Monday, August 18, 2008

The borders between reading and writing and living are fluid. I do not take time out from life to write, nor do I take time out from life to read. When I quote somebody, I’m not hiding. I’m introducing you to one of my conversation partners.

Patrick Henry, The Ironic Christian’s Companion

As I have considered what to do with this blog, until some grand idea comes sweeping over me, I think I would like to use it to introduce you to some of my conversation partners. I do that on my other blog, too, but I think I would like to make that the focus here. I agree with Henry that the borders between reading and writing and life are fluid – and I am glad to hear someone say that. How often I have heard, “well, you can’t learn that in a book.” True enough, we can learn from experience, but we don’t always, and we should not shortchange what we learn when we maintain fluid borders between reading, writing and life. I appreciate Patrick Henry as a conversation partner.

A new conversation partner was introduced to me by a woman in my church named Karen. She sent me this link, and I found the lecture very interesting.

Dr. Michael Wesch

One irony is that the lecturer is discussing new teaching techniques in a very familiar setting – the lecture hall. Do we sometimes become too enamored with new technology? Two of his thoughts caught my attention in particular. Wesch argues that learning is much more than acquiring information. That is the easy part in our day and time with the multiple information technologies available. Wesch argues that to learn is not to acquire information, but to discuss information, challenge information, critique information, share information, create meaningful connections, and create significance. In order to create meaningful connections and significance, Wesch also argues that teachers need to work with students to create a grand narrative which provides context for information that is shared, discussed, critiqued, challenged.

Another recent conversation partner has been the author J. K. Rowling. Yes, I should have read Harry Potter by now, but think of the joy that awaits me. The Rowling that I am in conversation with is the woman asked to give the commencement speech at Harvard this Spring. You can listen to the speech and read the text through the following link.

J.K. Rowling Harvard Commencement

I was particularly taken by her words on imagination, quoted here in part. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared. [Rowling’s examples of her use of imagination as a worker for Amnesty International are not to be missed]. Unlike other creatures on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. Of course this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know. I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agrophobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

Somehow, Wesch and Rowling connect for me. Learning is about making connections and creating significance, and this requires imagination. With all our information resources, are we more imaginatively rich or more imaginatively deprived? Perhaps there are possibilities for both. Some listen to only that information which confirms their current imagination of the world, and to keep other information at bay, they speak more loudly. Will humanity use its capacity for imagination well? That question has been with us for a long time. Christian faith has been used to inspire great acts of imagination, and been used to argue for a constriction of imagination, even though we have a wonderfully imaginative text (the Bible) as a defining core.

Listening to these conversation partners, I recalled the voice of one more, Parker Palmer.

Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline…. We must find a way to live in the continuing conversation, with all its conflicts and complexities, while staying in close touch with our own inner teacher.

A Hidden Wholeness, 127

Trying to Create Beauty (with imagination),