Karen Armstrong wrote—in The Great Transformation, I believe—that the imagination is the religious faculty. As someone in the Christian tradition, I imagine what it is like to follow Jesus today, or what it was like to follow him during his human life, and I imagine different ways the Holy Spirit might manifest God through us and the creation…

In my workshop at the FGC Gathering, we spent time each day having participants describe what their experience in meeting for worship had been like. They spoke of images such as circling and then entering a “deep pool”; a “ring of light connecting our hearts”; and even the clouds parting and the angels announcing, “Holy, holy, holy! Glory to God in the highest!”

We referred to the domination system against which Jesus counterposed the Kingdom of God. I spoke about this at some length one day, how I wished for my sons not to be safe so much as to be grounded in faith and love and hope that they could enter challenging situations in life and the world and maintain their inner peace (that’s not really what I said, just a placeholder). Yet how hopeless it seems when the need is for entire systems to change, so how much difference would it make to make some form of nonviolent resistance to a low-level T-S-A employee. One participant challenged me to live outside the domination system even at the airport.

Religious imagery invites me to a deeper consideration of what I should be doing. How could I do things differently, to put aside my own complacency and more fully to take on the call for justice, mercy, and peace in the world?

If a Roman soldier asks me to carry his pack one mile (but no further), as allowed by imperial law, can I carry it two miles? How would the soldier react? What would it say to him about the status of the person he had just impressed into service?

What would it look like to go to the airport and be outside the domination system and its fear? Should I go barefoot so I don’t have to remove my shoes? In the larger picture of things, I could consider taking the bus or train rather than the train, but that’s not going to make any statements about the fear that rules the system in the air.

Walter Wink's small book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, addresses these questions directly. I would like to continue imagining responses to "the system," and to stay open to finding new ways to act.


Contemplative Scholar said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I too keep trying to think of imaginative and transformative responses to the little (and not-so-little) indignities and frustrations we so often must suffer at the hands of the domination system. And I too have been greatly inspired by Walter Wink's work.

While I have a lot of sympathy (and attraction to) the idea of just trying to live apart from the domination system (and in fact I think I largely do this in my own life), compassion for others who also suffer its effects keeps drawing me back to the question of how to transform it.

More and more I am aware of how much we all suffer these effects, and yet often do not realize it, blaming ourselves or inappropriately blaming others for effects that are not of our own creation but are produced by these systems in which we are embedded.

And so what I tend to do is strive to strike a balance. I live just enough apart from it all to maintain some perspective and keep reasonably spiritually centered, and in living apart, to be trying to live another world into being. But I could not live fully apart, even if I tried. Nor would I want to, because staying somewhat engaged is a way to maintain the potential for having a transformative influence. And for that, I keep imaginatively playing through possible creative responses, as you describe. Unfortunately, I usually don't think of a good response until it is too late to act on it, but every great now and then, I think fast enough to do so.

Chris M. said...

@CS: Thanks for commenting! Yes, I have the same sense of living "just enough apart." We don't have a TV, don't see many movies, and don't read the entertainment or sports sections of newspapers much. (Of course, the front page of newspapers lately have become indistinguishable from the entertainment section in too many instances.) I think it contributes to the degree of centering I'm able to achieve.

I just re-read Deborah Fisch's pamphlet "Being Faithful with Friends: Individually and Corporately." It's the text of her Weed Lecture at Beacon Hill Friends House in 2006. She talks about a rural meeting in Iowa where one year they decided to have a "simple meal" and donate funds they collected to a local food pantry and UNICEF. They did it for years, it grew and grew. It eventually grew beyond the capacity of a shrinking meeting, so now the churches in town have taken on the event because it became such

So, out of small, faithful responses can grow bigger things.

-- Chris M.

Paul L said...

You would have enjoyed Walter Wink's plenary presentatin at FGC in Normal in 2002. He had teens help him in acting out the nonviolent resistance implicit in Jesus's illustrations about going the second mile, turning the left cheek (or was it the right?), and giving your shirt along with your cloak.

I, too, wonder where the points of my complicity with the empire are that I can resist. I think I'm beginning to understand better what it means to live in a "totalitarian" society, where there is NO space that is not connected to the dominant system and where living outside of or out from under the system is, literally, unthinkable.

Your musings about resisting at the airport also reminded me of the two months when I paid my monthly electric bill in pennies in a protest to the utility's planned nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Michigan (circa 1978). I stopped when I overheard one of the office clerks complaining in a bar a few weeks later how this no-nuke guy had dumped $30 worth of pennies on the counter and how it took her all morning to count & account for them and how it made her late for picking up her kids at day care etc.