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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Hope and Enticing Expectation
distributed 3/30/12 - ©2012

During Lent, Eco-Justice Notes is examining several aspects of hope, and how we can cultivate that quality in our lives, our churches and our communities.

The series so far has included reflections on hope and community, commitment, resistance, 'a long view' and Sabbath.

Larry's question lacked hope. It was phrased to evoke anxiety and pain.

I was leading a session of a Lenten study series at an area church, and Larry's question reflected the range of topics that the series had covered, including climate change, industrial agriculture's patterns of animal abuse, and the modern malady of "nature deficit disorder". It has been a weighty series, addressing big issues that are hard to solve.

Larry worried about what it will take to get us -- individually, and especially collectively -- to make the necessary changes. He played with an image of going to the dentist. (To any dentists on my list, that's Larry's image, not mine!) "You put it off as long as you can, until the pain of that toothache gets so bad that you have to do it. How bad will the state of the world have to get before we do what has to be done?"

I quickly tried to turn the image around, to fill it with hope and joy instead of anxiety and pain. "How bad would things at work have to get before you're willing to go on your ski vacation?" What if the steps toward healing take us into a much better world?

Larry seems to carry an expectation that is pervasive in our society, and perhaps in most of us. We assume that there will be immense pain and deprivation in dealing with climate change, or breaking down the myriad distortions of our industrialized consumer society. Like that toothache, we're not happy with how things are, but we dread what might be coming.

My question back to him is grounded in a hopeful and enticing expectation. It mirrors the good news that we, as people of faith, claim to believe. I dared to suggest that we will be far happier when we live simply and sustainably, in a world of justice.

Larry's question has it all wrong. Don't put off the changes -- drop everything so you can join in the fun!

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Theologian Jurgen Moltmann has written extensively (if not concisely) about hope. Adam McInturf "simplifies" Moltmann's writing in this long sentence:

This means that as we are confronted with the outstanding reality of the future kingdom of God, the hope that it motivates in us liberates us to refuse to be reconciled [to] that kingdom's contradiction in the present orders of injustice, and thus to conduct our lives here in resistance to the reigning forces of evil.

Or, as a Wikipedia article puts it:

However, because of this hope we hold, we may never exist harmoniously in a society such as ours which is based on sin. When following the Theology of Hope, a Christian should find hope in the future but also experience much discontentment with the way the world is now, corrupt and full of sin. ... Hope strengthens faith and aids a believer into living a life of love, and directing them toward a new creation of all things. It creates in a believer a 'passion for the possible.'

Theological hope, a passionate hope rooted in the enticing reality of the realm of God, points out the horrible failures of our current way of life. Hope provides the standards which reveal the absolute obscenity of the ecological devastation and social injustice that are inherent in our society. If we are placing our hope in God, we will be disenchanted and repulsed by the very things that others glorify as the good life.

Our society places its hope in wealth, technology, convenience, and power over others. By objectifying all of creation as "resources" to be exploited, our way of life destroys community and alienates us from nature, blocks compassion, tolerates crushing poverty while celebrating senseless wealth, condones pollution and extinction, and denies our path toward spiritual and ecological death.

It is a sign of how deeply we are shaped by our society that we can use the analogy of a "toothache" to describe a world of mass extinction, warped climate, pervasive poverty, and ceaseless conflict over scarce resources. Our attachment to the dominant values of our society is revealed when we fear loss and pain in moving toward a world of ecological health and sustainable communities.

When we are rooted in theological hope -- when God's shalom of right relationship with all of creation is our vision of what is genuinely good and true -- we will find immense joy in every way that we can reflect and embody God's realm. Simplifying our lives will free us from overburdened schedules and obligations. Reconnecting with local communities will restore our ties to food and water, kindle compassion, and allow us to dramatically reduce our damaging impacts. We will be enticed by the possibility of life in a joyous and just community, and gladly turn away from the evils of our perverse and destructive society.

That's the theological vision. I celebrate it as true ... and I confess that I constantly struggle with it myself. I am repulsed by the horrors of "business as usual", and I am enticed by the vision of shalom, yet I know how deeply I am caught in the entangling web of culture and economics. There are far too many times when my hope is intellectual instead of visceral. All to often, I do connect with Larry's fear that the cure will be more painful than what we now feel. And so I work to build and strengthen my hope.

This Lenten series of Notes has described several methods for building hope so that it is enticing, compelling and life-changing. It is essential that we steep ourselves in communities that share our hope and nurture us in action. We are strengthened every time we act on our beliefs, even when the actions are small. We ground our hope when we refuse and resist the sin that surrounds us. We validate our hope when we get the perspective of a vast and evolutionary universe. We experience hope when Sabbath occasions touch us with the simplicity, community and joy that we crave.

Hope should fill us with discontent with what is wrong, and hope will entice us toward such a delightfully different world that we are eager to be changed. May we all be urgent and intentional as we grow into a deep and compelling hope.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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