The Hard Work of Hope
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
I’m aware that the events of this last week—or at least what we think might have happened last week— may be seen in opposite ways. Some may see it as the end of a nightmare; some may see it as the end of the promise of America as we’ve known it.
The one thing I hope we can agree on is that we cannot continue hating each other as much as seemed evident these days. The one advantage of electing someone with Joe Biden’s length of public service is the number of people, including people who opposed him, who have experienced his desire to listen, to compromise, to seek common ground even with people who disagree with him. Even his choice of Vice President symbolized his willingness to put divisions behind him, as other candidates would not have forgiven Kamala Harris for her dramatic criticism of him during a debate.
But the reality is that most of us don’t forgive that easily. Even as the results of Election Day—or Election Season—started to take form, and Biden started to express his hopes for reconciliation, many of us started to wonder whether reconciliation was possible, and what it would take. For myself, I was reminded that reconciliation does not usually evaporate in an instant. Reconciliation takes hard work, and to be a people of hope, we must be people of perseverance.
Even as we hear the great news of the possibility of a vaccine being tested as 90% effective against COVID-19, we must remember that it will still take several months into 2021 before the benefits of the vaccine will take full effect. And it will take who knows how long for us to see each other not as a political enemy or a threat to our individual existence, but as a fellow compatriot.
Whenever I wonder how long we need to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I recall the story of Jeremiah making a land purchase. Consider it: in the midst of a conquering empire taking control of your country, having been told by God that your nation will be occupied and your people exiled for a lifetime, you are now told to go buy some traditional family land and tuck away the deed for a long time. Who does that?!
It’s an act of sheer faith for Jeremiah to obey God’s word, the promise that eventually—after decades of suffering, but eventually—the people of Israel would be restored. And through those decades of suffering, Jeremiah would attempt to offer hope to his people—not always perfectly or joyfully!— but faithfully.
As we reflect on this time in our own nation’s history, the phrase I heard that has stuck with me is deep listening.
Can we listen deeply to the perspectives, the fears, the values of others, especially those others who see us as the downfall of our nation? Can we make room in our own perspectives, fears, and values to consider the possibility that the others are not so wrong, and we are not always right? And at least for us Christians, can we listen deeply to each other, even—especially—to those who differ from us, remembering that no one of us, no single group of humans, has all the wisdom, but only together do we learn more of our infinite God?
As the results of the election have come in, it occurred to me that perhaps God showed that wisdom by revealing a nation that is not easily lumped in one side or the other, that our people are not easily lumped together in just one of two camps. Commentators are trying to interpret what it means that people would vote for a Democratic President, yet increase the number of Republicans in Congress. Those who assumed that Latins would flee from President Trump had to be reminded that the people with roots in Latin America are not easily categorized as one voting bloc. As much as people on either extreme wanted it, there would be no repudiation of liberal or conservative views, no vindication against the “enemy,” no partisan triumphalism. Instead, we have to realize we are more complex than that, and we have to listen, not just assume; we have to come to know, not just categorize.
Even as we listen deeply, we also have to know that the road isn’t totally clear. The sign of true relationship is when someone feels safe enough to share their own hurts, their own anger, their own questions about what we did or didn’t do when they were at risk. But our ability to stay on the path of relationship, even through times of challenge, will enable true healing to happen. We must not give up, or avoid the pain that sometimes comes with new life.
Last week, Sonnie Swenston-Forbes informed us of the death of Rev. Donn Crail. Rev. Crail was pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin Park, and then retired to be Director of the Lazarus Project, the first ministry of the PC(USA) to offer words of Christ’s grace to gay men. Sonnie wrote, “No one was a stronger advocate for LGBTQIA+ people as a pastor and then as the Director of the Lazarus Project – the first inclusive ministry of the PCUSA. The blessing is that his son and [daughter- in-law] were able to travel from their home in Switzerland to be with Donn as he transitioned on All Souls Day.”
Any of us who have advocated for people on the margins of society—whether they be homeless, refugee, disabled, mentally ill, or people of another race or sexual identity—have felt the pain of the people they love. Jesus gave his life for, and still feels the pain of, the people he loves. May we have the faith to risk a life of faithfulness and hope, even when it does not come quick and easy, so that we—and many, many more—will know the freedom of the people of God, deeply and forever.
In Christ’s peace,