First written in 1983, Imagined Communities illustrates the trajectory of the world’s understanding of how it functions politically as the author, Benedict Anderson, reasserts his premise in the revision of 2006, and with even more relevance today in 2015. Acknowledging that many of his comrades with a Marxist bent predicted an end to nationalism, Anderson offers a radical (then perhaps, not now) proposal that it’s only the beginning of new era based on identity as a nation. Defined as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign,” a nation becomes the new way of “linking fraternity, power, and time meaningfully together.” Nationalism reflects humanity’s attempt to understand and function in the world that serves the purposes of how God created us, but which unfortunately becomes perverted and distorted.
In my first scan of the book, I could not connect to what Anderson was communicating, particularly as I tried to assimilate what this book had to do with our next DMin class. Truth be told, my first thought was “what does nationalism have to do with theology and leadership?” But then this phrase caught my attention: “The great weakness of all evolutionary/progressive styles of thought, not excluding Marxism, is that such questions are answered with impatient silence.” These questions deal with the reality of death and immortality, purpose and meaning, destiny and the ordinary. Similar to lights turning on in a dark crowded room, I discovered the significance of Anderson’s book – he articulates what followers of Christ already know about humanity. We are a broken people who are attempting to make sense of our world by finding community, living on beyond this world, wanting to be part of a bigger story, needing everyday connections, and sharing what we hold in common. Nationalism addresses in conversation, not silence, the desires of our hearts. The next few paragraphs describe these desires, foreseeably similar to the desires that make the church.
First, humanity needs community. Yet, there are “limited” places of that community, as described by Anderson. As a result, lines are drawn in various ways in order to hold onto the sense of community. Interestingly, that community doesn’t necessarily need to know everyone, rather it’s the shared and common practices with the perceived historical understanding that build the community. Studying church history this last quarter, I found great comfort in knowing God isn’t so concerned about whether we have lots of denominations or not. He’s more concerned about us coming together. Does that not remind us for Christian and non-Christian alike, we need community that is based on something beyond ourselves?
Second, mortality and death are inevitable. As humans, while we would rather avoid acknowledging that (although that avoidance is probably more dominant in Western culture), we do know that we want something beyond this life. We long for a legacy, hoping that what we’ve contributed here on earth goes beyond this short time. Being a part of a nation allows for that contribution to continue. Likewise, that same desire is addressed by Christ, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:24) We need to have something other than this life to look forward to.
Third, humanity lives in story – the story of life, the story of one another, the story of the past, the story of what’s ahead. We can’t live only in our own story by ourselves for very long as it has little to no meaning. We want to be part of a bigger story. Through nationalism, we have something more to which to give our lives through the synergy of others sharing in that story. Not that the Seattle Seahawks (it’s a football team for those of you not familiar with US sports) are a “nation,” but I’m overwhelmed by how many people the last few months are wearing green and blue in Gig Harbor which is nearly an hour away from the epicenter of the Seattle Seahawks. Yet, the jerseys, the colors, the Seahawk players much less the game plays and percentages, all seem to create a sense of being part of a bigger story. Mind you, my lack of enthusiasm does not mean I won’t be rooting for them as they are the best team in the NFL right now. J Enriching our own lives by being connected to a bigger story, we discover greater purpose and meaning.
Finally, the use of the newspaper as the liturgy of 1983 is a fascinating concept. Anderson quotes Hegel in noticing that the newspaper becomes the morning prayer. The paradox, as Anderson points out, is that while it is done in private, it connects everyone in its performance done on a regular basis. Is that not what liturgy creates? It is a private experience based on it being done by all of those who are part of that community. In 2015, that liturgy is partitioned into various forms of social media, but it still occurs, just not in the church (typically). The common practice in an everyday setting creates a new “sovereign” word about the greatest importance for that community, nation.
While I find it fascinating that Anderson landed on an “ism” (unlike other “isms” as pointed out by him) that addresses the political systems that seem to reflect humanity’s predilections, it is even more fascinating to me that he actually addresses the deepest of human desires. I’m reminded of Meister Eckhart’s words, “God has created all things in such a way so that they are not outside God. All creatures remain within God and enveloped by God.”
 Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of nationalism, Revised Edition, Revised ed. (London, Verso, 2006), 6.
 Ibid, 36.
 Ibid, 10.
 Ibid, 35.
 Swan, Laura. “A Sense of Wonder.” St. Placid Priory, February, Spring-Summer (2015), 1. Print.