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As Christians we often talk about actively changing the world, but most of the time, we just sit still and passively watch the events of the world without moving from our pews. We neither lead, nor care very much. In short, we don’t love.

I think it’s because many Christians have lost the ability to use their imaginations.  When we cannot imagine, we are susceptible to little more than judging others; the extreme of which turns into bigotry, phobias, and violence toward others. We fail to sympathize or empathize and can’t see beyond our own opinions, and from such a perspective we can’t begin to see ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Our understanding shuts down when we cannot imagine, and we become lethargic and unable to relate to the actions, struggles, suffering, and trials of others. Without realizing it, we become apathetic, unmoved, and inactive.  Whether our differences are status-related, or to do with race, culture, age, politics, economy, gender, sexual orientation, or theology, we can only overcome them with imagination.  When we can’t imagine, we are disconnected from other people. We cannot celebrate the achievements of others with joy, appreciate who they are, admire them for what they do, or love them joyfully.

It is imagination that leads to sympathy and empathy, which in turn lead to understanding. Understanding leads to active participation, active participation leads to experience, and experience gives us wisdom, which actually leads to even more imagination.  This is why travelling, being well read and well informed, exploring new places, dialoguing with others and listening to them, building new relationships, engaging and interacting with others, and keeping an open mind is vital, because it all helps to develop and expand our imaginations; and once we actually see, hear or experience something, we can imagine it far better and are more prepared to step outside our comfort zones.

When we consciously choose to operate imagination we are required to take risk, be vulnerable, and find bravery – which is why it’s usually much easier to ignore or avoid the trials and suffering of others rather than adopt and embrace them as our own. It isn’t easy, but neither do we have to be superhuman; we simply need to recognize that this is what it means to be Christ-like.  Being Christian isn’t about passive escapism, and it doesn’t mean we are called to simply sit back in our pews to receive blessing. Following Jesus means embracing others, which includes those we love, our friends and families, complete strangers, those who irritate us and push our buttons, and even enemies. It’s the fulfillment of loving God fully with heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving neighbour as self - and that takes imagination!

Imagination is actually essential to faith. It is a foundation of daily discipline as we strive to adhere to what Jesus Christ teaches us, and I would go so far as to say it is a spiritual gift that needs the activation of the Holy Spirit, if not a definite poke from her now and then!  Certainly we cannot appreciate the Scriptures without imagination. How else could we get our heads around burning bushes, the sea being parted, plagues of blood, locusts, and frogs, a global flood, Jonah in the belly of a huge fish, angels assisting humans, water being turned into wine, the dead being raised, and God becoming incarnate as a human being in order to be murdered by crucifixion and rise from the dead?

To bring social justice and our service to the world as we follow Jesus Christ takes great humility and can lead us into places of sacrifice and discomfort. Speaking of racism, homophobia, violence, exploitation, abuse, inequality, injustice, and other things of purpose and meaning in life is tough. It can be awkward, uncomfortable and even messy at times. However, these are the times we begin to see that every human being is formed in the image of God, we begin to see through God’s eyes, and we learn to love with the deep agape love of Christ.

The danger is in quashing imagination, and turning our faith practices, rites and understanding into an ideology of answers and rigid formulas; where we leave little or no room for complex circumstances, grey areas, or human doubt. When we quash imagination, we begin to prefer preaching over teaching, doctrine over revelation, and propaganda over study. And when that happens we are in danger of avoiding anything unfamiliar or outside personal preference, and we can find ourselves inflexibly worshipping only with those who share exactly the same set of beliefs, values, and backgrounds as us, and who live only in ways similar to our own. Faith collapses in on itself to become a bland, familiar unexciting pattern, that we learn to protect at any cost.

This is why we find so many Christians sitting passively on the sidelines. The sidelines are safe, comfortable, easy and familiar, avoiding anything unseemly or messy. We reject our imaginations because we’re frightened of the unknown, and scared of what we might see, feel, and experience. For too many, reality is the set of circumstances that has been known for years, perhaps even the only situation that has ever been known. Consequently, it becomes the only experience ever wanted.

Why would Christians want to understand the harsh reality of others? In short, because Jesus Christ commands us to by his words and through his actions. With tremendous humility he loved all he came into contact with and with great sacrifice he devoted his life to serving those on the margins of society who were radically different from him.

So, isn’t God's imaginative call to us: Go and do likewise?