Imagination In Place: An Author’s Perspective + A [Very] Short Story

Have you ever felt the need to justify your place? As an author, writing about a place that is not my own has definitely been a task I do not take lightly.

in my place.

Have you ever felt the need to justify your place?  Wendell Berry writes in his 2010 work, Imagination in Place, about his move from New York City, a hub of culture, to his native Kentucky.  His move was not necessary, but he wanted to move back.  For years, he wrestled with the admonitions of old New York friends who told him he was ruining his life by moving back to rural life.  He of course had no reason to give them as to why moving back was a good idea – he could not prove them wrong.  Later, he came to understand why he made the decision, after reading North Winter, a collection of poems by Hayden Carruth. Berry’s words give those of us who prize our own “place” – be it a booming metropolis or land of corn fields – a sense of consolation:

Those poems, in addition to the much else they were, clearly did not come from any great center of culture, not from New York or Boston or even Concord.  They came from Johnson, Vermont, a place not central to the culture even of Vermont, and yet a place obviously central to the consciousness and imagination of a fine poet. (Berry 57)

Have you ever felt like people who are not from your “place” tend to oversimplify your place, as if it belongs to some sort of province… as if “the South” is the same “South” in every southern state, or town? How does one politely come up against these rampant generalizations?  The answer is imagination.  I love this Wendell Berry quote:

My neighbors don’t look like Southerners or Kentuckians to me. The better I know them, the more they look like themselves.  The better I know my place, the less it looks like other places and the more it looks like itself.  It is imagination, and only imagination, that can give standing to these distinctions. (Berry 33).

As an author, writing about a place that is not my own has definitely been a task I do not take lightly.  I admit, I lack complete authority over the words I use to attempt to describe the place that is not my own.  I admit, my attempts pack less clout than those of an author who originates from the setting of my book.  I can attempt to research and gather as much contextual information as possible.  At the end of the day, I lean into humility and imagination.  Wendell Berry has helped me on this journey as a first-time author.  

You see, I have this fear that people will coin me as “fraud”.  The voices that come at me say, “How can a homeschool mom be an author of children’s books?  What about your family?  Isn’t your brain too zapped to tell the stories people want to hear?”  No matter what becomes of this, I certainly intend to read and write my entire life until I die. So, thank you Wendell Berry.  You broke the mold when you became a farmer who writes.  I am a homeschool mom who writes.  What will we hear of next – a shepherd boy who became the owner of a worldwide corporation?

The following short story follows a man named Visionary through his early years into his career as a carpenter.  The story finds its apex and quickly thereafter its resolution at the point where Visionary makes a life-altering decision.  

*Note: This short story is based on the life of Ole Kirk Christiansen, the subject of my new picture book biography I am publishing with Blue Sky Daisies and does NOT include excerpts from my book.  References are included.

A Man Called Visionary

by H.G. Lee

There was a man whose vision reached beyond the limits of his day. Visionary Man is what I’ll call him.  Visionary Man was born into an agrarian family in a Danish-speaking hamlet of white church and green field, brick cottage and wooden barn.  

Raised on the staples of home cooking and hard work, Visionary Man saw the beads of sweat on his parents’ foreheads. 

Going by “Visionary” for short, he worked out his hours in school and in the field, keeping his neighbors’ animals safe and fed.  The shepherd Visionary had bigger dreams that awaited him.  

The beads of sweat accrued from hours in his big brother’s carpentry shop led to a shaping, a forming, of Visionary’s hard work ethic.  As wood can be shaped into a masterpiece, the virtues found within Visionary’s heart were being shaped and refined.  Perhaps this apprenticeship was the beginning of the long road to excellence.  Nobody could have known what his life would be, no more than anyone can look at your life and see what might be or might have been had you chosen a different path.  

Six years of apprenticeship took Visionary from young, fourteen-year-old apprentice to twenty-year-old journeyman.  

The first cars were being mass-produced. The world had been put on wheels, and it was surely getting smaller, if you know what I mean. As Visionary proudly clutched his journeyman’s certificate, he made plans to study under the master carpenters in the land of fjords, Norway. His adult life was laid out ahead of him.  He had his training.

Carpentry work translated into many kinds of jobs.  He would go on to build churches, farm buildings, cabinets, doors and windows.  If this was all there was to his story, his life would have been considered very normal, perhaps.  It may not seem like he would go on to create a worldwide corporation whose name still elicits elated squeals from children and admiration from parents.

But Visionary’s story did not end there.

Remember, his name was Visionary.  He lived through the dawn of the twentieth century, where the airplane was the newest technology, and the Internet was introduced at dusk, long after his death.  Why did this Visionary at midlife look at his company and decide to start focusing more on toys for children than anything else?

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com


How did this man possess the resolve to make life better for children?  Was it his heart for others that led him to his own innovation? 

Some people laughed at him. His fellow townspeople knew him as Visionary, and many loved him.  But Visionary’s ideas took monetary risk.  He was a lovable man, but not always a safe man.  His ideas made him unsafe.  

Maybe you’d think this man was destined for the metropolis.

He could have moved to Copenhagen, rife with ready customers after his factory burned to the ground. He had offers to relocate.  Visionary’s loyalty got in the way.  He wanted to preserve the jobs of his friends, his workers, his “people” as he called them.  His loyalty and vision kept him in his town.  

You see, Visionary had been given a vision.  He spoke of it later as having come from God. His vision included a modern factory with assembly lines and machinery in his own town (not in a metropolis).  He loved his place.  He loved his work.  He loved the people who worked for him, refusing to call them workers, but instead, “people”.  Visionary was a special person. What would have been different had he decided to continue building household products, furniture, and churches?  A lot would have been impacted, no doubt.  Would Visionary still have had an impact in his place?  

Sometimes, it’s not what we produce that impacts people the most.  It’s who we are. 

References

Andersen, J. (2021, September 17). Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen about his grandfather: “he could gather 70-80 employees at the factory for devotion every day”.  Kristeligt Dagblad.  https://www.kristeligt-dagblad.dk/kultur/kjeld-kirk-kristiansen-om-sin-farfar-han-kunne-samle-70-80-medarbejdere-til-morgenandagt-paa

Anthony, W. (2018). The LEGO story. Scandinavian Review, Spring 2018, pages 17-33. https://www.amscan.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pages-from-SR-Spring-2018.pdf

Christiansen, P.N.G. (2021, November 29).  Out on an adventure. Ud & Se. https://www.udogse.dk/ud-paa-eventyr/

The LEGO Group. (2020). The lego group history [Infographic].

Lego.com US. https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego-group/the-lego-group-history/

GuideDanmark. (2022). Visit Billund. https://www.visit-billund.com/billund/service-information/filskov-gdk729232

Our Hope

The words below are meant to encourage you, as well as to point to a time in history.  From our 21st century vantage point we can see the end of an historical event like World War II, yet we hold on to the hope of Christ, still.  We are waiting in the already but not yet.  The same hope of these two women is the hope we hold to today in 2021.

The following post came to fruition after I listened to the Journey Women Podcast interviewing Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author.  After listening, I took away this true and beautiful picture of the new heaven, as scripture supports. 

I decided to jump out onto a limb, really jump out onto it.  I never write this kind of thing, but wanted to place myself into the shoes of a young Danish woman living during the German occupation of Copenhagen during World War II.  She is my subject, writing to her friend living in Oslo, Norway (also occupied by the Germans). Both countries would be ruled by the Nazis until 1945.  The neutral country of Sweden was a destination for Jews trying to escape Denmark and nearby countries (hence, the reference to her Jewish friend below).  The port of Copenhagen was a common escape route.  I am not sure any of us could fully place ourselves mentally into the time period and circumstances surrounding these two women.  We know how the war ended, but in 1943, they did not.  Does this sound familiar?  We KNOW how the story ends for all mortal life on earth.  We have the Bible to point to the hope of the resurrection.  We have the Biblical account of the resurrection, we have the hope of our resurrection:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so wel will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, ESV).

We have the hope of the consummation, when Christ will come again: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven and from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2, ESV)

The words below are meant to encourage you, as well as to point to a time in history.  From our 21st century vantage point we can see the end of an historical event like World War II, yet we hold on to the hope of Christ, still.  We are waiting in the already but not yet.  The same hope of these two women is the hope we hold to today in 2021.

                                                                                                  December 16, 1943

Dear Anna,

How are you, dear friend? I have longed to see you, but as you know, this war has given us all a time.  With me in Copenhagen and you in Oslo, there are just so many obstacles.  It has gotten harder.  The Nazis just bombed Father’s business last week.  The time it took him to build it and grow his customer base, all a pile of glass shards and ash on the city street.  Such loss and grief.  Poor Father cannot get over the fact that he had finally paid off the building this past year.  Now, we have to rebuild and it seems we have lost everything.  In my 22 years, I had never seen Father cry until last week.

My sweet friend (whose name I will not disclose) was taken last month to a concentration camp.  She was on her way to Sweden.  We did everything we could to keep her from being detected.  The false papers did her no good.  Where was God here, Anna?

We started reading our Bible again.  I felt I had to write you, because I cannot contain what I have read and there is a stirring inside me that cannot be put to rest.  You know, St. Lucia’s day fell on the day following the bombing.  My nerves might still sting with the impact of the bomb’s blast, but on St. Lucia’s Day, I was reminded of the resurrection.  St. Lucia had that hope. We have suffered this year, and I am sure you have too, my friend. There is hope, but I found hope at a very unlikely time – or, so I thought.  I am beginning to believe that suffering is where we find the hope that was there all along.

The suffering points me to this longing for Jesus to return.  He will return, Anna!   I long for it even more now than ever before! There is a time coming when God will come back to dwell with his people in the new heaven, the new earth.  The whole of the earth will be the most holy place, where God’s presence dwells.  How do I know this? Look at Revelation, chapter 21, verse 3.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.’ (King James Version)

Do you know that this war will end one day? We face troubles of various sorts here on earth.  I can say with certainty that one day, these will be no more. 

Behold, Revelation, chapter 21, verse 4:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (King James Version)

Anna, I wish you a very, merry Christmas.  Hope in the resurrection.  Hold on just a bit longer.  We will not say goodbye to suffering until the day Jesus returns, but He will take care of suffering once and for all.  His kingdom will be beautiful because Jesus is beautiful.  Christ is the hope we have! Our hope is not the end of the war, though that will be nice.  Christ is our true hope.  I am longing for his return when we will have the garden again.  All tribes will come together into the protection of His walls and we will enjoy a rollicking good time.  There will be abundance, and we will be left saying, “All of this land, all of this abundance… for me?”  He wants this for us.  Hold on to Him and to His word, Anna.  This life is but a vapor and reflection of what will be!

       Always Yours,                                                                                                                               

     SOFIA SØRENSEN

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