perhaps this should have come much earlier in this series but prophetic imagination is key to nurturing genuine newness. imagination is hugely under-rated. i have no idea why. anything that has been created someone must have imagined. without imagination there will be no newness. prophetic imagination is the kind of imagination that is able to nurture a vision that is alternative to the dominant or royal consciousness. it is a kind of seeing.
It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination to keep on conjouring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.
walter bruegemann's book the prophetic imaginaton is amazing on this theme. he suggest that there are two moves in this prophetic imagining - grief and amazement. i have blogged at least twice on this before and quite recently - grief and amazement, and grief and amazement in the life of jesus. the role of the prophet is to evoke grief - the shedding of tears where we have become numb, and it is to create amazement that new worlds are possible. he also calls these two moves criticising and energising. we might conceive of this in relation to capitalism or where the church has become stuck and wedded to particular ways of acting and being and so on.
there are many ways of thinking about mission. it's partly why it is such a rich way of thinking about what it means to follow christ. one that i often come back to is a way john taylor describes it in the primal vision. he suggests that we could conceive of mission as an adventure of the imagination.
one of the mission words i incresingly find helpful is inculturation which is the process of how the gospel will be imagined and embodied in a culture from the inside. it sounds simple but it is clearly much harder than you might think judging by the ways foreign cultural robes are imposed from the outside in new cultural spaces. bevans and schroeder have a new book out prophetic dialogue which i will review at some point (it is brilliant) which has a chapter on the spirituality of inculturation which i found incredibly helpful on how to help nurture a genuine newness in mission. they suggest that there are two different postures or stances of those who come from outside a culture and those who are on the inside. the outsiders key task is letting go:
Outsiders need to let go of their certainties regarding the content of the gospel. They need to let go of cherished practices and ideas that have nourished and sustained them in their own journeys towards christian maturity. They need to let go of the symbols that anchor them in their human and christian identity and let go of the order that makes them comfortable….
One of the hardest and yet most spiritually enriching tasks of the outsider is 'taking leave of the gospel' so to speak for the sake of the gospel - so that the gospel can be understood in a radically new and meaningful way among new peoples and in new circumstances.
by way of contrast the insider's task is speaking out. they need to trust in their culture and experience and result in a courage that gives energy insight and creativity to articulate how god is present in their lives, focusing on god's nearness in the stuff of everyday life. the insider needs courage to experiment, to risk, to try new rituals, explore new symbols, to have pride in their culture and self identity and risk going too far in bringing the resources of their culture to christian identity.
this is strong stuff! i am convinced that there is great wisdom here if genuine newness is to come in mission. what does this mean in practice? there are plenty of examples of the outsider/insider relationship in stories of mission. sadly many of these don't involve enough letting go from the outsider so we have cultural forms of the church that are overly western in many parts of the world and ongoing struggles around that. but there are also many inspiring stories in mission of how this has worked well. what it might mean for me is that if (and i am not planning to at the moment) i were to move into a new community, i would need to let go of my own ways of worshipping - liturgies, music, movies, rituals and so on, and even the way i conceive of the gospel, in order that insiders might be able to discern and shape that from the inside.
this 'letting go' of the outsider clearly relates to unknowing and darkness which will need to be entered to alow the new to emerge. it also relates to refounding - i am not suggesting a letting go that is a move away from the heart of the christian faith. but this needs to be held in some kind of tension for the outsider.