Communities of Hope

Practices to build hope include dialogues, just getting out there, prayer, and imagining a house of hope. We do what we can, and there is plenty to do.

On November 9, 2016, the United States concluded a blisteringly polarized, vicious political campaign cycle. The results — especially the surprise upset of Hillary Clinton by Donald J. Trump in the presidential election — stunned people as devastating or miraculous, depending on different standpoints.

Concerned about civil rights, immigration, international relations, civility, multiculturalism, and a host of other issues, many people found hope in short supply after the election results came in. So this seems like an excellent time to renew our exploration of that topic, starting with a teaching story from Joyce Rupp’s Dear Heart, Come Home:

“There is an Ethiopian legend about a shepherd boy, Alemayu, that speaks to me of the power of hope. Alemayu had to spend the night on a bitterly cold mountain. He had only a very thin cloth to wear. To the amazement of all the villagers, he returned alive and well. When they asked him how he survived, he replied:

‘The night was bitter. When all the sky was dark, I thought I would die. Then far, far off I saw a shepherd’s fire on another mountain. I kept my eyes on the red glow in the distance, and I dreamed of being warm. And that is how I had the strength to survive.’ “

Hope often resides on the edges of our communities. The great African-American theologian Howard Thurman called it the growing edge. Here is some of his advice:

“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.”

The readings and practices here are designed to encourage you and your community to be the shepherd’s fire on the growing edge.

* Mary C. Grey on Hope as an Outrageous Pursuit
It’s not fashionable to have hope, according to Grey, a British theologian. The facts may not support it, but we still must, as a Ghanaian colleague put it, “wear hope like a skin.” She finds children to be especially good teachers of this practice.

* Jurgen Moltmann on Hope as a Command to Cherish Life
German theologian Moltmann argues that we can learn to hope by saying yes to life. It sounds simple but in today’s circumstances, it often isn’t. Ultimately we act with hope out of an inner necessity, in the way that roses flower. They don’t ask why or what for, they simply bloom.
* Barbara Kingsolver on Doing What We Can with Faith
This is no time for naiveté, writes novelist and socially concerned activist Barbara Kingsolver. “The writing has been on the wall for some years now,” she observes, “but we are a nation illiterate in the language of the wall.” Does this sad state of affairs have to lead us to despair or cynicism? No, says, Kingsolver. We do what we can.
* Howard Zinn on Being Hopeful in Bad Times
Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, has contributed an article to a new collection of essays edited by Paul Rogat Loeb titled The Impossible Will Take a Little While. Zinn says that we must look at the long-term changes that are happening if we are not to lose hope. Change comes as an endless succession of surprises. “If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. . . . To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

* John R. Claypool on Our Role in Building Hope
We often meditate on Thomas Merton’s statement in response to Julian of Norwich’s affirmation “All will be well.” Merton said, “Certainly we know that all will be well, but the ways in which God makes it well are apt to be difficult for us.” John Claypool echoes that thought in his book The Hopeful Heart when he emphasizes that God uses a “collaborative form of help,” urging us to find our own solutions to our problems. To have hope, we need to actively participate in the tasks facing our world, no matter how difficult they seem.

* Anna Lappé on Taking the First Step
Anna Lappé and her mother, Frances Lappé, are the authors of Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. In this article from Spirituality & Health magazine’s archives, she identifies some thought traps that undermine hope. “The most paralyzing trap of all is to think that our actions can’t make a difference,” she writes. “Our individual actions are not isolated; they are connected to a worldwide emergence of change-makers, people seeing that what we have is not the best that can be, and that we can make a difference.” She shares the stories of some of these people on hope’s edge.


* Margaret J. Wheatley on the Importance of Dialogue
A community can build hope through dialogue, according to Margaret J. Wheatley, whose book “Turning to One Another,” is a guidebook to constructive conversation. A first step is talking about how we feel about what’s going on in our world.

* Paul Rogat Loeb on Getting Out There
Loeb in Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time notes that “we become human only in the company of other human beings.” Still, many people, thinking they aren’t skilled in politics or group activities, are hesitant to attempt a transformation in the public sphere. Remember, the turning point for the Buddha came when he left his protected palace and got out in the world. To practice what Loeb is discussing, identify for yourself and your community the equivalent protected places and where you need to be active in the larger world.

* Pray about Your Hopes
The Brazilian bishop Dom Pedro Casaldaliga once said: “Prayer is hope’s breathing. When we stop praying, we stop hoping.” Write prayers that express your hopes for yourself, your community, your nation, and the world. Here’s an example of a prayer for a better world by Tony Campolo.

* Imagine a House of Hope
In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Animal Dreams, the main character reads a letter from her sister: “Codi, here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the wall on both sides.” In your community, imagine a house of hope. What hopes would you write on the walls? Also try to compose a common credo.

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