Canadians have been deeply saddened by Jack Layton’s untimely death earlier this week. Here in Ottawa – like in so many other places around the country – we’ve witnessed an outpouring of grief and reflection over this loss.
To be sure, Jack was human. Like you and me, he had his shortcomings. He was far from perfect. Many of us didn’t agree with all that he said or did.
But regardless of your politics or theology, I think we can all admire him for the positive, hopeful vision that he so adeptly articulated and promoted. Jack was for something. And, again, even if you don’t agree with all the things he was for, we must admit that there was something likeable and contagious about his ability to inspire change.
“Radical imagination,” writes Anthony Weston in his great little book, How to Re-imagine the World: A Pocket Guide for Practical Visionaries, “begins with a move beyond complaint and resistance, beyond reactive tinkering or hunkering down or cynical accommodation. The first big move is to an alternative picture of how things could be instead” [emphasis added].
Jack had such a picture, a vision of how things could be. What can we Canadians, particularly those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, history’s most radical visionary, learn from this?
In a time when the Church is more often known for what it’s against than what it’s for, perhaps this can serve as a reminder of our calling to be a prophetic, hopeful voice in society. At a time when economic systems are failing, poverty continues to rise, and creation is increasingly jeopardized, we have the unique opportunity to offer hope and transformation.
Weston continues: “Affirmative vision is crucial. Be emphatically, visibly, clear-headedly for something, and something that is worked out, widely compelling, and beautiful – not just against the problems or the powers-that-be of the moment”.
Let’s create a discourse of hope. Let’s dream boldly and openly. Let’s refuse to accept the status quo. Let’s reflect on the particular ways in which God is speaking into our context and calling us to action.
We can start wherever we find ourselves: in our lives, in our families, in our communities and in our churches. Let’s focus on how we, enabled by God, can make a difference. Poverty can be reduced and eventually eliminated. Our environment can be renewed. These are the sorts of things we can be empathically for.
Let’s build a movement and bring society with us.
It seems fitting to close with this Franciscan Benediction, taken from CPJ’s recently released worship resource on poverty, Living Justice (http://www.cpj.ca/living-justice-gospel-response-poverty):
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice , oppression, and exploitation, of God’s creations, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
[And as this is my first blog, let me finish by way of an introduction! I’m the new guy around the CPJ office, where I’ve recently started as a policy analyst after spending the last three years coordinating the weekday outreach program and social justice & advocacy efforts at Church of the Redeemer (www.theredeemer.ca) in downtown Toronto. My beautiful wife, Ashley, and I – along with our daughter and dog – are getting our bearings, busy discovering all that Ottawa has to offer (nice people, good food, lots of green space, and great running trails!) meeting new friends, and realizing how much we miss our ‘old’ ones (and families!) in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo! Looking forward to my time at CPJ and perhaps crossing paths!]