Friday, 21 March 2014

Imagining reality

The Great Hall
This week, the family went to the Warner Bros Studios at Leavesdon where the Harry Potter films were made. We're all huge Harry Potter fans in our house and we were looking forward to going very much. We were not disappointed. We spent hours there, and because it wasn't too busy we saw everything we wanted to see and had a go at a few things too. Like riding on broomsticks, casting spells and drinking butterbeer.

It was fantastic to see such familiar sets and scenes for real - the Great Hall really is spectacular, and we loved the potions classroom, the Gryffindor Common Room and boys' dorm, Diagon Alley, Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts Castle.... and all of it really The Triwizard Cup, the golden snitch, Buckbeak, Aragog, the Ministry of Magic. Objects, characters and places that are familiar both from the books (where they looked slightly different in my mind at least) and the films where of course they emerge from the designers' imaginations.
On reflection, although this was the "real stuff they used in the films", none of it was really real. Just like in any other movie, props are made and manipulated by the talented crew to appear to do things they don't do or have characteristics they don't have, and this is even more pronounced when the film is about a magical world that has come from the imagination of a talented storyteller. Sadly, the magic wand my daughter bought in the gift shop is showing no sign of being magical at all (although as we're muggles we probably couldn't make a real one work anyway....) and the Time Turner I bought has failed to provide me with any extra time in any day. So it was real stuff and yet, not really real  - if I'm still making sense.

The Sword of Gryffindor

When the Harry Potter books first became popular, I remember having conversations with Christians who were concerned that the "witchcraft" themes would become an unhelpful influence for children. As the saga continued and more books were published, I think it became clear that the books were filled with influences from the Christian story, and the climax (SPOILER ALERT) involved the sacrifice of one for many and a resurrection to boot. So perhaps those early fears proved groundless.

But the books and films and spin-off merchandise are all the product of a very creative imagination. And I've been pondering the power of imagination all week.

Hermione's time turner. My own is yet to produce
 a single millisecond of extra time!
I'm in a Diocese where the Synod recently set four strategic priorities, including to "re-imagine the Church". I love to use imagination in Bible study, in preaching and in worship, and some of the best feedback on preaching I've had is where I preached a completely narrative sermon, imaginatively re-telling the story from the point of view of one of the characters.
 Human imagination is undoubtedly a precious and powerful gift from God. Christians do need to use imagination to properly engage with God's mission because it inevitably involves change.
Perhaps there is a hint of this in Jesus' words to his disciples that we need to become like a child to enter the Kingdom.
What does it really mean to be good news to the poor, to bring sight to the blind, freedom to captives? What does that look like in 2014? In the case of the churches in my Diocese (and probably elsewhere too) we need to accept that it probably doesn't mean more bums on our cherished pews, and also that re-imagining the church will mean that quite a lot of what we already hold dear will have to change beyond recognition.

J.K Rowling's imagination produced a world of marvels and much-loved characters. It's fantastic and fun and  a story which contains lots of important truths. And still none of it is really real.
In contrast, Christian imagination used for the transformation of disciples and through them the communities they live in, can produce something that is really real. For if we're imagining God's Kingdom, we're imagining the most real reality there is.
In my "do nothing" moments this Lent (for more, see here) I've been doing a bit of, what I like to think of as, holy day-dreaming.
I have yet to come up with a world of Muggles and Quidditch (and that's been done already anyway) but perhaps those moments will allow me to catch a glimpse of eternity and inspire me to do my bit to re-imagine, not just the Church, but the world which it is here to serve.

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