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Hope Is For The Lazy: The Challenge Of Our Dead World

To reclaim hope, we need to look beyond the structures and systems of a world that's passing away, and dare to create something better.
 
 
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This is an edited version of a sermon Jensen delivered July 8, 2012, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. Audio is online here.

In 2005, I preached on the ecological crisis in a sermon I titled Hope is for the Weak: The Challenge of a Broken World. Looking back, I realize that I had been far too upbeat and optimistic, probably trying too hard to be liked. Today I want to correct that.

Hence, my updated title: Hope Is for the Lazy: The Challenge of Our Dead World. Let’s start with two of the three important changes.

First, to be a hope-monger or a hope-peddler today is not just a sign of weakness but also of laziness, and sloth is one of the seven deadly sins. Don’t forget that, as good Christians, we try to avoid those.

Second, our world is not broken, it is dead. We are alive, if we choose to be, but the hierarchical systems of exploitation that structure the world in which we live -- patriarchy, capitalism, nationalism, white supremacy, and the industrial model -- all are dead. It’s not just that they cannot be reformed, but that they cannot, and should not, be revived. The death-worship at the heart of those ideologies is exhausting us and the world, and the systems are running down. That means we have to create new systems, and in that monumental task, the odds are against us. What we need is not naïve hope but whatever it is that lies beyond naiveté, beyond hope.

If this sounds depressing, blame Wendell Berry. He got me going on this. In every sermon I’ve preached at St. Andrew’s, I have quoted Berry, and I will do that extensively this morning. This is the first verse from one of his Sabbath poems:

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,

for hope must not depend on feeling good

and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.

You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality

of the future, which surely will surprise us,

and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction

any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.

The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?

Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

-- Wendell Berry, “Sabbaths 2007, VI,” in  Leavings: Poems

This is what I say to myself: The systems of our world are dead. Our world is a dead world. If we are to live, we have to believe in something beyond hope.

By “beyond hope,” I’m not talking about heaven, about a magical realm beyond our material existence. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I will continue to assume that Earth is not a waiting room. We shouldn’t distract ourselves by looking to someplace up there, somewhere above or beyond, something that we pray is just around the corner.

I’m also not talking about living in domed cities or blasting off to another planet. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I will continue to assume that we aren’t going to invent our way out of our core problems. We are here for the duration, playing the hand we have always played, with no extra aces up our sleeve.

So, ignore the desperate claims of the religious fundamentalists and the technological fundamentalists. Their fantastic futures are based on fantasies of innocence. We have sinned. We have desecrated the places where we live. We have been guilty of weaknesses and laziness. We are not innocent. Let’s deal with it.

 
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