A social imaginary, as described in Desiring the Kingdom, is the myths and narratives, stories and understandings we tell ourselves that form how we view the world.
A prevalent one that we have in our culture is ‘I deserve what I have because I worked hard for this.”
“I have found that the poorer people are, the harder they work, usually. In fact, their daily labor is more strenuous than most of us could tolerate. It is their circumstances that conspire to prevent their hard work from bearing fruit.” - Hole in the Gospel
We need to change our frame of reference for how we view what we have, and why we have it.
How do we use our gifts, talents, and businesses to love others in a servant-like way? How do we rightly steward our time, gifts and money? How can we use our skills on behalf of others? How can we use our power to empower those without?
As we become aware of the imaginaries that form us, we can see a little more clearly the realities of life. We can see that when it comes to poverty, the root is injustice.
“If people lack food, health care, or education; are vulnerable to disease; and have no access to land or financial capital, it is frequently because they have been exploited or manipulated by unjust people and structures – man’s inhumanity to man.” - Hole in the Gospel
Is our job just to provide for our own families? Is it our job to provide for others? Were we created primarily for ourselves, or for each other?
Engaging honestly in a discussion of resources means recognizing that some of what we have is based on luck, on the suffering of our ancestors, and the oppression of others. There is no way around it. Just because we work hard for what we have, doesn’t mean we are being rewarded and benefiting solely from our own efforts.
“Surrendering god-complexes and using human skill, the power of position, and financial resources like a servant is very hard indeed.” (WWP)
So, how can we be a servant with what we’ve been given? How can we steward our time, power, money and talents well? If we are in a position of power and privilege, how can we use that to promote peace and prosperity for others?
One thing we need to change is how we talk about money. We invest it, we don’t spend it. My husband and I went out for a nice anniversary dinner a couple of weeks ago. We invested in our relationship. We invested in and celebrated good food. By giving the restaurant our money, we told them pursing beauty and goodness through the culinary arts is worth it.
Another thing is social media. Too often people write it off as a time suck, a passing fad, or something unimportant. But they fail to realize the power and potential that it contains. Sure, sometimes I waste time on it. But oftentimes I’m using it to invest in friendships and writing.
How are you using your time, money, skills, on behalf of other people? How are you using them to invest in other people? How are you stewarding your love?
What are your skills? How can you use them on behalf of others? Are you an engineer? Have you looked into EMI? Are you in construction? What about Habitat? Are you in the medical field? Doctors without Borders? Are you a singer? Can you write or play songs that speak truth and even feel like prayer to people? Are you an artist? Can you paint pieces that illuminate? Can you create beauty simply because God created beauty?
“Our professionalism and our faith were gifts to us in order that we might share them with others.” (WWP)
If we don’t challenge how we view poverty and our resources, then we reduce solving the problem to just throwing money at it.
But when we begin to see our vocation as love, then we become aware of how difficult and complex the act of loving is. When we explore how our own identity and vocation are marred and distorted, we begin to see how we contribute to the marring and distorting of others.
And loving stewardship requires us to change. To move towards a greater awareness and responsibility.
What does stewarding look like for you? I don’t know.
How have you NOT been stewarding?
How have you been using your resources for yourself?
What biases do you need to challenge?
What stories have shaped your social imaginary?
Here’s an exercise from Walking With the Poor that I think could be a helpful place to start:
“One useful exercise is to make a list of all the adjectives used to describe poor people…Then we can ask ourselves if these labels describe the poor people we actually know, and of course they do not. One simple bias is exposed. We can do a similar exercise by making lists of why we think people are poor, what our agency advertising reveals about why people are poor, and what the culture from which we come believes are the reasons people are poor. Uncovering our biases is an important exercise. Only when we do this are we able to deconstruct the lenses we use to work for transformation. We need to remove the log in our own eye so that we have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
“When we treat the poor as equals, having wisdom that we wish to hear, they have a chance to begin the recovery of their true identity and the discovery of their true vocation.” (WWP)
Check out the other posts in this series: Identity and Vocation Defined Being an Image of God What Does Christian Vocation Look Like? Is It Who You Are, Or Just What You Do? How Does Vocation Impact Our Places of Work?