Saturday, January 21, 2017

A step back, a deep breath, a reassessment: Hope, a beginning

If I can be realistic about what happened and if I can grieve what I have lost, then I can begin to construct a sense of hope for the future.  If I stay in a state of denial about what happened and what I have lost, I am left to find hope in the same realities, people, programs, etc. failed me to begin with.  I remain trapped in a cul de sac that can only lead to the same place:  repudiation, anger, and finally despair.  If you have read my earlier blog postings this year, you know I am referring to the results of this fall's U.S. presidential election.  Yesterday was the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States.  It was a difficult day for me precisely because I had to again confront realistically what had happened and my feelings of repudiation.  It also reminded me of what I have lost.  I had placed my hope in outcomes of political processes thinking that if the "right" people were elected and if they enacted the "right" programs then everything would somehow be "OK."  And, of course, there is my fear that with the "wrong" people with the "wrong" programs that everything would fall apart.  You can see how easy it would be for someone with those feelings to fall into despair.

Yet all three Abrahamic religious traditions agree that we are to place our hope in Yahweh, the Triune Divinity, or Allah and not in the works and plans of human beings.  As a Christian, I am called to place my hope in the Divine One incarnated as Jesus the Christ.  I deeply desire to find hope exactly there but it is not as simple as saying that, at least for me.  How can I get from the brink of despair to an enduring sense of hope that everything will be "OK."  All I know for sure is that I cannot simply rely on politics and political action for that hope.  Both are important and I certainly understand and accept my responsibility as a Christian and an American to promote actively my views on our local, state and national agenda.  How we deal with each other in those contexts is vitally important and requires my attention and action.  But if it ends there, I will inevitably end up exactly where I am now:  on the edge of the precipice of despair.

Where do I begin to build a sense of hope?  There are several steps but the first is surely to recognize the ancient wisdom from the Hebrew Scripture repeated by Jesus in his life and preaching:  those who rely on the things of this world will not find eternal life but rather death.
16 A king is not saved by his great army;    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,    and by its great might it cannot save.18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,    on those who hope in his steadfast love,19 to deliver their soul from death,    and to keep them alive in famine.  Psalm 33
If we think about these verses in a modern context, we can get closer to the underlying meaning.  First of all, although the verses are addressed to "a king" they are really meant for us.  We are well past kings and the social-political order based on royal power and prerogatives.  The source of our modern political polity is not a king or even a president but rather the people, each and all of us together.  By what are we saved?  Horses are not at the top or even on my list of things that I think can save us.  But some of the following might be:  strong military and police forces, laws that encode strict moral codes, laws that are inclusive of diversity of all types of people and live choices and orientations, restrictive immigration laws, humane and accepting immigration policy, free enterprise and unfettered markets, social programs with preeminent claims on public resources, and on and on.

My religious tradition is clear:  none of these or anything like these will "save" us or will make "everything OK."  Somehow our hope, my hope, is to be placed in the "steadfast love" of the Divine One.  I am not asked to ignore all those political and policy concerns but rather to be realistic about what will save us.  It will not be the right mix of social and economic government policies, important as they are, but rather a personal coming to terms with the deepest realities of life, of my life.  Dare I say that what is needed for me is a conversion.  Perhaps a renewal of conversion gives a better sense.  If think that I can maintain my own spiritual framework and just tinker with some government programs, I am playing a fool's game which, like a Greek tragedy, will predictably end up with me on the same brink of despair.

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