The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

The Flaws of Imagination

I had lunch with some colleagues downtown Wheaton. As we were driving back to work, I said, "I never thought I'd live or work in or around Wheaton, Illinois."

They thought this a strange comment and asked why.

"Wheaton was always just this other place."

They laughed at my profound statement.

I thought for a moment, then said, "It's like, say you know of this famous person. Then somehow, you meet them and you become friends. Then you hang out and you're thinking to yourself, am I really friends with this famous person? It's kind of unreal like that."

"So Wheaton is the famous person in that analogy," a colleague affirmed.

Wheaton, Illinois has always been this place of evangelical lore. Billy Graham went to college here and launched the greatest Christian evangelistic ministry of the 20th century from here. Jim Elliot, the famous martyr, was another student of the famous Wheaton College--"the evangelical Harvard" according to a Time or Newsweek. A year ago, my grandmother sent me three articles about the revival that swept into Wheaton College in the 50s, something is or historical note today. Wheaton has been the birthplace of some of the biggest Christian influencers and ministries in the U.S. today. Other places have had theirs too, but none from so concentrated an area.

A friend of mine attends Wheaton grad school and has access to the Billy Graham Center--an imposing 4-story, colonial-style brick building--anytime day or night. "It's like having the 'keys to the Kingdom,'" she joked. From the lore of Wheaton, you expect people to ride around on clouds in a place that is sure to be nigh the Kingdom of God.

Of course, I don't believe that. It's heretical. But Wheaton is so christianized, you really might not be surprised by it.

Anyway, I just never envisioned myself in a place of such fame, having a celebrity for a friend.

Another colleague spoke up. "Yeah, I always had these pictures from magazines of what life would be like when I got to college. Then, when I was there, every once in a while I would remember that and realize how different it was. It felt so normal, whereas, before it had always seemed so foreign."

And that's what I meant when I said, "Wheaton was always this 'other place.'" It was just a foreign place where I never thought I would fit.

She went on, "With every life-stage, I'm always surprised when I get there, that I'm still the same."

I feel the same way. In my imagination, I always envision the next stage of life--high school, then college, then the work world--to be one way, and until now I've done everything I could to create a life that realized that vision. And I've been moderately successful. But even so, I've always been surprised at the differences. And for all my envisioning, I always seem to forget one variable: me. I always envision what the next stage of life will be like, but I forget that I'm a part of that next stage. I don't just experience it, I impact it. I'm not just a passive observer, I'm an active participant.

And so, while I try to bring my imagination to life, I'm learning that my imagination is a limitation sometimes more than an asset. I'm restricted to a certain set of ideals or hopes for the future. But, from experience I've learned, getting there, that it's not how I'd hoped, but it's better in a different way.

So I'm learning that if I'm determined that what I've envision define how I live, I might not experience the sort of life that could be--the one I can't envision. That maybe there's a broader spectrum of possibilities, and better ones, than those that I've limited my imagination to--and I don't even know what they are. But that mystery is part of the excitement.