Tag Archives: hope

Defiant Hope

(this is my contribution to a community creative project called 20one17, this time with a loose theme of defiant hope. If you are reading this before 5pm GMT on 20/1/17 then feel free to get involved. Contributions can be as simple as a photo. For more details see 20one17 Defiant Hope ).

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion just as effectively as bombs. Kenneth Clark

I am by nature something of an optimist. I tend to assume the best about people (at least when it comes to others). But yet there is this constant pull towards a glass mostly empty approach. Cynicism and disillusionment draw me like an old armchair, comfy and cosy and far easier to sink into than get out of. 

By contrast remaining positive feels like trudging up a hill with a heavy pack on my back. Each news article read adds a stone to the bag. Each friend going through a difficult time covers my shoes in sticky mud.

It would be easier by far to just rest a while in ease.

But that will not do. Because one of the untruths I choose to believe as I sink into that armchair is that I will not be changed. If I spend my time assuming the worst, pointing out all that is bad in the world, do I really think that my heart will not shrink, that my eyes will not be downcast? And if my eyes are downcast, then how will I be able to see the good? Especially when the bad is often louder, brasher and more in your face, while good keeps a lower profile in the shadows. 
Is it any surprise that nothing changes, as I spend my time pointing out ills from my chair?

The thing with cynicism is it sucks all the joy out of life. Disillusion paralyses.

So today I choose to lift myself up out of that chair. To stretch muscles that have not been worked for a while, to lift my eyes and peer into the shadows. Because the more bad, the greater the shadows. But there is more good there than I think if I choose to look and to see. 

I want to live with naive optimism, doggedly determined idealism, and most of all, defiant hope. Hope is more than just wishful thinking, or denial of reality. Hope is choosing to believe there is inherent good in people, that systems can be changed, that the world can be better. Hope is the power that will clean the mud from my shoes, and grind stones to dust. It will strengthen my muscles, so though the walk will still be uphill, and there will still be stones and mud, it will be achievable. Hope is the strength to keep my head up, my eyes looking towards the horizon, and hope is the faith that for all of the effort, for all of the trials, the views at the top, and on the way up, will be staggering, full of beauty and wonder.

It’s best not to confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a pyschological attitude towards life. Hope goes further. It is an anchor that one hurls towards the future, it’s what lets you pull on the line and reach what you’re aiming for and head in the right direction. Hope is also theological; God is there too. Pope Francis

Death’s Sting

Where, O death is your victory?
Where, O death is your sting?

The sting is in the dying:
in stolen mobility
and robbed speech;
in the multiplication of wires and tubes
and the reduction of dignity;
in words not said
and sentiments unheard;
in unrealised hopes, unrealised.

The victory is in relationships
strained and unfulfilled;
in sage advice that could not be heeded
because it was never given;
in jokes not told and laughter not shared.
The victory is in the loss
of a father, a brother, a husband, a friend.

And it may be that we have the last laugh
for Death has been swallowed up in victory,
And there is confidence to say you are going Home,
and you will be free of pain and hurt,
Free to live utterly complete,
Totally fulfilling your designed purpose.

But for now we face dying, not death,
And the sting is in the skin.
It’s poison in our veins,
Slowing movements, clouding perspectives
Filling the internal pool
so it overflows in tears.

[This was written a few weeks ago after visiting my Father-in-law in a palliative care unit, and later in a hospital ward. On the 5th December 2016, he went to his eternal Home.]

Into the Unknown

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. 
Kenneth Clark

I’ve woken this morning to the news I didn’t want to hear- we have decided to leave the EU. This makes me incredibly sad, and judging by my facebook newsfeed there is an awful lot of hurt, disappointment, anger and concern about what this means. Given the opinion polls suggest that the youngest generations are those that primarily wanted to remain (and many of my friends are in London), it is unsurprising that I can name only 2 people who I know voted Leave amongst my friendship group.

However, this is how democracy works (and let us not forget that we are often deeply suspicious of countries that don’t do democracy like we think it should be done). So now I have a choice: I could sit back, and watch as a decision I disagreed with, but the majority wanted, starts to take effect. Basically, I could sulk and refuse to play because we are not playing the game that I wanted to play. I could hope it fails because then I can say ‘I told you so’.

Or, I can accept that this is the decision the country has made, the country I am still a citizen of, and desperately want to be proud to belong to. I can accept it, and fight to make it work the best it can for all citizens.

It is indeed a new day for Britain, and we have made a clear statement that we want to go in a new direction. Well let’s make that the best direction it possibly can be. Whether we voted Leave or Remain, we all will live with the result. So I want to say that I want to make Britain the best place it can be. I know those who voted Leave also want to make Britain better, and while I might have different ideas about what ‘better’ looks like, perhaps we can commit to putting the divisive nature of the campaigns behind us, and find ways to walk forward together.

I am probably being woefully idealistic, but I’d rather hold up the highest standard and attempt to reach it (and fail), than settle for less. So this is what I will try to do moving forward (you will notice it is entirely unmanageable and unachievable on my own- please join me).

  • I will try to remember that many who voted differently to me are rational, loving, generous and equally idealistic people. Just because their logic differs from mine as to how to go about achieving a better world, doesn’t mean I should dismiss it, but I must listen to concerns and ideas on all sides.
  • If in a few years’ time it has all gone horribly wrong, I will not blame those who voted Leave and thus cause more division.
  • I will fight misinformation
  • I will hold politicians and the media to the highest standards of honesty and integrity. I will encourage them when they are doing well, and refuse to play the game of letting personal attacks sway my political opinion.
  • I will fight for justice for all, not just those who are white, middle-class and British. I will fight to see the UK become a world-leading example on tackling head on issues such as climate change, environmental damage, and wealth inequality. I will encourage us as a society to do this by getting our own house in order before lecturing others, but also by walking the journey alongside other countries.
  • I will remain compassionate, generous and hospitable to those who are different from us, whether that’s differences in class, sexuality, race, faith etc and whether from inside our borders or not, and I will encourage those around me to do the same.

My faith drives a great deal of this, and while the above list is hugely optimistic, and probably entirely unrealistic, I believe in a God that has given us agency to affect change (both positive and negative), who can perform miracles (and that includes in changing complex structures) and who is the source of love. When I am feeling empty of love or compassion I can ask the God who freely provides to refill me.

I am sincere in my desire to want to see our country and our world become a better place. The sharp reality of that is that, whether inside the EU or not, I am in control primarily of my own attitude and behaviour, and that is where I must start with creating a better world.

End of the (prayer) line

I have trouble praying for healing, specifically healing for terminal illnesses. There, I said it. It may surprise some of you to hear me say that, it may hurt some. After all, don’t I want people to get better?

Yes! Of course I do! But I can’t quite bring myself to pray for it. It’s not like I am not sure that praying for healing makes a difference. I have friends who have been supernaturally healed (and not so supernaturally, medical science is after all a wonderful gift from God). A year ago I was blessed to be sat next to a man as he got up and ran around the room as his torn cruciate ligament miraculous healed. I know God can, and does, heal, though I do not understand why it doesn’t always happen.

So why do I not pray for those who are dying? Well I certainly do pray for them: I pray for relief from pain, for good medical care, for courage, for emotional and spiritual healing and above all I pray their faith (whether they have it or not) grows and deepens, and they know God’s loving presence with them. But I don’t tend to pray they are healed.

I guess there are a number of reasons for it: a few years ago I started to realise just how bad we are at dealing with death in Britain. Our society is obsessed with not ageing (it’s a sign of getting closer to death), with creating for ourselves a slice of immortality through fame or at least our families remembering us. I don’t think this is particularly healthy and it felt that me praying for people to avoid death (i.e. be healed from terminal illness) was just burying my head in the sand about the fact that everyone dies. Sometimes I’m not sure it’s the most loving thing to do anyway; there are people who are in huge amounts of pain, or who’s age has made them weary of the being in the world, or who aren’t really here mentally any more anyway, for whom death can be a release. Sometimes I think our prayers for healing are more about our desire to keep people here, and our unwillingness to deal with their loss, rather than their best interests.

This is particularly true in the case of people who are Christians. Why would I pray that they remain in this world of pain and sadness and brokenness? I believe that they have the assurance that when they die they go Home; to a place where there is no more pain or tears, to a place where they are able to be fully the person they were created to be, where they will see face to face Love in all His Glory and wonder. Why would I want to stop them going there? A friend of mine said recently that ‘Death is a gift in this broken world’. That’s not to say that those who are not Christians won’t also go to that place, but for me there is not the same guarantee that faith provides.

That’s the pious reason for not praying for healing. I think there is another reason at work too: if I don’t pray it, I can’t be disappointed when it hasn’t been answered. Perhaps that lies more at the heart of things than I’d care to admit. Because essentially I am saying that this prayer, this request is too big for God. After all, a terminal diagnosis is the medical profession saying there is nothing that can be done about it. Prayer in this circumstance is asking for nothing less than a miracle.

Perhaps too I don’t want the uncertainty. So much of our lives are uncertain, but with a terminal diagnosis, even though there are many unknowns about that, the end result is known. We all know what the patient is heading towards. If they were healed, you’d just be put into a situation when you’d be wondering how long until it returns, or until something else kills you. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t?

All the above feels like a confession, and worse, it feels like a betrayal of those who are terminally ill. Why would I not help them if I could? That question is hard enough when it’s friends’ families affected, but right now it is more pertinent than ever as it is affecting those I care most deeply about. I yearn that they would be healed, so we have longer with them and so loved ones are spared the pain of loss. I am deeply grateful for the prayers of those who are able to pray in this way, I’m just not among them. Maybe it betrays a lack of faith in me, but maybe it is fine, and what I need to do at the moment to process what is going on. I do know that for all those who are currently facing terminal illnesses, I believe God is with you, closer than you can imagine, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.

Imagination: Crucial for Faith

What happens if we can’t imagine a reality that runs under the surface of all things? What happens if we believe that the mundane, everyday world is all that exists or can exist? Maybe we can’t see a deeper reality even if it is there. Susan Snook

As humans we have the unique capacity to imagine things. We can picture and invent alternative realities to the one we physically exist in. This isn’t that surprising if we consider that we are made in the image of a Creator God.

As I was thinking about this, a quote from a missionary called Ash Barker came to mind. He said “If you can’t think of something different, you can’t have hope”. He learnt this in the context of working in the slums of Thailand, where poverty traps people and robs them of opportunities to dream, but he applied it more generally. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that imagination is crucial to faith as a whole.

Hebrews says “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” [Heb 11:1]. There are many aspects of Christian belief which require faith; for example, we believe that Jesus has defeated the Devil, but we still live in a world of sickness and death. The ‘Now and Not Yet’ of Christian faith requires imagination to hope for things to be resolved in a way we do not yet see.

We may be in the Post-Modern era, but we are still very strongly influenced by the Modern era’s focus on reason, measurement and proof. Functionality and efficiency are paramount, and so it is easy to starve our imaginations.

I used to love writing stories when I was in Primary school. Then I got to Secondary School and it became functional essays which talked in facts, backed up with evidence. I have only recently re-discovered how enjoyable I find writing for leisure. The creativity I had was squashed, and my ability to create stories diminished.

What happens when we starve our imaginations, when we lessen our ability to “envision that which is not” [JK Rowling]? I think the Pharisees of the Bible are a good example, though not the only ones. They were sure they knew what the Messiah would look like, and how God acts. When Jesus came along healing on the Sabbath (a rest day), giving sight to the blind, preaching freedom to the captives, they missed the point and looked past God. They could not conceive of God operating outside the ways and means that they had thought He would, so they missed it and saw instead a rule-breaker and a rebel, rather than the Messiah they had been hoping for.

I don’t want to miss God because I expect Him to only work in certain ways, and I can’t imagine Him doing anything outside of that box.

Maybe you are not at the level of missing God completely. Maybe you are able to spot where He is at work, but perhaps there is more for you. A couple of years ago I was at a youthwork conference and we did an exercise which involved writing what our neighbourhood would look like if the gospel really started transforming the lives of the people in it. As people fed back their ideas I remember thinking how small-scale, predictable, and dare I say it, dull, many of the responses were (mine included). I wondered how this group of motivated, passionate and faithful people had come to have such low expectations of an all powerful, creative, and loving God.

Maybe as adults we are more prone to focus on the impossibility of a situation, or the obstacles in the way, than focussing on the God with whom all things are possible.

You may be familiar with the verse from Ephesians 3 which says “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” [Eph 3:20]. In recent months that has come up a number of times, sounding like a challenge from God. It is like He is saying “Come on. What can you dream? I can go further, do more, reach deeper, transform wider than you can imagine. Dream your biggest. Try me!”

I want to be able to imagine better for God. If I can’t even conceive of something as a possibility, I am unlikely to pray for it, or act in a way that might enable it to occur. If we can’t imagine a world of justice, we won’t act justly. If I can’t imagine the joy of the Holy Spirit bringing a smile to a particular person’s face, how will I be able to pray with any conviction for them to know Jesus?

I would suggest that imagination, the ability to see a deeper or alternative reality to the one we inhabit, is crucial to having faith and hope. We live in society that is often starved of imagination. I don’t want to miss what God is doing because I can’t recognise it when it looks different from what I was expecting. I don’t want to limit what I dream and pray for because I can’t think of something better. I hope you feel the same. So what can we do to feed our imaginations?

Hope

[This blog has been written as part of a project called 11twelve13. The idea being you create something on 11/12/13 on the theme of hope and post it on the group page/event blog. So this is a little more rough and ready than most of my pieces. For more info on the project have a look at http://10eleven12uk.wordpress.com/ and if you’re reading this today why not get involved! It can be as simple as taking a photo]

Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear President Snow: The Hunger Games

“Now I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, and not to harm you plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Sometimes it is just a drop. Or a far off voice.
But a drop of water falling from the sky on a parched face in a drought ridden land, or a voice coming through the rubble to a person trapped by an earthquake might be just enough for them to keep going for just long enough for help to arrive.
Hope is powerful. Even the smallest amount can literally keep people alive.

Sometimes it looks unexpected.
Like a bunch of white, fairly middle class Christians making friends with a group of drug-dealing, heavy drinking, ex-convict Bengali lads; telling them that there is a different way, that their past needn’t define their future. Holding out hope for them when they have none left for themselves.

Sometimes it is a baby.
For everyone it was one particular baby, born under inauspicious circumstances to poor parents who would soon be refugees. In that small, unexpected way, hope came into the world. That baby carried the hope that one day humanity could be reconciled with their Creator, that the cosmos could be set right again, that there would be peace on earth.

That baby was Jesus.

As we are in Advent (the run up to Christmas) we celebrate the arrival of hope into the world; we celebrate all that the birth, life and death of Jesus means; but we also wait. Wait with anticipation, with hope, for the day He returns again. That day will bring the fulfilment of all the promises, the full wonderful expression of God’s kingdom on this earth. No more pain. No more crying. No more death. It’s coming, and sometimes we can see glimpses of it, but it’s not here yet.

In the meantime we hope.