hope beyond lip service

Like many people in America today, I have been extremely frustrated with how divided we have become. We have a serious problem today over people’s unwillingness to listen to others despite our political and theological beliefs.  Too be honest, it can be very discouraging to see and hear the hate and fear that’s spreading through our nation and its communities. 

Some would say that I need to get over it because that’s the way its always been and probably will be.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.  What if hope and healing began to go much deeper than political messages aimed at winning votes?  What if churches stopped drawing their moral and political lines in the sand each Sunday and began to actually practice and live the kind of hope Christ calls us to?  What if we understood that hope doesn’t stand a chance in this country without genuine healing?

I came across these wonderful and encouraging words from Diana Butler-Bass yesterday and had to share.  I encourage you to read her post and take some time to think about your life.  Are we displaying genuine hope?  Have we fallen victim to all the fear-mongering? 

I was too young to remember President John F. Kennedy.  My mother worked on his campaign and hauled her baby (me) along with her to pass out literature.  She assures me that one of my first words was “k-e-n-d-y.”  I was barely four when he was shot.  Years later, I asked my mother what was so special about President Kennedy.  Without hesitating, she replied, “He gave us hope.  Hope that things could change.  We needed that.”  She paused and a look of sadness swept across her face. “And it was taken away.  Too soon.  They killed hope.”

Hope may be shot, taken in an instant of murderous violence.  But, this summer, we have witnessed another way of killing hope–vicious rumor, cynical politics, manipulation, lies, gossip, and fear mongering.  Hope doesn’t die in an instant.  Instead, it is has been walking a way of sorrows and put on a cross, whipped, laughed at, life slowly beaten away, breath halting, and joints stretched in pain.  It is a gruesome image, but it needs to be.  Without hope, a people and their civilization cannot survive.  The Bible teaches that.  History teaches that.  To purposefully kill hope is a sin, especially when its only replacement is fear.  No society can flourish with fear as its base.

Over the summer, mainline Protestant clergy have reported to me an increase in fear in their congregations–overt xenophobia and nativism, racist epithets, terrified elderly people thinking their government was about to murder them, threats not to preach on anything related to health and healing (what then, I ask, can clergy possibly preach about if not health?), congregants stocking up on weapons, and people coming armed to church.  One such clergyperson (an army vet), joked that he was looking for a clergy supply store that sells Kevlar vestments to wear while celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  

Churches are in the hope business.  Yet, even they are struggling to hold on to hope.  “I feel so alone,” one of my minister-friends confided.  “Just a few months ago, it seemed like we could change the world.  Now, everyone is running for cover.  People are scared.”  Over and over again, I’ve heard the same refrain:  What can we do to stop the fear?

Well, one way to overcome fear is to preach healing.  Because Christians are also in the healing business.  Actually, the three great monotheistic faiths all teach that God’s desire to heal a broken universe is the central point of faith, that shalom–peace, healing, surrender, and salvation–are the very reason for human existence.  In great religious traditions and in lively spirituality, hope and healing are interconnected.  You can’t have one without the other.

For some reason, the White House seems to think that HOPE is a noun.  Once you put it on a poster, or have millions of people vote for it, then it simply is.  But hope is not a noun.  Hope is a verb.  It is active, ever-living, restless.  It needs to be nurtured, taught, envisioned, shared.  Hope for healing; hope for community; hope for global brother- and sisterhood; hope for transformation; hope for a world where neighbors do unto others; hope for a future of grace, mercy, and love. 

Hope is that business of faith communities.  But it is also the business of political leaders.  And that’s what President Obama needs to get back to tonight.  Sure, he needs to talk about health care and public options, costs, job creation, and policy points.  More than anything, we need the President to lead back to hope.  You can’t have health without hope.  The fear mongers have had their season.  But the hope-killing time is over.  We who know the active power of hope need to stand up.  It is a time for growing hope again.

Love and Peace.

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