My Dad was a salesman who could sell almost anything to almost anybody. As the old clichés have it, he could sell sand to beach dwellers and air conditioning to Eskimos.
On days when he was to call on important customers, he had a routine to prepare himself: get up early, polish his shoes to a spit shine, read back through the proposal he was about to make, and remind himself about where his customers had gone to school, their favorite college, their children’s names, and their golf handicap.
Then, he’d walk through the house and sing at the top of his lungs these words from Oklahoma, “Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way.” With knowledge and confidence, a song in his heart, gleaming shoes on his feet, a spring in his step, and a bright smile on his face, he’d go to make his pitch. Most often, he’d make the sale, too.
Nearly every day, my Dad lived with his head raised toward sunrise. He told me often: “Hold your head up” He’d say, “If you try your hardest and give it your best, even if you fail, you can still hold your head up.”
When I felt insecure about something I needed to do, he’d say: “Don’t let them anybody see you that way; hold your head up and look them in the eyes. Keep your chin up.” For him, these were the simple but powerful gestures of optimism and hope.
Hope can be hard to come by. Sometimes, with determination and positive thinking, we can generate optimism. When we can, we should; research shows that optimism provides energy for change which pessimism cannot.
Hope, however, is tougher and more resilient than optimism; and it often comes as a gift of resurrection grace rather than as a human achievement.
Authentic hope is paradoxical, embodied by the risen-but-eternally-scarred Jesus. It walks into the future on legs once paralyzed by fear. Hope is not a wholeness unacquainted with brokenness; it is brokenness made whole by mercy.
Hope embraces those who suffer and insists that suffering will not have the last word. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann said: “Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the promise of the divine protest against suffering.” There’s no consolation in suffering apart from such a protest. Only when we know that God does not actively will our pain is it possible for us to trust God with our pain.
We live in the tension of hope as comfort and hope as protest.
We pray for and stand with the families of soldiers and civilians who die in war and terror, but we also work to make peace by raising our voices against bigotry, bias, greed, and power-madness.
We ladle soup to the hungry, and we also labor for an end to the conditions which create hunger.
We tutor inner-city kids, and we also invest in more nurturing schools, better family life, and safer neighborhoods.
Mercy is hope as comfort; justice is hope as protest.
Because of the resurrection, we have sure though contested hope. We can trust that God is at work in the most desperate places, doing the unexpected with the unnoticed, bringing love out of fear, and recreating life out of death.