Hope That Demands Presence

This post was aided (as all of them are) by many sources and many words of definition, inspiration, clarity. Chief among them are Ta-Nehisi Coates, especially his book Between the World and Me, Austin Channing Brown (check out her website), and Sean Palmer (a great friend and wise author; go to his website, too). As I have prayed and meditated over which direction my life will take this year, these three authors informed me tremendously and I wanted to be sure and thank them (be sure and check out their websites and social media feeds–they are all passionate and informative).

I have struggled to form my word for 2017. The past few years, I have done words instead of resolutions (thank you for this post, Sean Palmer). This year, I had decided I was going to choose one word and from that identify different areas to develop that word more fully.

Then 2016 happened. And I just felt weary. I almost felt as if nothing truly mattered anymore. It was an overwhelming sense of despair. And then I started reading. I started listening. I started praying. And I came to a realization that led me to my word(s) for 2017.

Now is the time to stand firm. Now is the time to work hard. Now is the time to have hope.

Hope that demands presence.

HOPE. I will cling to the hope that I have. The hope that is grounded primarily in Jesus.

There are a number of reasons to feel despair. But all of those reasons are temporary. I have hope that, as Jonathan Martin has written, “God is at work not in the world as it should be but in the world that actually is.” Less than a month ago, we observed the Christian season of Advent—light coming into a dark world. There is a lot of darkness. I acknowledge it. I need to be more aware of it. I need to hear more from the people who are suffering. But the light is stronger than the dark. All of the events and circumstances that are legitimate causes for concern will not bury my hope. For I know there is something greater.

And I have to be honest: I am able to have hope in my current cultural context because of the privilege I have. I have a responsibility to use my voice in places where it will be heard. I have a responsibility to be a voice for people who are cast aside. I have a responsibility to amplify the voices of the people speaking about their experiences and sharing their wisdom. I have a responsibility to make sure I don’t take over, but learn to walk alongside.

DEMANDS. If I have hope that things are going to get better then I must get busy.

Hope is not a flighty feeling of wishing for things to get better. Hope is not a forlorn longing for days gone by when the world was a better place. Hope requires action.

I have hope that people can cross ethnic and class boundaries and form true relationship. So I need to be seeking to cultivate those relationships in my life.

I have hope that people can be treated fairly regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. So I need to be advocating for them and calling my elected officials to vote against discriminatory legislation. I need to be setting an example in my church and my community of how to be loving and welcoming.

I have hope that refugees will be welcomed to our country as they flee theirs at great risk. So I need to be connecting with agencies that promote the well-being of all people regardless of where they come from.

I have hope this world can be a better place. So I better be doing everything I am able to do to make sure that happens.

PRESENCE. I will be present. I will keep my eyes and ears open. I will listen.

Presence takes many forms. In this day and technological age, part of presence means putting my phone down, closing my laptop lid, and turning the TV off so that I can look a person in the eye as they speak to me.

Presence means showing up. To city council meetings and volunteer sign-up drives and candlelight vigils and marches and the ballot box and my local church and the neighborhood clean-up event and anything else that affords me the opportunity to speak and to serve.

Presence means conversations over coffee or at lunch and dinner tables with people who have different opinions and ideas as me. It means that I am willing to listen as well willing to speak. It means I will go out of my way to engage with people face to face and not via social media.

Presence means I will maintain my sobriety—not the absence of alcohol and drugs, but the practice of putting principles before personalities.

Presence means practicing spiritual disciplines: praying, sitting in silence, studying, worshipping, even fasting.

I will be present as much as I am able. I will not run. I will not hide. I will not give up. I will, in the words of President Obama, show up, dive in, and persevere.

My word for 2017 is hope that demands presence. I will need you to hold me accountable. Because I know some days will be easier than others. So let’s work together.