“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.)