The empathetic imagination moves in a direction opposite to that of fear. In fear, a person’s attention contracts, focusing intently on her own safety, and (perhaps) that of a small circle of loved one. In empathy the mind moves outward, occupying many different positions outside the self.
Martha C. Nussbaum in The New Religious Intolerance, 146
This past weekend we spoke about the importance of developing what Martha Nussbaum calls an “empathetic imagination,” or what I would call a kin-dom imagination. (If you missed it, you can watch the sermon here.) An imagination that fosters in us the ability, the spiritual gift, of seeing the other not as someone to be feared, demonized, or ignored, but instead as a fellow creation of God.
This imagination is centered and rooted on Jesus’ call to “[l]ove your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NRSV)
Love, not just of our neighbor, friend, or family, but of also of our enemy is centered on our recognition of a common humanity, on a kin-dom. The reality that all of us are God’s own creation, all of us fallen, all of us in need of redemption. But also all interconnected and constantly tempted to break that interconnection, to create enmity, to see ourselves as better. As theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us, to see ourselves as exceptional:
[T]his future, conditioned by justice, is not an arbitrary imposition of an angry God, but is a conditionality found in the very fabric of creation. It is indeed how life works, no matter how much the strong and the powerful engage in the illusion of their own exceptionality.
Walter Brueggemann in Theology of the Old Testament, 645.
So how do we develop a kin-dom imagination?
Even though we live in what at times seems like a Jesus-saturated society I am constantly amazed how unfamiliar we are with the breadth of the Jesus narrative in the gospels. We might remember a story we heard as a child or maybe even one we have heard in a sermon, but we ourselves have not made it a practice to read, reflect, and meditate on the gospel text.
In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must immerse ourselves in the whole of the Jesus story, again and again.
Practice: The Gospel in 90 Days – One chapter a day with one grace day.
I also believe that we must purposely practice what saint and spiritual teacher, Ignatius of Loyola, called indifference. Indifference is “the freedom of detachment,” the ability to let go of anything that keeps us from God. Anything, especially our prejudices, opinions, ideologies, and even our religious understandings. Instead, we learn to recognize our blind spots, our limited experiences, and humbly accept that God is mystery and yet still speaking, still revealing God-self to us.
In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must practice indifference so that we open ourselves to experience God’s continual revelation.
Practice: Ask daily – Is anything (attitude, position, point of view, activity, relationship, etc.) keeping me from love of God, neighbor, and/or self today?
Finally, in order for us to grow our kin-dom imagination we must commit to live life in covenant community. Covenant is not a word that we seem to understand in our highly individualistic culture but covenant life and practice is at the center of the Christian faith.
In our baptism, we are grafted to Christ in the body called the church. Our grafting is rooted in God’s unfailing covenant with us and our ascent into living a covenant life with and in Christ’s body called the church.
It is in this body that we practice what it is like to be kin to one another. Baptismal kinship is not based on human bloodline but on the new covenant in Christ’s blood. We are kin across culture, time, space, ideologies, religious understandings, political affiliation, nation, and language.
In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must see our differences as part of our shared humanity for baptism marks us as a people who see neighbor as covenant partner and enemy as one to be loved into covenant life.
Practice: Answer – What does it mean for you to be part of the body? What does it mean for all to be part of it too? What would change in you, in the body, in your community if the other joined you?
As we continue this Advent journey it is my prayer that we help one another grow in our kin-dom imagination. That we continue attempting to live into its reality and that our humble practice begins to bear fruit of peace (wholeness, healing, new life, love, restoration, salvation, holiness, blessing, justice, righteousness) in visible ways in our life, families, neighborhood, and city.
Now go imagine!!
[Luke] considered the reign of God to be not a benign reality but a deeply subversive and disturbing force that was already undermining the foundations of Rome and all earthly claims to power. Luke was promoting nothing less than an entirely new way of life that offered incredible blessing for both peasant and elite.
Karl Allen Kuhn in The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts, xvii