The beginning of a new year is usually a time when people make resolutions and plans for the year ahead. The turning of the calendar can give one a sense of new beginning, new opportunities, new hopes. I am one such person. I am actually one of those people who not only make New Year’s resolutions – I usually keep them!
Not this year.
Like many people, I have found feelings of optimism hard to come by. Over the last few months I have felt bombarded and overwhelmed by disturbing news: the ongoing presidential impeachment process and the brazen resistance of #45 and his allies; wildfires in California and now Australia; sexual abuse in Hollywood and the Catholic church; migrants kept in cages on our Southern border; and rumblings of war with Iran. Here in Philadelphia, there is asbestos dust in our public schools making kids and teachers sick; real estate speculators gentrifying neighborhoods in the name of “development; homeless families looking for shelter, and a growing inequity between the few haves and the many have-nots.
And every day there seems to be more and more bad news.
We need a change of perspective. In his book Are We Done Fighting author Matthew Legge makes the point that in the short term it is easier to motivate people by threats than by offer of rewards. He goes onto point out that all the brutal dictators in modern history – Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Stalin – ruled by threat invoking fear that kept people in their place. Even the news media seems to focus on that that will scare us. Turn on any network news program and you will see murders, car crashes, bombs, hate groups and so on. Just once I would love to have a newscast that only showed positive things: a student who worked hard on his science project, a single father who went out of his way to help his daughter get into college, a young man who donated his time work at the animal shelter, and the baseball team that dedicated their season to their former coach with cancer.
It probably won’t happen, but it would be nice. So what do we do?
We must turn to hope. I just shared a list of things that rob our hope, so what I mean by hope? Often, we think of hope as something we passively wait for. However, when I speak of hope, I am thinking of something I actively work toward. When I speak of hope I am speaking of an active verb.
Joanna Macy calls this active hope. She writes “Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. “ She goes on to identify three steps in this practice of hope. “First we take a clear view of reality; second we identify what we hope for in terms of the directions we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction.” In other words, hope is something we actively pursue regardless of the chaos going around us.
I can’t think of any other way to live in these dark and stormy times. As long as God has given me the strength to move and a sound mind, I will face the reality of our time with a sense of determined active hope. And I will try to surround myself with like-minded people.
About two months ago, I began meeting with a group of people living in the Kingsessing neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Kingsessing is a neighborhood quickly being invaded by real estate speculators buying houses on the cheap, and flipping them for three times what they bought them. People are seeing their property taxes go up, and they don’t know if they can stay in their homes. But now, the folks of Kingsessing have come together to push back, to gain back control of the changes that take place in their neighborhood. They are reaching across differences of race, class, age, religion and so on to make Kingsessing their home and not someone else’s profit margin. The group is acting in hope and the feeling is contagious.
As we begin this new year and this new decade, let us do so in hope, active hope, hope that brings dignity, love and life back into our homes, our neighborhoods and our nation.
Matthew Legge, –We Are Done Fighting: Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division (New Society Publishers, 2019).
Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone – Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. (New World Library, 2012).