In these times I wrestle with abject fear.
Fear of people who no longer share the vision of the idea and ideals on which this nation was founded.
Fear of those in power being invested in power rather than service.
Fear of the ‘religious’ right.
Fear of armed violence.
And then there all the people I am afraid for, including myself:
Fear for women.
Fear for people of color.
Fear for immigrants.
Fear for Asia-Americans and African-Americans and Latinx-Americans.
Fear for the LGBTQAI community.
We have spent decades bending the arc of history toward justice, as Dr. King proclaimed.
And now the backlash.
And now the hysteria.
And now the fear.
And now the hatred unleashed in thousands of different ways
in our churches
in our legal system
In our laws
And I am very afraid.
Add to that that I am a pastor and called to speak hope.
How do we hope in the face of terror?
How do we sing in a land that has become strange to us?
How do we stand against a mighty storm?
Parts of Psalm 137 float in my head:
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you…
Part of hope is remembering who we are called to be,
to not forget who we are, no matter how short we have fallen.
And sometimes hope is the beacon toward which we strive in apocalyptic times.
The writers of biblical apocalyptic literature faced the threat of death, annihilation and, what seemed to be, overwhelming odds. Many were tortured. Many were killed. Many hid away in underground caves. Demonized and dismissed. Who could speak hope in those times? And what was hope? It seems to me that in some ways hope was holding on to the vision, believing that something greater than the current evil not only exists but will triumph.
I think of the hope of the apocalyptic writers of a holy city, of a place where every tear is dried, where the table is open to all, and groaning under the lovely burden of more than enough. Jessie Jackson taught me something about preaching hope in dark times.
I think of his chant “Keep hope alive!” and his call to us:
“You must never stop dreaming. Face reality, yes, but don’t stop with the way things are. Dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love, hope, faith and dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming, young America.”
He offered hope as a pastor and has taught me the value and the courage it takes to speak hope in the midst of terror. I leave you with the close to his speech given in Atlanta in 1988 during the Democratic National Convention:
” Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don’t you surrender!
Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint. You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender!! America will get better and better. Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!”