[DISCLAIMER: If you're reading this as a sermon or admonition you're reading it wrong. If you're assuming I'm a theologian, you'll be disappointed.]
UNRELENTING HOPE REQUIRES AN OCCASIONAL GLIMPSE OR GLIMMER OF GOODNESS. At least that’s how it is for me. I have to know that sometimes RIGHT matters. From time to time I need for the bully to lose. I need for someone in a position of influence to call out arrogance and manipulation—even when I am the arrogant manipulator. I need to spend time in truth and beauty.
I’ll admit it, hope is waning for me. Wait. That may not be accurate. Certainly hope in many institutions is spiraling down, but hope in institutions is misplaced anyway. Ultimate answers and meaning are not found there.
So what is HOPE anyway? Especially the durable, unwavering, unrelenting kind?
Take a look at this picture. This is one of my beautiful Grand-Girls, Nora, a few years ago at her church’s fall fun festival. I watched her play this game over and over. The game goes like this: players walk around a circle of chairs while music plays. When the music stops each sits in a numbered chair. The MC then draws a number, calls it out, and the person in that numbered chair wins a prize.
Nora played round after round. Each time she would look to the MC for the announcement and each time she was not in the winning chair. She didn’t complain. She didn’t swear. She didn’t kick chairs. She didn’t question the fairness of the rules. She didn’t storm off to another game. She didn’t assume there was some sort of conspiracy against her. Here’s the weird thing—she actually seemed delighted for those that did win. And then, when the music resumed, she did too—her little march around the circle.
Then it happened. All the other kids moved on, leaving only Nora. When the music began, and she started her solo trek around the circle. When the music stopped, she sat down and looked at the MC with all the unwavering hopefulness she had maintained throughout. You can see it here, in this photo. I, too, looked at the MC thinking, hoping, surely this time she’ll win. And she did!
Let me quickly point out that this Nora-brand of HOPE is not the same as buying a lottery ticket every week hoping to retire “rich”, or hoping that redemption can spring from narcissism without passing through humility. This is about trusting that there is a certain fairness to it all, that people will ultimately do the right thing, that if you put on your pretty, Halloween costume dress and put your Mimi-made bag on your arm and march around the circle, sooner or later you will win the prize. Frankly, I’m not even sure it was totally about the prize for Nora. She seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.
Maybe I’m just naive—68 years old and still naive—but I’m now, in new ways, understanding that good doesn’t always prevail.
Can we be hopeful? I’m still strongly on the side of YES. I still see those important, occasional glimpses of rightness, justice, otherness, and true Jesus-following that keep me hoping.
There’s a story in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, the scene is a pool and gathered around: “a great number of disabled people—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”
One of these is a man who’s been there for thirty-eight years. That’s a long time to march around the circle; so to speak. So, Jesus sees the man lying there and asks him what seems like a really stupid question: “Do you want to get well?” Then the dialog goes like this:
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the music stops—wait, that should be—when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Surely the man had days of hopelessness. There must have been times he cursed something or someone—those new to the pool who would jump in ahead of him, someone from out of town... I’m just guessing.
But what about that weird question Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Let’s do a self-check: individually, culturally, politically, societally, spiritually. Are we healthy? Are we getting healthier? Now that religion and politics are in bed together (again) are we better?
What if Jesus’ question to us is: Do you want to get well? Do you really?
Maybe true hopefulness hinges on knowing we want to be well and then getting up and walking. Walking in freedom, wholeness, boldness and hopefulness.
If you do; count on this: there will be a chorus ready to say, “Hey, stop that. There are rules against that.”
From John 5:
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
I might have replied with something like this: “Apparently he’s a guy who cares more about a broken person walking for the first time in 38 years than he does about your Sabbath rules.”
Good doesn’t always win. Right doesn’t always prevail. But every now and then... someday... ultimately... I’m hoping.