The “we” that empowers

There is a “we” that is empowering. People come together to achieve something bigger together. It’s never perfect, sometimes personal agendas win out over achieving the big picture. But the group dares to believe in something bigger than any one of them and they dare to set out to achieve that together.

The “we” that I often encounter in churches in the Netherlands is a “we” that does not empower but rather takes away. It’s based upon a “polder” model, negotiations in which every one has to give something up in order to achieve the greater good of the whole. Practically speaking, I think we are often concerned that someone will get an unfair or uneven portion, worst of all that we will. This makes for good politics but is it right for the church?

What is then the difference between a “we” that empowers and one which takes away?

I suggest: Imagination.

If the purpose of our coming together is to seek the greater good of the whole, then it only makes sense that our coming together will be marked by the character of negotiation. Everyone must lose something so that everything remains fair. 

A child has a toy. The other wants it. The mother takes it away so that both are equally sad. 

But if the purpose of our coming together is to seek a good greater than both the parts and the whole, then our coming together may yet be marked by shared sacrifice. But since our imaginations have been ignited by something extraordinary, each sacrifice is made in anticipation of the joy we will receive when what we have set out to accomplish has been achieved. It is both the experience of joy and the anticipation of it that allows us to find the “we” that empowers. And it is imagination that allows us to envision such a joy.

A child has a toy. The other wants it. The mother creates an imaginary world in which both children and many more toys are needed to defeat the imagined foe. Focus is diverted from the “unfairness” of possession to the “sharedness” of the challenge and the anticipation of victory. This is the “we” that empowers. This is what imagination makes possible.

A few honest questions. Is it possible that the “polder” culture in our Dutch churches exists in part because our imaginations have not been captured by a greater vision for God’s glory in our cities and villages – a vision that is greater than both the whole as well as its parts? Could it be that our own desires and interests are still too great in our own eyes, that we are too concerned with the fear or even reality of “unfairness”?

No one teaches a child to imagine anything. She does it as if it were part of her being human. But as she grows and what is “apparent” progressively takes priority, imagination seems childish if not altogether useless. 

Yet I believe the same for the child that has grown as I do for the church in the Netherlands. Her imagination is not at all dead. “She is not dead but only sleeping,” said our Lord to the grieving Jarius. I hear him say the same to his church now.

And when her imagination is once again awoken, she too will find that she is hungry, desirous for more.