When John Lennon used the verb “imagine,” is was not in the most commonly used meaning of the word “imagine.” He didn’t want people to “think of something that does not exist.” Rather, when he used the word imagine, it more often meant:
If your sacred religious ideas or philosophies about politics or human nature deter you from loving someone or something else, or if they lead you to conclude you should do something other than love, then rethink and reconsider your basic perceptions and definitions. Re-imagine what you were taught to imagine.
“Think for yourself, ‘cuz I won’t be there with you.”
– George Harrison lyric from The Beatles Think for Yourself.
“Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere man, the world is at your command
He’s as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see”
– Lennon/McCartney lyrics from Nowhere Man“
“All the little boys and girls
Living in this crazy world
All they really needed from you
Is maybe some love
I don’t expect you to understand
The kingdom of Heaven is in your hand
I don’t expect you to wake from your dreams
Too late to cry now it seems”
– John Lennon from Real Love from the Imagine Album
When John requested eveyone to “Imagine there’s no Heaven,” he was asking everyone to revisit any ideas, religious or otherwise, that caused them to discriminate, hate, or classify any group of people as “evil” or second class.
Lennon has been criticized for comparing himself to Jesus. But I find their similarities remarkable. Jesus, whoever he was, came onto his cultural scene and constantly criticized the predominant religions and power structures of his day. He asked people to love everyone – a radical change of perception. He asked us to not put people into “first class” and “lower class” categories. Jesus said in the Beatitudes,
Blessed are :
– the meek,
– the poor,
– those who are weeping,
– the hungry,
– those persecuted for seeking righteousness
– the merciful
– the peacemakers
Both Jesus and John Lennon were killed because people thought their ideas about love were such a threat to the social order of things that violence should be used to kill them. They thought violence should be used to silence them.
I miss John Lennon. And it is ironic that this morning on a walk, I was reminded of his artworks and his life while listening to a ‘religious’ song. But when I listen to the lyrics of the song below, I don’t think of Jesus or any other organized religion’s deity. This song kills me because I apply it to the people who, like John Lennon, we have lost, who have been silenced from saying anything further, or who are no longer with us.
“I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine
Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you . . .? Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence? To my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to say anyhting at all?
I can only imagine”
– lyrics by Bart Millard
I’m not a person who follows any organized religion. And as John Lennon asked us to consider, I don’t believe in a Heaven as Heaven is popularly contrived in organized religions. But as I get older, and more loved ones pass, I expect I will find myself re-imagining my positions on the existence of Heaven. Because there are some people I have lost that I cannot bear to imagine never seeing again.
I can only imagine.