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John Lennon and Imagine


Bretislav Fajmon, 1.5.2010, posted in English on 2nd May 2015

In an English lesson recently, we listened to and discussed Imagine, probably the most popular song by John Lennon today (for example on Youtube, and English lyrics and Czech translation). I would like to reproduce these ideas, and add one or two.

As the title in the English textbook says, the Imagine song was written by John Lennon in 1975, when he was on his own, separated from the Beatles. This song became a hit, and later it was listened to again after Lennon's death in 1980, and again after the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001. Some time ago it was voted British most popular song of all time. What is so attractive in it?

The song describes a dream about a world without wars and killing people ("nothing to kill or die for" ... very apt when John Lennon was killed), a world shared by all where everybody lives in peace. A world where no possessions exist (which is the ideal of communist revolution) as well as no greed and hunger.

What is controversial about the song is that it indicates that this ideal world can only be achieved without religions, even without heaven. ("Imagine there is no heaven ... no hell ... no religion") – even more, the song implies that religion is the reason of these wars and riots. The final message is: "Join us, we will be as one", in unity.

In what follows there are some ideas voiced in the lesson (I do not remember them exactly so it is possible that I will say them in other words, and I would like to add a few comments):
  • The song speaks about freedom – freedom in a world where men can live freely, without fear.

  • What the song describes is heaven in which Christians beleive. But we cannot reach this without God.

  • The dream as described is not possible to fulfill because there is something evil in human heart. People themselves will not create a heaven on earth.

  • This dream could be fulfilled, but only after a World war III, when people are fed up with killing others and agree on peace in unity. It is well-known that after world war II people did not feel like doing crime and the number of crimes dropped significantly.
Then we began to speak Czech because in a pre-int lesson we could not express our ideas exactly, and it was an interesting discussion. As a math student I do not like the contradiction inherent in the song. John Lennon challenges everybody: let us cancel all religions. And then he describes an ideal world he desires -- a world without possessions, greed, without borders between countries – he introduces certain rules everybody must accept for the dream to become real. He wants to cancel all religions but by his approach he starts another religion when he deliniates boundaries for the character qualities everybody must have.

So the result of our discussion was: The ideal is not "no religion", but "one religion" – a unifying element everybody identifies with. Then our characters will be transformed and we will create the world John LEnnon dreamt about. But what can be that ONE? Is it enough to listen to this loving invitation and John Lennon's charismatic singing? Will our greed be taken from us and brotherhood bestowed upon us? Or is our endeavour enough -- if we just make a little bit more effort?

After a while of deliberation we returned to World War III -- if, for example, almost everybody died in such a war, and a few millions (or thousands) remained, they would surely be able to agree on the better world. Or what if only two people, a man and a woman, survived? If they loved each other, they would surely be able to communicate. On my way home I realized: Only two people in the world, a man and a woman, such a situation has already occurred – it took place at the very beginning. Adam and Eve may have had unity but when they left God and life they were created for, they were not able to keep unity even in the lives of their children. Not that riots appered after a few generations, leading to war -- something worse happened -- one of their sons killed another (Genesis 4,1-16). If we cannot keep unity even in our closest family, how can we dream about creating a world of brotherhood with everybody? Are we able to create peace in the lives of our children?

Only one answer comes to mind -- to be able to experience ever-growing peace, I must allow Jesus Christ to live in my heart (through faith, when I share my innermost life with him). We need more than a unifying element – we need not only a principle from outside, but strengh and change from within. This is Christinanity. God is not just a principle we have come up with, but a real and unique person who can act in our hearts in the areas we ourselves have no strength to change (God is doing real surgeries of our hearts to change us).

I have tried to paraphrase John Lennon's song – I kept the contradiction just like the original does. Creating this text was a great adventure: "Imagine" was replaced with "He told us", then verses 2,5,6 of each stanza are almost the same – but the whole makes sense! I felt like discovering a code -- a text which has always existed (something John Lennon must have felt while composing his songs :-) (the first stanza is a variation on Matthew 11:28-30; the first verse of the second and third stanzas follows from 1st letter of John 3:23; second stanza further employs 1st John 5:3 and John 14:18; the third stanza comes with motives from the letter of Ephesians, mostly Eph 1:20-23 and Eph 6:10; It is interesting that even the sigh "I wonder if you can" has its biblical counterpart, mainly in Jesus' words in the gospel of Luke 18,8: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

He told us

He told us, come, take my yoke,
It's easy if you try,
Just take my burden,
You will not have to cry.
He told us all the people
to come to Him today...

He told us, love your neighbour,
It isn't hard to do,
I will not leave you hopeless,
But I will come to you,
He told us all the people
to go and live in peace...

But we stand hesitating,
coming back to our plans,
looking for peace in nothing,
refusing all He has.

He told us, believe in me,
I wonder if you can,
Now I'm the Lord of heavens,
able to give you strength,
He told us all the people
to share all the world...

But we stand hesitating,
coming back to our plans,
looking for peace in nothing,
refusing all He has.


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