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…