Tag Archives: hope

The Grace of Palm Sunday, part 2

the other day i noticed a trickle of incoming readers to a post i’d written back in 2009 about palm sunday. i clicked through and re-read it. here’s what i wrote back then:

this morning in church, hearing the teaching pastor talk about the events of palm sunday, it struck me how this story is such a clear expression of god’s grace to us. here’s jesus, riding the colt into jerusalem, with everyone all pumped up about “the prophet” coming. they laid down palm branches and shouted hosanna and all that. the buzz about jesus had reached a fever pitch after word of lazarus being raised from the dead in the nearby town of bethany. clearly, this was the prophet moses had promised would come.

and, of course, the whole time, jesus knew what was coming his way in the next week.

this is where the grace part struck me: jesus accepted their praise.

jesus accepted their praise knowing fully that they would turn on him within days.

i think i’ve always thought of this story in terms of “them” — those people who would so quickly turn on jesus. today, i was struck by how it’s my story also.

jesus shows me the same grace every time i acknowledge him, every time i choose to follow him, every time i give him praise. he knows that, just like those palm-waving peeps that day, i’ll quickly turn away, betray him (and what he stands for), choose my own way, discredit him, praise myself, or ignore him.

and yet he accepts my praise.

mmm, this is grace.

what really struck me as i read those thoughts, though, was the timing i couldn’t see when i wrote it. this post was written about a month before i shut down my blog and all social media. i was heading into the hardest months of my life, trying desperately (and failing) to keep the ministry i loved from falling apart or being dismantled. and in the end (later that year), i lost my job and parts of the ministry got sold off anyhow. more than 20 people lost their jobs, and a few more chose to leave on their own.

in the wake of that mess, i was lost for a while. i wrestled with god and questioned everything from my own identity to any possibility of a hopeful future to theo-practical questions about god’s goodness. eventually, hope arrived (with the presence of jesus, as it does). (btw: i wrote about this extensively in my book Hopecasting.)

little did i realize on that palm sunday in 2009 that the grace i was reflecting on was soon to become so intensely and desperately needed in my own life.

Hopecasting excerpt: Exile Island

I’m very excited to be kicking off a 5-week sermon series at my church this weekend, based on my book, Hopecasting. I’m preaching the opening weekend, and am looking forward to hearing how the senior pastor and youth pastor handle the other four weeks. As I started to prep, I remembered that I’ve had this excerpt from the book in my blog drafts for a long time. So I thought I’d get it up and out there! A funny little story from my own pre-teen years.

We all experience exile. And we all want Hope. So if I’m correct that Hope comes to us in exile, why does Hope seem so elusive?

When I was about ten years old, my family stopped by my dad’s office on our way to some sort of church gathering. I distinctly remember what I was wearing that day (brace yourself): white dress slacks, white shoes and a white belt, nicely accented with a maroon dress shirt. I was the perfect picture of a 1970s preteen, dressed to impress.

My dad’s office was in the middle of some woods, but there was a subdivision being built nearby; and what preteen boy can resist the pull of exploring a construction site? I had a friend with me that day, and we asked if we could explore while my parents did whatever it was they needed to do. My mom’s cautious approval came with a clear directive: “Only if you do not get dirty.”

Off we went, fully intending to keep the white pants white.

hopecasting.coverOn the construction worksite, we found a mostly-frozen-over mini-pond of awesomeness. A muddy area had apparently been partially flooded during the winter months, and was actively thawing on this springtime Detroit Sunday. There was a large ice island in the middle, with a bit of a causeway leading to it. Of course, I quickly found myself planting a stake (literally) in the ice island and claiming it for the motherland. Only then, amidst the revelry of conquering, did I notice that the causeway had disintegrated after I’d crossed to the island.

I panicked. Do I stay out here on this ice-island, maintaining the whiteness of my clothes and the purity of my intentions to behave as instructed? What other options were there? I didn’t want to be on the island. But both staying put and doing anything else seemed to only have tragic outcomes.

I felt a shift under my feet. At first, I thought the island might be breaking into pieces; but instead, the whole berg was slowly sinking under my weight. Brown, muddy water started flowing over the edges toward my outpost in the middle.

My friend was trying to help, I’m sure. But when he pushed a large, floating wooden door toward me and yelled, “Use this as a raft,” neither of us were thinking very clearly. Needless to say, I took a mud bath that day.

I was on that exilic island by my own doing (our exiles are sometimes, though not always, due to our own choices). But I quickly wanted out. In my panic, I jumped for a promise that couldn’t deliver.

When we’re in the midst of the pain of exile, Hope can seem impossible. We’re desperate, and therefore highly susceptible to the lies our culture tells us about how to extricate ourselves.

Really, since an influx of Hope is about opening ourselves up to the influx of God’s presence, the enemies of Hope are wolves in sheep’s clothing, encouraging us to retain control.

We humans have developed myriad ways of keeping God at arm’s length during our times of exile. We buy into these false solutions because we believe they’re less risky than completely opening up to a faithful confidence that God continues to author the story.

Hopecasting excerpt: The Happy Police (A Hope Enemy)

a selection from Hopecasting:

As someone who’s spent thirty-three years in youth ministry—the majority of that with middle schoolers—I’ve certainly experienced my share of embarrassing ministry moments.1 But most of them have centered on malapropisms or other verbal blunders. Only a handful of times have I experienced the sort of embarrassment that made me angry.

I was a rookie junior high pastor at a large church in the Midwest. Our aging outreach and evangelism pastor, a wonderful and gracious man, held massive sway in the church due to his history and alignment with the church’s values. So when he told us all about an “opportunity” to host an event to evangelize business leaders in our community, the other pastors went along with it.

The event centered on bringing in a known motivational speaker who happened to be a Jesus-y person in private. Though no one on our leadership would have used the term, we were going to employ
the classic bait and switch approach to evangelism. Youth ministries have done this for decades, so I’m quite familiar with it (“Come for the haunted house! Then we’ll trap you in a room and scare you into heaven!”). Full disclosure: I wasn’t that uncomfortable, at that time in my maturity and spiritual journey, with a bait and switch. But I still felt it should be handled with a bit of finesse.

I’ll call the motivational speaker Bobby W. Clark, which is not his real name. He has long since passed away, so my purpose in telling this story is not to denigrate the name of a dead privately Christian motivational speaker but to illustrate our confusion about Hope and optimism.

The W in his name—whatever it stood for on his birth certificate—was part of his schtick, and he went by Bobby “Wonderful” Clark. As I would come to find out, he was a very minor celebrity who’d been working the corporate pump-’em-up circuit longer than I’d been alive. The plan for our church’s event was this: Host a nice dinner in a hotel ballroom, with the opportunity to hear this Wonderful business speaker. Guilt our church members, particularly those with influential business roles, to invite (persuade) multitudes of business associates to attend. Slip in the gospel. And, BAM, more business leaders in heaven!

I wasn’t in business. I didn’t have business associates. But my wife did. She was a low-level but professional employee at a natural gas trading company (yes, fodder for lots of jokes about “natural gas” in my junior high ministry world). So I did what I thought I was supposed to do: I pressured my wife to pressure her business associates to attend this Wonderful opportunity. And a few of them, very reluctantly, came along.

The food was good enough. But good old Bobby: well, let’s just say the operative word in that phrase was “old.” Seriously, I think he came out of retirement for this gig so he could afford another golf trip to Florida or something.

I have two extremely groan-worthy memories of that night, even though it was well over twenty years ago. The first of those memories was the root of my anger-tinged embarrassment. Bobby’s bait and switch was just the worst I’d ever seen. After offering literally three minutes of business-y clichés (shorter than his introduction by the evening’s emcee), he launched into a horribly hackneyed and manipulative presentation of the gospel complete with a simultaneously high pressure and confusing prayer of salvation. My wife and I were both horrified. Our church had traded on her friendships with colleagues and given them nothing more than a caricature of their worst assumptions of what the night might contain.

But my second memory of that night is the reason I tell this story. Bobby had a signature move. Really. Like, no one else could do that move without someone saying, “Hey, that’s Bobby W. Clark’s move!” I think there’s a little twisted part of me that admires anyone who has a signature move. Except…

Bobby’s signature move went like this: he would say something like, “I’m Bobby Clark, and I’m here to tell you that Life is Wonderful!” When Bobby said this last phrase (which he said multiple times during his talk) he would kick one long leg (he was really tall) high in the air. It was a bit startling the first time you saw it since it’s not a common movement for a man in a business suit.

But remember, Bobby was old. And his signature move required a bit more coordination—even athleticism—than Bobby possessed by that night. The first time he attempted the kick, right after he was
introduced, there was a long pause between “I’m here to tell you that life is…” and “wonderful,” with the leg kick. It was like he had to coax his body into action. On his first attempt, he only got his leg partially up in the air, and stumbled to the side. The audience silently willed him to move on, but he was not going to leave without executing his signature move.

It took him three tries. But he got it. And with newly reinvigorated confidence, Bobby busted out the leg kick three or four more times during his talk, rivaling even the Rockettes.

happy cageMr. Wonderful was selling us a very, very subtle lie that even he likely had no awareness of: pretending you’re happy makes life better. The core of Bobby’s motivational schtick was simple: choose to be happy, select the perky option, pretend that nothing’s wrong, ignore your pain, and you’ll be more productive and garner success.

I like happiness. Nothing wrong with that. And I generally agree with the sentiment that Life is Wonderful. But leg kicks and smiles won’t close the gap between the life I’m living and the life I long for.

Several years ago now, a little book called The Secret sold millions and became a runaway New York Times bestseller. The essence of The Secret was simply this: visualize the positive future you want for yourself, claim it to be true, and it will come to be.

And while Christians might have chafed at that message (for good reasons), we have all too often taught a version of the same. Sure, we spread a little Jesus mayo on that self-actualization sandwich. We say it’s God who brings the blessing, not our own efforts at positive thinking. But really, what we’ve often taught (and thought) is only a tiny shade different: our positive thinking allows God to bless us.

The Best Life

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

Jean Valjean and the sparking of hope

here’s a little snippet of the writing i’ve been doing in the desert this week. this is the intro to the 8th chapter of the book (which is about hope). this chapter is tentatively called “Jesus, the Hope-Giver.”

My favorite Broadway musical is Cats.

That’s a lie, actually, and a glimpse into my strange sense of humor. Seriously, the percentage of normal, well-adjusted guys who love Cats has to be terribly small, right? Sorry if I’ve offended you. Sort of.

My favorite Broadway musical is Les Misérables. But to be honest, I prefer the film versions, because I can focus on the storyline more, not being distracted by the theatrics and staging. I was more upbeat about the 2012 version with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway than many people I know. And I was two-thumbs-up about the 2000 version with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. But my favorite version of the story, by far, is the 1998 (non-musical) version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and a pre-Homeland Claire Danes.

I think the reason the 1998 version of “Les Mis” is my favorite is because it contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever. It’s a scene in all versions of Les Mis, but none capture it quite like the 1998 film version.

You can skip reading this paragraph if you’re a Les Mis groupie, but to make sure everyone is on the same page: Les Miserables is the story (written as a book, by Victor Hugo, in 1862, and widely considered one of the best novels of the 19th century) of Jean Valjean, a peasant who steals a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child and spends 19 years in prison for the crime. After his release, he breaks parole, and his hunted down by a law-obsessed police inspector named Javert. There’s much more to the story, of course. It’s an exploration of law and grace, loyalty, transformation, and redemption.

jean valjeanMy favorite scene occurs fairly early in the film, when Jean Valjean is first on the run for breaking parole. Turned away from multiple inns because his yellow passport marks him as a convict, Valjean is taken in by the town’s priest, Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the rectory’s silverware. But he is caught, and policemen return him to and the silverware to the rectory to refute Valjean’s claim that the silverware was given to him, enroute to what will clearly be a return to prison.

Here’s the breathtaking scene. When the police ask the Bishop if the silverware is his, he responds that it was the rectory’s, but that Valjean is correct in stating it was a gift. As the police release Valjean and turn to leave, the Bishop continues, saying that Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks. Valjean’s face reveals confusion, and the Bishop re-iterates that the valuable candlesticks were part of the gift.

Pulling Valjean aside, Bishop Myriel quietly says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”

The scene is powerful to me (and thousands of others) on multiple levels:
• I am Valjean (and so are you). I do not deserve mercy, but have been shown it countless times, by my God and by people in my life.
• The “measure” of mercy is over the top: not only forgiveness, but a double-portion gift.
• This is a clear picture of Jesus, particularly through the lens of the Bishop’s final comment.
• As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live like this, to be a dispenser of this style of mercy, which I find simultaneously life-giving and completely counter to my instincts.

And the scene is a powerful picture of hope’s arrival. Valjean heads into the rectory courtyard, held by the policemen, completely without hope. Full of fear and absolutely demoralized, days out of exile and about to be returned. He leaves with a kernel of possibility starting to crack open in his heart.

This is Jesus, who shows up in the midst of our confusion and pain and fear, and surprises us with hope. Other than the fact that Valjean would not be returning to prison, the immediate circumstances of Valjean’s life are still difficult. But his imagination is sparked, a dream of a new potential, hope and longing commencing the Tango.

the invitation of unease

i was reviewing some of my notes from the handful of interviews i’m conducting in connection with writing a book on hope. and i was struck by the profundity of this amazing bit from my friend sam saavedra:

I have a lot of peers who get dissatisfied and equate that with “something’s wrong with me or others” — blaming. But there’s an invitation in this sense of unease. An invitation in that feeling itself, that God is holding something out and waiting for you to step into something new. I’ve always seen my dissatisfaction as a welcoming thing. “There’s something more for you” is great for providing hope!

brilliant.

got some dissatisfaction on this august monday? good. frame it as an invitation: there’s something more for you!

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:

Hope.

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?