Rector's Blog: A Need for Hope
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I didn’t really think much about Hope until it was politicized. It was the 2008 presidential campaign, and then Senator Barack Obama ran with the slogan “Hope”. In the spirit of transparency, I was a person with a general skepticism towards the sincerity and motives of people running for office. I was also in seminary – which is a little like being in college all over again, but super religious: That means my idealism and contrarianism were collaborating at an all-time high. So, anyone who was running for president under the tagline “Hope” and wasn’t Jesus Christ was bound to make me suspicious.
My seminary friend Chris had no such dilemma. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from Mississippi who felt no need to be measured in his enthusiasm. He spent a good deal of the presidential campaign shaking his head at me. One day I complained about campaigning on “Hope” and he just laughed. He said, “Isn’t it great? How do you campaign against hope? What, are you gonna criticize people for having hope? Are you gonna be the anti-hope candidate?” I was not going to win that argument. Who’s gonna be anti-hope?
But as I look back on those days, I wonder about my own sincerity and motives. Obviously, a skepticism of people on the campaign trail is reasonable. And I continue to believe that no party or politician has all the answers. But as I think of myself and my skepticism of “Hope” - I have to admit it wasn’t a skepticism about the candidate, or even about the system: No, Hope didn’t ring true to me because I didn’t feel a need for something new and better. My life was fine as far as I could tell. Someone could be a Democrat, or they could be a Republican, but overall, were we really in a place that required us to Hope?
I could not see past my own life, my own comfort. And there were a lot of things happening around me that I chose not to see. The word “privilege” is another word that is politically loaded right now, but it is a fitting description of me: I was allowed to not pay attention to people’s lives that were worse than mine. I was able to focus on what was working for me and could filter out the pain and strife of others. To be clear, I’m not saying that if I’d been able to see past myself, I would’ve magically become a Democrat and gotten excited about Barack Obama. On a simpler level, I’m saying I could’ve at least acknowledged the deep yearning and need for Hope that bubbles under the surface of every person who is actually paying attention.
I’m paying attention now. To the degree that I can. I bet you are too. The need for hope is so obvious to everyone I meet, and I’m sure that includes you.
Hope doesn’t thrive well in privilege. Hope requires acknowledgement of need. Hope is born in the midst of sorrow and strife. Hope is the purple sky that accompanies the sunrise and is so beautiful because it signals the end of the sleepless night.
Hope is the language of our faith, deeply embedded in our Scriptures and embodied in the lives of our ancestors who struggled to find God in their midst. Hope is the often-unnamed centerpiece of the stories, songs, and prophecies of the Bible. God, give us life! God, free us from slavery in Egypt! God, save us from the wilderness! God, keep us safe! God, give us strength! God, free us from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome! God, save us from the Devil, from Hell, from our enemies, from our selves!
Jesus’ name literally means “Deliverance” and hope for deliverance is our central desire. But this hope is hollow if we don’t acknowledge our need for that deliverance – if we think things are just fine like this right now. In that sense, it is a gift right now to be disabused of such delusion. Deliverance is at the front of all our minds, on the tips of our tongues – and this means we understand hope in real and practical ways.
Now we are closer to the heritage of our faith because we have been experiencing such pain. We are closer now to those in the Bible to whom we look because we understand their need for hope. We are at a tender point, and we are tempted to shy away from it. But if we have the courage, we can acknowledge, however reluctantly, that we need help and that we have a deep yearning for something better, something more whole, something more beautiful and honest and true to take prominence in our lives.
The church is meant to be a community of Hope. We pray for and point toward the liberating, life-giving love of God that is found in Jesus Christ. We believe that experiencing this kind of love fosters hope and heals our world. And we believe that we can experience such belovedness in community. Not perfectly. Imperfectly, messily, begrudgingly, in fits and starts – but hope is something that grows in shared life. Of course, it doesn’t belong to one party or politician. But neither is it some abstraction meant only for idealists: Hope is practical. Hope is necessary for those who are paying attention. And it can be nourished and strengthened when we seek to serve Christ in one another here and now.
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