Imagine: The Importance of Envisioning a Different World….

Imagine: The Importance of Envisioning a Different World…. July 30, 2012

The authors of “Colossians Remixed” write:  If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in the iron grip of its ideological vision?  Why do you submit yourself to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn, and the environment? Why do you allow this deceitful vision to still have a hold on you?  Don’t you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?”

This paraphrase of Colossians 2:20-23 is intended to shake us a awake because God knows that we fall into the slumber of the curse far too easily, which is the sleep of accepting the world in which we live as ‘normal’.  When this happens we lose our capacity to imagine a better world, which leaves us stuck in status-quo lives.  The greatest tragedy though, is that we don’t know we’re stuck, having accepted the captivity to cultural mores as “normal”.  In such a paradigm, faith is stripped of its transformative power, having been reduced to simply a matter of adding a dash of Bible reading, chastity, piety, and a few key doctrines about Christ’s deity to our “normal” lives, the way we add seasoning to an omelet; nothing changes other than the hope that things taste a little better with Jesus.

John Lenin did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done.  What steps can we take to recapture our imagination?

1. Get out – By “out” I mean, out of the prevailing winds and waters of the culture.  Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray, often to the mountains.  This is perhaps more significant than we realize, not only the praying, but the withdrawing.  This is because our spirits and psyches quickly adapt to our image saturated culture, resulting in our passive acceptance of things that should horrify us.  A simple walk in the park, listening to the birds, watching the ocean, and paying attention to the rhythms of life sustained by the Creator, becomes a sort of ‘reboot’ for the soul if we practice actually paying attention and giving thanks.  These regular forays into the realm of silence and solitude create a soul attuned to how the world ought to be, so that we come to see ourselves as sojourners, foreigners, in our daily living.  We’ll recoil at the disposability of everything: relationships, plastic water bottles, the elderly and ill, employees who are reduced to ‘units of production’.  We’ll grieve over the obsession with body image that’s literally killing young girls, even as we grieve over the damage to health that comes from people sitting, eating fake food, watching TV, and calling it a life – withdrawn from sustaining sunshine, health giving food, and the vibrancy that comes from movement of body, mind, and spirit.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to imagining a world of hope and beauty is our passive acceptance of things just as they are.  They way out of that prison will always include changing the air we breathe – breaking out of the prisons of consumerism, nationalism, violence, and individualism, so that we’ll be free to inhale the life giving air of Christ’s peace, beauty, simplicity, and hope.  But this won’t happen by using our precious discretionary moments only to sit  in front of the TV, or the computer screen.  We need an alternative reality, because as it turns out, we are in fact transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the inspiration of reality TV.

2. Become obsessed with Christ’s reign.  Jesus says something about the impossibility of serving two masters in the context of his exhortation to live more carefree, like the birds, and less like the anxious striving that usually seems to be the lot of those seeking to make their mark in this world, or at least get their fair share of economic pie.  What’s most interesting to me about this section of Jesus’ famous sermon is that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters.  It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t warn us about the danger of trying to serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of upward mobility.  He says that you CANNOT serve both; it’s an impossibility.  Whichever one you serve, you’ll hate the other.

Wow.  That’s challenging!  If I try to have my “kingdom of this world” cake, and seek to make Christ’s reign visible, I’ll fail – every single time.  I need, then, to become obsessed with only one of these two options, and Jesus makes it clear that the best option is to choose His reign as our obsession.  This will mean that everything – my time, money, property, body, vocation, travel plans, vacation, sexuality, recreational pursuits, exercise program – can all fall under this single consideration:  “what will best make Christ’s reign visible?”  Far from being constrictive, I find this single focused approach to life to be liberating as everything is brought under the single consideration of making Christ’s reign visible.

Of course, if we’re going to go this route, we need to become obsessed with understanding the kingdom.  Otherwise we’ll create, in Jesus name, some sort of controlling legalism, or prosperity/healing thing, or obsession with creating conversions while we ignore the entire glorious physical dimension of Christ’s reign.  All of these have been tried, and they all end up being ugly.  We’d better be working hard to get it right.  This is where good reading can help, like this book, or this book, or even this book. Understanding  the kingdom, coupled with our pursuit of intimacy with Christ will conspire to create something beautiful:

An imagination saturated with a Christ formed view of our world, and some clear steps regarding our part in making it visible.

You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.

Imagine that.


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  • Tessa

    I’ve been thinking that one might add “get outside of your own culture” to your first point. Travelling to other places (whether that’s another country or another state or a neighborhood with a different majority ethnic group) also challenges my sense of what ought to be. I’ve learned so much from friends whose culture is different from my own.

  • Jim A.

    Walked from Capital Hill to the Torchlight Parade Saturday night. Watched the parade and then took the bus home at 11:30 at night with a whole group of new folks. Interesting that when you mention this activity in daily conversation it evokes all manner of responses; mostly FEAR – right here in Seattle. Maybe old people are safer because they are ignored. Or maybe not being a member of a gang (at least not since the “Blue Jacket Gang” at Viewlands Elementary in 1958) helps. I don’t know.

    Leaving the safety and comfort of suburbia and moving back into the City 2 years ago, we have learned there are several options and all kinds of needs. It seems overwhelming. The problem, when you are older, is to know where to begin and how to get involved. We don’t want to dye our hair purple and get body piercings. We have “got out.” Now we need to figure out how to get busy living and become obsessed with Christ’s reign. We have Richard’s book – probably be a good idea to read it. But, golly, the Bachlorette is on tonight.

  • ATS

    Why lump conversions and healing into a list of “tried and ugly” things? Doesn’t Jesus call us to make disciples of all nations? Don’t the angels rejoice when even one sinner turns from his ways? We at Bethany are already afraid of the big “E” word, and by adding conversion (which requires evangelism – eek!) to a list of church fails, you are only reinforcing this already deeply ingrained tendency to shy away from verbally sharing our faith with others. And, there are examples of genuine healings taking place in many parts of the world today, which we in the rational West tend to dismiss or, at best, regard with great skepticism. I know (or at least hope) you believe that evangelism is important and that healings still take place (and are evidence of God’s good reign), so why reinforce the thinking of many others – believers included – that these things are no longer important or valid? Our culture already tells us this, without it being reinforced by our pastor. Please, swim upstream against the culture that tells us that opening our mouths to share our faith is intolerance and believing in a God who still physically heals is foolish. We don’t need to hear these things from our church too.

  • Nathan

    “John Lenin did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done.”

    Seriously, Richard?
    Nothing against John Lenin, but that is perhaps the most irresponsible reference to church history I’ve see from you yet.

    I know you know better. I resent the implication that “our working hard to get it right” is the beginning of something–as if we are the first ones ever to try to get this church thing right. We can’t dismiss the past as all mistakes. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. (And what has God been doing all this time in between anyhow?)

    Don’t forget the role of Irish monasteries in preserving literacy in Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire. Don’t dismiss the key place Bible translation has in preserving indigenous languages in the face of globalizing pressures. Don’t ignore the thousands of universities and hospitals across the world–some fruit from those evil, culturally-imperialistic European missionaries. Don’t dismiss the Jesus foundation of MLK, Lincoln or Roger Williams (the Rhode Island one…) let alone the imaginations of Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, Lewis or E. Peterson. They belong to the church. They’re in the cloud of witnesses urging us on. Or doesn’t that count?

    There is enough church-bashing going on without my own freakin’ pastor joining in again and again. The formula of “church history” = “bad” does not need reinforcement from us. Our heritage of faith in the western world is an amazing legacy. Fallen and full of our rotten selves, but also amazing.

    In short, how about some good news every once in a while?

  • Nathan

    Tess, I agree! What have we learned from our partnership with Rwandan churches? I haven’t heard anything yet. What of the global church? What of thriving, imaginative churches in Brasil, Nigeria, India, China or Korea? Let

  • Nathan

    those stories be held up.

  • Richard Dahlstrom
  • Richard Dahlstrom

    “How about some good news once in awhile” ???
    I didn’t know inviting people to embody the reign of Christ was bad news.

  • Thank you for sharing Richard. I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and have always found your insights encouraging and thought (or rather, prayer) provoking. It’s also not always easy to share perspectives on such intimate topics. I commend and thank you for the efforts.

  • Nathan

    Sorry Richard.

    The point I’m nit-picking is… not as important now as I thought it was when I initially replied. I apologize. This blog has many accounts of good news–God’s reign is indeed being embodied in surprising ways around the world. It is humbling to be part of that.

    The good news I was referring to regards your historical examples. I find so much encouragement and inspiration from God’s work through our ancestors in the faith that I get all bent out of shape when I hear a few negative examples repeatedly. I feel it is dangerous to focus too much on the church’s mistakes (which are numerous and grievous to be sure) because it can distort our understanding of our rich global faith heritage. We need to repent of our collective past sins, of course, but there is cause for celebrating the legacy we’ve been given as well.

    Again, I am sorry for the tone of my previous post, it was wrong of me. Please accept my apologies.

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    Thanks Nathan. I’ll also add that I think you made a good point regarding the Lennon comment. I was speaking poetically, and the comment was hyperbole, not intended to imply the John understands or lives the faith better than anyone has ever done in the church historically. What I appreciated about your comment though, was the reminder that all Lennon, or anyone else outside of Christ, could ever get right is a sort of foggy vision of the world God intends – a world of peace and generosity, justice and celebration. However, the great deception of the end will be the offering of these things, which everyone desires, without the kingship of Christ. Such an offer will seduce, of course, but will end in destruction, because there is no peace without the prince of peace. Thanks for the reminder.

    As well, you’re right in pointing to historical examples. I think I do that often, as previous posts referencing Rwanda, Bonhoeffer, Julian of Norwich, and others, show. However, I’d still contend that what saddens me is that we need to largely look either “back in history” or “across the ocean” to find the best examples of thriving holistic Christ centered faith. Maybe it’s always this way, but I do grieve over Christian culture’s loss of salt and light, and am continually looking for ways of recovery, both in my own heart and life, and that of our community.

  • Ryan Hofer

    There’s not a clear sense of protestant religious authority to imagine a kingdom for people, so there’s a growing tension between the individual’s personal interpretation of salvation-meaning and her community’s ways of building consensus and getting work done in the world. At this point in history, I’m just not seeing how the Christian kingdom can be other than an imagined ideal composed of psychological and spiritual values, enacted in local churches. And I think it’s disingenuous to be heavily dissatisfied over the fact that the necessary vagueness of spirituality isn’t being specified into political or social directives- all those mundane administrations that constitute a kingdom/nation. Put a different way, how far can we stretch this kingdom metaphor before it becomes impotent and confusing? Now, there’s no way to refute the claim that a pure and true kingdom could be enacted, if only people were trying/thinking harder/better, and I don’t see that above, but I can’t figure out what to be obsessed about after reading the post. How could an obsession ever be transferred outside of a small group of people who are balancing themselves through their own system of checks and traditions? Beyond that functional group, a religious obsession sounds a little scary to me. There’s no advocating for extremism in the words above, but it could be one possible result of the frustration that comes from obsessing over metaphors pulled beyond their range, or copied into so many situations that they become rather blurry.