Photo by CARL HUNLEY JR on Unsplash

Four experiences converged on me this weekend that woke me up at 3:00am today and left me with this question: Where is the hope?

Experience #1:

I was privy to a conversation between a man in his 80s and a group of people in their 20s. The older man posed this question to the group, “How do you see the future of our world playing out?” The group proceeded to paint a dystopian portrait of violence and despair due to the inertia of climate change, economic disparity, corrupt power structures and social injustices.

He followed up the question with two others, “Where is the hope,” and, “is there a place where people your age gather to do something about it?” The group spoke of protests, but ultimately offered little hope or experience of such a community. There was a general sense of hopelessness in the conversation.

Experience #2:

I was invited to speak at a council retreat of a Lutheran church on the other side of the metro. I have no connection to this congregation. My presence was simply through a referral at Luther Seminary. The pastor wanted someone who was training in missional church and adaptive leadership from the seminary to speak to her council. My name was offered, so I went.

It was a wonderful experience to be able to dwell in the word with strangers and discuss their hopes and fears for their congregation. Theirs is a typical story. The church is growing older, the neighborhood is changing, and the future does not look bright unless something radical happens. They did not know what to do, and stood on the brink of hopelessness.

Experience #3:

The council retreat was a one-hour car ride from my home, so I used the opportunity to listen to a podcast. I randomly selected an episode from On Being titled Bryan Stevenson: Finding the Courage for What’s Redemptive. This “random selection” was definitely a Holy Spirit pick.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the author of The New York Times bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

There is a nice summary of Stevenson’s message from an article titled ‘Hope is your superpower’: Bryan Stevenson speaks at Penn State Abington. His four basic points are:

  1. Getting Proximate.
  2. Rewriting the Narrative.
  3. Staying Hopeful.
  4. A Willingness to Do Things That Are Uncomfortable and Inconvenient.

In the On Being interview Stevenson said,

I am persuaded that hopelessness is the enemy of justice; that if we allow ourselves to become hopeless, we become part of the problem. I think you’re either hopeful, or you’re the problem. There’s no neutral place. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And if I’ve inherited anything from the generation who came before me, I have inherited their wisdom about the necessity of hope.

Experience #4:

The fourth experience is the irony that I preached on hope yesterday. I was really excited about the theological perspective I presented on how God interacts with the world and invites us into the good and the beautiful. The sermon is in this service on YouTube.

Yet, I’m not sure how effective it was.

I’m not saying the sermon was bad. It was fine enough.

I’m not saying that the people who heard it didn’t take something from it. I hope they did.

What I’m left wondering is if the people who need to hear it can hear it.

Those 20-somethings from Experience #1 aren’t in church. They don’t think church has anything to say that’s worth hearing. And, I can’t blame them. The church has messed up a lot of things in the world. Most people, especially the younger generation, aren’t looking to the church for hope.

The conversation in Experience #2 ignited all my missional church training. The core question of the missional imagination is, “What is God doing in our context, and how can we join in on it?” The church must take a posture of listening engagement with the neighborhood. Jesus didn’t call us to build institutions and then convince people to join it. Jesus told us to go into the world and make disciples. “As you are going…”

Experience #3 connects Jesus’ great commission with Stevenson’s language of proximity. Stevenson said in the Abingdon lecture, “We need to get closer to people who are suffering and disfavored so we can understand their challenges and their pain. We can’t create solutions from a distance,” he continued. “Decide to get closer to people who are suffering, marginalized, disadvantaged, poor. Only in proximity to those who are suffering can we change the world.”

Where is the hope?

I believe with all my heart that the way of Jesus is the hope of the world. I mean the actual following of Jesus’ teaching and practice: of breaking down cultural taboo boundaries, touching the untouchable, standing with the oppressed, speaking truth to power, taking up one’s own cross and laying down one’s life for the good of all people. This is the hope of the world. When the world sees that loving God and loving neighbor is the way, and we actually do it, then the world can change.

The people who need to hear that message aren’t sitting in the pews when I preach. The Holy Spirit is gnawing at me around two questions:

  1. How can I actually be more proximate in my own life?
  2. How can my ministry of preaching and teaching empower the people who are currently listening to me to have hope and follow the way of Jesus in their ordinary lives?

Where do you find hope today?

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