[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.


You know, with the Cubs winning their first world series in 108 years, hope sort of springs eternal, don’t you think?

Who knows, the sentiment of this victory story might work its way into pop culture, and maybe even back in to our American psyche because of their win, and even if it doesn’t, I might fall back on it from time to time.

Like maybe if I say: I’m hoping that after forty years now my hairline might un-recede. To which some cynic will say, “It’ll never happen.” And I’ll reply: That’s what they said about the Cubbies winning a World Series too, and a hundred and eight years later…

Or maybe I’ll long for Abraham Lincoln to come back from the dead and run for president. Or maybe Diana Krall will call and tell me she’s in town for a concert and her drummer is sick and she needs a stand-in. Or maybe the Surgeon General and the New England Journal of Medicine will report that ice cream lowers cholesterol and increases stamina.

Ridiculous, you say? Tell that to the Cubs fans that have been earnestly waiting since 1908.

If I come off here sounding like the eternal, unrealistic optimist, don’t be fooled. When it comes to wishful thinking, I’m ambivalent at best.

Although I have been and will always be a Cardinals fan, I am so grateful for the storyline of the “lovable losers” from Wrigleyvile and their World Series victory after all these years. It was so nice to have something to smile about while living in the wasteland that politics is wreaking on us all these days.

Speaking of politics and hope, or the lack of it, I’ll at least be optimistic enough, maybe not Cubs fan optimistic, but enough to believe that as a somewhat hapless lot, we will survive our next POTUS and the cast of characters that will roam the capital building the next four years, and that maybe, just maybe, in my lifetime I will be fortunate enough to see a true statesman or stateswoman of humility, brilliance and vision rise up to serve.


I’m writing this from a lovely campground where we spent the night and woke to a cool, refreshing rain. It’s a lot of pressure though, these words have to be good. You couldn’t script a scene more conducive to inspired writing.

Because my own inspired words are flowing meagerly, let me start with a few from one of the most inspiring writers of contemporary time—Wendell Berry. BTW: happy birthday, yesterday, Wendell.

“Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.”
— Wendell Berry

I’m not going to lie. As retirement draws near, I’m feeling a bit of “the ancient fear of the Unknown”. It’s not that I’m a workaholic or job-junkie. It’s not that I believe the role I play in the marketplace can’t be played by others. It’s not that I have some Trumpian savior-complex. It’s simple really: I’m addicted to a paycheck.

Is it science or speculation behind the statement that the two biggest fears people have are speaking before an audience and dying? Although I’m an extreme introvert, I’m not really shy and public speaking doesn’t bother me much. And when it comes to dying; I hold to the position of Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

For me Fear has pretty much been centered in those things like the Unknown, and lack of trust.

Take amusment park rides for example. While I have ridden a few of the mildly daring rides at amusment parks. I would never ride one at, say, the state fair. It’s not that I doubt the physics, or the compentency of the guy who engineered the ride. But, have you taken a close look at the guys who put those rides together after taking them apart two weeks ago at the carnival up the road? I’m not saying they don’t know their nuts from their cotter pins; but… I know this, I wouldn’t want to ride a ride that I had put together. (Note to self: Don’t try to put this ride called “Life” together by yourself. You have to ride it in to the sunset once it’s built.)

I try to own my fears, phobias, trepidations, and angst. I do know from whence cometh my hope; although you might not be able to tell it sometimes. I only hope that I can truly trust that HOPE.

Thining of Wendell Berry’s words again, imaging them as a conversation:
Here are the big woods.
   But the familiar ground is so; familiar.
But isn’t it exciting, aren’t you curious about the new place?
   But the nagging dread is real. There’s a reason it’s called the ancient fear of the Unknown.
It is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.