Imagination, Family, and Masculinity: An Interview With S.D. Smith

Tim Briggs Community Life, Men

S. D. Smith is the author of The Green Ember, a children’s fantasy adventure in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia. He will be speaking at the Man Meal on Saturday, February 28 on the topic of Life By Dying: A Man’s Calling to Follow Jesus at Home. Additionally, he will be speaking to parents on Sunday, March 1 to discuss Imagination at Home: The First Place For Seeking the Kingdom First.

Sam was kind enough to a Q&A with us regarding imagination, parenting, and masculinity.

You are one of the founders of Story Warren, an organization that exists to serve parents as they foster holy imagination in children. Why is fostering holy imagination in children important?

I see the Imagination as a capacity like others (Intellect, for example) that needs to be nurtured and caused to flourish, coming under the Lordship of Christ for the glory of God and the good of the world. Imagination is linked closely with faith, because it’s a capacity that allows us to see what may not, for the moment, be right in front of us. So, I believe it’s useful for what we’re called to, seeking the kingdom of God being central to life, but it’s more than useful. It’s wonderful. If we abandon the Imagination, we lose so much of what makes us human. I don’t want to see Christians let that happen.

So I see the core of our calling at Story Warren being a role of loving and serving parents while they foster holy imagination at home. We are allies. We want parents to feel relieved and supported when they connect to what we’re doing. We want them to know that they aren’t alone. We want them to know that we’re on their side.

You recently wrote a children’s adventure novel called The Green Ember. Can you give us a quick introduction to the story? Why is it important for families/children to read stories like these?

The book is rooted in tales I told my kids over many years. The story centers on two rabbits, Heather and Picket, and follows them through a calamity that upends their world in every way, and spills them into a cauldron of misadventures that threatens everything they know and love. We follow them through peril and into a confrontation with some very hard realities. They have to make choices, the same kinds of choices we all have to make, about where our loyalty is anchored and whether or not we will surrender to the evil around and (sadly) inside of us.

I do think there’s an important place for stories like this in the lives of kids (and families). If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent the time to do it. I think what authors share more than anything is not just “content,” but their assumptions. I hope the assumptions that breathe through every page in this story are ones that speak the truth in a beautiful way, resulting in something that is good. I would love for kids to finish reading The Green Ember and be inspired, delighted, and feel an internal harmony with how God made the world and hopeful about how He is remaking it. Not that they could put that into words, but that they would have feelings, or the seeds of those affections planted in their souls.

What are some things you do with your family to stir up Christ? What does anticipating the kingdom mean?

Anticipating the kingdom is living now in family life, community/church life, and in creating culture, as if the kingdom were really coming. (It is.) Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So we pray for that, and live like we believe that prayer will be answered. It is living life now in harmony with that coming reality.

Anticipating the kingdom has increasingly become the central focus of life for us. It’s become a way of evaluating choices we’re making, rituals we’re engaging in, and the way our household interacts with the world. It’s a journey, so we’re not experts by any means, but we are like happy fools who stumbled on to a road that makes sense of a long journey, and are eager to move along. It’s slow going, but I think Christ is present with us intensely in our formational rituals. One focus of our family in recent years has been to recapture holy days (holidays). Our family traditions are places where a lot of identity stuff happens, and we’re slowly trying to bring those into harmony with worship of Christ and longing for his kingdom to come, and less in harmony with worshipping false gods like the American Dream. It’s a constant struggle, but a worthy one. I would just say we are on the road, and that we are finding great joy in practicing Advent and celebrating Christmas, and we’re trying to let that little point of light spread in our rituals, traditions, and habits.

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions within the church regarding masculinity. How would you define masculinity and how can men pursue it?

I think it’s a confusing time to be a man. Many men feel trapped between the enticing lies of the sexual revolution and the stereotypes of macho or moron that dominate popular media. I love that the Bible is so helpful in making sense of what manhood is. God is the creator of mankind, male and female, and His design is perfect. But since the fall, we’re all fouled up and vulnerable to identity points that feed our lusts. It’s hard. But I do find hope in the pursuit of a Christlike masculinity, a robust embracing of our unique gifts and callings as men. Central to that calling is self-denying sacrifice, which is not something that comes naturally. What comes naturally to me is not often good.

I guess I see the modern confusion involving gender as an opportunity to hear and tell a better story. We’re not going to tell truthful stories if we operate in opposition to the way God made the world. As compassionate as that route often seems, it’s an invitation to a cyanide banquet. So a lot of what people embrace as sexual liberation is, in reality, just a new prison. I think there’s a unique calling for men, an invigorating story of heroic self-sacrifice, however mundane-seeming in real moments. The only way to pursue it is to pursue Christ. What kind of man is He? He is strong. He is gentle. He is a servant. He is a wise leader. He loves to the point of enduring a torturous death. He willingly lays down his life, even when He’s afraid. He welcomes children. He rests. He works. It goes on and on. It’s always the safe Sunday School answer, but I find it true here. Jesus is the answer. And when we fail, as we will, He is the healer. He restores. And when we rise, as we will, He is the provider.

There is no story more compelling than those recorded in the Gospels. There is no character in fiction or history more fascinating or compelling than Jesus. Go to the Gospels men, and see a man unlike any other, a man to follow, worship, and find your identity in.