This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is centred in appreciation, gratitude and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
As I have recently explored, in respect to Expansive Christianity, Jesus’ ministry was informed by the prophetic tradition of the First Testament. There are many examples in which his ministry can be explored through this Testament, which can serve to illustrate the Anticipatory Principle. In fact, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann’s work – such as The Prophetic Imagination – is an exciting opportunity to engage in exploring the ways in which Appreciative Inquiry and the Christian journey richly and deeply dance with one another.
For the sake of this blog, I will briefly highlight the tradition that arises from the Book of Isaiah. One way to understand this tradition is as a communal and generative exercise to imagine a new future. If Jesus’ ministry was informed by the challenge of marginalised others, who pushed him to expand his own understanding of who should be considered “in and out,” the Isaiah text becomes more significant. The “will not” repetition in the opening quote framed in contrast to the “will” demonstrates a community’s desire to aspire to something different. In the case of the communities reflected in the Isaiah tradition, it is important to realise that the text reflects a time and place of exile, oppression and despair. Yet in the text itself, the people’s longing for something different excites the imagination to anticipate a place and time where there is not:
- injustice, but justice;
- exclusion, but inclusion;
- purity, but plurality; and,
- either/or, but both/and.
This tradition of imagination reached into the First Testament, continued in the Second and is specifically tied to the core of Christianity: resurrection. Easter means that we who endeavour to follow are called to constantly imagine. To borrow from Appreciative Inquiry and the power of our stories, we are invited not only to imagine the places in our past when we were at our best, but also to visualise how we might collectively bring that into a beckoning future.
Lest the challenge of ‘naiveté’ or the ‘Pollyanna Effect” be levelled at our theological musing, let us remember that the contexts and realties were anything but easy for those Christian communities over the years who engaged in imagining. Whether in persecution or exile, in illness or incarceration, the power to dream specifically models the potential that arises when one/we/you do not acquiesce to the “will not” mantra that too often dominates. Some may call this “will not” deficit-thinking or consumerised-dependency.
The Anticipatory Principle is a rallying cry to not only recognise the places in which we have hurt or been hurt, where some have benefited at the expense of others, but it ultimately reflects to us whether we walk our talk. Do we recognise that which might be in need of improvement and become paralysed? Or do we collectively recognise – understood as Lament in the Christian experience – and ask how we might imagine a place and time where all we strive for such ideals as dignity and self-worth can thrive?
Imagination is a gift to liberate us – individually and corporately – from narratives that limit who we long to be: who we are called to be. When done with intention, not only does the world stand anticipating change, but it is easy to recognise that if we dream it, so shall it be …