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Hopeful pessimist or hopeless optimist? Thoughts on Ascension Thursday

tumblr_m2ac30GRU61r35gi7o1_500“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…” – Ephesians 1:18

A little lectio divina led me to savor this particular line of today’s Scripture, for Ascension Thursday. While I’m a little wistful that Easter draws to an end, I also find myself hopeful. Now I’ve been floundering around for something to say about my hope, and wouldn’t you know it, God pointed me to some words on the topic. Just yesterday, in the throes of my final floundering, I came across a post written by Bridget at Women in Theology, where she, among other things, reminds us of something very important:

“…hope is not optimism. In fact, in certain cases (I suspect most of the cases where it actually matters) optimism can be a vice opposed to hope. An optimist can discount and ignore evidence against her conviction that things will right themselves. An optimist is threatened by others’ pain. But someone acting in hope—the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise—that person can face pain. Without denying pain or being swept away by it, she can face her own and others’ suffering.”

Hope is not optimism. Do a little lectio with those words – they are most powerful! I find this so helpful – and so hopeful, as I return to those words from Ephesians that open this post. I also appreciate that Bridget reminds us of the importance of language and of depth of reflection, something we can easily forget in the land of status updates and tweets, in the land of “optimistic opinionating” that social media can represent. (This is not a swipe at social media, without which there would be post today, but rather a call to reflection. Add to that a reminder that God uses all things for good – including social media, which provided the incubator for both this post and the WIT post that ultimately inspired it.)

Today my reflection, along with it my prayer, is to be anchored in hope and free from optimism. This does not make me a hopeful pessimist, any more than the opposite would be a hopeless optimist… although I can see the allure of the latter. No, it is the banality of optimism that I was reminded of at the last minute, and the power of great hope that grows out of faith.

Pentecost will arrive on Sunday, May 19. In these days in between, we await the Holy Spirit. What will your prayer be during this powerful time? Suddenly, my own prayer which was centered around the ways that I “hoped” that God would shape my life, has shifted. Today – at least just today, just this moment – pray that hope grows more deeply in my heart. If I am able to string my prayer of hope from moment to moment, and day to day, between now and Pentecost, who knows what will happen? Maybe, just maybe, the “eyes of my heart will be enlightened.” And to that I say, amen, and amen, and amen.

In the meantime, don’t just go staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to come back down. Open your heart and notice Jesus all around you, especially in the most pessimistic of places and in the people you would never imagine finding Jesus is, but where Jesus might be found with the open eyes of a willing heart.

ascension.jpg!Blog

Pope Francis, a dangerous man?

482845_10200697918798828_1560242012_nPope Francis continues to amaze us, but I believe him to be a dangerous man. Many people, myself included, can’t quite take it all in. Is this for real? God forgive my doubt, but a part of me keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop… and I pray that it is not a red shoe. How I prefer his worn, black shoes; the shoes of a man who has actually walked.

He is a dangerous man, but I will get to that in a few minutes. This dangerous man has captured my heart indeed.

Today I walked my dog, praying this over and over in my head and heart, “Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief!” This is a twist on the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verses 23 and 24, which say:

Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Faith. Belief. Such things do not come easily or cheaply. Oh, trust me – I do believe. But sometimes it is hard to truly, deeply believe. Like right now. It is eerily like falling in love; it feels great, but you know you will get hurt at some point.

That is when it hit me – we have to put our hearts out. We have to take the risk. That is what faith and belief demand from us. That is what Jesus asks of us, all the time.

Back to Pope Francis. Today he gave an audience to the media, in which he said and did really amazing things.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief.

Here is a snippet of video in which we hear the Holy Father speak about how and why he chose his name.

He is a dangerous man, indeed. And for that I am grateful. If Satan is the divider, Satan has had a great, great run. So how then is Pope Francis a dangerous man?

What could possibly be more dangerous than to have the Bishop of Rome who might unite us? Very little, if you ask me. And that is an amazing thing.

How we all like to run off to our little groups, like a bunch of bitter Pharisees plotting, sneering at “the other,” and trying to exclude. And how this Holy Father might be more like Jesus, kindly finding ways to speak to all of us.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief. Stay dangerous, unite us – please.

Forget shopping, consider hope – part 2

It is 6am on Black Friday… I wonder how many people are out shopping. I wonder why people are shopping. Sure, I saw the sales circulars – lots of “doorbuster” deals.

Why bust the door? To spend money to save money? I’m not so sure that I follow that.

All I can think about right now is hope. And not just any hope, it is specific. I am thinking of Hopeworks ‘N Camden. We all live where we live, we all have local charities. As with my shopping, I try to support charities, like merchants, who are local. You see, sometimes we must, like with our shopping, look further afield for some reason.

These crosses are put up for each Camden murder victim. There are a lot of crosses. And ever growing.

Let’s talk about Camden, NJ for a moment. It is known as the most dangerous city in the country. Did you know that the murder rate in Camden is off the charts? Not the achievement one would hope for. More than half the children of Camden live below poverty. More. Than. Half. And the police force – well, that is just one big hot mess. Drug use? Gangs and cartels run rampant.

Let’s get back to hope. HOPE. More specifically, Hopeworks ‘N Camden. This is a remarkable organization in a challenging city. When I think of Black Friday in Camden, I’m thinking that most people there do not have the luxury – either cash or freedom-wise – to go shopping at 5am for a “doorbuster.” In fact a “doorbuster” in Camden, might mean weapons and death.

Sorry to be so dramatic, but hope requires drama sometimes. Especially when it it real and not some TV show that you can turn off.

Here is my Black Friday “shopping” offer for you. It will cost you $10. Can you swing that? For some of us $10 is a lot more than it is for others. When I think about how many people read this blog, I think that there must be a few who can spare the $10. And when I think of the Christian virtues of hope and service, I think that the $10 can come from our need and not just our surplus. (Cue Widow’s Mite Gospel…)

For $10 you can donate money to Hopeworks and be entered to win AMC Movie Passes for a year. Free movies for one year. For two people. When you consider that it costs $10 or more to get into the movies, you can see what a deal this is!

Now pity us poor Albany-folk, who are AMC-less… However, some of you live elsewhere, no doubt awash in AMC theatres. I can think of so many people that I know that would enjoy a gift of free movies in some AMC-ish place.

When you consider your shopping plans today, please consider taking $10 of it, and donating to this great cause. Whether you win the movie tickets or not, somebody wins. Most of us are feeling bloated from yesterday’s huge turkey dinner. Most of us don’t even want to leave the house today.

Then don’t leave. Have your own doorbuster special by doing this. Bust open the door of hope, Hopeworks ‘N Camden specifically. There are a lot of you out there. I’m counting on you to chip in.

Forget shopping, consider hope, donate hope, give hope on this Black Friday. And make it a day of light!

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

(If you don’t want to be in the drawing, you can simply donate to Hopeworks at this link.)

Forget shopping, consider hope

Interestingly enough, most people seem to be rejecting the notion of Black Thursday and Black Friday. Yet, I am sure that the stores will be busy.

Two things come to mind for me.

1 – Almost all of the talk of “family values,” speaks to sexual morality. Now morality is important, but for me, “family values” are something else.

What about families that live under the constant economic strain of contemporary life? And families that live amidst violence? And families that have members who won’t have much of a Thanksgiving because they have to leave Thanksgiving early, or miss it altogether, so that they can get to their low paid, part time retail job?

What family value is upheld there? A work ethic, yes – but at what cost?

2 – To that point about poverty, how do we connect our own mania to shop and shop and shop, and people who simply cannot afford to buy their kids one single toy? Why do we tend to see them as morally failed and ourselves as morally superior?

I’ll be back on Friday with a “shopping alternative” for you – one that has some hope attached to it.

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