Gather Series Kick-off, and, Why Hope is So Powerful but I Kind of Hate It.

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Photo Courtesy of Matt Erickson.

This Sunday at First Church, we opened our first Sunday of Lent and kicked off our Lent theme “Saved by Hope”.  I’m curious and excited to see how this unfolds in our church, and I’m also pretty challenged by this theme. And my hang-up, turns out, is on “hope.”

Hope…is a concept I value (how’s that for non-commital?). I think it’s an important aspect of how we are called to relate to the world as Christians. I can say a lot of nice things about it, preach on it, but it is tough for me on some very visceral levels. I’m fairly cynical, and some talk of hope triggers some self-comparison in me. When I hear people talk about it in such glowing and happy terms enough, I feel like I must be doing it wrong, because I feel more cynical than I’d like to often admit. And I kind of feel like a professional-Christian fail. Hope sounds like a nice concept to me, but it’s hard for me to connect with in any real way. I actually wind up feeling kind of resentful, because I feel like some defect I have is exposed—I’m not as full of hope as I get the message (probably my own internalizing) that I should be.

Working as a hospital chaplain didn’t really help with feeling like I can comfortably relate to hope. I heard so many family members tell each other, hoping in darkness, that their loved one would be okay. Would come through this stroke, this infection, and would be returned to them as fulfillment of their hope if they just kept holding out hope. And more often than not, that loved one did not. I found nothing to say in these situations besides to sit with them and hold the agonizing silence with compassion. I wasn’t sure where hope was. In some of the more typical discourse I hear about it, it doesn’t seem to work itself out the way I might expect. These experiences made me wonder if hope is something we can easily perceive or experience, or if it arcs beyond our perception. That’s the way I have to hope for hope—it’s often beyond what I can understand.

I’ve preached on hope and tried to wrestle with it, and I think the most I can say about it is that it’s so unpredictable, so hard to anticipate or control, that it’s hard to pin down. I guess hope feels to me like something hard to talk about because it is kind of incorporeal. I don’t think you can know what it is until it happens. It comes out of nowhere. If any of you follow Hyperbole and a Half, (if not, read all of the older comics and enjoy your laugh-cry) It’s Allie’s little shriveled piece of corn. And maybe that surprise, that hope working itself out beyond how we can get it, is good news.

This Lent, in Thursday Gather, I invite all of us to wrestle with these theological pieces that come up in Lent. We discuss how we relate to these concepts, how we’ve experienced them, and how/if we can discover some blessing in them. Each week will be broken down by a word: “saved”  “hope”  “atonement” and the final two that I don’t think you can talk about one without the other: “cross” and “resurrection”. These can be pretty tough for some of us, especially those who identify as progressive Christian, to relate to or engage with. But I believe there is some beauty and grace in these too that goes down deep. I can’t wait to hear what comes up.

This will be supplemented with blog posts some very smart folks have written about these topics I’ll post on this page. I encourage you to read them before Gather each week. The conversation won’t specifically be around one post, but they will provide some awesome questions and concepts. Check back here regularly.

All of these can tie together or stand alone, so come to all or drop in as you can. Looking forward to seeing you and hearing these conversations!

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