Reconnecting and Hope(lessness)
Commit2Respond: Week 3
I heard Rev. Dr. Miguel de la Torre, the liberation theologist and immigration rights activist, speak a few days ago. He started by saying, “I’m hoping to chat about how hopeless our work is.” I sat up straight, paying attention.
I confess that these days I often pray for the doubters, for those of us who find it hard to believe that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, who wonder why we do what we do if the outcomes of our work are so often incomplete, when tragedies of epic and intimate scale surround. We may want to Commit2Respond to environmental injustice, but as we enter week 3 of Climate Justice Month, we must figure out how to move from reckoning with brokenness to finding ways to reconnect.
In his words de la Torre reflected on how hope can be used by those with privilege to excuse inaction. “Hope,” he said, “must first be crucified before it can be resurrected in the shards of life.” Embracing hopelessness frees us. We no longer have to do mental gymnastics to try to create hope out of the suffering we see every day. If all is lost anyways, we can stop clinging to a fragile, impossible hope. We can stop denying what we see with our eyes and feel with our hearts and struggle for justice like we have nothing to lose because all is already lost.
Once, at a BlackLivesMatter protest, a young white man climbed on top of a police car. He was looking for trouble, wanting to stir up something. The cops looked on, assessing the scene. A group of activists, mostly people of color, extended their hands to the white youth, urging him to come on off of the car. Eventually, they pulled him off the car and he landed gently on his feet, the hands of dozens guiding him to the ground.
It was act of compassion, of accountability, of mercy, of help, of hope. De la Torre said, “If it’s totally hopeless and nothing will change, you do what you do, not because you know you’re going to win, but because you have no other choice. I do what I do because it defines my very humanity.”
We need to find our frontlines – the places where our community is being most impacted by injustice. This may be about water and fracking or pipelines and farmland, it may be about asthma and diesel emissions or cancer or police brutality or seeds or divestment. The most effective work for justice happens at the frontlines and that is also where hope happens. If I hadn’t gone to that protest, if I’d stayed home, destroyed by the reality of racism in America, saddened by the loss of Eric Garner’s life, I would never have seen those activists care for their fellow human.
I memorized the Lord’s prayer as a kid because I yearned for a thing to hold onto, for a rhythm to help me scratch out hope. I love this version, often attributed to the New Zealand Prayer Book in translation from the Maori:
Eternal Spirit, earth-maker, pain-bearer, life giver,
source of all that is and that shall be,
father and mother of us all,
loving holy one in whom is heaven:
may it happen in the way it is good to you;
may it happen on earth in the same way
as it happens in spirit world.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil free us.
For you live in the glory of power that is love, now and forever,
now and forever.
May it happen on earth in the same way as it happens in the spirit world. As above, so below.