Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hope on the Ropes

Editor's note: This not a post about the Cubs! Even though you think it might be related, it isn't! I have decided they gave me six months of fun and one week of crap, and I can live with that. Until next year, at least. Anyway, the following is a post about my classes this semester. More travelogue posts with photos will follow soon.

This is why I need to write every day. Not just to share with all of you – though I do hope you’ve enjoyed the sharing – but just to get it out of myself, to process it, to write it down so that in the years to come I will not forget it.

Over the last few weeks there has been a sharp hardening of the fault lines – and, if we’re going to use that metaphor, some shifting of the tectonic plates of personal relationships – between different factions within our small five-person (six including Chris, but she misses out on the classroom fireworks) community.

Or, if you prefer a different metaphor: If this community was a band, I’d have left weeks ago and the press release would have said something about “creative differences.”

Last Friday things came to a head when our class imploded into an emotional debate over – read this carefully – whether hope was better than despair. I took the side of hope, and then was shocked to find how hard I had to fight for it.

In fairness, I think this was really a debate over strategy and semantics than anything else. But both “hope” and “despair” are words bursting with meanings historical and personal, so whatever we were really arguing about the air was thick of tension. It ended with one of our number walking out of the room and the rest of us silent with exhaustion, bitterness, and resignation.

The things we are studying – Why is so much of the world brutally poor? Why do some people have so much power while others have so little? What is the church’s role in all of this? – are difficult topics, to be sure. It would be hard enough if we looked at one isolated problem in our local community. But we are looking at all of the problems of the world at once, under the assumption that they are all interconnected.

Liberation theologians call this approach looking at “systemic sin” as opposed to “personal sin,” and for all my quibbles over nuances there is much about which these liberationists are right. Sin does infect everything; Luther knew this much. Sin is an ancient foe, but in the third millennium it moves at broadband speed and with nuclear power. As our global systems get bigger, the number of people we can affect with our mistakes gets bigger too.

Facing this overwhelming reality day after day after day is not a task for those with the faith of a mustard seed, for those who already struggle to find hope in a world with so much pain. It is incredibly draining work.

But God has an ironic sense of humor. So here I am, mustard seed faith and all, trying to hold back the despair around and within me. Thank God for grace. Thank God for hope. Thank God for music, and books, and good food; thank God for Chris, and for friends and family near and far. I don’t know what I would do without them these days. It is the Way that I, that all of us here in this community and others, press on.

1 comment:

From Michigan with Love said...

AMEN! I Thank God every day for you (and Chris since it seems as though she can only appear in parentheticals!)!!! I feel smarter when I read your writing! Like a school book in seminary only cooler...'cause I play catch with the author...I have no one to play catch with (over the age of 8) here Matt! I miss you. Keep on holding onto that real hope! Goodness know's as a Cubs fan you've had a lifetime of doing so! :-) Thanks