Hope, Notre Dame, and Someone Greater

People are looking for hope

I was on the playground the other day. I talk to the parents that I meet there when I’m not wrangling one of my kids, and I share what I do. I talk about being a pastor and I wonder about people’s faith background and experience. Many people are formerly of faith of one sort or another, lots of ex-Catholics. I spoke to one recently about if she even thought of metaphysical things. She said sometimes she does, but it’s hard for her to not have hope in something more, or wondering what this is all about, in the climate she’s in.

I think that the existential dread of our occasion is brought to the forefront, not just when we experience trouble in our personal lives, but also when we experience something in common. There is a sort of “public permission” to grieve when the President tries to turn the U.S. into an autocracy, when the Mississippi floods, when tragedies occurred like they did in San Diego last week or Denver last night. People want something to grieve because the world is so troubled, they look for opportunities to do that.

Why did we grieve Notre Dame?

I was fascinated by how the world responded to the fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral. I felt it too. My sentimentality and sadness over the burning of Notre Dame really has nothing to do with my theology or Anabaptism. I think church is people, fundamentally. So I do not assign a lot of value to the church as a building, I have to admit.

Still, Notre Dame means something to people. It has power and meaning to a lot of folks, and the chance at uniting France in a positive way. It’s another blow to a country and a people in trouble. It’s beautiful, contains beauty, and is a symbol of faith to a largely faithless, secular country.

I think it’s hard to place the fire in context for a number of reasons, but put into the right context, it is deeply meaningful. I think it’s helpful to consider people’s contexts as they assign meaning to something that some may find meaningless. Our experience isn’t a principle.

The search for meaning through our subjective experience

And I think people are looking for that meaning, that subjective experience. They don’t want data or the facts or even materialism. Empiricism doesn’t supply meaning; subjectivity does. This is what the Church has failed to understand. People need to feel something, not know something.

They want to feel, yearn and hope for something better. So they grieve in order to feel the loss, and experience the desire for something more. That is why it is so important for Christians to allow people to grieve, but also to offer them hope in something more.

We need to allow people to consider metaphysical hope; supernatural hope; hope beyond the world. A raw materialist viewpoint, that is, that there is nothing but what we see, is so unsatisfying and, really absurd. Something is here instead of nothing. We have certainty that there is an uncaused power that preceded everything else. We know all things to be contingent, so something is above or greater than contingency. I’m not making an apologetic for God here, but explaining that for many people, hope in something more, or at least a wonder about it is possible. If there is something beyond the material, perhaps there is an opportunity for me to have hope in something more, or at least to express my gratitude for something more.

This is a portion of a blog post previously published on Jonny’s blog here.

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