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?

Why I Call Myself a Pacifist

My son, Teddy, was having a difficult time falling asleep last night. And he let the rest of us know with assaulting shrieks of discontent.

So, naturally, to silence him, I walked up to his room, lowered my face to about an inch from his, and shouted: “Blaaahhh!!! Don’t do that!!! Blaaahhh!!!” That showed him. I also flicked his earlobes, just to make sure he got the point.

No, of course that’s not what I did. Instead, I wooed him back to sleep with a combination of holding, swaying, speaking softly and reassuringly, giving him his aptly named “pacifier,” and patiently waiting out his crying until he had voiced what he needed to voice.

Not only were aggressive screams and ear-flicks not the only ways to deal with Teddy’s attack on the quiet post-kids-in-bed phase of my evening, these were possibly the least effective ways (not to mention the least rational and least creative).

I would call myself a pacifist. It is fitting, then, that I am a Quaker. The commitment to peace is often a significant part of what compels and entices people to participate in the Friends (Quaker) tradition.

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The Virtue of Presence

I find it can be difficult to be right here, right now.

Can you relate?

Virtues are habits of character that enable us to attain our most sacred or important goals. Jesus—the spark, the energizer, and the exemplar of the Christian tradition—has given Christians a goal: love (Mk 12:30-31). I believe Christians ought to cultivate virtues because they are the way to love: they are the character qualities that equip us and sustain us as we regularly and increasingly fulfill our human responsibility to one another.

Among many of the virtues Christians would do well to cultivate, presence is one of the most important.

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On Courage and Seven Forms of Christian Cowardice

We all know fear. Our fears are crippling. Fear thwarts authenticity. Our ability to act. Our acceptance of ourselves. The quality of our listening. The good we might do. Fear is a constant and looming enemy. One antidote to fear is the virtue of courage.

Courage ought to be a conspicuous virtue in Christians. The linchpin of our faith himself is an exemplar of courage. We may not notice this when we only think of cool, confident, or even stoic Jesus, acting good with relative ease thanks to his God-powers. But when we remember that Jesus was human and likely faced the same kinds of fears that we face, the depth of his courage becomes remarkable. Jesus was really, really brave.

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Why the Virtue of Our Leaders Matters

Should Christians expect our leaders to be virtuous? Absolutely. Whether you lead our country or lead our churches, the burden of virtue ought to be placed upon you. Three reasons for this come to mind.

1. Virtues are more sustainable than promises to constituents, advocacy for causes, or stances on issues.

For one, leadership is so alluring to some that the means—even pandering promises or elaborate deception—justify the ends. Our leaders often tell us what we want to hear to secure their role, maybe even convincing themselves of what they are saying.

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