During the general election season and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the virtue and value of “hope” has often been bandied about as a sort of magical thinking or a bottled elixir than can be employed as an easy fix for difficult problems, whether personally or nationally.
Hope is not a form of magic as in: “I hope to be spared from COVID-19 but I refuse to be vaccinated.” Or: “I hope that I’m spared from a hurricane, though I refuse to evacuate to safer ground.” Hope is a grace with which we must cooperate to experience the fullness of hope.
Problems or difficulties do not vanish because we persist in some false notion of hope, which may simply be a form of frightened avoidance or mindless optimism.
Authentic hope is about enduring and struggling through the storms of life, and not wish fulfilment to avoid the suffering and pain to which we are all heir. Hope is a form of steely courage.
Those who have experienced the ravages of COVID-19 whether in their bodies or the experiences of family and friends better understand that hope involves spiritual struggle and mercy.
Many of those who were not vaccinated and who contracted the virus and became gravely ill are now struggling with deep regret and sometimes paralyzing guilt about their decisions and about loved ones they put at risk, some of whom may have died.
They are owed our mercy and love during their struggles and their long processes of healing as many of them seek to let down and dismantle their barriers of pride and let in the light of mercy and forgiveness, including forgiveness of self, which is a hard and difficult journey.
A part of their hope is our love and our support, not our judgment, despite our frustrations with their prior refusal or laxness in being vaccinated or not taking the pandemic more earnestly.
A prominent Bahamian religious leader liked to say he was in the business of selling hope. For some, hope is a marketable service and bankable commodity. Quite often, hope is promoted as a gift dispensed by time-bound reverends, rather than as a gift grounded in an eternal source.
Like commodity prices, the cost of hope can easily escalate. It seems that markets can be manipulated in both the material and the non-material realms.
Spiritual hope is a genuine article of faith, suffused with healing wellsprings of renewal and restoration, replenishment and recovery, and redemption and release. Hope reminds us that: “There is a balm in Gilead. To make the wounded whole” and “To heal the sin sick soul.”
But like counterfeit money and designer knock-offs, there is always a marketplace bustling with false hope and the illusion of hope masquerading as the genuine article.
Just as bogus hope can be designed, marketed and sold, so too a related product line - fear. Mass advertising and mass hope/fear-mongering often attempt to manipulate our individual anxieties, insecurities and inadequacies as well as our social fears and prejudices.
Our desire for economic security is rewired as a spiritual materialism which suggests that God’s favour is often best manifested in the person who dies with the most toys, though as the witticism goes, there are no U-Hauls attached to a hearse on the way to the cemetery.
Our desire for spiritual growth is often rewired as a spirituality more comfortable with theatrics, superficiality and material success.
Likewise, our desire for order and certainty, in an uncertain world, often comes at the expense of those whom we conveniently blame for our own moral failings.
For easy reference, the catalogue of fear is organized by broader categories such as Hysteria, Moral Panic, and Scapegoating et al. Listed under each section is a diet of poisonous options, such as xenophobia, homophobia, racism and a hornet’s nest of other us versus them targets.
Asked his thoughts regarding Western Civilisation, Mohandas Gandhi retorted that it would be a good idea. A Bahamian Gandhi, asked for his or her thoughts about a Christian Bahamas, might reply similarly.
For many of us, Christianity is an adornment, decoration or accessory: easily purchased and worn on our sleeves; exchangeable, depending on fashion and circumstance; or used like a superstition – as an amulet to ward off evil spirits or as a lottery ticket to gain material success.
These brands of cheapened Christianity, fixated with heavenly revenue streams that flow from an ocean of blue marlins, promote saccharine, shallow and simplistic hope. They luxuriate in fear.
Hope, like love, cannot simply be a state of perpetual rapture. Rather, it is an enduring commitment to human and spiritual truths beyond our own personal desires, comfort zones, private rewards and self-help schemes.
A more authentic version of hope is often found among those public sinners, courageous enough to enter ironically named Anonymous programmes dealing with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling and a tribe of addictions.
They know hope is not quick and easy, that genuine conversion begins with at least a dozen steps and that hope should not be confused with simplistic optimism or positive thinking. If it were only that easy.
They have few illusions regarding how difficult it is to put down a crack pipe or stop reaching for that morning hit of rum to get the day going or to stop spinning numbers because of a gambling addiction.
Those struggling know they may be only one drink, one hit, or one-armed bandit away from falling. This fosters a steely brand of hope that is not self-righteous or self-absorbed or judgmental or sentimental.
They know hope cannot be purchased with dollar bills or hackneyed clichés. Everything doesn’t always happen for a reason. But amid even life’s most difficult challenges, God’s goodness and mercy breathe hope.
Like individual journeys of hope and conversion, social transformation also requires the audacity of hope. But instead of the richness of hope upon which individual conversion and social justice are built, poor substitutes often stand in the gap.
One of these is what has often been called the Gospel of prosperity. In an inversion and subversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, an odd trinity of material success, fame and political power, has become synonymous with kingdom building. Do these temptations sound familiar?
Here at home, if you fail to attend a recent seminar promoting wealth, you may have missed your chance to get on a yellow brick road inlaid with bling-bling.
Financial and economic stewardship and sharing in the world’s goods are things for which the Christian community must relentlessly advocate. Indeed this is a part of the work of social and economic justice.
But Christian existence must be amphibious. It must be able to live in two worlds at once; never too other-worldly or too caught up in our limited days.
Unfortunately, many people of the cloth, parading around in designer suits and ecclesiastical garb, are so busy dining at Pharaoh’s table and seeking handouts and appointments that they have lost their ability to offer the dynamism of genuine hope.
Why do so many religious leaders seem more comfortable with Good Friday and intimidated by Easter Sunday?
Next to Jesus at his crucifixion was Dismas, a condemned man, at the edge of his existence and tempted by despair. Even during one of the darkest moments in his, as well as in human history, Jesus supplanted fear with hope.
He brought salvation to a criminal stripped of everything, including the worldly goods chased after by many, who often morph this spiritual path into a for-profit business of selling hope.
As we continue to struggle through the pandemic, we need a more authentic understanding of genuine hope, the grace of which will be needed as much as treatments and therapeutics for long-term COVID, which will affect many of us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for some time to come.