I was too young to remember President John F. Kennedy. My mother worked on his campaign and hauled her baby (me) along with her to pass out literature. She assures me that one of my first words was "k-e-n-d-y." I was barely 4 when he was shot. Years later, I asked my mother what was so special about President Kennedy. Without hesitating, she replied, "He gave us hope. Hope that things could change. We needed that." She paused and a look of sadness swept across her face. "And it was taken away. Too soon. They killed hope."
Hope may be shot, taken in an instant of murderous violence. But this summer we have witnessed another way of killing hope -- vicious rumor, cynical politics, manipulation, lies, gossip, and fear-mongering. Hope doesn't die in an instant. Instead, it has been walking a way of sorrows and put on a cross, whipped, laughed at, life slowly beaten away, breath halting, and joints stretched in pain. It is a gruesome image, but it needs to be. Without hope, a people and their civilization cannot survive. The Bible teaches that. History teaches that. To purposefully kill hope is a sin, especially when its only replacement is fear. No society can flourish with fear as its base.
Over the summer, mainline Protestant clergy have reported to me an increase in fear in their congregations -- overt xenophobia and nativism, racist epithets, terrified elderly people thinking their government was about to murder them, threats not to preach on anything related to health and healing (what then, I ask, can clergy possibly preach about if not health?), congregants stocking up on weapons, and people coming armed to church. One such clergyperson (an army vet), joked that he was looking for a clergy supply store that sells Kevlar vestments to wear while celebrating the Lord's Supper.
Churches are in the hope business. Yet, even they are struggling to hold on to hope. "I feel so alone," one of my minister-friends confided. "Just a few months ago, it seemed like we could change the world. Now, everyone is running for cover. People are scared." Over and over again, I've heard the same refrain: What can we do to stop the fear?
Well, one way to overcome fear is to preach healing. Because Christians are also in the healing business. Actually, the three great monotheistic faiths all teach that God's desire to heal a broken universe is the central point of faith, that shalom -- peace, healing, surrender, and salvation -- are the very reason for human existence. In great religious traditions and in lively spirituality, hope and healing are interconnected. You can't have one without the other.
For some reason, the White House seems to think that hope is a noun. Once you put it on a poster, or have millions of people vote for it, then it simply is. But hope is not a noun. Hope is a verb. It is active, ever-living, restless. It needs to be nurtured, taught, envisioned, shared. Hope for healing; hope for community; hope for global brother- and sisterhood; hope for transformation; hope for a world where neighbors do unto others; hope for a future of grace, mercy, and love.
Hope is that business of faith communities. But it is also the business of political leaders. And that's what President Obama needs to get back to tonight. Sure, he needs to talk about health care and public options, costs, job creation, and policy points. More than anything, we need the president to lead back to hope. You can't have health without hope. The fear-mongers have had their season. But the hope-killing time is over. We who know the active power of hope need to stand up. It is a time for growing hope again.
Diana Butler Bass is pretty much a postmodern progressive. In addition to blogging here, she also blogs at Progressive Revival and is the author of the new book, A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story.