I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?
In an article in the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit writes:
The word “crisis” means, in medical terms, the crossroads a patient reaches, the point at which she will either take the road to recovery or to death. The word “emergency” comes from “emergence” or “emerge”, as if you were ejected from the familiar and urgently need to reorient. The word “catastrophe” comes from a root meaning a sudden overturning.
Right now all words apply.
We have reached a crossroads, we have emerged from what we assumed was normality, things have suddenly overturned.
Sometimes I get tired of hearing it….that we are living in strange and difficult times. Sometimes I get tired of saying it. But it’s true. I mean compared to sitting in a concentration camp in Germany during WWII, waiting to be gassed to death, what we are going through now is a piece of cake. People and societies have endured much worse. But this really is big and a lot of people really are dying.
And yet in the midst of this, every Sunday I listen to all of you share your joys…sometimes big things, but usually little things for which your are grateful and which seem to give you hope. . .the rose bush that bloomed unexpectedly…a visit from a family member….someone cooking you a meal.
Last week the scripture reading was the Parable Sower and I spoke about how the Sower, who represents God, scatters the seeds of love with reckless abandon in this world. Well apparently the same can be said about the seeds of hope. They also seem to be thrown all over the place even in these strange and difficult times.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul says that it is hope that saves us. In hope/by hope we are saved. And while we might often equate hope with optimism, for Paul the two are very different. Optimism is great! The more the merrier. But when we talk about optimism, we are talking about a selective way of seeing…seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty.
But for Paul hope relates not to how one sees things. It relates to what can not be seen. It runs deeper than mere optimism. Hope is grounded in an act of imagination.
Sometimes I can get there these days…sometimes I can feel hopeful about our future. But most of the time I am deeply concerned and I fear for what might lay ahead. Sometimes I am a lousy hoper.
And I would argue that fear is not always a bad thing….sometimes it is the prompt that will safeguard our survival.
Recently the Grammy award winning singer, bassist and composer Esperanza Spalding, was interviewed on the NPR show Radiolab. For those who understand Spanish you realize that hope is even emblazoned in her name! Esperanza.
The interviewer asked her to think of one sentence that she wanted to pass on to the next generation…that could pack the most insight into the fewest words. Before she did that she told a story.
Her story was about what happened when conservation biologists reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park back in 1995.
First, the uncontrolled populations of elk and deer, feeling the threat of a new predator, stopped overgrazing the low grasslands and started foraging higher in the hills. This let trees and other more robust plant life start to grow, strengthening river banks to the point that beavers started building dams. Larger animals and songbirds started returning to the park as these new ecosystems flourished.
So basically, Spalding said, after the wolves returned those species that had become dominant and very comfortable and at the top of their food chain – had to regularly confront and creatively respond to their fear of the wolves and this completely changed the health and the landscape and the sustainability of the Yellowstone’s ecosystem.
“So maybe it’s just that.” she said, offering at last her one sentence, “Be willing to respond creatively to fear, without trying to eradicate the source of it.”
There is real reason for fear these days. There is reason to fear for humanity and for our planet.
But maybe the key is responding to fear creatively and that requires an act of imagination….because it is imagination…imagining wonderful things that cannot be yet be seen… it is imagination that is the mother of hope.
Now is not the time to think about “returning to normal.” Now is the time to creatively respond to our fears and imagine something new. . . to believe in the possibility of it. . .and then maybe be a part of birthing it.
Imagine that maybe this lockdown and the store closing will help us to realize that we just don’t need so much stuff in our lives and we’ll stop producing so much waste.
Maybe seeing so many images of needless illness and suffering could lead us to take inspiration from other countries that have figured more generous and humane ways of providing their citizens with health care.
Maybe watching the evening news will finally convince America that we really do have a problem with police brutality inflicted upon people of color. Maybe America really can wake up.
Maybe generosity could overcome human greed and we could discover that cooperation and sharing resources offers us something more satisfying than the relentless pursuit of dominance and power.
Maybe we’ll figure out that killing each other is a lousy way for us to try to resolve our differences and create peace.
And then imagine this:
Maybe right here in Lompoc we really will one day raise up the windmills that will provide clean energy to 40,000 homes.
Maybe right here in Lompoc we can figure out a way to provide housing to those living down in the riverbed.
Maybe right here in Lompoc, when we sometimes feel like the walls are closing in on us we can empathize with those incarcerated over at the prison and at least start to wonder what it will be like for them when they get out.
Maybe right here in Lompoc we can figure out a way to support our police officers by providing mental health workers who can respond to calls where law enforcement isn’t necessary.
Maybe right here in Lompoc our children can grow up learning the stories that weren’t included in our white-washed history books.
Maybe right here in Lompoc a little church called Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ could become known as the reckless sowers of love and hope and justice in our community.
Now, I know….that’s a lot of imagining. And it occurs to me that the fact that I can do that is a sign of a certain measure of privilege.
People who have lost their jobs and are trying to figure out how they are going to feed their families these days don’t have the time or reason for such hopefulness. Nor do those on the front lines of this thing, or the unhoused, or the imprisoned.
A lot of folk are feeling hopeless these days, understandably so. It is not reasonable to expect them to be hopeful, though in spite of their circumstances some still may.
Sometimes I feel guilty…because even though I am capable of despair, I am also repeatedly and relentlessly overcome by a hopefulness that will not be subdued and I realize that such hopefulness really is evidence of privilege.
But that guilt is both unfounded and not helpful because there’s nothing wrong with being a person of privilege. The issue is what people DO with their privilege. Do they protect it? Do they believe that they deserve it or earned it. OR do they figure out how to share it and use it to benefit those who don’t have it.
Maybe, for most of us, our calling these days is to exercise the privilege of dreaming dreams and seeing visions….imagining things as yet unseen…speaking about what really might be possible…being the bearers of hope at a time when things really could go either way…..and they really could.
But that’s why what Paul is saying is so important….it is by hope that we are saved.
It’s actually pretty simple isn’t it: There is no hope for us and for our planet if there’s no hope. Got it?