It only took 16 months but I am finally posting a sequel to my initial blog on hope in which I defined hope as “the capacity to imagine a better future and to see my place in it.” Fast forward almost a year and a half (in which I have become much older and wiser) and I’d like to dance once more around this definition.
Because it’s easy to fall into despair. The Syrian conflict continues with no clear end in sight. Acts of terrorism plague cities around the world (St. Petersburg this week). Famine threatens South Sudan and surrounding areas. Closer to home, people are deeply divided over resource extraction, transportation and ecological impact. Incidents of racism and domestic violence surface with troubling frequency. Not to mention the ongoing recession and more pedestrian problems such as disagreements with our co-workers or our internet provider. The world—and my place in it—can feel quite hopeless.
Several years ago, while visiting Israel, I had the privilege of meeting the Archbishop of Galilee, a man named Elias Chacour. Both a Palestinian-born Christian and an Israeli citizen, he has been described as “a living symbol of hope amid the fear and conflict that daily disrupt the lives of the people among whom he lives and works.” (Faith Beyond Despair, back cover). Here is a man well acquainted with the possibility of despair; a man living at the intersection of ordinary life and violent extremism. Fittingly he spoke to us about hope. In his opinion the reason some Palestinians turn toward violent extremism is because they have no hope. They either cannot imagine a positive future or see any realistic way of getting there. Out of desperation they turn toward violence. The intriguing film Paradise Now explores a very similar theme. In Galilee that day I heard a man offer real hope to people living with real challenges.
And here is the important thing: For hope to have traction it needs to be located in something (or someone) real and allow for meaningful participation. We can hope for better weather all we want, but not only is the weather beyond my ability to affect, it is also completely indifferent to my needs. Moreover, I live in Calgary where the weather changes every 10 minutes. Hoping for what is unattainable only feeds despair—talk to me in March and you’ll know what I mean. In contrast, hope is rooted in possibility and participation.
For hope to be meaningful (that is, to sustain us through long, dark nights) there needs to be some measure of possibility. That is not to say that hope is limited to my imagination; many things happen beyond my understanding or wildest dreams. Rather, if my hope is placed in something so other-worldly that it will never happen, it hardly seems helpful. This tension is well captured by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. As Gandalf reflects on this perilous journey into Mordor, he admits that “there never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope…” But this hope was not misplaced. The quest, however unlikely, was possible.
It also allowed their participation. One of the great themes in Lord of the Rings is that each character has a part to play. Some parts (Frodo) are larger than others (Merry). But all parts matter and give characters purpose within the story. That is to say, even as they are swept up by events that they have no capacity to control, characters have the ability to respond well. Again, Gandalf articulates this well:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil…
This world isn’t always how I wish it was. But even in a world marked by significant violence—internationally and much more locally—I continue to hope for peace. This may seem like a pipe-dream but in small and significant ways it is possible. As such, this hope gives shape to how I live in my world and how I interact with the people in it.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
-John Lennon, “Imagine”