Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The power - and politics - of HOPE

We have all heard inspiring messages about the transformative power of HOPE. Anyone who has visited a developing country and spent time with people who are courageously facing hardships and challenges on every side, can testify to the incredible power that hope can generate in even the most oppressive of circumstances. I remember clearly the day when I was in Kenya, visiting a Guardians of Hope group (see and the light came on. Guardians of Hope - what an absolutely perfect description of this approach to caring for orphans of the HIV/AIDS virus!!! These groups are literally guarding and also nurturing HOPE!

But that's just one example of hope. In general, the image that comes to my mind as I think of the power of hope is that of a solitary vibrant flower persisting gloriously in the heat and barrenness of a desert. Brilliant hues of purple, orange, yellow, red and blue set against a dreary canvas of sand and wind. Flowers that can thrive in desert conditions have apparently honed their adaptive capacity and cheerfully defy all of the challenges of nature that conspire against them.

Perhaps it's pushing the analogy too far to suggest that similarly, people who are able to rise above oppressive political, economic and environmental climates and conditions, have found reservoirs of strength that are not apparent on the surface. Is that romanticizing the poverty and oppression experienced by as many as three billion or so people who struggle every day to simply survive? Perhaps. But maybe we can honour the struggle without condoning the conditions which cause the struggle. Resilience IS beautiful.

And about those "reservoirs of strength" that the oppressed, the marginalized, the downtrodden, may tap into - I'm reminded of the scene, recorded in Matthew 4:31-33 where the disciples are concerned because Jesus hasn't had anything to eat. Surely he must be hungry and weak. But Jesus says to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." Hm. Our physical bodies need nourishment or we die. It actually happens every day to tens of thousands of human bodies (many of them CHILDREN under the age of 5!) who die of starvation. But there is more to life than the physical body and the food that fuels it...

Most of you reading this posting live in a land of plenty. Our challenge is not to find enough food to eat to keep the body going, but rather to limit our intake of fat and salt and sugar and the host of things that manufacturers ADD to our food to make it hard to resist. Enough said! But what of the spirit? Is it possible that our obsession with physical food - carbs and fats and protein and fiber and fruits and vegetables - has actually resulted in a shriveling of our spirits? Are we well fed but spiritually dry? Speaking for myself, I'd have to say YES. But it's NOT too late. I can learn. I can tap into those reservoirs that Jesus opened up and filled (and keeps filling!). I don't want to get all sentimental about this, but there it is. That's the way I see it.

I came across another book by Paulo Freire - this one is Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1992). I'll close this posting with a quote from Friere:

The idea that hope alone will transform the world, and action undertaken in that kind of naivete, is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism. But the attempt to do without hope, in the struggle to improve the world, as if that struggle could be reduced to calculated acts alone, or a purely scientific approach, is a frivolous illusion. To attempt to do without hope, which is based on the need for truth as an ethical quality of the struggle, is tantamount to denying that struggle is one of its mainstays. The essential this: hope, as an ontological need, demands an anchoring in practice. As an ontological need, hope needs practice in order to become historical concreteness. That is why there is no hope in sheer hopefulness. The hoped-for is not attained by dint of raw hoping. Just to hope is to hope in vain.

In case you're wondering, ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being. And - final thing! - a preview of the Pedagogy of Hope is available FREE, as an online edition at

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