What Does it Mean to be a People of Imagination?

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Our January theme asks us to explore the role of imagination in our lives – in our inner lives, in our relationships with others, in our institutions, and in our connection to all that is. I think adults too frequently assume that imagination is most properly a realm for children and artists, but that it’s something “serious” people outgrow in favor of goals and plans, strategies and scenarios. We commodify imagination and weaponize it, measuring it in terms of productivity, scores, and outcomes. “No child left behind,” an imaginative idea of which I heartily approve, becomes a rigid program of performance and penalties that often punishes the very children who need our most sparkling creativity to address their struggles with poverty, racism, disability, and other intractable social problems.

And what of religion? What of God? How is it that humans are all too often willing to kill the neighbor they are commanded to love, in the name of the god who gave them that commandment? Why do families and communities fall apart over arguments about how and whether God is, or isn’t, “real”? In Unitarian Universalist circles, where we want to pride ourselves on being radically welcoming and hospitable to diversity, I have seen and heard of deeply hurtful behavior by humanists who pride themselves on being rational, intellectual, and scientific, directed at any whose paths include an understanding of God or spirit or any sort of divine mystery at work ain our lives. I have fallen into this trap myself, dismissing any literal belief in Jesus’ resurrection as foolishness. I have perused my free copy of The Watchtower and scoffed at the illustration of a utopian community where lions and lambs lie down together; that lion is going to starve, I think to myself, proud of my scientific understanding of lion digestion. The Jehovah’s Witness who left it with me could definitely shake her head and wonder at my lack of imagination.

Imagination can be used for good or for evil – it can get us out of trouble or into great danger. It can help us see beauty or filth – in the exact same place. I am looking forward to having rich conversations and exploring deep questions in the weeks ahead – and I hope to engage in my favorite of imaginative activities with you, PLAY!

Happy New Year – may our imagination serve us well in 2021!

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