John Lennon’s “Imagine” has always been one of my favourite songs, even back in the days when I felt a wee bit guilty singing along with the line “…and no religion too”. That worries me a lot less than it once did. The imagery and optimism of the song made it one that I just really liked. Lennon was my favourite Beatle, but I was never under any illusion that he was some kind of saint. He was a man with all of the usual human foibles and demons, and perhaps a few extras, but I liked that he dared to imagine a better world and a better way to live.I mention this because I decided to practice imagination as a discipline during the season of Lent. Our Lenten theme at Hobart North this year is “Dream On!” I’ve never really embraced the whole ‘giving something up for Lent’ thing, although I respect people who do, but I’ve recently thought lots about imagination as a deliberate discipline. I’m convinced that many of the issues I have with our society at present (obsession with consumer driven economic growth, abysmal standard of political debate and practice, and the culture of fear and mistrust which seems all pervasive), arise out of a chronic lack of imagination.
This lack seems to anaesthetise us to the possibilities of a more creative society, and the people who derive benefit from ‘the way things are’ remain unchallenged. So those who keep banging on about the need for ever-increasing economic growth get away with it, despite the fact that we all KNOW it’s not socially, environmentally, or even economically sustainable. The people who benefit from us being afraid of each other, and especially of other cultures etc, continue to suck us in.
You may think I’m about to say “Jesus is the answer” here, after all that’s what we Christians do, isn’t it? Well, actually I’m not about to say that, at least not in the sense of “Hey, if everyone became Christian and/or thought like me all our problems would be solved”. What I WILL say though, is that I have come recently to a much deeper awareness of Jesus the ‘imaginer’ (if that’s a word!). As I read again the stories told about him, and work through which perceptions of him make sense and which fall into the strange category, this keeps coming to mind/ I have always known of him as a great storyteller, but the dimension of imagination has come into sharp focus more recently. Jesus called the people of his day, and by extension the people who choose to follow his way as best we can today, to imagine a transformed world:
- to imagine a world where love organised the way things were, rather than fear and the hate which grows out of fear.
- to imagine people who were whole, rather than damaged and broken
- to imagine a world where shared experience of sacredness was cherished over religious division , and shared experience of humanity over political division.
- To imagine a world where ‘the system’ was about inclusion and justice (‘social inclusion’ might be a new buzz phrase, but it’s an old concept!), rather than survival of the strongest or least scrupulous.
Such transformation involved the individual and the community, the way Jesus told it, and it had a name: “The kingdom of heaven”. For people like me for whom monarchy is a foreign and unhelpful illusion (even if I did have afternoon tea on the terrace at Buckingham Palace last year!), the ‘way’, or even the ‘dream’ of GOD can be a helpful image. However we express it, the message of Jesus was that it is close to us, not up in the sky for when we die. His challenge was to imagine it being made real all around us, and to live as if this is the case.
I’m with christian scholar John Dominic Crossan, when he states that “the ‘kingdom of GOD is about the transformation of this world into holiness, not the evacuation of this world into heaven”. (in GOD & Empire, 2007). I reckon this is a pretty neat reflection on the way of Jesus too. Central to it is the call to imagine what such transformation might look like around us, and see what we can do to bring it about.
This, for me, makes much more sense of Easter than “He died for my sin”!