The Common Good
March-April 2002

Imagine That

by Michael Hollingshead | March-April 2002

YEARS AGO I might have resonated with Danny Duncan Collum's insights about John Lennon's "Imagine" but long before 9-11 I found myself somewhat at odds with its message.

YEARS AGO I might have resonated with Danny Duncan Collum's insights about John Lennon's "Imagine" ("Why ‘Imagine'? Why Now?" January-February 2002) but long before 9-11 I found myself somewhat at odds with its message. I had, of course, to keep checking to make sure my "'60s values" weren't slipping into cynicism and decided that while I still believe in the "you may say I'm a dreamer" portion of aspiring to a higher ideal, I've decided that the lyrics don't contain the ideal I'm after.

After years of work in ministry, as a mental health professional (whatever the hell that is!), singer-songwriter (on an obscure album with Ken Medema), and as a human being seeking after community, I finally came away with more of a Scott Peck perception of community than my previous view of a more homogenized world ("when all the colors bleed into one," sez U2).

The problem isn't having so many religions or countries, or denominations; the problem is being afraid of and not being able to embrace our differences, and when our differences are played out in tribalism. Lennon's anthem is more "communistic" (in a dictatorship of the proletariat that can easily fall down that slippery slope into a bureaucratic monolith) than it is community-based—despite its good intentions.

I too was moved by Neil Young's performance, especially by his own self-incrimination when he sang "imagine no possessions, I wonder if ‘I' can...." The reality is that the ideal of all of us being able to live in harmony in a more just and humane world is indeed something people will accuse us of "dreaming" about. But we are kidding ourselves if we can't acknowledge that the problem is not purely about the existence of differences or even the existence of nation-states (or tribes or religions)—it's when these things become our idols. The idol of "same" or "we'll have ‘none' of ‘that' (religion, possessions, etc.)" is why communism (or melting-pot-ism; the American/ Pleasantville version of "oneness") failed (yes, I know, the arms race perpetrated by the United States broke the back of their economy—but that's not my point).

I don't want "...kingdom come, when all the colors bleed into one!" I want the beautiful variety of experience and facets of perspective to be celebrated as (I believe) God intended them to be, only in harmony—not in homogeneity.

Michael Hollingshead
San Jose, California

 

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