see things as they actually were, the way we experienced those around us upon our first meeting; beautiful and exciting.” (p. 14)

“Tolkien believed that this form of human creativity reflected divine creativity, and was hence a function of our being created in the image of God. The highest form of this mythmaking was the ‘euchatastrophe,’ the sudden unexpected joy when all appears lost. As he explained, ‘the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn…it is a sudden and miraculous grace.’ He was quick to point out that the euchatastrophe ‘does not deny the existence…of sorrow and failure…it denies…universal defeat.’” (p.15)

“What Tolkien…did for [C.S.] Lewis, was to explain that Christianity had many of the characteristics of other myths, only it was a true myth. Christianity was a myth that entered the actual world; it entered history.” (p. 15)

“[Tolkein] suggested that fantasy helps us in three major ways: recovery, escape, and consolation.…by recovery, Tolkien wishes to communicate the ‘regaining of a clear view.’ He uses the analogy of window cleaning to better understand fantasy’s role in recovery. Fantasy helps us see the world afresh, as if it were new to our senses once again, as it had been in our youth. By means of fantasy we relearn the wonder in things, like trees and grass, streams and lakes. As we become familiar with objects and with people, they begin to lose their hold on us. Fantasy helps us see familiar objects and people in new ways, allowing us to continually appreciate their uniqueness. Fantasy also facilitates escape; not the escapism with which fantasy is so often charged, but rather an escape from a sort of prison. In fantasy literature, according to Tolkien, we do not escape from reality into some other place, rather we escape into reality from the confines of a prison. This escape helps us to remember the most important things in life: God, family, and friends. Fantasy frees us to view the world differently from how the surrounding culture would have us view it. Finally, fantasy is valuable for its consolation. This consolation, or ‘the joy of the happy ending,’ is epitomized in what Tolkien calls, the euchatastrophe, the sudden joyful turn of events when all appears lost.” (p. 125)