The Politics of Hope

crabapple tree in bloomIt’s started.

Our great American political circus, I mean the presidential campaign season, has started for 2016. Cruz is in! Rubio is in! Hillary is in! (In case you don’t know me, that last one makes me happy. 🙂 )

“I still believe in a place called ‘Hope,'” said the last president named Clinton.

I still believe in that place as well, although I don’t find it in the political circus or any of the performers in that ring, even Hillary.

But I don’t blame politics for that. I just blame what we have let the meaning of that word become.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary the fifth listed definition of politics is this:

the total complex of relations between people living in society

Total. Complex. Relations. Between people. Living. In society.

It’s what has been modeled for me in the body of Christ – the church – a place that has struggled with politics since its birthday two thousand years ago, and yet still walks on, humbly and imperfectly. With hope.

Its totality: global, existing in its varied parts across the whole planet. I have walked with my brothers and sisters – the eyes and ears and limbs I cannot get along without – in Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria. It’s a big family!

It’s complex: orthodox, catholic, reformed, apostolic, evangelical, monotheistic but based on a trinitarian dance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It’s relational: in worship, in creeds, in sacrament – sharing life together with the one who gives us life.

Between people: and among people! Caring for each other in crisis. Praying at the bedside of the dying. Feeding the hungry. Standing with the oppressed and imprisoned. Seeing the value of our human lives as our created made us. High and low, young and old, male and female. Between. Among. Connected.

It’s living: ISIS can’t destroy it (although it is trying); purveyors of the prosperity gospel can’t dilute it and sell it like indulgences (although they try). Its message of the real good news – death is defeated! – puts air in our lungs.

In society: I have seen it care for the least of these in a home for the handicapped in Ludwigsburg, Germany. I have it walked with it among Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon. I have heard it shouted from displaced Iraqis now in Kurdistan: we may have lost everything, but we still have Jesus! It will not be silenced. It is in the public square and ministering there.

And that is where I find hope in politics. Not in the mud-slinging that is to come as we sort out who our leaders should be, but there in that buried fifth definition from Merriam-Webster.

I find hope in that crabapple tree on our back patio. It’s roots are bound by concrete on all but one side, and yet every year it pushes out those gorgeous pink blossoms which will fall like snow in a week. The blossoms will wither and descend. The tree will hibernate in the fall. And then…BAM! Here they are again.

John 1:14 says the word was made flesh and pitched its tent with us. The complex totality of the word of God moved into the neighborhood, into our society, to live with us.

And hope is here still.

 

 

 

 

Persistence

julie-with-kids-at-zahle-camp.jpgWhen Steve and I started dating, we use to wrestle with each other. It was good, honest fun, I tell you. A 6’3″ gorgeous dark-haired man wrestling a 5’5″ woman, eighty pounds in weight under his. He had me in size, in weight, in strength. But the one thing I had in bigger quantity than him was persistence. I would keep coming back, even when he had both my arms pinned. I wouldn’t stop. I just wouldn’t say “uncle”!

I may not ever have won one of those awesome matches, but I never gave up!

One definition for persistence is this:

firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition

I have seen it other places besides my wrestling matches with Steve.

I have seen it in my sisters Susan and Jana. Their car hit by a train in 1983, and both severely wounded, neither gave up. Susan marched through her injuries and continued her studies at Colorado State University to become a veterinarian. Today she is a married woman of over 25 years and the vet you want your animals to have in an ER in Loveland, Colorado. She runs, she bikes, she camps and canoes, and she is an amazing nature photographer. (She is afraid of spiders, but that is another story!)

Susan never said “uncle.”

Anyone who knows Jana has seen the personification of persistence. We siblings who have known her all our lives refer to it more as stubbornness, but it is the same thing. Doctors said she would never recover and it was best just to let her go. Three weeks after the accident, although deeply in coma, her heart and brain would not quit, so they did surgery to repair all her broken bones. Doctors said she would never walk once she did come out of the coma. Six months after the surgery to repair those broken bones, she walked back into the Longmont United Hospital to embrace the doctor who did the surgery. She has traveled to Australia, Ecuador, Germany and the Czech Republic, and she has been back over and over to Washington, D.C., to advocate for poor and hungry people all over the world.

Jana has never said “uncle.”

Persistence. Stubbornness. Whatever you want to call it, we don’t say “uncle.”

There is a great parable in Luke chapter 18 that has been with me all week about another woman of stubborn persistence. And even though I am not a widow pleading my case before a judge, I am feeling some of her frustration and the need to persist:

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (Luke 18:1-8, The Message)

Maybe I am impatient, but my cause is just. I don’t have a judge to plead to. But I have a persistent prayer about helping my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been trying to use Facebook and Twitter and email to share the story of the church in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq with as many people as I can. I am trying to create an Internet flashmob, for lack of a better term. If you are my friend on Facebook, perhaps you are sick of my posts by now, but I can’t stop. They all contain the link below and I am trying to get it to go viral, so instead of the 320 views it has now, it will have 3,200 or 32,000…or 3,200,000!

Hope came down and pitched its tent is a mash up of John 1:14 and Hebrews 11:1:

The word became flesh and dwelled among us.

Now faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

Those two verses have been with me for most of the past year as I came home from a trip to Lebanon and Syria. The children in that refugee camp had no business to be singing joyful songs and dancing with us in innocence. Didn’t they know where they were? Couldn’t they see the desolation of nothingness around them? The outhouses? The putrid drainage ditch? No parks, no trees…nothing!

And that’s when it came to me that they were seeing something else. They were seeing it with the eyes of their heart…with hope.

And they are persistent in their joy, and stubborn in their singing and dancing. They won’t say “uncle.”

And what they did see with their eyes and feel in warm embraces was the love of Christ in the person of Assis Fadi and Assis Ramsey, pastors of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. They hope because someone has given them something to hope for. The church has been walking in the camps bringing food and supplies and, well, love. They have been caring for others not in camps by supplying food and rent vouchers and helping children stay in school. They have provided medical care to those who need it.

In the midst of a war, surrounded by death and chaos, they have not said “uncle.”

And on their behalf, neither will I.