Nova Faith Community’s Core Values—Hope

by admin on April 14, 2011

Reflection for 10 April 2011
Jeremiah 29:4-14

As I’ve shared on more than one occasion, my earliest recollection of a personal philosophy, a guiding light, a hang-onto-this thought was my mother’s sage advice: Don’t get your hopes up—you’ll only be disappointed. She was right. That’s exactly what happens.

But should it be a guiding light? Hope for the best, but expect the worst. The more likely outcome, it implies, is the worst. When we are without hope, we easily fall victim to such negativism. When the light of hope is absent, we are overcome by gloom and doom, despair and defeatism.

Hope is a much needed commodity in these days of growing pessimism, cynicism and social disappointment. This is exactly God’s call to Nova—being a place of hope—a place that speaks about it and practices it.

Don’t tell anyone this but Jeremiah is my favorite OT book…my favorite prophet, person and poet. He’s not the happiest of the lot, certainly would not win any humor fests, but he is the most real of any of those guys we call the prophets. Real in the sense of living the kind of life real people live: conditional, crises, anxiety, social upheaval, political intrigue, spiritual bankruptcy. Jeremiah has credibility, guts and an extra large dose of hopefulness.

He lived in the last days of the Jewish state; the end of Jerusalem and any vestige of real Jewish power were going down the drain. Already the Holy Land was in a vassal relationship with the neighbors over in Iraq—Babylon. It was a diplomatic nightmare with national security tied into uneasy alliances with the neighbors who really could not be trusted once it got dark outside. You the know the drill….all that handshaking, photo opts, and vodka toasting…only to have Wiki Leaks tell all—like how so and so president is really a chump; or such and such a prime minster is really married to some ugly duckling.

In political maneuvers beginning sometime around 604 BCE the Babylonians moved in, took over a little at a time and began to relocate for security reasons certain members of the population. We are all familiar with this move—we call it concentrations camps, or safety zones, or house arrest. They moved some of the brightest and best over to the capital. And why not? It gives good leverage to negotiations: hold a few key hostages and make noise and the natives calm down.

This ploy of course was one of many, many to follow with more and more moving. But it did insure the folks back home to ante up the tribute taxes, obey the rules and keep in line with the directives of the provincial governor, a hand picked neighborhood kid caught in the middle.

Get the drift? The long term plan of course is complete and total evacuation and relocation. Sort of sending the natives to the reservation where they’ll be more comfortable.

This is the first in a series of letters written to the exiles in Babylon; a number that increases over the months and years until 585, when the whole tent folds and Judah is foreclosed. Maybe sometime in the first couple of years after that first deportation Jeremiah sat down and wrote this note. It was pretty scary to the first readers because back in 595 there was a lot of political unrest in Babylon—just think in terms of what you know about in the Middle East right now. And along with that came the hope of early re-patriation. Didn’t work out that way. Jeremiah dampens any thought of premature freedom.

What’s he advise? Settle down: build yourselves some homes; plant a garden; get married; have kids. You’re in this for the long haul. The domestic life back home that was interrupted when Two Men and Truck threw your stuff in the back and hauled it and you over to a foreign country—start it again.

Think in terms of immigrants. The thrill of a new place, then the terror of a new place, and the anxiety of beginning again in a new place. What to keep, what to throw away.

V7 this is a kicker. Not only are these immigrants to live and cooperate in Babylon, they are to deliberately seek and work for the welfare of this enemy state. Seek the welfare of the city in which you live.

V8 quite naturally Jeremiah back home is not having a picnic. Instead his detractors are going full bore with bill boards, blogs and talk radio shows. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We’re all Jews…God’s chosen. The politics will not bear this situation; the Babylonians don’t have all that weaponry, they’re maxed out. Soon you all will be free and on the way home. Jeremiah’s only reply is to stand fast.

V10 Jeremiah on the other hand announces 70 years (reality was something like 50) 70= full measure. Isaiah 40:2 double for all her sins. Two thoughts here: a complete generations passes; there is no escape from suffering. Rescue will come but only through Babylonia who now acts as God’s agent.

1). What’s the difference between hope and optimism? The latter is based on our human capacity to pull something off, to make an end run, hail Mary pass, to count on our expertise, our know how or our ability to call in the markers. Hope has nothing to do with any of that. In fact, it about running out of luck altogether. When you’re at the end of your rope, then hope can show up.

You want to know what is the fastest way to get in touch with this truth? Grief. When you’re grieving you’re mourning a loss. Grief is the incubator of hope. I found it simply amazing to discover that the most references to “hope” in the whole Bible are found in three books side by side—Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. Most of those references are in relationship to grief, suffering, sadness and loss. Blessed are you when you’re at the end of your rope, because that’s when there’s less room for you and more room for God.

Hope is a God thing. A God thing that brings to pass something brand new. Jeremiah was the most troubled of all the prophets. He protested, complained, cried and sometimes got nasty—with Yahweh. Disrespectful? Obscene? Unfaithful? No..These protests of grief are in fact acts of faith. Jeremiah stayed closest to God when he grieved for the people of Jerusalem. Hope happens when you’re at the end of your rope and you know it.

2). Hope is a positive and potent spiritual practice with the power to pull us through difficult times. It is usually described with light metaphors — a ray, a beam, a glimmer of hope; the break in the clouds; the light at the end of the dark tunnel. It is often discovered in unexpected places.

Three moves are made in Jeremiah’s words and ministry. Orientation—disorientation (dislocation)—reorientation. Long time political enemy Babylon becomes God’s agent. “You think I’m your pet…..nothing doing…the Babylonians, they work for me now.” Quite disquieting.

This movement between these three places begins to be the formation of a new normal. It isn’t a repeat performance of the past; it’s not just a fix-it repair job…it’s something totally new and unexpected. It’s nothing short of a new world. Hope is discovered in unexpected places.

1). Pay attention to grief. Last week another young Marine veteran suffering form PTSD ended his struggle with the common antidote of suicide. It should pain us thoroughly when this avoidable event happens. Evidently he was another bright, outgoing man whose capacity for suffering had reached the breaking point. He had even been to Haiti and worked there and discovered some joy and serenity. His goal to be better was not reached and he died home alone.

What drives a person there is only conjecture on the part of the living. But suicide literally means to kill the self….and when the self sees itself in isolation and alone dangerous talk begins to take hold. I think we all get to the place of being alone with the thoughts of our heads. And much of that thinking is about not being in the right place but not knowing how to get any place else. We give up moving; we give up hope.

Yet today comes an invitation to recast that thought. Much of our thinking centers of finding the perfect situation: when I get out of this mess. Rather than thinking “I’m no further along than I was yesterday; something’s wrong with me” we can think: “I’m in a different place than I was…isn’t that interesting.” For hope is not born out of our own personal abilities—blessed are you at the end of your rope—hope is born while facing the unknown and discovering that one is not alone.

A “now what?” that emerges here is the intentional creation of a community of hope. That’s really what Jeremiah is getting at through these words of settling down.

In that community there is deliberate and intentional choice to act in a different way in the face of grief.

2). Hope is the ability to allow the past—as terrible as it might be—inform and form the present moment with a trajectory towards the future without the usual reactivity that so defines many of us. For the most part our reputations precede us and in large measure that reputation is really news about our reactions to things. So and so always has meltdowns is about that.

Hope is born in an alternative reaction; or better—response. Hope stands in contrast to heightened anxiety. Will I allow other’s anxious moments and emotionality to control mine? Perhaps no better advice on this can be found other than Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. They can take away everything from you except your ability to respond in a given moment. Here’s a man in the deepest of grief and suffering, a modern Jeremiah, who still holds hope. This ought to be required reading for everyone.

3). 70 years…..a long time. We know that out of this exile comes a renewed understanding of Yahweh and his people. With the temple cult effectively destroyed, the rise of the synagogue takes place…..the synagogue…..people together….not alone. The synagogue becomes the locus of hope; the location that stands in opposition to the world’s hopelessness and cynicism and proclaims with a Word from the Lord and a People gathered around that word that the show isn’t over yet.

Hope can be learned with practice. Certain attitudes support it. One is patience, an ability to tolerate delays, a willingness to let events unfold in their own time. The other is courage, an attitude of confidence even when facing the unknown. A third is persistence, the determination to keep going no matter what happens.

This kind of practice includes deepening ourselves in the Word: memorizing such words as: For I know the plan I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. It also means being a community that gathers around that hope—to build friendships on the basis of this higher calling. And it means to be that hope in the world. I believe that just as anxiety and despair is contagious, so is hope—you can get it from those infested with it. May this infection be yours today.

No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.
— Dorothy Day

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: