New Year’s Day, 2021.
There has been no shortage of commentary on the year that has just passed. The floodwaters of bad news have only continued to rise as the year has gone on with very little reprieve. We have seen headline-grabbing, once-in-a-generation, sometimes worldwide culture-shifting moments. Coronavirus. Brexit. The long-necessary rise of Black Lives Matter in the wake of ongoing institutional racism that has been the hidden shame of many generations, and not just in America. The rising realization that climate change is an existential threat to the world and that those with the power to make a change are asleep at the wheel. An American election that was the most bitter in living memory, possibly in history (although Lincoln’s election precipitated the Civil War, so possibly not). These issues grew an compounded and joined with a million other wild, weird, and terrible things to create an experience uniquely miserable for people across the world. In our collective sentimentality, many of us have bought the idea that 2020 sucked and the quicker it was over, the better off we would all be. Reality, however, stalks the back corners our minds, reminding us that a new year is really just a change in the calendar page. It’s just a number. Like the U2 lyric, “nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”
I have not had the chance to write for several weeks now. I started a new job and felt like both time and spare brain capacity were in too short a supply to put anything together. However, as New Year’s Eve rolled on in my quiet little corner of England, and my mind became sufficiently lubricated with bourbon, I felt the need to put some thoughts down. In the face of all that has gone on this year, what can we learn, what can we glean, what can we take forward into this new year?
I have settled on hope.
The word stuck out to me and I began to turn the idea over in my head. What, exactly, is hope? In my pre-deconversion days I tried to understand hope in terms of a looking forward towards Heaven, like something promised but not yet delivered, or as another way of expressing faith that God was in control and had my best interests at heart. As a non-believer this obviously doesn’t hold water. I’m pretty sure that is not what Obama’s election posters were talking about. Whether in the faith or out of it, hope is an amorphous concept that is hard to pin down. I can almost be used in whatever way an individual chooses and the way it is intended in the mouth of a speaker may bear no resemblance to the concept conjured in his hearer’s mind. What one hopes for may be completely at odds with what another hopes for, but they may speak about hope at length, thinking they are totally in sync with each other.
Dictionary.com describes hope this way:
– the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best
– to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence
– to believe, desire, or trust
– to feel that something desired may happen
– to place trust
There are a couple of things to notice here. First, hope can be a noun. It is a concept, a feeling, an intention. It is a thing and yet something that cannot be grasped or touched. You can have hope and yet immaterial. Much like love or hate, it is a thing and not a thing at the same time. But, secondly, hope is a verb. Hoping is something we do. Hope is something we believe, feel, desire. The problem with these definitions is that they are passive. There is no change in space and time that is affected by hope. That, to me, is simply not good enough.
To this end, I would like to propose and extended definition of hope. If you will indulge me for a moment, I am going to borrow from my Evangelical background to establish that hope is something more. For those of you who are roughly my age and experience a similar background in the American Evangelical church, you may remember our friends in dcTalk once told us that “love is a verb.” It is my intention to steal that idea for my own purposes. The idea is that, just as love is useless if it is only a feeling or an emotion, hope is useless if it doesn’t move us to action. Hope should change things. Hope should move us from complacency to movement. Hope is not felt, it is done.
Hope is admitting your faith doesn’t make sense anymore and being brave enough to seek the truth.
Hope is admitting, and turning from, our own shameful thoughts and biases to stand against racism.
Hope is staying away from those we love in order to protect them from the killer in our cough.
Hope is being able to admit you were wrong.
Hope is continuing to engage with the political system, even though we know it’s broken. Lack of engagement lets those who are useless or dangerous off the hook. Engagement changes things.
Hope is writing a blog because it may encourage someone, even if hardly anyone reads it and it won’t earn you a living.
Hope is fighting the exhaustion to roll out of bed every morning and go to work.
Hope is paying attention to the things you consume, and their packaging, and making choices that are ecologically responsible.
Hope is doing the right thing, day in and day out, feeling that your little contribution makes absolutely no difference, but doing it anyway simply because it is right.
Hope is when “old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Hope is refusing to be controlled by media that consumes us. Think for yourself, don’t let social media dictate your opinions.
Hope is taking responsibility for your mental and emotional health, and making difficult changes when they are needed.
Hope is… up to you. What is in your power to do that would make a change in the world? …in your life? …in your family? I would love to hear from you! Complete this sentence, as many times as you like: