Hope Is For The Lazy: The Challenge Of Our Dead World
Continued from previous page
The truth is too much to bear, but we have no choice but to bear it: The world in which we live is dead. The world in which we live has been destroyed by social, political, and economic systems that are based on, and celebrate, exploitation and hierarchy. The world defined by those systems cannot be saved. When people push aside this truth and insist that we stay positive and focus on solutions, they typically mean “solutions” that don’t hint at any challenge to these fundamental systems. That means, of course, the solutions are likely to generate more problems. Those kinds of solutions are, in the long run, problems themselves. In the service of being “pragmatic” and “results-oriented” and “mature,” we contribute to the culture’s denial of reality.
I repeat: Denying reality is not the basis for a winning strategy.
Tell as much truth as you can bear, and then face all the rest of the truth. If we place our hope in the systems that created this world, our hope will betray us, and then we will betray each other and those who come after us. We will betray the children, and their children, as long as there are children.
There is always hope, but it is hope that lies beyond these systems, beyond the world as it is structured today. To be truly hopeful is to speak about a different world structured by different systems. To be truly hopeful is to risk irrelevance when engaged in polite conversation in mainstream America. Irrelevance, in these situations, is a virtue. Our chance of saving ourselves depends on enough people willing to be irrelevant soon enough.
Now, this would be a perfect place to pause and play the preacher. After such stern warnings, preachers reach into their magic bag of Scripture and pull out the Good News. They find an upbeat ending. They send people out into the world with hope.
Remember, I’m the substitute today. I am not a preacher. I don’t have to play that game.
Rather than reaching for Scripture, I want to return to Baldwin, and then to Berry. In his meditation on the role of writers, Baldwin offered a challenge that can be applied to us all:
We are the generation that must throw everything into the endeavor to remake America [and, I would say, the world] into what we say we want it to be. Without this endeavor, we will perish. However immoral or subversive this may sound to some, it is the writer who must always remember that morality, if it is to remain or become morality, must be perpetually examined, cracked, changed, made new. He must remember, however powerful the many who would rather forget, that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.
-- Baldwin, “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” p. 34.
There is a lot riding on whether we have the courage and the strength to accept that danger, joyfully. Don’t take my harsh assessment, and the grief that must accompany it, to be a rejection of joy. The two, grief and joy, are not mutually exclusive but, in fact, rely on each other, and define the human condition. As Berry puts it, we live on “the human estate of grief and joy.”
The balancing of the two is the beginning of a hope beyond hope, the willingness not only to embrace that danger but to find joy in it. Our world is dead, but we are alive. No matter how dark the world grows, there is a light within. That is the message of Christianity, the message of all faith. That is the message with which Berry ends that Sabbath poem, and it is with those words that I conclude this morning: