All This Reckless Hope (4 of 4)

There are few things as uniquely insufferable as an election year. There is no escaping the media, social media, or workplace chatter – as politics becomes ubiquitous. Those who are marginally political, begin to feel obligated to participate. Those who are generally predisposed to politics, begin to feel the need to up their game a bit. And for those who view their entire life through the prism of politics, this is the high holy season. Because it’s that special day we observe every couple of years between Halloween and Thanksgiving – you know the one, where we all allow political rhetoric to play on our fears . . . and then we’re all so very thankful when it’s over.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m old enough to have been to this circus a few times – but the whole thing always feels like an old rerun of an ill-conceived TV drama that should’ve never aired in the first place. Tediously predictable as it invariably leaves you with the distinct impression that you’ve likely lost a few brain cells in the experience. It would all just be a sad little sock-puppet theater filled with cartoon-like characters, babbling nonsense and stomping around making demagogic gestures — if everyone didn’t have such a deadly serious expectation that somehow the whole future of the world were hanging in the balance of what we choose . . . so this time — we better get this right!

At the center of this great kerfuffle are the partisan voices entreating us with the impossible promises of how their agenda will unquestionably lead us into a brighter future, while decrying their opponent’s agenda as leading us into a shadowy dystopia. Leaving us to assume that the only question we have left to ask ourselves is whether or not we want hope or despair. This is how the calculated hope of modern man makes its appeal . . . amidst the vitriolic bravado of political rhetoric, igniting our passions right up to the threshold of violence.

shutterstock_418624180-1000x480-e1565801623898I’m suspicious that we’re allowing ourselves to be too easily swept up by the half-truth machinations of political drama because we’d much rather have a calculated hope, than a hope that hides itself in mystery — as such a hope would most certainly be far too reckless and imprudent. In truth, what we really want, is to know what’s going to happen from beginning to end, so that we can plan our lives accordingly. Because we’re not really interested in having to read about the long arduous struggle of not knowing, found in the book of Job – we just want to read chapter one and then skip down to chapter forty two, and know that everything worked out.

But the hope we find in God defies every calculation of man – because it isn’t our story being told. . . it’s His. We are the breath of God, made in his image – this is our part in his story from beginning to end. Love entered time and space and took on flesh, and even though we chose to crucify it, Jesus trampled down death by death, so that we might have life everlasting. Yes, this is his story, that he invites you to embrace as your story, a story of which you can never control the outcome. It is a reckless hope, to be sure – but it sure beats pretending that the calculated promises of duplicitous politicians could ever lead us to anything but another iteration of Babylon.

. . . so ring them bells!

When Hope Leads You Home (3 of 3)

To view life as a journey that must be taken, is one of the grand themes of storytelling. Like all of the grand themes, it rings true for us because on some fundamental level, we experientially know it to be true. But isn’t this just a trick of retrospection, attempting to make sense of all of the events and circumstances that unavoidably collide with our life? Aren’t we simply affirming our own narrative — pretending our life has meaning by pretending our life is going somewhere? This is the tension found between hope and despair.

The concept of hope is best understood as a form of faith, which isn’t really too surprising, given that what we often place our hope in, is where we have likely already placed some measure of our faith. Conversely, despair comes on us like a capsizing of our will to live, swamping us under the weight of relentless doubt. So it would seem we are ever pulled between hope and hopelessness — the beauty and the wonder, the heartache and the pain, that mark the path all along our way . . . each one of us alone –yet, all of us together, alone.

But still, it is an act of faith to embrace as true something that you can’t actually prove to be true. And even though this is a point of consternation, confounding the atheist who imagines themselves above the intellectual fray of faith beliefs – it remains axiomatic, nonetheless. In this way, faith and hope have an intellectually tenable dimension. But even so, hope isn’t really found in a cognitive vacuum, but rather, in our real world engagement of life – where the sharp edges of reality aren’t really impressed with what you think you know, because it’s going to drop the hammer on everything you’ve chosen to believe . . . just to see if it will last. Which is why the beliefs we hold will either go the distance, or be exposed as delusion.

downloadTherefore, it’s no wonder we draw meaning and significance from believing that life has purpose. Now, this is either a feature of ontological design, because life actually does have a purpose – or purpose is a fiction contrived out of a self-referencing delusion, where there ultimately is no purpose to life . . . and the best we can do is pretend that one exists. Hope disenfranchised from a purposeful framing of existence is unsustainable. But when hope is hardwired to a purposeful beginning — it will always find it’s way to a hopeful conclusion.

Every journey has a destination in mind, a place it’s taking you. Now, your personal story might have taken a few wrong turns along the way, in fact, so many wrong turns that you no longer even recognize your journey once begun. Leaving you to feel lost and disillusioned until despair begins to occupy your every stray moment — until like the prodigal son all you can think about is going home . . . in hope that there will still be a place for you there. But that porch light has been left on for you a long time, and your Father is more than eager to run out and welcome you home.  This is why when hope leads you home, the things that matter most — just fall into place.

Even if it’s a long way home . . .

Into the Howling Darkness

You can only hold your breath for so long before you have to hit the surface again, only to discover the levees have broken open and the deluge has begun. So in the flood of circumstance, of events beyond your control, you are swept up in the adrenalized panic of frenzied response. In the flash of such moments, everything superficial gets washed away in the torrent – leaving only the things that matter most. This past year, for many people, has felt like being emotionally rolled like a cowboy cigarette and chain smoked down to ash . . . as if the slightest breeze could simply blow away what’s left.

There is a ground swell realization that an exponential cultural shift is inescapably making itself evident. Whereas, it may be indicative of someone my age to feel the pangs associated with feeling like the world I grew up in has evaporated – this isn’t that kind of normal shift, of which I reference. No doubt, I feel some nostalgia for some of the cosmetically cultural affectations of my youth– but I still can sense a far more seismic shift has been occurring. It is as if our anthropological underpinnings have been yanked up and we have been set adrift for quite some time. Some foolishly see this as cutting free of the cumbersome weights of tradition – but there is a more ancient pattern to this shift, portending a very dark foreboding night before a new dawn appears.

I was born in the waning years of a Christian nation, when Christianity enjoyed a measure of cultural deference. But for the most part, my life has been lived in the ambivalence and plurality of a Post-Christian culture — and of late, it is occurring to me that I am now living in the waning years of this era . . . as ambivalence begins to give way to hostility. It has been a slow, steady encroachment of existential relativism picking up speed that is giving momentum to this exponential shift – having reached its tipping point and is now being codified by an ever encroaching and feckless government. Is it really any wonder our recent presidential election offered us such reprehensible candidates, both conspicuously lacking in a moral compass?

moon_rise_forestMake no mistake – I’m not suggesting that the world is somehow becoming more fallen (as that would be theologically untenable), but rather that history has seen this cycle play out many times before. A culture moves toward God, until a zenith point, and then begins to move away – until it reaches its nadir . . . and we’re now approaching that nadir point, and will likely be there for a generation. So my point isn’t that we should be wringing our hands, about how we might control its descent – but that we must hold fast to our profession, relying on the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 10:23).

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah lived during the waning days of Israel before the judgment hammer of Babylon fell on them. And as they were being led away in chains we find this remarkable promise: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11. So even as we enter into the howling darkness of a world we no longer recognize – God’s promises remain fixed and immutably true. So our job isn’t to change it all back – but to be the loving face of God to a world that is in the process of forgetting what he looks like.

. . . God has not forgotten you- that’s him tossing you that life line. 

A Transcendent Hope (2 of 3)

In the absence of transcendently based purpose and meaning, everything is a tumultuous sea of circumstance viewed through the prism of survival – survival being the value underpinning all other values. Within such a paradigm the concept of hope is relegated to a mere vacuous wishing for serendipitous events to intercede and alter circumstance . . . because there is nothing outside of circumstances in which to place hope. Hope is something that existentialism and nihilism disparage as a useless waste of time and energy – Which is no surprise, given that they are philosophical systems built entirely upon the need for human action and choice, as a means of controlling circumstance.

But the only guiding principle to all of this acting and choosing is whether or not it serves the pragmatism of survival. This is why such philosophies have fostered the existential relativism of “situational ethics” – where ethics are conformed circumstantially to whatever best serves the survival of the prevailing forces placed in crisis. And nihilism’s “will to power” mandate found in “the ends justify the means” – where actions are based on whatever best serves the survival of the agenda of the prevailing force’s will. In all cases survival is the value at the top of the heap – to be served at all cost . . . because it is survival that interprets all circumstances, then in turn, adjusts how all other existential values are to be accordingly held.

9With theism, hope is the best way of describing how a theist relates to the transcendence of God, amid circumstance. In this paradigm, survival only has significance as it serves transcendent values – it doesn’t get to drive the car . . . because hope is the guiding principle. Therefore the theist acts and chooses in accordance with the transcendent values, believing that what is transcendent will prevail – this is why all hope is placed in God, the source of all transcendence. So no matter the circumstance, what is transcendent remains immutable . . . which is well beyond the purview of external efforts.

Again in contrast, where there is an absence of transcendence, survival is paramount. Therefore circumstances must relentlessly be kept out of the ditches, or from plummeting over the cliff – all presumably, by the finite external efforts of human intelligence. So even when the existentialist/nihilist has exhausted every avenue of human action and choice – ironically, he must still grudgingly rely on serendipitous hope . . . a hope placed in random chance, because he has left himself no alternative.

So I place my hope in God, not as an idle wishing, or as some sort of fallback position, but rather as a foundational cornerstone, a sustainable presuppositional context. It is a calibration of my heart and mind, allowing me to distinguish between what is merely superficial, from what has lasting value. As a Christian, I am called to a hope (Ephesians 1:18), a hope I am to give a reason for (1 Peter 3:15), a hope that ultimately defines everything about my life . . . so I place my hope in God.

Here’s a recent performance of an older song I wrote about hope