I’ve never been particularly imaginative or creative – if I’m asked about my day, a factual itinerary of my movements is the most I can muster. Art was my worst subject at school, and “creative prayers” fill me with great dread.
With that in mind, it is often begrudgingly that I must acknowledge the centrality of imagination to the life of the Church, and particularly around its environmental witness.
At our recent JPIT Conference, we encouraged people to ask “what if” questions, using their imagination to envisage an alternative to the status quo around climate issues. Suggested questions included: What if Jesus were sat at the cabinet table? What if we were really committed to loving our neighbour? What if the people who are powerless, landless, marginalised and poor in our world set the agenda?ⁱ
This sort of cultivation of the imagination, far from simply being a fun thought experiment, is central to how the Church acts as a prophet in our current context.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests the task of prophetic ministry is “to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
‘What if’ questions – actively considering and advocating for alternative visions of society, are the essence of the prophetic imagination.
One of the most powerful passages from the Old Testament Prophets is the vision of the New Creation in Isaiah 65, a vision which could easily be rephrased with “what if” questions: “what if there was no more crying? What if we plant vineyards and eat their fruit? What if we no longer labour in vain? What if the wolf and the lamb lie down together?”
The fact that the ultimate fulfilment of New Creation is guaranteed through Christ, does not preclude the need for imagination in our working towards it. In order to build the New Creation, we first need to envision it: a new Earth which does not involve the disposal of this one but its restoration and renewal, a Kingdom which respects the earth and does not exploit it.
The prophetic task is to conjure up a different reality than the one we’re currently confronted with, which is why we need to encourage those in our churches who can come up with wacky ideas, left-field suggestions, and radical solutions. And there are few areas which need more prophetic imagination than confronting the climate crisis.
This reality can be dispiriting for non-creative types like myself, but it has never been God’s intention that we all be like Isaiah. We can’t all be prophets, we don’t all have the creativity to imagine alternatives to the status quo. But we can all be workers in the vineyard, gradually turning the “what if?” into an “it will.” We can’t all be conjurers of the prophetic vision, but we can all be implementers of it.
I hope we can all approach Living Lent, and the challenges that lie beyond, with a prophetic rallying cry of “things can be different!”
What would some of your ‘what if’ questions be?
ⁱ These ‘what if’ questions were taken from interviews with the speakers at the JPIT conference. You can listen to these interviews in the conference special edition of the Faith in Politics podcast here.
Today’s reflection is written by Cameron Hume. Cameron is the JPIT/ House of Lords intern. This is Cameron’s first living lent and he is giving up single-use plastics.