“Memory and Imagination” February 1991

by Rick Pearson (Executive Director 1990-2010)

My friend is only slightly older than I, but he was feeling very old when last we talked. It seems that his son came home from high school and asked, “Is it true that Paul McCartney was in a group before ‘Wings’?”

The question was not so surprising. The Beatles had broken up before the son was even born. But for those of us who remember the Beatles, it seems like only yesterday.

Maybe one reason it seems so recent is that the airways have been flooded with John Lennon songs during recent weeks. First, there was the tenth anniversary of Lennon’s death. Then there was the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf. During recent days I must have heard John Lennon singing “Imagine” at least a dozen times.

I have to agree with Lennon that there is value in imagining a world different than the world we see.

While John Lennon kept telling me to imagine a new world, I came across these words written by a minister friend of mine: “A U.S. bishop recently returned from a trip to Africa after discussing the issue of ordaining women with African bishops who were opposed to the idea. He made the following observation, ‘Their objections seem to be less theologically based that I had supposed. It was more that they could not imagine a woman in that role. They cannot do what they cannot imagine.’” As far as we can tell, we are the only creatures who have the ability to imagine a world different from the world we see. It is in our ability to imagine where we may truly claim to be created in the image of God. But, unfortunately, we usually have trouble using this God-given ability. We are like the African bishops. We cannot imagine a new order and we cannot do what we cannot imagine. We seem to think that what is, must be.

But when we can’t imagine, we can at least remember. Memory is related to imagination. Memory that extends beyond the individual lifetime and experience is a strictly human activity. And it is an easier activity than imagination. But both memory and imagination are basic to our understanding of who God is. God has said both, “See I am doing a new thing,” and “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Throughout the Old Testament the people of Israel were reminded that their treatment of the poor and the stranger must be directed by their memory of their own earlier treatment when they were poor and strangers.

We, too, are challenged to remember our past (which is less than God-like) in order to imagine a new world.

So let us imagine a new world, a world of peace and unity. There is nothing like that in our memory, but there can be a world like that in our future. There is certainly a world like that in God’s future. Let us imagine it, because, “We cannot do what we cannot imagine.”

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday, you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”

Just imagine.

(Reprinted from pages 47-48, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson. Rev. Pearson is currently the pastor at North Oxnard United Methodist Church.)

Are We Our Brothers’ Keeper? November 1998

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The words of Cain have been the source of countless jokes and countless sermons in the several millennia since they were first recorded. But they popped into my mind several weeks ago as I sat in the City Council Chambers in Ventura and listened to the members of the City Council and the city staff discuss whose responsibility it was to help provide winter shelter for homeless persons.

For eight out of the last nine years, the state of California has made the National Guard Armories available as winter shelters for homeless people. A year ago they decided it was not their responsibility.

For the last nine years, the County of Ventura worked with the nonprofit community to provide emergency winter shelter for homeless people. This year they have decided it isn’t their responsibility.

For at least the last six years (and I believe longer, but I cannot verify it) the City of Ventura has provided funds to help provide emergency winter shelter for homeless people. In the last month they decided it isn’t their responsibility.

All of these people will tell you that they are concerned for the needs of homeless people, but they can’t afford to help and, besides, it isn’t their responsibility.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” We need to remember that the first person who asked that question was guilty of murdering his brother. He asked the question, not to discover his responsibility, but to cover his guilt.

Few of us who are debating whose responsibility it is to provide shelter to homeless people will have to spend a night out of doors this winter. “Are we our brothers’ keeper?”

(Reprinted from pages 33-34, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson. Rev. Pearson is the pastor at North Oxnard United Methodist Church.)

“The Time Has Come…” July 1990

by Rick Pearson (Executive Director, 1990-2010)

“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to speak of many things.’” This line from Lewis Carroll was quoted often by my mother when I was growing up. It usually meant that it was time for us to get going. I was quite old, ten at least, before I discovered that my mother had not made the line up herself.

However, I was reminded of the line recently because I was thinking about oysters. I am sure that you all see the connection, but just in case one or two of you have forgotten your Lewis Carroll poetry, the line is spoken by the Walrus to a beach full of fat and tired oysters. The Walrus and the Carpenter have invited all the oysters to leave their safe and secure oyster bed for a walk along the beach.

The motives of the Walrus and the Carpenter were less than pure, I am afraid. The oysters were being invited to dinner. Or rather, they were being invited to be dinner. As I said, this all came to mind because I was thinking about oysters. Now I don’t usually think much about oysters, but I heard a story. It was another story about a beach full of oysters.

It seems that an unusual tide had washed thousands of oysters up from their beds onto the beach.

Along this oyster-covered beach a man and his son were walking and talking. And as they walked, the son continually reached down and picked up oysters, one at a time, and tossed them back into the ocean. Finally the father asked, “Why are you doing that? With the thousands that litter this beach, what do the few that you are able to toss back matter?”

The son looked down at the oyster in his hand. “It matters to this one,” he said, and tossed it into the water.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of a problem. There are thousands of homeless people right here in Ventura County. There are thousands more who are living two and three families in a single house or apartment—living in constant fear that the landlord will find out and all of them will be evicted. There are thousands only one or two missed paychecks from being on the street.

In the midst of all of this suffering, Project Understanding has had a pretty good year. We have helped some 38 families—more than 100 people—get started in housing. One hundred out of thousands.

Why bother? What difference does it make? It matters to the hundred. And it matters to us. And it matters to God.

In the Lewis Carroll poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter, for their own selfish purposes, lured the oysters out of the water. And in the story, the father could survey vast suffering and be too overwhelmed to respond. But the son saw a need and did what he could. Which ought we to emulate?

“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said….” My mother was right. It’s time to get going.

(Reprinted from pages 29-30, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson. Rev. Pearson is currently the pastor at North Oxnard United Methodist Church.)

“Musical Plates” May 1991

May 1991

My entire family gathered together for dinner last month—my parents, brother and two sisters and myself and our respective spouses and children. It is a rare enough occasion since one of my sisters and her family live in England. It had been more than four years since we were all together in one room.

It was during this dinner that I noticed my brother-in-law and his two sons trading plates. It was obvious what was going on. They had each ordered something different and they all wanted a chance to sample what the others had ordered. “Musical plates” was the way my brother-in-law explained it.

The analogy to the children’s game was obvious. I smiled and went back to my dinner.

But I was struck by one fallacy in the analogy. In the game musical chairs, there is always one fewer chair than players. Then, of course, when the music stops there is a mad rush to get a chair, and the one who is left chairless is cut, another chair is removed, and the next round begins.

But at my family gathering, there were enough plates to go around. When the music stopped, there was still food in front of each person. If we were really going to play musical plates, we would have had to remove one of the dinners from the table, and the one without a plate when the music stopped would go hungry.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is all too willing to play musical plates, and we play it for keeps.

The game is played on a world-wide scale with grapes from Chili, chocolate from Africa, and pineapples from Mexico. And when the music stops, most of the food ends up on our plates.

I like the game better the way my family played it, with lots of sharing and nobody getting up from the table hungry. If we must live in a world that insists on playing musical plates, can’t we change the rules?

(reprinted from pages 5-6, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson)