Along the Way: The Hard Work of Hope”

Earlier today I read an article by Dr. Walter Brueggemann in which he used the phrase “the hard work of hope.” [1] The phrase stuck to the velcro on my soul, putting words to a sentiment I have had for some time: that hope is a verb, not merely a value–an action, not simply an attitude. [2]

Brueggemann used four words to give details to his phrase, saying that the hard work of hope is done through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. Each of the words brings the light of God to bear upon the challenges we face

Resolve….nothing changes apart from our will (individual and collective) to change it. The hard work of hope begins with the decision to do something–and to engage in the change-making now.
“Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Energy….we do not go far in our effort to change something before we realize that it is a supernatural task, and supernatural tasks require supernatural power. Zechariah 4:6 makes this clear, and his prophetic word is a call for us to live by and in the Spirit. The two great commandments and fruit of the Spirit describe this life

Courage….the “principalities and powers” take immediate and great offense when their beliefs are critiqued and their systems are challenged. Demagogues of any kind (civic or religious) will push back using anything (e.g. shaming, shuning, caricaturing, lying) to stay on their self-made pedastals of power. God’s admonition to Joshua to “be strong and courageous” was not a one-off call. It is what God says to anyone who sets out to overcome evil with good. [3]

Imagination….courageous change means “the old must pass away” in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the in-Chtist life–the making of new wineskins. Imagination is not only creativity, it is the conviction that some things will not be perpetuated, and that things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1) will be the conveyors of future realities.

The hard work of hope is what we must engage in today. Quick fixes are no fixes at all in the face of the formidable evil we are currently confronting. We must “incline our hearts into the Lord’ (Joshua 24:23), forming a long-haul spirituality that promotes justice (equality, fairness, inclusion, common good), through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. In the hard work of hope, we offer ourselves as instruments of God’s peace so that “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

[1] Church Anew e-letter, 7/1/22.

[2] Several years ago, Paul Chilcote and I shared this sentiment, going on to write about it in our book, ‘Living Hope.’

[3] The Center for Courage and Renewal, begun by Parker Palmer, is an excellent resource for developing and deploying courage.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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