catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 2 :: 2010.01.22 — 2010.02.04


Big Hope, small hope

For the second January in a row, my husband Rob and I are teaching a course to mostly first-year college students on the themes of Kingdom and empire throughout the biblical narrative, attempting to awaken them to how that tangle of threads is still woven into our lives today. 

The awakening: that’s the first problem.  We attempt to at least surprise them a bit on the first day of class with the scene of Neo being born out of the Matrix — cliché, but suitably gross and disorienting.  We send them to the mall armed with tuned up persuasion radars and sacred space detective skills.  We expose them to what might be considered left-wing propaganda by some, with Flannery O’Connor’s blessing:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.

And then, the next problem: how not to leave the ones who do wake up wide-eyed and alone in the valley of the shadow of despair.  We warn them about the side effects of taking the wake-up pill: paralysis, apathy, anxiety, shortness of breath, and caution them that these conditions may be temporary or chronic.  But we also try to offer them, as best we can, the most powerful antidote to both ignorance and powerlessness: real hope.  Quoting David Dark quoting Shakespeare, we declare, “Apocalyptic maximizes the reality of human suffering and folly before daring a word of hope (lest too light winning make the prize light).  The hope has nowhere else to happen but the valley of the shadow of death.”

The sermon Rob and I heard on Sunday called out CNN’s imperial talk about “saving Haiti” and suggested that, just maybe, the Haitians are in fact saving us by demonstrating radical hope in the midst of suffering, the likes of which few if any of us will ever experience.  And so in tomorrow’s class, we’ll watch Amandla!, a record of how black South Africans survived apartheid through singing.  They sing their identity, they sing their love, they sing their pain, they sing their protest even when the song is banned and in such singing, they beckon us to join in on behalf of all who suffer oppression — even on behalf of white kids in the suburbs who are being bought and sold and branded unawares on the auction block of the preeminent image makers.

Our salvation is not in the small hope of violent revolution or secular humanism or personalized religion.  It’s not in the small hope of democracy, as The Corporation claims, though it may play a part in bringing about God’s justice and mercy for people on the margins.  Democracy is an attempt to honor human voices, but the Big Hope we seek is spoken by “a voice that is radically other to our own voice.”*  Big Hope is one who absorbed all of the fury we humans could think to unleash and was not overcome by it.  Big Hope is one who calls us to love, not perfection.  Big Hope is one who does not impose the heavy burden of a cumbersome law, but extends an invitation to sow good seed, to bear good fruit.

Next week, we’ll erase the board, disconnect the laptop and turn off the lights for the last time this January.  We may or may not have a chance to interact with our students ever again.  But part of our Big Hope is that maybe we’ve introduced them to a suffering servant who will walk through walls to find them, even in their fear, even in their utter hopelessness.


* from Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat

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