My social media feeds are full of debates. Debates about expansive love, debates about the existence of all sorts of folks, debates about making reasonable adjustments in church, debates about whether yesterday was Easter Saturday or St. George’s Day. And when I saw that last one, I really wanted to scream! For goodness sake…
Last night I was out and about in Cambridge. I saw and met beautiful and articulate queer folks. I smiled when I walked past a couple holding hands. I envied the awesome dreadlocks on the head of a person sitting with their dog on the pavement. I saw teenagers huddled in a dark stairway talking. I laughed with the slightly merry person in their twenties who tried to wave and stumbled, almost into me. I witnessed folks making space, living together, organising together. Folks who are undoubtedly different from each-other, but couldn’t care less. I witnessed Christ on the streets of Cambridge. They – we, because I am like them – don’t need pity, or salvation, or to change. You need them – us – to imagine a different reality for all of us. A reality in which every person is actually named and heard and loved and held and protected.
Between reading, and to my detriment responding to a few of, the objectifying, abstract debates and walking amongst the real people, I went to a talk about the book Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi. Olufemi’s thesis, as I understand it, is that we live out the future we want to see in the present day and witness to those who organised for change in the past by imagining otherwise. We create a more expansive world by living in it, even in our narrowed present. We stay alive by dreaming up the real hard work of being community for and with each-other, radically resisting the dystopian othering that we are constantly being pulled towards by creating space together. Olufemi explained that ‘The past present and future are not these distinct regimes. What if we live in the future now? What if the past reminds us that time is a spiral?’ and that we can ‘understand imagination as a material force’. I’m probably not doing the book justice – you should read it and, as Olufemi asks, interact with it – this is a living text.
In the q&a, I asked Olufemi how we might stay alive – how we might best respond in a culture of debate in which folks fight to pry open closed binary systems every day by just existing. Olufemi, in answering, reminded me that ‘When your life is reduced to fodder for debate it is a tactic to stop you from existing in public life’. A point I know, but often brush off. Not now. Enough. I won’t be fodder for debate any more. I exist. I dare to exist in public. Enough talking about it.
And how does this relate to my – our – ministry? Well, Olufemi pointed out that ‘capitalism is the consumer spectacle we are left with when beliefs collapse to the point of ritual’ – and I agree. Church often fetishes dates and saints, rituals and rules, even human bodies, collapsing lived realities into rituals which feed a consumerist religious right. Enough. Do you think that the Jesus who lived on the streets feeding the hungry, defending the oppressed, and challenging the righteous would give two hoots about when St. George’s day is? Enough.
I believe in people. I believe that’s where Christ – whoever you see them as – lives. Let me remind you: Last night I was out and about in Cambridge and I saw and met people who I believe in. I saw and met beautiful folks walking the way by queering and dismantling binaries with their bodies and their words. I smiled when I walked past a couple walking the way with hands clasped in love. I envied the awesome dreadlocks on the head of a person walking the way by reclaiming public space. I saw teenagers walking the way by talking together, creating their own safer space. I laughed with the slightly merry person walking – well, stumbling – the way with a gentle smile; greeting strangers openly. I witnessed folks walking the way by making space, living together, organising together. Folks who are undoubtedly different from each-other, but couldn’t care less. Folks who are imagining otherwise by just living. Folks who need – no, demand – space to breathe.
For me, that is the task of ministry. Pioneer ministry, in particular, is a ministry of ‘imagining otherwise’. Of being with people, not talking about them, or being talked about. Being a part of real spaces for organising. For change. Not simply sighing at the news. Living out the future that we seek, and the past that inspires, today in radically inclusive, campaigning, life-changing communities that live in a transformative imagination, speak from a transforming script, and walk on a transformed path. Not complaining about decline and pews and who believes what. Enough with the debates. Enough with talking about it. Enough with the small stuff. Today is our past, our present, and our future. Let’s imagine it anew. Let’s not be fodder for debate. Let’s live our lives in the public square, organising and imagining the life we dream into being together. May it be so.