There is a movement arising and gaining momentum that is without precedent in human history, a movement grounded in hope. I believe we are graced with the opportunity and challenge to live the most significant and meaningful lives ever lived because we are faced with history’s most extraordinary threats to life on earth. Unplanned and unnoticed by most, even by those within it, this is nevertheless a movement whose time has come. A movement without a name, not even approaching “ism” status, it eludes being manipulated or marketed. It is a movement without visible spokespersons, charismatic leaders, or dominant figures, so it avoids becoming cultish and personality-centered. Those drawn into this movement do not shy from harsh realities, but refuse to surrender to discouragement and hopelessness.
Is this hope-based movement nearing critical mass, a “tipping point”? Is a “good news epidemic,” as I’ve come to call it, spreading among us? Suppose I have a virus and I infect two other persons today, and they in turn four others tomorrow. Twelve hundred people will be symptomatic in ten days, a rapidly spreading epidemic needing immediate medical intervention. So what is a “good news epidemic”? Suppose I become infected with vision and hope and infect two others, who in turn spread it at the same rate. We just might have a movement rolling! Maybe this is something like what Jesus had in mind, and the disciples carried out.
What Hope Is Not
Hope is not a matter of logic. Someone once said that we do not “think our way to a new way of living, but we live our way to a new way of thinking.” Largely unawares, I had been trying to put together a case for hope, a solid and airtight argument, bolstered by convincing evidence. I wanted a blueprint, a handbook, an absolutely reliable plan. Like the houses of cards I used to build on rainy afternoons with my grandmother, my reasoned, cognitive enterprise, just when it seemed on the verge of completion, tumbled down. Hope built on logic proved as sturdy as that house built on sand of which Jesus spoke.
Hope is not a feeling. Hopelessness is a feeling, pervasive and debilitating. My mind, maybe yours too, has a tendency to tell me, with its own sigh of resignation, that the problems are too big, that I am too small, and that we are too few. Signs of discouragement are, arguably, everywhere; scenarios of a less-than-desirable if not disastrous future come all too vividly and disturbingly to mind. One can track movements toward environmental collapse, global unrest, the threat of lethal weapons in rogue hands. Structures of stability—governments, economic entities, organizations for international dialogue and cooperation, public- and private-sector charitable groups, even religions—appear in disarray, on the verge of collapse. But when people yield to fear and bend under the weight of hopelessness, these momentums accelerate. Fear and hopelessness may constitute our greatest threat. Yet, paradoxically, hope is not a feeling.
Hope is not a place to arrive. There is truth in that familiar phrase, “the journey is the destination,” or a passage from T. S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.1
Google Earth may be able to monitor a journey toward hope, but there is no MapQuest to plot a course to a destination named Hope unless you’re headed to Arkansas! How I myself have wanted, during difficult times, to simply come out some other side of my dark place to some new place where I could settle down and call home. But we see in scripture that biblical Jews seem more faithful in tents than in temples, as nomads than city dwellers, on the move rather than set and settled. And Paul reminds us constantly that he is a person not only geographically but personally and spiritually “on the move.” Likewise, the Gospels offer us glimpses of Peter’s process of formation, celebrating his faithfulness and learning from his failures.
Hope does not ensure outcomes we will see. Deuteronomy reports Moses’s last instructions and final speech to the people he led out of slavery, now encamped by the river they will cross to the Promised Land. His stirring words are meant to send those pilgrims forward brimming with hope. But he will ascend a nearby mountain and die. No one who survived the hasty and drama-filled escape from Pharaoh’s pursuit, except Joshua and Caleb, lived to cross the Jordan. Fifty thousand deaths and fifty thousand births mark that wilderness sojourn. Jeremiah buys a piece of land in a city poised for destruction, a sign of hope of a future he will not see. Martin Luther King Jr., echoing the words of Moses, thunders a declaration that he has seen the Promised Land, while his words become suddenly softer, almost whispered, as he senses he may not walk that land himself. Theological giant Reinhold Niebuhr distinguished between proximate and ultimate. Challenging us to be people of vision and purpose, setting goals and working tirelessly for their accomplishment, he reminded us that these time-targeted goals, these inspired and inspiring aspirations, these high and important strivings are human, thus limited, proximate goals. Only God has ultimate vision working ultimate outcomes.2
Hope does not depend on outcomes at all. The value of hope is intrinsic. It envisions but is not contingent on an outcome. Czech Republic and world leader Václav Havel spoke of hope as he challenged his beleaguered people to dare a new dream: “Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul; it is not essentially dependent upon some particular observation of the world . . . (Hope) is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”3 Life provides continual, sometimes anguished evidence of this.
Hope Is a Choice
Tony Campolo, a well-known author and speaker and a longtime colleague and friend of mine, has spoken thousands of words, but a single sentence, a line from a sermon I’d heard him preach, is etched in my memory: “Frankly, the argument against believing in God or against placing one’s trust in Jesus is every bit as persuasive as the argument for it. So I chose to choose to believe and trust. And that choice has made all the difference.” “Choosing to choose” can seem awkward and redundant, but it may be a necessary first step in the search for a genuine hope. This is not splitting hairs or playing word games. Choosing to choose is different from merely choosing. It evokes a sturdy intention, flexes against doubt and resistance, hones resilience, and sends down hearty roots. It has stamina and longevity, poised for a long-distance run. It is resolute and determined. Merely choosing can be unreflective and impulsive, while choosing to choose is reasoned and measured.
A two-word imperative—“choose life”—concludes Moses’s final speech on the banks of the Jordan (Deut. 30:19). After a long season of divine patience, Elijah announces that a time of choosing is at hand: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” Elijah asks. “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus proclaims succinctly; a choice must be made. Be hot or cold, but not lukewarm; hear the knock and open the door (Rev. 3:15–16, 20). It is a matter of choice. Choose to choose hope.
1. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971), 59.
2. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1941), I: 112¬–22, 164–66; II: 47–52, 287–321.
Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala (New York: Knopf, 1990), 180–82.
Adapted from Gifts of an Uncommon Life: The Practice of Contemplative Activism by Howard E. Friend, Jr., copyright © 2008 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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