When Imagination Fails

17 Mar

When asked about Senator Rob Portman’s recent change of position regarding gay marriage, John Boehner responded that he “can’t imagine ever supporting gay marriage” himself. The fact that he can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it can’t happen; it just means he doesn’t have any idea what could prompt such a change in his thinking. Let me make it clear that I don’t expect John Boehner to change his mind about gay marriage or anything else any time soon, if ever. I’m just saying that a failure of imagination is simply that, a failure to perceive circumstances that could prompt changes in one’s thinking. It doesn’t mean that changes are impossible.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two things that I never imagined – in fact, they were things that I was certain never would happen – that later transpired. The first was my decision to resign from the ministry. I have a distinct memory of a moment that occurred many years ago as I walked into the chapel at a Salvation Army officer’s training college. As I entered the chapel, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I was wearing a uniform with blue epaulets on my shoulders, each adorned with a single red bar that designated my status as a first-year cadet. I thought,”I struggled against coming here, but now that I’m here, I’m in for life. Nothing will shake my commitment to being an officer (pastor) until I retire.” Eleven years later, circumstances I’d never imagined had indeed led me to resign my officership. Just before I exited my quarters (manse) for the last time, I glanced into my nearly empty bedroom closet. All that remained were my Salvation Army uniforms, these ones adorned with red epaulets bearing two stars each (designating my status as a captain). I deliberately left them there as a symbol that my decision was irrevocable; I would never again wear a Salvation Army uniform. That was 17 years ago, and, indeed, I haven’t worn a uniform of any kind since.

The other thing I never imagined happening was not believing in god. Through most of my adolescent and adult life, I wrestled, off and on, with the doubts that plague many religious believers. For most of those years, I accepted living in a state of what I called “intellectual tension” about those doubts. I now know that the proper term for my “intellectual tension” was cognitive dissonance. Terms like “intellectual tension” are terms believers employ when they decide to just shrug their shoulders and say, “God knows better than I do; it will all make sense one day.” There was a time in my first ministry appointment when, as I pondered god’s existence, I distinctly thought, “my belief is firm; nothing will ever dissuade me from it.” We all know how that turned out.

The thing I can’t imagine happening now is ever believing in a deity again. It would take extraordinary events and circumstances for that to happen. I suspect that, if it ever happened, that deity (or deities) would turn out to be unlike anything ever imagined. By now I’ve learned “never to say never.” Having said that, though, I’m not wasting time or energy searching for either gods or goddesses. If such beings exist, and if they care at all about me and want to communicate with me, they know where to find me. And if they never call on me, I’ll never miss them; I’m content living my life without them.

— the chaplain


3 responses to “When Imagination Fails

  1. Lithp

    March 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I’ve never heard the term “intellectual tension” before.

    • the chaplain

      March 18, 2013 at 6:05 am

      I don’t know who made up the term. I first heard it when I was a student at a Christian college, so it probably came from a professor there.

  2. Moe

    September 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Hey chappy . . . . I thought I’d done with that subject (is there? isn’t there?) decades ago too . . . but then my older brother bought a house down the street. My brother the former priest. I’ll never be tempted back to holding to a religion (allow me to be categorical on that), but I find myself conversing about things I thought I’d finished even thinking about. At least it’s fun and makes me shine up the old debating skills . . . .


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