After almost a year out of the game, a major career change, and a complete re-design and fresh start for the site, I’m-a bloggin’ again.
God help us all…
Anyway, I’d like to start with a reflection on the concept (and practice) of ‘hope’. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, but what is it really? How does one define it? What does it look like? Is hope just an otherworldly opiate that stubbornly refuses to accept ‘reality’, disengaging all possibility of change in the present?
I’ve been pondering these things as I’ve engaged primarily two very different books: Tim Costello’s Hope, and James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The first book is a collection of inspiring stories from the CEO of World Vision Australia about finding hope in the midst of sometimes seemingly hope-less situations. The second is a mature liberationist reflection on the spirituality of African-Americans during and after the horrors of the lynchings that seem to have been conveniently ignored by many white American theologians (and American society in general) both then and now.
Though the subject matter of the books is obviously very different, I’ve been captured by the profound vision of hope that emerges from them both.
This vision of hope, I would suggest, could be defined as follows (and this is my ‘working definition’ of hope at this point in time):
Hope is never blind to the ‘reality’ of the situation; it just leaves room for new possibilities.
It’s this idea, it seems to me, that allowed Tim Costello to stand in the utter devastation of the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami but not be crushed by it. It’s this understanding, I would argue, that invades all of his work as CEO of World Vision Australia – an organisation that encounters human devastation every day but still chooses to channel its energy into the constructive work of development, never falling under the weight of what might be called ‘the reality of the situation’ but rather passionately working towards what could, and can, be possible.
In the same way, it seems to me that this vision of hope allowed (many) former slaves in the U.S. to ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’: the truly terrifying inhumanity of lynchings in the late 19th and early-mid 20th century and the reality of white supremacy. It allowed, through the inspired subversive co-opting and redefining of the hypocritical religion of the oppressors turned against themselves, not a form of escapism but rather an active hope that gripped hold of new possibilities and sought to drag that vision of ‘reality’ into the present.
This, it seems to me, is what hope is all about.
It’s not some delusional or illusory dream that vanishes in the harsh light of ‘reality’.
Rather, it is the substance of new possible realities which enacts those new possibilities even in the present.
Hope is the foundation on which new possibilities are built; the fuel for the fire of change. Hope is beauty spilling over into the ugliness of the now; it is life springing forth when death is all around.
And that brings me to a poignant illustration of hope that has been with me for more than 15 years now. It comes from what might seem at first like the most unlikely of sources: the lyrics of a song by the late ‘gangster-rapper’ Tupac Shakur. But, then again, hope does tend to spring from surprising places, does it not?
In his song I Ain’t Mad At Cha (yes; that is how it’s spelled!), Tupac offered an alternate third verse which described the seeming hopelessness of African-American ghetto life and offered a small glimmer of…hope. And from that verse comes a line that I just can’t get out of my head, and which has been central to my thinking and study and preaching for some time now. In this line, Tupac speaks of his community as
A broken rose giving bloom through the cracks of the concrete.
I love it!
In the midst of desolate, life-denying ‘reality’, a rose dares to grow in the tiniest gap of life-giving potential. Though it is not unaffected by its surroundings (it stands ‘broken’ after all), it still blooms with life and beauty and stands resolute against what seems like impossibility.
This, it seems to me, is the perfect illustration of hope. It recognises the current situation, but isn’t shackled by it. It is not ignorant of pain and suffering, but still desires full life nonetheless.
This image has captured my imagination; I do hope it captures yours too.