Imagining an Ideal World in the Midst of Tragedy

Bethany Nonhebel

The murder of George Floyd has left me feeling angry, confused and wondering where we go from here. George Floyd’s murder is a symbol not just of what happens when power and prejudice go together, but what happens when we normalise this power and prejudice. It’s what happens when we accept that this is just the harsh reality that we live in. It is what happens when we can’t imagine anything else. The last few months of lockdown have made me realise how quick we are to adapt and redefine what is normal. If we can normalise a complete change in lifestyle over a few weeks, how much more can we normalise the dehumanising of certain people over generations of oppression?

Although there is so much beauty in the adaptable nature of human beings, there is also so much complacency in the situations we find ourselves in. We spend more time blissfully accepting our current reality and less time thinking about how we can change it. Even when we do consider making a change, we spend little time thinking about what this change looks like. As a Christian I think one of the best things we can spend our time doing is imagining an ideal. Imagination allows us to consider that which is not a reality, yet. Imagining an ideal should seem like the most natural thing for Christians who often pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer has little to no significance unless we really try and understand what heaven (the ideal world) looks like – only then can it come down to earth. Without imagining an ideal world, the words are nothing but arbitrary, and there is no kingdom to come.

Rene Eddo-Lodge, in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race talks about how feminism, by its very nature, needs to be completely utopian and not representative of our current reality, removed from the world we currently live in. Imagining an ideal world is necessary for us not to feel hopeless in the world around us but instead to be able to grasp a just world. It is only when we imagine a world that is truly just, that we can start to understand the complexities and depths of injustice and everything that is wrong. Our feelings of dissatisfaction at the world around us are familiar and intrinsic to us all and I believe, as C. S. Lewis puts it ““If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” As a Christian I believe that the only truly good way to imagine the ideal is through the lens of Christ. An ideal world in Christ this looks like a manifestation of God’s will for the restoration and flourishing of all of creation.

The tragedy is that we have to get as far as people being murdered before we examine our own prejudice and privilege. Imagining an ideal lets us constantly re-examine whether both the world outside us and our actions are contributing to these ideal imaginings. As a mixed race person of colour, the posts on the media brought up lots of emotions. I spent a whole day this week bitter and overwhelmed at seemingly performative social media posts from people whose flippant racism I have witnessed or seen justified in the name of humour and tradition. I believe in a God who lets us wrestle in our pain and emotion, and who feels the pain of injustice with us. If people really wish to conquer their own racism, they should turn to reflection and lament as a transformative response. Action can only come from properly processing pain and guilt. However, it took me a while before I saw the transformative effects of social media, realising that although my anger is justified, transformation and restoration happens through reconciliation. Christ was radically inclusive of the ‘other’ and radically in denial of himself, to the point of death. Christ through his death, showed us radical grace, forgiving every prejudice within us, so that we could do the same. Radical change involves radical reconciliation which is only possible through radical grace for each other in a world as broken as ours. John Newton who wrote one of the most famous hymns, ‘Amazing Grace’, worked on a slave ship. When he became a Christian and really truly got to know the character of Christ he was filled with guilt and shame and left the slave ships. Newton in his hymn Amazing Grace proclaimed that the amazing grace of Christ lead him to realise that he “once was lost but now is found, was blind but now can see.” It is only through imagining an ideal kingdom that we can really see the extent of the brokenness and injustice. It is only through an ideal kingdom in Christ that we can see that because I have been shown grace for everything broken within me, that I can show it to someone else.

Reconciliation, forgiveness and grace isn’t easy but is necessary for a peaceful and loving ideal world. Micah Bournes’ spoken word resounded with me as I looked through social media, where he speaks from the perspective of someone who has obviously been deeply hurt, he says “Sweat drippin’ heart racin’ trying to explain, That I’m broken, I’m broken, And I’m scared, I’m bitter, And forgiveness is like, Breaking down the walls that I’m holding up, So I give up, And I’m fine”. The song ends with the Lord’s prayers, beginning with the lines familiar to many “Our father who art in heaven” but ending at “And forgive us our trespasses…As we…For… forgive us our trespasses…As we…A, as, as we…” In this ending, Micah Bournes depicts the real discomfort that will come when we try to truly forgive our worst enemy and that uttering the words, “I forgive you”, should not be easy and is filled with pain.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are central to the Christian gospel because they are the only real solution for not just a broken world, but for broken people. It is in recognising that the line between good and evil doesn’t run through groups of people, but through individuals as we each realise our own need for forgiveness. It is because I believe that there is forgiveness and redemption in Christ that I can come to a place of even considering forgiveness. An ideal kingdom of flourishing has to start with attempts to bring reconciliation. The forgiveness and grace from Christ doesn’t just come from merely tolerating humanity but from infinite love and wanting humanity to flourish. So often it is because of our own lack of worth and our insecurities, that we fail to see how our actions can really be impactful. It requires moving from a reactive position of forgiving and reconciling to move us to a proactive ideal world of flourishing. Wrestling with what an ideal world should really look like, is the only way we can discern the extent of the injustice. Why is it ok for the same industries supporting the Black Lives Matter Campaign to also be exploiting people on the other side of the world in sweatshops? Why do we grieve some and not others? If we truly imagined a world where people were equally dignified and loved, we wouldn’t justify this exploitation for the sake of our own nation’s economy, because not every nation, but every person would matter equally.

James Baldwin describes the difficulty we face of acting in line with what we believe, because it attacks our own sense of reality. It is uncomfortable and should feel unnatural. “In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.” Generations of oppression have created a seemingly natural order. It will require uncomfortable actions and dialogue to move from this place. It will require re-examining your politics, having hard conversations with racist family members and questioning why all your close friendships are with people who look and think like you. Imagining an ideal should hopefully let us get to the place of examining our prejudice in other areas of injustice before a life is taken.

John Newton’s story didn’t end with his guilt, but he was one of the people that heavily influenced the life of William Wilberforce who went on to be one of the main political figures instrumental in ending the slave trade. Christianity is centred on freedom for the oppressed but is also centred on freedom for each one of us. This freedom looks like being free from the shackles of society to be able to properly envision and imagine an ideal, that looks very different from what the media and adverts are trying to sell us. It involves looking at an ideal centred on unimaginable hope and love. It involves imagining a world of unconceivable beauty and peace. One where all of creation is able to flourish. However, there is still a long way to go before we get there. Getting there involves recognising our own brokenness so we can radically forgive those who have hurt us most, empathise with the ones we understand the least and build relationships with those we never expected to be friends with. It involves a position of humility that requires us to consider the ‘other’ more important than ourselves, so that we never come to a place where we think ourselves so important, we could take the life of another.

An ideal world is a world where everyone is intrinsically loved but it takes us imagining this to realise who we treat as inferior, both directly and indirectly. When we truly understand this ideal world and try our best to live in accordance with it, we won’t have to ask whether our actions in response to a social media campaign are enough because it will be a culture and a lifestyle. It doesn’t mean forgetting all the wrong that has happened but constantly learning from it. We need to do this with both actions and words, and as a Christian I believe we can do it best out of the love and grace we have been shown. I am going to end this with some more words from Micah Bournes, on what the same bible that Trump was holding really has to say.

“If the Bible say you s’pose to love your neighbour
And to be hospitable even to strangers
tell me why most of your friends got the very same skin
you don’t even know the people you afraid of
The crazy thing about it all to me
Jesus was a middle-eastern refugee
Mama Africa embraced him
but America so racist
baby Jesus woulda been a casualty, Oh well”.

One Comment Add yours

  1. ALEX CARDUFF says:

    Excellently constructed Bethany, I feel your hurt and some of us need to feel it more and be pro -active when we see wrong

    Like

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