Twelve Things I Believe About Hope

With Easter approaching, my liturgical mind shifts toward hope. The hope of resurrection and new life. The hope of regenerative transformation of wounded and wound-ers. The hope that the Love-centered moral vision of Jesus might increasingly take up residence in our world.  The hope that it won’t be this difficult—whatever “difficult” means to each of us—forever.

But how do you hope? The word “hope” is thrown around more often than befits its usage, I think. “I hope” is often used as though it were synonymous with “I wish” or “I want it real bad” or “that sounds nice but it’s out of my hands.” But I think hope offers and demands so much more than does wishing, wanting, or felt powerlessness.

The following are a few things I believe about hope, informed by my faith, study, personal experience, and cultural identity (both an asset and a liability in terms of what I can see and say):

  1. Hope mobilizes. Hope is not a passive alternative to action, it sparks action. Hope leads people to do something, instead of nothing. Hope does not evade responsibility and pass the buck to God or anyone else. Hope is participation, not spectating. Hope is engagement, not escape.
  2. Hope is discovered, not assigned. I think you don’t give someone hope as much as you make space for another’s hope to emerge and grow. Sometimes this means I should nurture and/or support. Sometimes it means I should get out of the way. Hope prioritizes your hope, as you express it, over my hopes for you. Hope listens.
  3. Hope is specific. It rejects vague, non-committal inclusivity for specific, as-detailed-as-possible goals. Hope that is ambiguous about what it hopes for has little power, I think. Also, I probably shouldn’t tell you to “have hope” unless I can make a compelling case with evidence (not proof, but evidence) for why you should have hope and, in some cases, if fitting, show you what part I will play.
  4. Hopes are not all equal in value. Some hopes are more important than others and deserve more collective energy and resolve. I would not want to thoughtlessly validate your hopes (nor you, mine). Hopes should be criticized, especially if they are harmful. For example, your hope for a world in which your children are safe from gun violence is, as I see it, superior to my hope for a world in which I’ll be entirely free of any governmental restraints or social obligations. My perceived autonomy is less important than your child’s actual safety. I guess?
  5. Hope is subversive. Hope questions what is accepted as commonplace. It brings what is hidden in darkness into the light. Hope challenges controlled maintenance and historical momentum and the narratives of historical winners. Hope is not meant to placate those who suffer so that the status quo might continue. Human-inflicted suffering is stupid and inappropriate and should not be seen as a divine blessing, a teachable moment, or an economic and political inevitability. Hope overturns tables.
  6. Hope is persistent, in the right amount. It sticks with something, until for reasons that do not include laziness, fear, or boredom, it is time to move on. Hope does not discard tradition but is not shackled by it. Tradition is a springboard for hope, but traditions are meant to grow and evolve, not to foster fearful clinginess. Hope is highly suspicious of nostalgia. Hope is creative and gritty, finding ways forward despite the stubbornness of the “way things are.”
  7. Hope is patient, to an extent. It is patient with people who are open to experiencing righteous change. It does not coddle those who resist righteous change. Hope does not fear conflict. Hope overcomes enemies to Love like “niceness,” “keeping the peace,” “comfort,” “what I think I’m entitled to” as it moves us toward Love.
  8. Hope is dangerous. Hope ignites fury. Reactive, defensive backlash. What is threatened by hope fights back. Hope often means my loss for our gain. This probably does not apply to those who have nothing to lose. Those who’ve lived a life of loss or scarcity should not be asked to lose more.
  9. Hope is brutally honest. No self-deceiving, no truth-bending, no face-turning, no ear-covering. Hope names what is really there. Hope removes my blinders and undermines my tricks and techniques for ignoring what’s going on around me. Hope grabs me by the back of the neck and forces me to look. And keep looking. And not stop looking.
  10. Hope is imaginative. It sees what could be and, in some cases, what will be, if the God of Love is to be trusted. Hope is the power of the future to transform the present. To see this future requires discernment, maybe a little revelation, and maybe most importantly, imagination. Not just my imagination, but our collective imagination, because I can only see so much.
  11. Hope is collectively formed. Hope is open and receptive. Others help me know what is worth hoping for and how to hope for it. Others help me see the goals I ought to set aside and the goals I ought to pursue. Others shape my agency and ability to act and overcome obstacles. Worthwhile hope ought to have its hoped-for outcome articulated by as many as possible, with special attention to previously downplayed voices (including the voices, figuratively speaking, of non-human life). Not simply out of feel-good but potentially shallow inclusion, but also for the sake of literally surviving and not destroying ourselves.
  12. Hope sustained Jesus. Jesus was empowered and guided by a God-instilled vision of a world of systems and communities and individuals characterized by Love. This hope shaped what he criticized. Whom he touched. What he taught. Whom he valued. His willingness to experience human-inflicted suffering (even though human-inflicted suffering is stupid) for Love’s sake, for creation’s sake. Hope enabled Jesus to live the future, in the present.

What do you believe about hope? What is its value? What is its power?

Love is Letting Go

Love is letting go.

Love can mean holding on. Fidelity. Commitment. Steadiness. Persistence.

But love is often letting go.

Control often feels like the way to love. But my experience tells me, in the end, control is not the way to love. Control dismisses, demeans, misdirects, imposes, and stifles. Love is letting go.

Love is letting go of my expectations for you. Letting go of my delusion that because I feel care for you, I must indisputably be doing what’s best for you. Love is more self-critical and adaptable than that. Love is letting go of my plan for your life. Letting you be as you are, not as I wish you were, or how, out of entitlement, I feel you should be, as though you owe it to me.

Love is letting go of my control over your process. Letting you react. Letting you overreact. Letting you underreact. Love is letting go of my impulse to control the conversation, even if I think I’m protecting you. I may just be trying to protect myself, and needlessly.

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I was a part of a religious body of churches—something like a regional denomination or collaborative partnership—called the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM).

A year ago, that organization determined that my congregation and several others were no longer welcome. It determined certain kinds of people were no longer welcome.

We were purged.

Despite feeling frustrated, bewildered, and disappointed in a number of people in light of this purge, I’m fine. But being “fine” is a luxury, reflecting my privilege. Many others affected by the purge are not fine. They may not be fine for a long time.

I would not say I have suffered. Other than whatever relatively minimal suffering comes from being an empathetic listener. Or from watching people bully others or develop ever-tougher litmus tests of who’s in and who’s out (and who seemingly diagnose their “toughness” as a righteous pursuit or protection of truth). Or from witnessing a train-wreck but being unable to help, either because I lack the power to do so or because I lack the courage.

But I do wish to add my voice to the chorus of lamenters, even though what I see is limited. So take it with a grain of salt.

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Bibles, Flags, and Other Christian Idols

Idolatry can be subtle and pervasive. It manifests in the usual suspects like money or success and other familiar villains. But Christians ought to also be wary of the looming idolatry lurking in some of the essentials of the Christian experience.

I think of idolatry as a disproportionate worship of or devotion to something. Maybe you believe that the God who is Love—Creator and Sustainer of everything from the farthest galaxies to the nearest neurons in our brains—is the one to whom we ought to give our deepest allegiance and devotion or most permit to inform how we live and the choices we make. Idolatry, then, would be giving comparable adoration and devotion to something less worthy or worthwhile than God. Especially something that inhibits our ability to care for that for which God cares.

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The Bible Doesn’t Condemn It, You Do

Yes, I know those verses. But why don’t you tell me what they are anyway? There’s nothing I love more than a good old-fashioned verse war. You know, that game where Christians retrieve and deploy the verses that affirm their current beliefs and values to take down their theologically-misguided opponents.

A dash of I Corinthians here, a dash of Genesis there. While it sure seems like you—verse warrior—are selectively hurling Biblical texts at me that affirm you and your ideas, you know you are simply and kindly pointing me toward Truth.

Boy, I really feel for the Bible. Poor Bible. If the Bible were a human, even the most racist, oppressive, violent, commodifying, and manipulative person would feel sympathy for what the Bible has had to endure. Abuse. Twisting. Selective listening. Self-serving agendas. Used to bully and pick on others against its will. Misrepresentation.

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