Monday, August 1, 2011

The Baptized Imagination

A dozen years and several employers ago, I spent some time with a career counselor. I needed help in figuring out where I was at work (translation: a bad situation getting steadily worse) and some understanding of whether I was really suited for corporate life at all.

This counselor was good. She had a whole raft of resources, tests, exercises and knowledge, plus a lot of her own experiences. She had even worked for two to three years for the same employer I had. Without knowing me, she knew a lot about the kinds of experiences I had had.

We did the tests and exercises. We had long talks. She interviewed me in two or three different ways. We did sorted and prioritized hopes and dreams on index cards. We talked about the things I liked to do, and what I didn’t. She analyzed.

And then she surprised me.

“I have to tell you,” she said, “that you’re a conundrum.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve lasted far longer in that work placethan anyone like you should have.” She paused and then continued. “You should have been fired to quit a long time ago. You have the wrong temperament entirely. You think nothing like a corporate person. Nothing. You come at things with a decidedly non-corporate perspective. Companies like yours usually find people like you to be very threatening.”

She looked away, possibly recalling her own experiences. “The corporate work place is usually toxic for people like you. It either makes you conform or it destroys you. There’s no middle ground. Yet somehow you’ve managed to avoid that, and more than that, you’ve been successful. It makes no sense.” She stared at me for a moment. “You’re creative. You think the way a creative person thinks. Organizations don’t deal with creativity very well. So, yes, you are a conundrum.”

I understood what she was saying. She was largely correct. But then I really knocked her for a loop.

“You’re right,” I said. “Or mostly right. There’s a reason why I think like I do, why I look at things the way I do, possibly even why I’ve lasted as long as I have.

“I’m a Christian.”

This conversation came back to me this week as I read chapters five and six (on imagination and “the muse”) of Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit. Author Luci Shaw writes this: “It is my wild hope that perhaps creative Christians, by means of their ‘baptized imaginations,’ may be able to help integrate the universe by widening and sharpening their focus, by seeing the whole picture as if through God’s eyes, by observing humankind and the environment and saying, ‘Yes, I see. This is like that. There is meaning in it.’”

And that’s the answer. I have a “baptized imagination” (Shaw borrowed the phrase from C.S. Lewis). I think in terms of connectedness, the “whole picture.” I fight compartmentalized thinking, no matter how personally attractive I find it. How I behave at work is how I behave at church and with family (although I’m much more open with family). I don’t always assume the organization is always right. I see and understand the elements of truth in what opponents and competitors say.

It’s not an easy way to live a corporate life. Far from it. A friend at work heard me “predict” something – although it was less a prediction than a statement of the obvious. The something eventually happened, and he called me a prophet. I laughed. “You know what happens to prophets, don’t you? They get hunted down, imprisoned and sawed in half.”

But I don’t know how to be otherwise.

To see other posts on imagination and “the muse” from Breath for the Bones, please visit The High Calling, where Laura Boggess has been leading our discussion of the book.


Cindee Snider Re said...

Glynn, great post! Isn't that how it's supposed to be? That others look at us and notice something different? Christ in us? For how can it be otherwise when we are filled with the Spirit? We are either full and spilling over or empty. We can't have just a little of the Holy Spirit.

Sandra Heska King said...

And we wouldn't want you otherwise!

Laura said...

I love that term "baptized imagination". It gives me a bit of freedom. In Madeline L'Engle's book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (which I am reading now also--as a sort of companion to Luci's book), she talks a lot about how Christians have often been suspicious of imagination--decrying certain stories as not so good and all that. But she makes a good argument for how our imaginations open us up to God. I think there are boundaries to everything, of course, but this explains to me why I am often more comfortable with some stories that some Christians find offensive or "dangerous". My imagination is baptized. Sealed. I see it all from a Kingdom perspective.

Great story, Glynn. Are you still in a conundrum? Still succeeding at it, I see :).

lynnmosher said...

Cindee and Sandra both said it: great post and we wouldn't want you any other way! Blessings to you!

Michael Dodaro said...

Very interesting.

Michael Dodaro said...

Most of us spend our lives working, and the environments in which we work are usually not of our own design. Imagination can make a difference, and, of course, faith requires imagination. Glynn, this may be how you succeed in spite of everything in corporate culture that is incongenial.

But, re: Laura's comment about dangerous art, seeing and reporting what is in the environments in which I've worked over the years, makes most of what I write and have written unpalatable to Christians. What I find in my imagination makes my stories and essays too Christian for the mainstream markets. This is something of a dilemma!

Here is a link to a story that has been in the desk drawer since about 1989, that conveys a youthful perspective from even further back: Working on the Railroad circa 1970

If any of you get through it, I'm open to criticism.

Anonymous said...

Glynn - Yes, Christian and imaginative is truly a conundrum! You keep them guessing!

I love Walking on Water which Laura mentioned above. It changed how I think about the creative life. Madeleine L'Engle, in general, changed how I think about it, in fact.

Patricia said...

Yes, a baptized imagination... again a tangible picture for me to hold onto... of being filled daily with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Your God-given creative presence in the corporate settings reminded me of brother Lawrence's conversations in Practice of the Presence of God. To brother Lawrence, a humble cook,it didn't matter if he were in the chaos of the kitchen (corporate) with clamoring pots and pans (read noisy/egotistical executives)or on his knees in prayer. His communion with God was foremost in his mind and heart allowing him the freedom to rise above the ruckus. Who would have thought that such focus could allow for such creativity?! Your presence in those corporate settings was/are God ordained.

Jennifer @ said...

I'm glad I know a conundrum like you. :)

H. Gillham said...

I love the term "baptized imagination" -- and you, my friend, I would just have called gifted.

And it's good to be a conundrum -- folks pay attention to ya.

I know I do.