I remember the first time I watched Amazing Grace. I felt immediately proud and cowardly, feeling both as I resonated with humanity at its best and worst. Wilberforce looked the status quo in the eyes, evil and injustice and profitable as it was, and challenged it. Of course, he was able to do so because he had the money and the power and the influence to ultimately play hard ball with the good old boys.
But the scene I remember from the film is one where sitting around a table, their inability to imagine how they could continue profitable businesses, orderly communities, and the current status quo made Wilberforce’s audience unable to move forward with the abolition of slavery. They were likely people who sought justice in other ways, but this hit too close to home, and their imaginations could not overshadow their greed and lust for power.
I was reading a review this week of Taylor’s new book, “A Slave in the Whitehouse,” (referenced here in this week’s MASH) where she described President Madison as one who worked for fair treatment (relatively speaking of course) for slaves in the country, but upon his death did not free a single one of his own. It was Taylor, the reviewer of the book, who stated, “Madison did not believe that white and black Americans could live side by side on terms of equality and amity. His failure to imagine a world more capacious and tolerant than his own helps explain a good deal of subsequent history, and America’s resistance to the very practice of equality that Madison otherwise did so much to foster.”
I think about Martin Luther King.
I think about Nelson Mandela.
I think about Mahatma Ghandi.
I think about the nameless men and women who follow their imaginations into a different kind of possibility for the future. Not just for and around issues of civil justice, but around issues of technology, healthcare, development, education.
They were no doubt met with others whose imaginations had been stifled, and therefore could not wrestle themselves away from comfort and power to risk them both for the sake of a more kingdom-like future.
And so my mind now turns to those schools, churches and organizations that foster imagination and second-guessing as a guiding principle. It is from these communities that we will see change happen. Of all the downfalls I am at risk of meeting, I hope that one of a failure of imagination isn’t the one that takes me down.
My friend Craig has said before, “Of all the ridiculous things God has called us to do, defending the status quo is not one of them.” And whatever is to break the status quo always begins with a strong imagination.