Social Imaginations: why we need worship more than ever


We don’t live in theoretical terms.  Having, knowing and believing correct/better ideas about things rarely changes how we really live.  It rarely has the power to form us in our real relationships to ourselves and others.

It’s why the drive to articulate truths from scripture to give intellectual assent to, does not lead to empowered ways of living.  We all know that there is plenty about the Christian life that we ‘believe’ and hold to be true that we don’t live.  And sometimes we are told that we live what we really believe, as if we can excavate down to the real truths we believe under the things we say we believe.

That just perpetuates the idea that we live by theories, which we don’t.

Instead we might better understand how we live, make a life with others, and form relationships, through ‘story’.  Or as Charles Taylor would point us towards, the ‘social imaginary' is the way we might better understand how we imagine and and live out our social lives in the real world.

In short the idea of the social imaginary is that what we do, our practices, carry unconscious understandings and convictions within them, and our story, legends, understandings shape our practices.

Life is complex, and we live out of a web of interactions with other people, with stories, myths, and practices that are mostly unconscious; things we rarely consciously ‘think’ about.  In other words, how we imagine life, and the ways we share those imaginations is what we really live.

Therapists spend most of their time having people narrate their experiences, and feelings, beliefs and practices.  To bring their imagined and lived life into conscious reflection, so that they might re-narrate, retell their story, and then live differently, from a new imagination of who they are.

Day to day, we have places we retell and live our imaginations for life.  Every time we come into work and our friends ask us about our weekend, we have socially acceptable things we can talk about, the meals we ate, the things we did, what happened to us.  We retell our imaginations for life, and how we are living.

Our deepest desire, and dreams, framed by values and myths about what life should be, are what we share with others, and ultimately measure life by and then live.  It’s why for Christians even though our weekend might have had worship and gospel practices within it, we can’t share that at work, because that’s not what you are ‘supposed’ to do with your weekend.

When we have meals with others, we fall back on talking about our work, our relationships, and where we live.  And most of the time we do that, we do so through socially conditioned values, and stories.  Where I live, everyone seems to be working to be able to stop working, living somewhere so they can get away all the time, so that one day they can live somewhere like where they get away to.  And everyone nods as we retell our life that way, yes, let’s retire early, and live by the sea/beach, and live to a ripe old age, the myth that we pursue and measure our lives by.  And anything less than that is a failure of life itself.

This is one way we might understand worship, and Church.  Church is the place we are invited tell our stories, and open up our deepest imaginations, and re-narrate those against the imaginations, values and practices of the people of God in scripture, and the people of God in history.

Or we might understand from the ‘social imaginary’ that all of life already is worship, the way we regularly do the things we like in the same way with the same people, to reinforce and retell and relive the story of what we think life should be.

Christians worship is the re-telling of our story, with others, and the re-narrating of who we are through the Gospel.  To re-imagine and re-practice who we are.  It’s why I think as a charismatic evangelical, the practice of sharing, and praying for one-another is vital to how we actually live.  Or we might say that we already all have a gospel, the question is which ones are we re-telling and living?

And also the Holy Spirit, re-creates our imaginations and stories for living, and transposes our life into Jesus and his story.

It’s why our church understands that Christianity is something we have to live and practice with others.  For we already live and practice with others already.  The choice is what we allow to shape our imaginations and practices.

Weekly worship with each other, is the practice of being a group of people, gathered around being God’s people, to worship Him.  If we aren’t doing that we are gathered with other people around what they think life is about, and are living that, and worshipping that.

Weekly opening up our lives in that worship and then weekly in small groups, to retell and retell our story around the gospel, with others trying to do the same; literally encodes our deepest selves into life.  For our leisure and meals out are small groups where we are weekly doing the same but around different social imaginaries.

Then serving, giving our time to practice worship with others and for others, is the practice of story.  Giving our money, is where worship becomes lifestyle.  For outside of Christian worship we are practicing life with others and letting our resources flow around and invest in making a life.  Giving time, energy and money to our worship is what we do already, the issue is what are we giving it to and with who.

Habits shape and make us, form our deepest desires and reproduce themselves. So what story, habits and practices are shaping and making you?