Friday, January 22, 2010

What a neighbor…

I rarely watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child, which I now find sad. I’ve since read about it, even seen it a few of times, and it seems he was a cool guy. A former minister, so I read somewhere, turns out that one day he got fed up with the speed of children’s programming (how cartoons move so rapidly from one image to the next), and decided to make his own show.

Have you seen the show on PBS before? It’s striking how patient he is doing the simplest things- using a toy dump truck to pick up rocks, moving around in his golf cart automobile. This slowness of pace, apparently, allows children’s imaginations to insert themselves more actively into each situation, and therefore fill in parts of the story that Mr. Rogers can’t get too. After all, when operating a dump truck (or pretending to…), there’s so much more to consider than picking up and dropping rocks. You have to know (or imagine) the size of rocks, and weight, and color, and maybe why you’re doing it in the first place. Discovering those parts of the story takes time, and part of Mr. Rogers’ neighborly gift was giving children he invited into his neighborhood time enough to contribute to these stories themselves, and to let their imaginations work.

Maybe you don’t often think of imagination as a neighborly gift, but think again. I watched a wonderful movie the other day, all about the power of imagination. You’ve likely heard a thing about it- The Blindside, starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw (among others). It’s basically a true story about Michael Oher, current starting right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Mr. Oher grew up in rough circumstances; in and out of foster homes and, for a time in high school, homeless. Eventually, though, he came to attend a Christian school, one of whose families, one day, noticed that not everything was great for “Big Mike.” In fact, they took him in, clothed him, fed him, eventually adopted him. And he went to Ole Miss on a football scholarship, won All-SEC and All-American honors, and he even made the Dean’s List before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. It’s a beautiful story, depicting the importance of believing in yourself and others, the riskiness and transformational force of Christian love.

But it’s also about the power of imagination; about how imagination may not be something you can wrap and give to or receive from a neighbor, but if you manage to nurture it or spark it, the consequences can be life-altering. For instance, this young man didn’t believe, at first, he’d go to college, make good grades, etc. But when his circumstances began changing, he let his imagination begin changing, and that made the crucial difference. Likewise, this all-white upper class family never believed they’d adopt a large black teenager from the projects. But their imaginations broadened and they came to love him, which transformed them and even changed assumptions and perceptions around them too. Like when their uncle received a rather unexpected Christmas card…

In any event, I’m thinking this week, as many of you are too I’d bet, about our neighbors to the southeast: the devastated and poverty-stricken island nation of Haiti. Our denomination’s global mission leaders, over the past few years, have helped me learn more about Haiti’s troubling plight, as the poorest nation in our hemisphere. But like many, I’m shocked anew by the nearness of this disaster to my country. And heartbroken. And I wonder whether imagination matters in this situation. Could we have imagined the consequences of this earthquake, though we knew of their poverty? Maybe… Could we have imagined the situation’s impact on the hearts and compassions of our country, and the world? Can we imagine a better, more whole future for Haiti? Can Haitians?

I hope so, and I hope we care to seek answers to that last question when news cameras go home. Imagination will be especially powerful then, I suspect. But communities of faith, who worship a resurrected savior that still calls us to love all our neighbors, should specialize in imagination.

Grace and Peace,

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