Musician Elvis Costello once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” Elvis could be a bit prickly about music critics (just listen to the lyrics of his song “Radio Radio” or, better still, get on YouTube and watch his performance of the song on Saturday Night Live), but he was also making a larger point: making sense of the aesthetics of one medium by using an entirely different medium can be “a really stupid thing to want to do.” Trying to capture the wonder of one kind of creative act by performing a different kind of creative act is difficult. The second performance always risks falling into a tone either patronizing or obsequious; either derivative or disconnected.
Imagine, then, the difficulty in writing about imagination. To begin to do it takes insight; to do it well takes creativity; to do it very well not only takes creativity but must also somehow reveal the very creative processes about which one is writing. Such reflexivity must make the postmodernists among us delirious. After all, by many accounts, imagining is spontaneous, intuitive, abstract, surprising, and borderline chaotic. Writing, on the other hand, is comparatively structured, linear, rule-shaped, and orderly. To paraphrase Costello, writing about imagination is like marching about laughter. It may be a really stupid thing to want to do and it is certainly a difficult thing to do.
And yet. . .
Anyone who reads the essays in this edition of @ This Point will see immediately that none of the writers are stupid and all of them are invested in provocative ways in the topic. Rodger Nishioka’s lead essay, a riff on Ira Glass’s NPR show, “This American Life,” admirably performs the hall-of-mirrors trick of being both about imagination and also imaginative. Response essays from Kim Clayton (C.T.S.’s Director of Contextual Education), Casey Thompson (Senior Pastor at Wayne Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania and a C.T.S. alum), and Susan Hylen (Associate Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology) build–dare I say it–creatively on Prof. Nishioka’s essay. And Sally Ann McKinsey Sisk (another C.T.S. alum and, as anyone who has met her knows, among the most thoughtful and artistic young ministers around) has shaped a series of lesson plans that grow out of the essays and are full of treasures themselves. Special thanks go, also, to Jacob Geerlings for his great work as this year’s Associate Editor of @ This Point.
So perhaps marching about laughter isn’t quite so impossible as we might think. Maybe the power of imagination springs not from untrammeled creativity so much as from the tensions between order and freedom that shape all human thought and action. In which case, the order of this edition of @ This Point may stimulate the very kinds of imaginative actions that Prof. Nishioka describes. We can only hope!