The New Year is full of new hope, and I need hope more than ever. Indeed, we live in treacherous times. It’s so easy to consume all the bad news and lose hope, especially when we aren’t grounded in the Author of Hope itself. So this year, I’m giving up cynicism and replacing it with hope. I’m letting go of my fear and moving toward love. I think 2019 will be a great year for the world, the country, and for Circle of Hope too. I’m looking forward to where God leads us and how we can join in. Here are my top five hopes for 2019.
1. Prayer is at the heart of our transformation.
Can we make a year of prayer? For a Christian, every year is like that, but this year I am convicted to name the radical alternativity of praying at all. The seeming lack of utility of prayer disrupts the demand for endless productivity. The silence required in prayer shows us that silence should be the backdrop of our whole life, with sound punctuating it occasionally. This monastic life that we engage in as invasive separatists has the capacity for revolution and transformation. The transformation that happens within us through silence, contemplation, and intercession, may result in an outward transformation too. Or at least equip us with the endurance it takes to be in this loud world.
I admit, too often, I am reaching for a business or self-help to get me through the trouble I’m in or to achieve the goals I want to achieve. And there is some insight in those books and blogs, on the real, and I don’t want to dismiss them. I actually think wholesale dismissal of anything that comes from the world or anything that feels organizational or institutional just makes the church a target for rebels without a cause. But rather than just relying on so-called conventional wisdom, why not use the ancient wisdom found all over the Bible and our tradition? Pray for strength, for miracles, pray for a revival.
If you aren’t sure where to get started, I suggest buying or borrowing Martin Laird’s Into The Silent Land. You can also subscribe to our Daily Prayer blogs, Wind for people new to faith or Circle of Hope Water for folks who are further along in their journey or want to hear many diverse voices. Or, if you’re me, sub to both.
2. We continue to make peace possible.
I was disturbed the other week when the United States announced that it was withdrawing the 2,000 troops that it had in Syria. They were protecting the Kurdish region of the country and specifically securing the Turkish border. I never thought I’d defend U.S. military action, but I was convinced the action of the administration (which led to Mattis’ resignation) was going to get Kurds killed.
Here’s what I wrote to my Facebook friends:
Peacelovers and makers may want to pay attention to this. U.S. withdrawal from Syria is not a step toward peace or anti-imperialism. It’s complying with the reigning power in the region, Turkey, who has long hated the Kurds (the U.S. is withdrawing from their region in Syria). The border is now vulnerable and that will lead to Turkish invasion and aggression and dead Kurds.
I was a little baffled at how I was negotiating a war game and engaging in geopolitics. I was also sick of the so-called “antimperialist left” ignoring vulnerable people in the Middle East, many of whom could have been my own daughters. But I was also struck by another idea; is peace totally impractical? Again, I do not think withdrawal was a measure of peace, but I did wonder if people who loved humanity and wanted to preserve life were foolish for hoping peace was an option.
Honestly, for the current state of the world, and for the heads of state making decisions about it, nonviolence and disarmament might seem impossible. And I’m not here to tell them how to do their jobs. I thank God I’m not one of them.
But I still think peace and nonviolence are long-term goals, and need to continue to be immediate expressions of Christians. The world is so sin-drenched that something as pure as nonviolence does seem impractical to it. But can this be a year where we personally exemplify nonviolence in our relationships in order to make it more practical on a bigger scale? I think so.
3. Grace and forgiveness prosper.
Speaking of impracticality, my friend told me that reconciliation was impossible the other day, that forgiveness itself is a part of the cycle of abuse. And there I was, holding on the keystone of my faith, forgiveness and grace, and hearing that it was impossible today because the sin of the world is too great.
That’s again where I need to lean in to our savior. Jesus makes the impossible possible. And yes, grace and forgiveness is as impractical as the repentance and reconciliation that go hand-in-hand with them. The question of us is can we change? Can our love of our enemies change them? Can the upside-down kingdom work?
Are we so committed to justice that we forget that justice without love is indeed injustice? Fear is in the heart of many of us, but fear isn’t the way to transform. We need to repent and forgive. We have to change. Forgiveness is not cheap. And God’s forgiveness is exchanged for loyalty to God, service to God, bondage to God. It’s not a “weak” option, and it does not contradict the liberation that so many of us crave, it actually enacts that liberation.
4. Good Christians don’t relinquish evangelism to the worst ones.
Yes, my eyes rolled to the back of my head when I read the columns that said right-wing Evangelicals loved Trump because his authoritarian nature reminded them of King Cyrus or the one written by Jerry Falwell, Jr. himself praising the 45th President. But just because some Christians are off their rockers, doesn’t mean I have to be.
Nor does it mean I have to ashamed of the Gospel or evangelism too. I’m not too interested in taking language back from them, but I am interested in reclaiming Christian behavior. I was telling our leaders the other day that the most “aggressive Evangelizers” are the ones we don’t want spreading Christianity. That sounds negative, I know, but I’m feeling a little negative about how Jesus is being portrayed, and as his servant, I feel responsible for changing that. I think we can.
I don’t think Circle of Hope can act alone in this, of course, but I do think we have a special kind of Christianity to offer that is relevant and radical in our time and place and we need to be unashamed and proud to share it openly and widely. No evangelism is not just for reactionary people; it’s for people that want to change the world, it’s for deep people, it’s for people who see lonely friends that need a new home, a new community, a new chance at family. And I won’t rob them of the opportunity because of what Falwell said. No, I’m taking back evangelism and I’m not ashamed of it.
5. Christians speak the truth in love in an age of lies.
Coupled with that, of course, I will keep speaking the truth. My most-read blog post last year generated some controversy, but I stand by it. Christians need to keep telling the truth today and we can’t let it be captured by partisanship. We can’t let the partisanship stop us from speaking up, speaking truth against power; even if we’re called “troublers of Israel” as Ahab venomously spat at the great Elijah in 1 Kings 18:17.
No, just like Elijah, as our leaders follow Baal instead of the Lord, we need to name it. For their sake, and for the sake of those they influence. But our goal isn’t to kill and destroy, but to convince and compel. Yes, one way to “win” is to marginalize and oppress all of the dissidents we don’t like. That’s the classic populist move on the left and on the right. But Jesus moves us to love our enemies and lead them to transformation.
We speak the truth and do so in love to win our siblings in Christ to the light side, not to deepen them into their own hatred and sin. They need liberated from it, and as servants of the One True Liberator we are following in his lead.
No, we can’t covert everyone, and no, we shouldn’t go after every lost sheep, but I hope this year we can do our part in convincing people to follow Jesus and not the way of the world.
6. We don’t let Trump dictate the mood.
And I’ll leave you with one final hope. Yes, it’s about Trump again, but this time it’s about Trump not controlling our moods and our temperament. Don’t let him steal your joy and your fear. (Alternatively, do not be delighted in him or in any politician’s actions, even if impeachment happens.) Don’t let the trouble in the world steal your joy and your hope.
Take a Sabbath from the news cycle a day a week. Delete your Twitter if you have to. If you’re me, take off mobile notices every time Trump tweets (sincerely, not a good way to wake up every morning). Change the conversation, change the mood, let it go. Trump doesn’t have to control how you feel. Yeah, I’m alarmed much of the time, but there is other things to do, and there are lots of good things happening, as well.
Let’s share those stories; let’s Tweet those out; let’s talk back. Talk back to the powers this year. Do not let them steal joy. Visit the baby in the manger on this week of Epiphany. Bring a gift. Then take the long way back home, telling Herod to shove it.