Suppose a soldier standing watch is being quizzed by their commander. He asks “What if, while you’re on duty in the middle of the desert, you see a battleship approaching your post. What would you do?”
The soldier replies quickly, “I’d take my torpedo and sink it.”
The commander looks at the soldier, puzzled. He asks, “Where would you get the torpedo?” The soldier answers, “The same place you got the battleship.”
Let’s try another
Suppose that the next time you are talking to a relative or close friend, they offer up a riddle. You are in no mood but you indulge them anyway.
They ask, “What’s pink, has wings, and whistles?”
You object, “A herring isn’t pink.” They respond, “You can paint it pink.”
You make a second objection, “But a herring doesn’t have wings!” They respond, “You can attach wings to it.”
Finally, you say “I know a herring doesn’t whistle!” They look at you with a blank stare. “I lied about the whistling.”
Your expectations are built on the assumption that others inherit the world in a similar way that you do. Just imagine if this wasn’t the case. Instead of communicating with another person, you would spend most of your time trying to figure out whether the words they use mean the same thing when you use them.
This expectation is what former Harvard philosophy professor Stanley Cavell refers to as Projective Imagination. He is also responsible for the two riddles above, which appear in his book The Claim of Reason. Our projective imaginations are what allow us to go on, even in the simplest terms. Even speaking to an untrustworthy person requires a minimum level of trust, and speaking to a trusted confidant entails some level of risk.
The idea that people have projective imaginations helps us Christians better understand why it is that we do what we do, and why we are so damn strange.
My time at FPC overlapped four weeks with Rev. Lara Musser Gritter, one of former pastoral residents and current Senior Pastor at FPC Salisbury. She had a Dorothy Day quote on her office door.
“We should live in such a way that our lives wouldn’t make much sense if the gospel were not true.”
It is a famous quote. It speaks to the projective imaginations of Christians. We imagine we live in a world that was created, saved, and sanctified by God. We imagine that God took on flesh. And, that in Jesus Christ, was life, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not and shall not overcome it.
What makes us strange
In Advent, we Christians prepare, expect, and wait for the life that is light.
Why wouldn’t that make us strange? Our projective imaginations place us in Advent reality and that changes everything. The reality of Advent means that Christians share a grammar, an ethic, and a politics.
We don’t imagine the earth as it is, we project onto the world the earth that will be — as it is in heaven.
Sometimes, we even pray about it. We Christians prepare, expect, and wait for this world.
We also know that those who don’t imagine the earth as it is in heaven still live in this Advent reality. They may find Christians strange.
And why shouldn’t they? We act as if a new world is not only possible, but we expect this new world. We prepare and we wait for it. We have the freedom to live into the reality of Advent.