finding real hope, part 1

i’ve become increasingly convinced that most christians have a truncated, misappropriated understanding of hope. much of this — though certainly not all of it — is thanks to the shallowness of so much pop-faith, so much “god exists to make me happy” crap.

the result of this “jesus as my glossy veneer” praxis is the re-defining of hope as optimism. hope has become interchangeable with positivity. sort of a norman-vincent-peale/robert-schuller/joel-osteen blend of faith = happiness.

i think i’d been suspicious of that idea for some time. but, as i’ve written here in the past, the depth of that deception-through-miniaturization came into a new sharp focus standing in a port-au-prince street one day about a month after the earthquakes that rocked that country (a couple years ago). pain and suffering were all around me. we’d just come — minutes earlier — from hearing the story of a woman with a crushed leg who had lost her twin 15 month-old sons, then been trapped under the rubble of her home (with her destroyed and deceased sons) for three days. we had just prayed with her — she, michele, being stoic during our prayer, but her husband wailing loudly in creole, “why, jesus? why, jesus? why, jesus?”

everywhere we looked we saw evidence of pain and suffering. and everyone we spoke with (i’m not exaggerating — it really was everyone) had lost a home, or someone close, or both. never had i observed such complete and pervasive suffering.

but then: we got stuck in traffic. we hopped out of our little mini-bus to see why there were so many people clogging the street ahead of us. was it a riot? (would have made sense.) was it a protest? (that’s what i’d seen so often in other countries.)

but the people were smiling. dancing. jumping around. i was momentarily disoriented, confused. then these realities hit me one after another, like a series of slaps to the face, or maybe more like a series of breaths, sharp and over-rich with oxygen:

  1. these people aren’t protesting or rioting, they’re celebrating or something.
  2. (noticing the stage at the end of the street with a worship band) this is a worship service, and these people are worshipping.
  3. “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (that verse, memorized as a child, popped into my head)
  4. these people understand hope in a way i never will.

since then, i’ve been slowly noodling on my understanding of hope. i’ve read more about it, spoken on it (speaking on a subject often helps me to flesh it out more!), and even written on it a bit (i even have a fully prepared book proposal on the subject that one publisher passed on, and i’ve not done anything else with at this point).

when the organizers of the youthwork summit in england asked me to focus on that subject for the closing keynote talk at their event (back in late may), i was forced to wrestle with it a bit more. and in that, i tweaked the model i’ve been wrestling with. here’s its current version:

tomorrow, i’ll unpack that…

7 thoughts on “finding real hope, part 1”

  1. I’m on board with you. I watched some of these “positive thinking” guys, they disgusted me.

  2. Good reminder. Glad I was with you in that moment in Haiti. It changed me. But, funny thing about change. Seems like I have to continually claim it for it to be real. I often forget about those moments.

  3. What you describe here (and elsewhere that I’ve heard you tell the story) would make a powerful scene in a novel about a guy searching for hope…made into a movie, of course, with DiCapria playing the lead. Love it.

  4. Mark,

    Check out Elaine Crawford’s book, Hope in the Holler. It’s a book that “analyzes the theological vision of hope voiced within narratives of enslaved, emancipated, and contemporary black women and brings that vision into a discussion with contemporary womanist theologies.” I got that from the back of the book. I haven’t read the book, but I met with Dr. Crawford today at a meeting where she told me about her work. She’s been invited to appear at Oxford, in England, to present a recent paper she wrote on a theological perspective of hope and how it has been voiced and found in history (especially in African American history). I gave her your blog link, as well.

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