As a member of the clergy and as a college professor, I find it all too easy to lapse into a sermon or a lecture. But what I believe is what I believe; you will hear no “shoulds” in the next few moments that pertain to you. If you do, that’s for you to sort out. I do not believe that anyone must hold the same convictions that I do; however, I long for sojourners who will make their way with me, who will challenge, support, question and wonder with me about the awesome experience of life.
Several years ago, I heard the former President of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, make a distinction between optimism and hope, arguing that optimism is a secular word, one that is too dependent on human ability. Hope, on the other hand, is a theological term, and thus necessarily appeals to the transcendent, to the power and the longing of the Divine that forms and informs all of life.
I believe in hope. Hope empowers me to stand in the face of any grief, of any fury, of any despair and declare that life lies not only beyond but within such moments. Hope is the force that has freed me to love my daughter Martha fully, embracing her Down syndrome as an essential part of who she is, as a part of what makes her an amazing and beautiful human being. Hope guides the love I have for one dear to me who lives with HIV, imagining with my loved one the possibilities of a rich and full life. Hope compels me to serve in whatever ways I can because it is not enough simply to have a conviction; I believe I must live it.
Hope has everything to do with possibility. I know the world is not as it should be, but the possibility is always before us that the universe might become more of what God has always longed for it to be: a place of lasting and just peace; a place where everyone has enough to eat and safe place to call home; a place where work is meaningful and where every human life is valued; a place where one person’s want never trumps another person’s need; a place where humanity’s interconnectedness with all living systems is assumed, blessed and nurtured.
I have a friend who refers to me as “pathologically hopeful”; I describe him as “graciously cynical.”
Hope has everything to do with imagination, with our creative engagement with the world. Hope unveils potential even amid abject poverty. Hope assures me that every child can learn and has a right to a meaningful education. Hope helps me to see military force not as a necessary means of resolving conflict but rather as a failure of our collective human imagination to craft more reliable and life-sustaining ways of achieving peaceful resolution.
I come to know hope in a variety of ways: through ancient and contemporary texts; through stories and experiences of ordinary and extraordinary lives; through love shared in the most difficult of times.
Hope sustains me in my belief that all life is interconnected, that in every choice I make – whether it be the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the neighborhood I choose to call home, the time I spend with family and friends, the issues of the day that inspire me to listen and act – I have potential to shape the world as I believe it should be. By simply choosing to act in hopeful and faithful ways, I contribute to the possibilities – as well as the tragedies – of this world. And while I trust my life and the way I live are inextricably woven into the fabric of all life, I believe it is in my local community where hope is formed and reformed, where my deepest convictions are made flesh – incarnate – in my daily practices.
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