This is an End, But Not 'The End': A Philosophy of Hope

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A thrill of hope…

the weary world rejoices

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…*

I crossed the stage in May of this year. Unlike many of my classmates, I felt a strange disconnect with the events of graduation. This might have something to do with the fact that I finished classes in December. There were so many anxious people around me, adjusting to the mode of celebration, the celebration I waited five months for. My May-graduating friends sought me out for support and encouragement. The main question behind their worries and anxieties was “does it get better after this?” I could not with absolute certainty say “yes” or even “maybe” in response. There may have been times when it could’ve seemed like the most loving thing to do would be to say “yes, it does get better. It’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime. You are going to get everything you’ve ever wanted.” But my experiences outside the front gate did not allow for such a vapid answer.

What can we expect from the world beyond the gate? Does it get better after this?

While most of my classmates were entering a new semester in January, I was moving to Brockton. I started a pastoral internship with a church plant alongside pastor Dave Capozzi. As a religion major, I had initially rejected the idea of becoming a pastor. I didn’t feel like it was for me. I had a limited imagination about what pastoral leadership looked like. However, my concern for the mission of the church led me to decide to try on the title of “pastor” for a year. I decided that I cared too much about the mission of the kingdom of God (which I often call “social justice”) not to experience what it mean to be part of a church that aimed to carry it out. So it led me to Brockton, the “city of champions,” to be part of a church that aims to intentional intertwine the breaking of bread at the table with the leveling of systems that would disempower the marginalized in society. 

Committing to this church and this city was perhaps the scariest thing I’ve done since deciding to go to college away from home, familiarity, and comfort. College had become my home, my familiarity and my comfort. At some point I had been stripped down from my self-preserving introverted ways and became deeply immersed in serving my campus community. At some point, my identity and security was indivisible from the role of student and student leader. December came and the semester was over and I was not a student anymore. My December didn’t come with a graduation, just a quiet removal from campus life and a set of endless questions from everyone everywhere on “what’s next.”

What could I expect from a life beyond the gate? Does it get better after this?

Beyond the gate was a breaking down of the pillars of my identity. A new world to figure out and a new calling and name to live into as “pastor.” During my first week of living in Brockton, two young boys died at the hands of their mother. My first duty as pastoral intern was to the gathering of clergy in the sanctuary of an old church. It was overwhelmingly quiet and there were only four of us, wondering what to do and how to respond. We sat in sorrow for while and I observed as my pastor friends brainstormed possible responses. The news was circulating and though the names of the children were not initially released, we had already began to piece together pieces of information. We knew a family in our church who lived down the street from where it happened. We knew there was kids in our church who knew those kids. We knew that the narratives that would shape this woman’s story would be cruel and inhumane if we could not see that her sense of hopelessness led her to her decision: they would see her color, they would ridicule the cultural beliefs that fueled her choices, they would see her as a criminal…but would they see her? We knew that this story was situated in a larger story of a heavier cast. It was my first experience of being asked to speak into something as a pastor of this community and I had just finished taking my things out of boxes. So I contributed in a way that I felt best suited me: I wrote. I wrote the most hopeful piece of writing I’ve ever written, whether I believed it or not.

Something happens when I write—the things I want to believe become easier to believe. Sometimes.

I never followed through to see how my words were actually used and where they ended up. But that dark week continued and there would be a prayer vigil. People would gather around the house and pray with the family. Choirs would sing. People would give testimony. Organizations would be represented to remind the community that they are present. We gathered around this house, with candles in our hands providing our light as we prayed and promised to stand with the family. Those who were standing together in that cold, cautiously holding candles that dripped hot wax unto their fingers had at some point found themselves in a room like I did with three interfaith leaders. A place of darkness, wondering how to respond, how to show up and how to regain a sense of collective dignity.

This was my first impression of ministry, of this community, and of life beyond the gate. In the weeks and months to follow, many of the ideas I lived out of in college would be challenged. I realized very quickly if I was going to speak of hope, dream of hope, and live in hope continually, my hope would need to be able to hold on to the worst—which often did not come from my circumstances in what I was told was a “tough city.”

My biggest obstacle to obtaining a grounded and persistent hope is often myself. Yes, I crossed beyond my home and my state (of Rhode Island) and beyond the gate (of my college) but I realize that there are infinitely more boundary lines I must cross on this path, many “ends” to reach. There are many comfortable ways of seeing the world that I need to let go of.

This reality came out more explicitly when it was challenged by events of despair, in our community, in our world, and even within myself. They were most evident in the paralyzing feeling of being found ineffectual as a spoke in the wheels of injustice. In the turning of my stomach when the ugliness of power unravel even the most well-meaning do-gooders. Does it get better after this? Does it get better, long after you’ve learned that doing good doesn’t always make you feel good? Especially when, upon graduating, you lose the same systems of reward and punishment you’ve known most of your life? What I found on the other side of the gate is a world that is infinitely complicated. Therefore it’s “hope” is also infinitely more complicated. When instant gratification fades, it requires a training in patience or “long-suffering.”

A thrill of hope…

the weary world rejoices

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

There’s nothing like waiting and silence. Nothing like prayer in an empty room, particularly when you’re shouting at God, waiting for a response and all you receive is silence. There’s nothing like coming to the end of yourself that’ll show you a beginning you would’ve never had the audacity to imagine. There’s nothing like Christmas to make December sometimes intolerable, but there’s also nothing like Christ being born, the “thrill of hope “ in this “weary world.”

I’ve seen my communities in silence and waiting:

In the search for a new president of the college.

It is in the sound of the never ending toil of the double sided hammer, the ongoing deconstruction and reconstruction, the breaking down and the rebuilding.

It is in the location and the relocation.

It is in the spaces between my endless resume updates.

It is in the seeing and hearing of stories, the nods of agreement, the shared sighs of frustration.

It is in the “me, too.”

It is in the waiting for a grad school acceptance letter.

It is in the hug I didn’t know I needed and the wall of questions my anxious mind cooks up.

It is in the desperation embodied in the question “does it get better after this?”—and the realization that there is an end to what we are experiencing now— an end that will lead us into something better or worse…either way it will take us somewhere. I truly believe that desperation is at the heart of those who receive the good news. The rejoicing does not come without the weariness and without the weariness, we do not have eyes to see our hope in the infant Jesus. Only desperate people see salvation in such scandalous ways.

I know I cannot amass guilt for events that happened long before I was involved in the city, but I reflect often on the mother in Brockton who sought hope in a scandalous way. I want to embody the kind of hope that could’ve told her, before it was too late, “yes it will.” I want to be able to say I’ve made it through enough “evenings” and “ends” to see “morning” and “hope.” I wonder if anyone ever told her about The Son who was sacrificed for her sons—no, I wonder if anyone ever showed up for her in a way that allowed her to see “morning” and “hope.” I’m afraid I already know the answer: No, for the simple fact that we have this tragic reality.

Perhaps we should look at God’s response.

In a world full of hurt and pain, suffering and loneliness, loss and longing, God meets the desperate in radical hope.

I do not believe that silence is God’s response, in that She wishes to leave you in frustration and longing. I believe that silence is part of the answer. I believe that even in our most desperate places, in our waiting without answers to the question, “does it get better after this?” it is clear that the night is holy, only because of the light that is able to stand in stark contract to the darkness. Our longings and laments are holy. Our hurt reaches God, wholly.

And I believe God responded and God responds:

It is in the trial and the trying hard not to fall down and stay down, when my “does it get better after this?” becomes “do I get better after this?”

It’s in knowing that wherever I am, I can experience an “end,” and for me there is only hope if that end helps to guide me to a better version of the merging of myself+the endless one. It is in the confidence with which I now pray:

In all things,

I long to direct my desperate eyes

to the only light that truly penetrates the darkness

and from that light:

I receive joy

I receive peace

I receive love

I receive hope

I may feel defeated, but I have not lost.

I may feel alone, but I am not abandoned.

This is an end, but not the end:

Our hope is on the horizon.

Rose PercyComment