Romans 04 – Hope over Faith

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)

When faith may be too hard…

It is easy to get disheartened watching the news.  This is probably true at just about any point in history, but I’ve been really affected by it lately:  Mitch McConnell seems hell-bent on rendering the Constitution ineffective in an effort to keep white males in power. Singed koala bears make for a pitiful sight, and then I feel guilty about feeling bad for them before anything else because, yes, there are other problems not being talked about: like the impact those same fires have had on Australia’s indigenous people (a topic totally missing from any news story that I haven’t gone out searching for). A change of residence for Harry and Meghan seems to be the top story in the news cycle over deteriorating international relations and continuing impeachment developments. Yet who am I to judge, because I can’t stop thinking about Kanye and Kim’s walk-in fridge for a family of three – another story that has zero impact on my life but bothers the hell out of me for its sheer excess.

Last post I talked about how it was Jesus’ own faith that saved us, not our faith in Jesus.  When faced with such bleak realities as the ones above, it’s even easier to say “why have faith at all?”  My answer, after reading today’s chapter, is that maybe faith is the wrong word. Maybe we need to have hope.  Faith implies “complete trust and confidence in something.” Don’t get me wrong, having faith is good, but may not be something we are able to carry with us all the time.  Even the most devout have times of doubt, which, by definition, would mean that they lose faith – even if it is temporarily.  That can feel like a failure on the part of the believer and do some real mental damage.

…hope still may be achievable.

Hope, however, means “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  And it is not to be confused with optimism.  As N.T. Wright explains in his book Paul, “Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark.”  He was writing about ancient Jewish and early Christian history, but the same is true now: Hope must be a dogged and deliberate choice on our part.  Wright goes on to say, “You have to practice it, like a difficult piece on the violin or a tricky shot at tennis.  You practice the virtue of hope through worship and prayer, through invoking the One God, through reading and reimagining the scriptural story, and through consciously holding the unknown future within the unshakable divine promises.”

Who doesn’t wish for – hope for – a better world even in the darkest hours? Perhaps the darkest hours are when our desires are strongest, when our hope is strongest.  Our faith and optimism may be gone, but our deep yearning for a better world remains.  This hope is why we keep going to church, keep reading the Bible, keep praying to God.

I agree with Paul, that our righteousness (to use his word) will be attributed to us, especially when we continue to act when there seems to be no divine promise within eminent fulfillment.  Abraham had faith in God before his promise to be a father of many nations.  As I quoted Paul above, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.”  If we, too, act in hope – hope that we can restore the ecology of Australia and truly the whole world, hope that justice will prevail in the American political system, hope that the fate of those in need will become more important than the address of one royal couple – then we, too, will be blessed by God.

Take Action.

Practically, this means getting out there and acting.  At least I think so.  Paul may disagree – as he spends a lot of this chapter discussing how works alone cannot prove a person’s righteousness.  However, I think that this criticism was more about a blind adherence to the law (whether secular or religious) to the detriment of acting out of love for your neighbor.  In other words, self-betterment over community-lifting.  Religion at large (and Christianity in particular) seems to have a certain propensity for navel-gazing to the point of ignoring the outside world burning down around it.  Self-reflection is good, but you can think a lot of things. Getting out there and doing them?  That truly reveals where your heart lies.

Let me qualify all of this by saying: start small, and don’t burn yourself out.  The world’s problems are huge and cannot be solved by one person, let alone one person in one day.  As a mother who suffers with a chronic condition that can cause overwhelming fatigue myself, I particularly want to reach out to those just struggling to get out of bed and make PB&J’s for their kids’ lunch: you’re doing more than enough already – I am not asking you to push yourself past your limits.

Now, that being said, everyone else look around you. Think of little ways you can act in hope.  My favorite, as always, is calling your representatives.  (Something I did on Tuesday, to urge Congress to do everything in it’s power to keep the US out of a war with Iran).  It just takes a few minutes.  If talking on the phone raises your anxiety, write them a letter or email- it’s not as immediate (since anthrax scares have become a thing letters take a few weeks to get through the security back-up, and there’s just so many emails it takes a while for staff to wade through them, too) but it still gets your voice heard.  Do a change dig (you’d be surprised how much is lurking in your car/purse/nightstand/junk drawer), take it to a Coinstar, and then donate that cash to any cause you deem worthy. It’s money you weren’t missing in the first place, and can make a huge difference for an organization doing good work.  My favorite local organizations that just about any community has are food pantries, the library, and the animal shelter.  Most take cash donations at the door.  Make extra of whatever you’re cooking for dinner, and take it to that neighbor or friend who has the sniffles.  These are little ways to act in hope that require very little work on our part, but can set us – and indeed the world – on the path to larger changes.

Hope isn’t easier than faith. It is a practice, a rigorous practice, to hope.  For many, this post may be all just about semantics, since faith is a rigorous practice, as well.  But if you struggle with keeping your faith in times of trouble, do not worry: you are not alone, and you are not a bad person for facing that struggle.  My hope is that you will keep your hope.  Even if your faith falters, you can still hope for a better world.  Even if your actions seem futile, you can still take those actions. To you, your righteousness will be credited, and the world you hope for, that we all hope for, will be one act of kindness closer.

Isaiah 62 – Conscious and Joyful Work

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!

    Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
    Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

There is work to be done, and we are called to do it

I love this chapter.  I found it by Googling “Bible Passages for Christmas Eve.”  It’s so joyous, so regal: Perfect for the birth of the person we call our Lord and Savior.  I also like how grounded it is, despite all it’s jubilation: There is work to be done to prepare for this party, and this chapter recognizes that fact.

I’d like to compare and contrast this chapter to another passage we haven’t yet read in this blog, but one you are probably familiar with if you’re a regular church-goer or Bible reader:  the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.  In it, there are five wise bridesmaids, who keep the oil for their lamps full while waiting for the bridegroom – who was very late – to arrive.  The five foolish bridesmaids did not plan ahead. When they did not have enough oil for their lamps they had to go buy more, missing the entrance of the groom, and were unable to gain admittance to the party afterwards.  The message: making sure you are prepared at all times for (the return of) God.

In Isaiah 62, just as in Matthew 25, we are anticipating the start of a large celebration. But this is not just passive waiting, in both passages we are called to do the work of preparation. And there is much to be done.  In the Matthew 25 parable, that work is summed up in the keeping of the oil, but here, Isaiah is a little more elaborate: we must keep watch, as the bridesmaids did; but also pray – pray until God has no rest; we must prepare the way for the people, build up the highway, and raise a banner.  There is also reference to harvesting grain and gathering grapes. Now, I’m not a literalist: I don’t think there is a highway waiting to be built that will literally bring God down to us.  So, if it’s all a metaphor, what does it mean we need to do?

Spiritual Callings can be fulfilled in many ways

I think it means we need to be engaged in conscious and joyful work.  We need to find our callings, and follow them.  This is not career advice, necessarily, though good on you if you’re bringing home a paycheck in an area about which you’re passionate.  But it can be through other ways, too.  Take this blog, for instance: It’s something I was moved to do after witnessing too many self-professed Christians making excuses for Trump’s deplorable behavior towards women, espousing hateful Islamophobic rhetoric, and disowning children – literally abandoning them on the street – for coming out as gay.  That is not what Christianity is, and I felt I needed to add my voice to those counteracting the worst examples of so-called Christian morality.  Am I a full-time writer? I wish…maybe one day.  Am I a theologically trained clergyman? Definitely not, and unless I win the lottery and can go to seminary school just for kicks, that’s never going to happen.  But it is still a calling, it is still something I am committed to do.

Other people achieve this type of work by volunteering, some are activists, and others are just caring individuals who feel called to kindness and stewardship of those immediately surrounding them.  So like I said, this conscious and joyful work may not be your main hustle, but I think it is something we all need to find time for in our lives.  Finding a cause that is larger than ourselves creates new relationships with others, enriches us spiritually and socially, and reinforces the best parts of society through stewardship.  This is the type of work that will metaphorically build the highway for the return of Jesus.  So follow the advice of this chapter: keep watch through close observation: see what needs are out there, and what makes you passionate. Pray to God for guidance in these passions (it took me two years, a lot of self-doubt, and a lot of prayer to actually get around to starting this blog after my initial idea), then go forth, do the work, and raise that banner: proclaim it to the world.  This is not to be boastful, but to let others know where you stand, and to rally them to your cause. In doing so, we have already become “a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of our God,” one of the Holy People, the Redeemed, and the Sought After, fully ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the promise of the second coming of our Savior, and the reward that is with him.

Hosea 12 – Impeachment is Just an Asterisk

Ephraim feeds on the wind;
    he pursues the east wind all day
    and multiplies lies and violence.
He makes a treaty with Assyria
    and sends olive oil to Egypt.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

Don’t let activism exhaustion set in (aka, don’t confuse winning the battle with winning the war)

This chapter is a political criticism, more than anything. It opens with Hosea bashing Israel’s foreign policy: “chasing the wind” is fruitless because you’ll never catch it, and that is what Israel is doing by bouncing back and forth between treaties with Egypt and Assyria.  Hosea then goes on to give a short recount of Israel’s mythologized national history – not unlike an American evoking the more sensational tales of George Washington – in an effort to contrast the poor moral fiber of Israel’s current political climate.  Unlike today, Hosea (and indeed, all of Israel) mixed religion and politics, claiming a return to God would save not only souls but national policy as well.  This difference aside, I still thought it would be a good time to offer up my own little political criticism, since that’s what this chapter is all about.

The recent impeachment of Donald J. Trump is historic, and I don’t want to take from that. He is only the third president to be impeached in 230 years of US presidents.  But what does impeachment mean?  Right now, not much more than an asterisk beside Trump’s name in future history books, just like Johnson and Clinton.  In truth, this impeachment is small potatoes compared to the more systemic problems facing this country:  voting districts are still gerrymandered, thousands are incarcerated for minor crimes, children are still in cages at the border, and McConnellism (more on that in a minute) is the new norm.

To pull from recent history: I don’t want the impeachment to become another Standing Rock.  Remember Standing Rock and the NoDAPL pipeline?  We all celebrated when, in December 2016, the pipeline’s easement was denied…and then it became a closed matter for most of the country (I’ll admit – myself included).  Barely a word was uttered on national outlets when Trump reversed the easement denial with an executive order and construction began in February 2017.  And guess what: the pipeline leaked five times in six months, exactly the kind of disaster that the Sioux of Standing Rock were worried about.  But the initial fight had already been won, our national liberal conscious assuaged, and as a country we couldn’t be bothered to keep fighting.  Long story short, don’t confuse winning one battle with winning the war.  It’s exhausting to keep fighting.  But it is so, so necessary if you care about your Earth, your fellow humans, your God.

Why progressive Christians need to be politically active

If you want something political to focus upon, it’s McConnellism.  Mitch McConnell has done more to hurt the American Democracy than Trump ever could.  There are multiple articles on this from a myriad of sources: pick which one appeals to you.  But in a nutshell, McConnell has made it his policy to put Republican wins over any other priority: refusing to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nomination (and I’m not even sure how many Federal judge nominations), refused to cooperate with election-tampering investigations (even lifting sanctions on Putin allies under FBI investigation), and now coordinating impeachment strategy with White House lawyers.  McConnell doesn’t care what the American people want, or even what is good for this country.  He just wants the Republican party (and his own self) to hold on to as much power as possible, no matter the cost.

Jostling for power is a normal part of politics.  In fact, the Founding Fathers counted upon it-hence all the checks and balances.  Now, however, the political culture in Washington has changed: it is power for power’s sake – not for advancing the good of the country. I think getting Mitch McConnell out of the Senate would be a great start.  But it’s going to take more than that, because the next Senate leader can simply follow McConnell’s example and keep up the race to the bottom.

I think the only thing that is going to make a real difference is if more – and I mean a lot more – people become politically engaged on a much more regular basis.  And this will take time, too, which is discouraging. We all like fast results, that’s why fad diets continue to be a thing.  But we can’t get discouraged to the point that we stop fighting.  The well-being of too many people (both in this country and out of it) are at stake.  Vote. Call your representatives.  And don’t forget local politics: town halls and city councils are great ways to get your voice heard.  Join marches and demonstrations.  Start fundraisers – it’s so easy to do a small birthday fundraiser on Facebook now for a cause you believe in.  If you feel really moved, you can volunteer for a campaign or polling station.  Here’s a great list of even more ways to become more politically engaged.  It may feel like we don’t have a lot of power because it takes so long for things to change. And I won’t deny there’s a lot of corruption that we’re up against.  But popular uprisings happen all the time through-out history.  And if we are loud enough, we can demand change.

Now why, you might be thinking, is a religious blog getting so political? Aren’t we supposed to have a separation between Church and State?  Yes, we have that separation. But 1.) I’m not in office nor am I running for office. 2.) I’m not trying to dictate anyone’s religious beliefs.  I’m simply saying that, as a Christian (hell, as a decent human being) the hollowing out of American democracy and all the racism/xenophobia/sexism/environmental destruction that goes with it are issues you should care about; AND here is a way that we can make a positive change.  Government is able to make broad policy decisions for the whole country that lead to the most amount of change in the least amount of time.  (Imagine how much plastic pollution would decrease if Styrofoam and plastic bags were outlawed at a national level.) Political change is not the whole fight (think how long it took some school districts to de-segregate after Brown v. Board of Education), but it is a large, large portion of said fight.  Don’t let that fight stop with the impeachment.  Keep fighting for the issues that are important to you.  You can bet your ass that this liberal Christian is going to be active in the political process and use my faith as a sounding board, and you should do so, too.