Tag Archives: biblical hope

Hopecasting excerpt: Post-Zombie Soul

hopecasting.coverhere’s a li’l tasty appetizer from my brand new book, Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen

The 2013 zombie film Warm Hearts was extremely unique for this weird film genre: it’s a zombie love story. I remember watching it on a trans-Pacific flight in the middle of the night, having not heard of it before finding it on my seat-back on-demand video screen. And I remember being very pleasantly surprised.

The film’s tag line summarizes the plot, in a sense: He’s still dead, but he’s getting warmer. Basically, it’s the story of a zombie guy whose heart gets a super tiny jump-start when he sees a live (non-zombie) young woman. He ends up saving her, and they’re forced to spend a bunch of time together in his proto-hipster bachelor pad while the zombie hordes move on by. But, of course, she begins to see the flickers of life in him just as he starts to feel them in himself. And love ensues! Yay!

What I found particularly unique about this zombie movie is that it was not about gore or horror or creative sound and visual effects (which are called for, I suppose, when the script calls for the eating of humans). At its heart (ha!), Warm Hearts is a film about feeling. It’s not-so-subtle message is “to be dead is to feel nothing; even those who no longer feel anything can come back to life, to feeling.” There’s also a subtle message, an exploration of the soulless zombies that only commodify others for consumption, and how some of the nonzombies in the film fit that description just as easily. Hopeless people are hollow people, zombie or not, and they use others to stave off their emptiness.

In my own mini-exile, I came face to face with the fact that I had developed a zombie soul. In order to press through a horrendous season of life, I had shut down my feelings. And while the soul and feelings are not synonymous, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a vibrant soul without authentic feelings. They’re both symbiotic prerequisites of one another.

Lots of people, I’ve found, live with a zombie soul. They’re going through the movements of life. They may even be going through the movements of a spiritual life. But there’s no blood pumping. And there is—by choice or external force—a complete shutting down of honest feelings.

In my own little way, I lived the story of R, the zombie in Warm Hearts. The rekindling of my soul was a love interest, just like his. But it wasn’t a girl. My love interest—the gentle and present heart sparker of my story—was none other than the Creator of my heart.

finding real hope, part 3

in part 1 of this 3-part series, i wrote about my frustration over how biblical hope has been downgraded to optimism and positive thinking by much of the american church. i also wrote about the a-ha experience i had in haiti, bringing me to the early stages of a new understanding of real hope.

in part 2, i unpacked a model of hope i’ve been slowly developing, where dissatisfaction is a necessary (and good) precursor to real hope, and where longing and hope co-exist (relying on each other, really) in a beautiful dance.

so… a few final thoughts (and, for my youth working friends: the implications for youth and young adult ministry should be clear — we work with a naturally dissatisfied people group. it’s a freakin’ cornucopia of hope potential, baby.)

counter-intuitive truth about hope: embrace pain and suffering – yours and other’s. we all experience pain and suffering. but most of us find tricky ways to squash it, or ignore it, or medicate it, or spiritualize it. we’re robbing ourselves when we do that.

our path to experiencing true biblical hope is a path into the place where god dwells, with the suffering. that’s the place of the deepest hope, the hope that reaches out for the hem of christ’s robe, like the bleeding woman in luke 8.

and, since god dwells with the suffering, it’s not only our own pain, suffering and dissatisfaction we need to embrace. we can find god (and therefore, hope) when we come into contact with god in the midst of others who are suffering (that’s exactly what happened to me on that street in haiti).

if you want to find hope, go to the suffering, the dissatisfied, those longing for something better. then and there, the dream sparks back to life.

finding real hope, part 2

ok, yesterday i posted about my fairly long-held belief that much of the american church has forfeited a real understanding of hope, trading it in for a cheaper version: optimism. i’m an optimist — i like optimism. but optimism and hope aren’t the same thing.

my a-ha came in the middle of a port-au-prince street, one month after the haiti earthquakes (two years ago), when i realized the joyful worshippers dancing around me understood hope in a way i never would — because of their loss.

i’ve come to see — through reading, study, observation, reflection — that dissatisfaction and hope are two sides of the same coin.

and i’ve been working on a little model (really, an early version of this is laying dormant in a book proposal i pulled together a year ago). here’s the current version:

let me unpack that for ya.

i’m coming to see that real hope (or, the best version of hope?) starts in exile. exile is that place of being separated, lost, excluded, disconnected from our true selves and “home” (which i mean in the broadest sense). in my own life, i most often experience exile in a self-imposed way, when my choices cause me to veer away from a path of who i really am (and who i was really made to be). exile can be externally imposed or internally chosen. it can be conscious or subconscious. it can be somewhat literal (including a geographical component), or be a full-blown reality not humanly observable.

in that place of exile (IF we want to experience hope), we have to experience dissatisfaction. this is the piece of this model that’s most unique, the bit that some might want to push back on. frankly, it’s somewhat counter-intuitive: to think that dissatisfaction is a necessary precursor to authentic (and biblical) hope. and this is the bit that flies in the face of the “happy face” christianity that suggests hope is optimism. most churches have no place for genuine dissatisfaction. we tend to promote a “get over it” or “let go and let god” cheapness that diminishes the very holy sense of dissatisfaction.

this is one of the reasons i love youth ministry, and one of the reasons i have such great resonance with today’s 20somethings. teenagers and today’s young adults are wired for dissatisfaction! they’re not content with the world the way it is; and that’s often the flashpoint of hope.

but it’s not enough to be dissatisfied. if we want to experience hope, we need to engage in honesty amidst our dissatisfaction. specifically, we need a ruthlessly honest cry out to god, an expression of our need for salvation, an articulation of our longing — our desperation — for something more, better, more true.

cue the jaws music.

because it’s in these tender moments of honesty that our real fears rise up. in the model, i’m trying to preset fear as a semi-permeable wall — threatening to keep us forever in our place of exile and dissatisfaction.

  • what if god doesn’t show up?
  • what if god doesn’t give a rip?
  • what if the salvation god provides is not the salvation i want?

but, if we can set aside the voices of fear (an act of honesty in and of itself. and maybe this is where faith really comes in — faith is what allows us to push through the wall of fear) we just might arrive at a new place, a place that’s best described as an intimate dance of longing and hope.

see: hope doesn’t quite exist on its own. there’s implied longing. hope has that ‘all is not yet perfect’ vibe to it. but there’s a confidence in real biblical hope, and it reframes the longing.

we can see this pattern in dozens of biblical stories:

  • the exodus (seriously, just trace the steps)
  • the exile
  • the bleeding woman
  • even the words of jesus on the cross

so: what are the implications for us? let’s talk about that tomorrow…

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…

championing hope: a case study

yesterday i posted in my ‘leading without power’ series, suggesting a ‘new powerless leadership’ metaphor of “champion of hope”. and it made me think about some scribbles i wrote for myself a couple weeks ago, after my visit to zappos.com. i spent two days at the zappos insights bootcamp, learning with 25 other business leaders from around the world how zappos runs a very profitable business passionately anchored in 10 core values, with a vision of “delivering happiness”. yesterday, as i wrote that bit about how great leaders in this new world we live in need to be champions of hope, i thought of zappos, and how their leadership totally embody this kind of leadership, even while they don’t know the ultimate source of hope. on one hand, i find this beautiful and amazing, that the grace of god allows hope to so permeate an organization that doesn’t exist for the kingdom; but on the other hand, this makes me a bit meloncholy, realizing how few churches reflect the same.

my scribbles, written on my iphone while waiting for the plane door to close:

“Delivering Happiness.” Zappos is all about delivering happiness, to employees, vendors, customers.

I sensed some internal resistance to this idea during the two days of bootcamp. I wondered if – from my Christian mindset – joy would be a better framework than happiness. Happiness is, I reasoned, a nice-but-temporal feeling, tied to circumstances, whereas joy is deeper and more internal. But during the 2nd day, I decided I was just being arrogant and condescending, imposing my own self-righteousness on a thing of true beauty.

The Zappos employees DO seem happy. And the handful of customers I’ve interacted with, either during my visit, or in my own conversations, sure seem to be happy about Zappos.

Maybe that’s enough for a for-profit business like Zappos. It’s certainly more than any other business delivers!

But it has continued to nag at me.

Two weeks later, this idea came to me:
Happiness is awesome, a very wonderful and noble thing to deliver. It doesn’t need to be discarded for something else; but just as the vision of Zappos has “evolved” from “largest selection” to “best customer service” to “delivering happiness” (with more in the middle), I think there might be a natural next step, an evolution, something transcendent:


What if Zappos can deliver hope?

What if that’s what their already doing?

Certainly, on my 65 minutes of eavesdropping while Pat spoke with a lonely costumer from Appalachia, she delivered something more than happiness. Yes, she delivered happiness, but there was something spiritual, something transcendent about what Pat provided to this lonely man. She gave him hope. Her patient listening, validation and treating him with dignity – treating him as a person worth spending an hour with – had to offer him an internal, and not merely external or circumstantial sense of goodness in the world. Pat offered possibility and potential. And I’m quite confident that the hope that man experienced had some kind of refining, transforming, yes, even transcendent aspect to it. I think that man and his whole existence was – in some immeasurable way – changed. I think the trajectory of his life was, in a way that could only be measured in the tiniest of fractions, altered. But this fractional shift in trajectory could have significant long-term impact.

Some would quickly dismiss this as hyperbole, and suggest that it’s absurd to say that an online shoe retailer could offer something transcendent like hope. But what if it’s not an exaggeration? What if Zappos (and other companies, for that matter) could provide a sense that, out of our dissatisfaction with the way things are, something better is possible.

Hope isn’t wishful thinking or optimism: hope is longing wrapped in expectancy.

My fellow Christians might not think this is possible apart from faith. But if we (Christians) consider real hope to be much more than wishful thinking or optimism, but “a confident assurance of things to come,” how can we not apply that definition to the experience of the lonely man on the hour-long call, even if he is completely unaware of the hope he’s experiencing; even if Pat is only nominally aware of the hope she has dispensed?

leading without power, part 6

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host) i’m ruminating on the suggestion that leadership in the church needs to move away from the traditional notions of hierarchical power we’ve embraced for so long. and i’m unpacking 9 new metaphors for “powerless leadership”. here is metaphor #5:

Champion of Hope

i’ve been doing more than my normal share of thinking about hope in the last year or two. in some ways, at all started when i was asked to speak on the subject of hope at a youth ministry event very early in 2010. i did some thinking and praying and digging, and realized that there are a handful of things that often rob us of hope in our churches:

  • optimism and pressure to be content. it’s not that optimism is a bad thing.  it’s just that we’ve spiritualized it in the american church and re-labeled it as hope.  but they’re not the same thing.
  • being well-resourced. honestly, what church leader would choose being under-resourced over being well-resourced.  but as i meet hundreds — thousands, even — of church leaders and youth workers around the globe, i’m amazed how being well-resourced can lead to a variety of destructive things (hoarding, protecting, confidence in things) that make hope impossible.  because hope has embedded in it some longing.
  • living without pain. i’ll expand on this a bit more in a second, but pain seems to be the necessary b-side to hope.  or maybe it’s the other way around: hope is the b-side to pain.
  • technique. we loves us some technique in the american church, don’t we?  technique is a distraction, and quickly becomes (in many, if not most cases) the object of hope.

but my perspective on hope was rocked by my trips to haiti this past year (which i have blogged about extensively). and that idea that suffering and hope are two sides of the same coin really started to click for me.

as i wrestled with this more (including developing a book proposal that’s under consideration at some publisher or another), i read more on hope — particularly some stuff by bruggemann. and i saw the biblical pattern: honest and healthy dissatisfaction with the way things are –> crying out to god, admitting your need for god and dependance on god for a rescue –> the gift of hope. it’s most clearly seen in the exodus. and it’s seen again in the exile. it’s even seen in jesus’ cry from the cross.

but here’s how this applies to ‘leading without power”: organizations need to have hope (not just individuals). while this isn’t talked about often, it’s intuitively true. we’ve all been part of, or visited, organizations (churches, business, whatever) that lack hope, and ones that seem to be bursting with hope. really, this isn’t just christian organizations — my visit to zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, gave me a visceral experience of hope embodied.

but the leader who wants to lead without power (because, really, there’s NO WAY to hierarchically force someone to have hope!) becomes a champion of hope in the organization. the powerless leader listens for and is present to suffering — not brushing past it or sweeping it under the rug (easier said than done, btw). and in the midst of that safe articulation of struggle, the powerless leader points people to the source of hope (jesus), rather than cul-de-sacs of optimism, technique, and other hope thieves.

a few practicalities:

1. remember Romans 5:3 – 5 — …we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

2. provide reminders of who we place our hope in; reminders of what our hope feels like; reminders of why we have hope.

3. cultivate a language of hope with your team, and with parents.

mini book reviews, part 1 (of 2)

i’ve got a couple days of 3 mini-reviews each. and i’m kind of cracking up at the mix. seriously, i doubt these three books have ever been reviewed together in the same space before. what can i say? i like to read diversely.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
5 stars

acclaimed (and married) journalists kristof and wudunn take readers on a round-the-world exploration to visit oppressed, violated and mistreated girls and women, as well as girls and women who have — sometimes on their own, sometimes with the help of others — risen out of oppression, violence and mistreatment. the authors document, with research and hard data, as well as dozens of amazing stories, the power of women to change the reality of a family or a nation. it was fairly convincing to me — so much so that i can hardly imagine a more productive way to change the world than to invest in girls and women in developing nations. if you care about the world at all, if you ever look past your windowsill or border, please read this book. while not a “christian book” (thought certainly fair in profiling christians — and others of faith — who are making a difference for the girls and women of the world), it’s critical reading for any christian who hopes to have an even remotely informed worldview.

Survivor: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
4 stars

palahniuk, if his name is familiar to you but you can’t remember why, is the novelist who wrote fight club. his books, as i’m finding (now that i’ve read a couple of them, as well as watched fight club a few times), are dark — to be sure — but always have a very strong undercurrent of social commentary. survivor is the story of a “death cult” survivor, the last of his kind. he was raised on a compound, somewhere in nebraska, by a group that seems somewhere in the space between mormonism, amish, and waco. he was trained, as all but the first son and elder-chosen daughters are in this group, to be a ‘labor missionary’. and, in his young adult life, he’s earning slave wages that are sent back to the tribe. but, after the self-inflicted death of all the group’s followers, he life takes an odd shift. he becomes an agent-shaped media darling, a self-styled swami of religious kitcsh, and a stadium-filling, product-selling machine. then it all crumbles; and he finds himself alone on a jumbo jet he’s hijacked, heading toward his own death. yeah. it’s a wild story. and it’s not all perfectly told, though the majority is very well written. but more than the story, it’s a brutal upper-cut to american popularity culture. and, for those willing to read between the lines, there are all kinds of implications for the brand of hero worship we practice in american christianity.

Hope within History, by Walter Brueggemann
4.5 stars

how do i rate a book like this? i mean, it’s certainly not a “reader”. no one’s gonna curl up by a fire with a cup of hot chocolate and read this puppy, finding it to be a page-turner. it’s an intro, followed by a collection of 5 theological talks, presented by brueggemann at one theological symposium or another. and, unless you live in that world, much of the language is so dry and pithy, i literally laughed out loud when i noticed that the back cover said that the author was known for how readable he is. yet, that said, there were some theological gems in this baby that just blew me away. like, there were ideas in this little book that will shape things i think and say and write for — well — the rest of my life. it’s that kind of framing book. i’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about christian hope, and scot mcknight had recommended this (and a couple other brueggemann books) as part of my background reading. brueggemann has, in 100 pages, given me a new biblical framing for understanding how hope plays out in our lives.