Pastor’s Corner: Finding Hope in a Time of Despair

In his book, Signs of Hope in a Century of Despair, Elton Trueblood wrote:

"The strong chance is that many of us now living must accommodate ourselves to the prospect of living all of our days in the midst of strain. We have come into the stormy latitudes of history."

Although Elton's words were written in 1949, they could have been written today. The "stormy latitudes of history" are upon us, and living in the "midst of strain" is an hour-by-hour reality.

A friend of mine calls our time a time of "existential trauma." We are not only facing a second wave (the delta variant) of a pandemic that seems to go on forever, we are in a time of great social upheaval and deep social rifts. For the last month we have been watching in horror as thousands flee Afghanistan following the take-over by the Taliban. America, once again, is turning inward, trying to understand why a 20-year commitment to a country has ended so badly.

We have a political system that is in a constant state of gridlock. Racism continues to haunt us, played out in an unjust economic system designed to maintain the status quo, i.e. white power and control. We have an infrastructure of crumbling roads, bridges, airports and more. There are gross economic disparities and mass poverty. We have an immigration system that is completely broken.

And there is a collapse of meaning and declining influence of our religious institutions. The "Nones" and the "Dones" are the fastest growing group of persons when polled about their religious affiliation. In the words of Lewis Brogdon, writing for Christian Ethics Today,

"Daily we witness the spectacles of rampant cynicism, violence, discord, neglect of the vulnerable members of our society, profound moral confusion, and a kind of irrationality that is utterly baffling, like those who believe the pandemic was some hoax or those latching on to conspiracy theories."

(My thanks to CFM attender Joe Henry for sharing this article with me.)

How do we cope amidst such strain, a time that has been described as "an era of great social upheaval and deep social rifts?"

First, we cope by processing our corporate hurt and suffering. We can do this by seeking a more intense connection with the Living God, a stronger connection with our families, as well as with our faith communities. When we are experiencing such strain, we need the assurance of the familiar institutions in our lives. During the most difficult times of life, the faith community, in our case, Cincinnati Friends Meeting, is a place that we can always turn for comfort and for hope. Our Meeting continues to open our doors and our hearts to extend care, concern and comfort.

Secondly, we cope via a renewed quest for meaning of life. What is really important in life? Difficult times always take us back to the basics. What we are now experiencing helps us to realize that, ultimately, life is not about acquiring as much as we can in our four-score years on this earth, nor is it about finding new and creative ways to gobble up earth's resources. No, difficult times move us toward the spiritual basics. And what does Jesus say about the spiritual basics? "Love God and love one another." This is what really matters.

Finally, we cope by doing our best to brighten the little corner of the world in which we live. When I was at a writing conference at Princeton with Anne Lamott, she was asked, "With all of the turmoil we are experiencing, and with problems so great we cannot even begin to grasp how to respond, what can we do?" Her response was simple - "Continue to feed the hungry, care for the poor, find housing for the homeless, work for justice." This is all we can do.

And so we cope with the difficulties with which we are faced by processing our corporate hurt and suffering within the familiar and traditional institutions of our lives, by more intensely searching for renewed meaning in life, and by doing our best to brighten the little corner of the world in which we live.

More than these, however, we cope because we have hope. Our faith is centered in hope. As expressed by the Apostle Paul in Chapter 8 of his Letter to the Church at Rome, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

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1 Comment

  1. Donne Hayden | | Reply

    Well-said, Jim. It’s easy to feel despair these days when it seems like every train on the track is jumping the rails. Thank you for this calming and level-headed reassurance. With a nod to Wm Penn, despair may subdue, but hope gains, and whoever keeps going wins the laurel…

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