Design as a Catalyst Towards Redemptive Imagination: Part 2

By Suzie Sang , suziesang

May 15, 2023

De Pree Journal

In my previous article, I reflected on a bathroom makeover and wondered about the connection between interior design and redemptive imagination. I defined redemptive imagination as using my imagination, which is informed by the values of the kingdom and the way of Jesus, to bring shalom to broken places. When I consider the bathroom makeover in light of this definition, I see four elements we need in order to engage in redemptive imagination at work.

Redemptive imagination requires communication. If the homeowner has a particular vision in mind, until they communicate what they want in the consultation the designer does not know how to proceed. Becoming a good communicator is critical to the success of any project. Even more so, if we imagine ushering in shalom to broken places, that process doesn’t happen through mind-reading or making assumptions. The process of communication is circular and not linear. The vision needs to be revisited and reiterated multiple times so that everyone is clear and has the information needed to proceed. As Brené Brown says, “clear is kind,” and I believe that kindness leads to more fruitful results. Similarly, in our places of work, decisions are never made in a vacuum and every decision made impacts and affects those in the organization. Unfortunately, as leaders we sometimes believe that unilaterally making decisions will not affect the teams we work with, but communicating clearly and consistently enables those we work with to understand what we are hoping to do and the ways they can participate in the process.

In the makeover show, both the homeowner and the designer do the work of imagining together what they want the new space to become. Some of the initial vision for the space may not be cohesive between the two but this is where collaboration and partnership become critical to the execution of a successful project. The homeowner could have brilliant ideas and a very expansive imagination about what they want for the space, but that doesn’t mean the ideas are realistically based on budget, space, and practicality. Additionally, the owner could want to demo everything and start from scratch but the designer may see where keeping some of the original elements could be valuable and useful. Conversely, the designer may have a vision based on their creative instinct but that may not be in alignment with what the homeowner wants for their space.

As much as I affirm my skills and gifts, I recognize that I am only one person and there may be others on my team or in my organization who have particular skills that I don’t have who I need to work with and, in some cases, promote and leverage for the good of all. It is often easy as a leader to assume that because I am ‘in charge’ I should have all the answers and brilliant ideas. But I am reminded that ushering in shalom is never a one woman show and that requires constant leading with humility, deferring to others, and keeping my ego in check.

Checking Our Cynicism
Using my imagination also means that I check in with my cynicism. As I think about the ways I can be redemptive in my place of work, I consistently interrogate myself and frequently check my internal temperature. Sometimes I want to take a sledgehammer to everything or throw my hands up in frustration. How can I prevent myself from being stuck in the despair and hopelessness of what I don’t want, what I want removed, or what is so wrong?

Our current climate sadly reflects leadership driven by fear and divisiveness. The proliferation of evil and hatred seems to be the norm. In a society where pain and trauma are daily experiences, it’s easy to just go through the motions waiting for the world to end. Many of us dread listening to the news, lest we hear of another school shooting, another unarmed Black man being killed by the cops, another Asian American grandmother being spat in the face or beaten, or another woman dying from intimate partner violence. It’s hard to imagine God’s shalom in a world where so much seems to be working against us, but as we continue to be daily renewed we are reminded to interrogate our cynicism and, as much as possible, center ourselves in gratitude and hope. When I become cynical, I disconnect from the creative and imaginative side of myself which was built-in by God and given to me to be used to usher in God’s kingdom. Conversely, by checking in with myself frequently, I affirm that participating in the creative and imaginative process of redemption never gets old.

Courage and Commitment
It takes immense courage to commit to and undertake doing something different. As humans we crave comfort and familiarity, and very often we can’t see how any of this will actually work. But like the homeowner, the process takes commitment—an investment of time and resources, and the willingness to lean into the discomfort. I find the last one to be extremely challenging because when renovating we know that there will be a lot of dust and noise from the demolition phase. The bathroom will be unusable and the entire family will be inconvenienced by the weeks that the project will take to be complete. There will be contractors, plumbers, tilers, painters, etc. traipsing in and out of the house daily. And if we are honest, it will all be annoying, bothersome, and very disruptive. Doesn’t that sound familiar—like Jesus’ call to discipleship?

And yet, if we endure the discomfort for a season, like the show we have been watching for 25 minutes, those last 5 minutes of the episode bring the fruit of the process. We are most excited when the great reveal happens, especially when we hear the homeowner and family “oooh” and “ahh” at the beauty of the renovation and give it their stamp of approval. Only then does the satisfaction of the outcome far outweigh the inconvenience they experienced. I believe we are called to the same process—to endure the pain and inconvenience of God’s “make-overs” with the dust, noise, and inconvenience that accompanies being a witness for God in the places we daily contribute, looking forward to the Day of the great reveal.

Redemptive Imagination as Our Calling
Redemptive imagination is a call to bring shalom to broken places through effective communication and active collaboration. It’s a call to grow in self-awareness that we might interrogate our cynicism while committing to lead with deep courage and commitment. In a nutshell, I think this could be summarized in the Micah 6:8 (NRSV) blueprint – “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

Banner image by Héctor Martínez on Unsplash.

Suzie Sang

Research Associate

Dr. Suzie Sang is a research associate at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership where she provides support for the research and resource arm of the De Pree Center. She has a BSc in International Relations and Management from the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, an MDiv degre...

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