From Theory to Imagination and Action

Gina Tonn, Reunion Program Manager, The St. Olaf Fund at St. Olaf College

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Just over a year ago I was in New York, and then I went home to Chicago where I was living and serving with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and I wrote a blog post called “No more business as usual.” Since then, I have spoken about the concept too, including at my current place of work, St. Olaf College.

One year later in New York and I wonder, do I practice what I preached? Have I carried out the commitment I proclaimed?

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On Saturday morning, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, told the Ecumenical Women delegation that it’s time for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and said verbatim that we cannot do business as usual. I hear this and I realize, no, I haven’t really carried out my commitment. I am human and I fall short of expectations. The institutions I participate in fall short.

The pace of change is slow and bureaucracy is complex, but that is no excuse not to listen, not to do what can be done.

What can be done?

This week, I’ve been struck by imagination. Not that I have been taken to a place of wild imagination and creativity myself. But by seriously considering the consequences of the glut of imagination in our culture today. By the overwhelming prospect of imagining new ways of being within systems that seem rigid. And, struck by the people I am surrounded by who are creative and imaginative and convinced that their voices need to be heard.

In my undergraduate study, I took a course in which I read some critical theory. I had a very adverse reaction to critical theory because it doesn’t provide suggestions and alternatives, but only criticizes what the current reality is. Yet, when I declared “no more business as usual” last year I did just that. I couldn’t imagine what that would concretely look like, what steps I could take. Our group had a pre-reading from Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, “Love: Ecological and Economic Vocation” in which she discusses critical analysis and provides examples of how things could be. I made lots of big circles and heavy underlining in the reading and in the margin wrote “Yes, this is what I need instead of critical theory!”

We are a group of faithful justice seekers. I see faith and imagination as hand-in-hand. Rozella White led us in devotion earlier this week around Romans 8. Verse 24 struck me as speaking to this concept of imagination –

For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes[b] for what is seen?

I have a lot of trouble with faith sometimes, both for humanity and in the religious sense. How do I imagine in the midst of doubt? How do I hope for what is not seen?

This week I am going to listen and learn from those who have the gift of faith and the gift of imagination. I ask for their help and the help of my communities as we imagine together. I hope to write again this week, or next week, or two months from now to share what I hear and learn and hope and imagine. Until then, friends, do justice, be peaceful to one another, and let your imagination soar.

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