From the Conference Minister’s Heart
by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister
“Hope connects our story to God’s story.” This statement caught my attention recently, in an article entitled “How to live in hope” by Charles R. Pinches (Christian Century, July 19, 2017). It suggests that hope is an essential part of understanding who we are, where we have come from, and where God is taking us – a timely reminder in relation to the recent Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, FL, and upcoming WDC Annual Assembly in Arlington, TX.
At the MC USA Future Church Summit we shared diverse perspectives on Anabaptist history, identity and vision for the future. And at the WDC Annual Assembly we will celebrate WDC’s 125th anniversary, another occasion to reflect on how the past has shaped us and what it means for our future. Pinches’ article suggests that hope is at the core of these questions, and in doing so he pushes us beyond shallow definitions of hope. “We tend to think of hope primarily as a feeling that arises in our hearts,” he writes. “It comes to us in many circumstances: we hope to score the goal, pass the test, or recover from the illness.” But, he says, hope is more than simply the wish for or pursuit of something. In Pinches’ article I hear three deeper dimensions of hope that connect our story to God’s story.
First, hope “connects our past with our future. By hope we reach from one to the other,” Pinches says. When we are tempted to despair, lose perspective, and become overwhelmed with our own life or the realities of the world as we know it, hope is what keeps us tethered to the larger reality of God’s love and purpose. As Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Pinches writes, “Hope for Christians has always involved a movement forward toward a unifying end, a share in God’s kingdom.”
Secondly, hope is born not out of comfort but out of difficulty. In fact, Pinches says, “Many small convenient comforts can oppose hope. If most things are easy for us, we are tempted to wish they all were easy.” He quotes a spiritual leader who worked among the poor of El Salvador, “Perhaps 90 percent of all the people who ever lived have struggled every day to keep the household alive against the daily threat of hunger, disease, accidents and violence. By distancing the non-poor from the daily threat of death, the benefits of modernity have induced us in a kind of chronic low-grade confusion about what is really important in life, namely life itself and love.” In this confusion, we mistake optimism for hope. But “hope is not optimism,” writes Pinches. “Optimism rests not on truth but on positive spin.” In contrast, hope arises from deeply rooted spiritual strength. “Hope’s work is not to deceive or trick; it is rather to hold on firmly in the midst of trouble…. If we hope in this life, it will be difficult.” We will struggle to cope with suffering and to resist oppression, sin and violence.
Finally, hope is sustained by companionship. “The difficulty in hope is borne through accompaniment by Christ,” Pinches writes. “Christian hope reaches for support from others who walk close by. Travelers in hope lean on one another.” We need each other, “to be encouraged and united in love.” (Colossians 2:2)
Our gatherings in Orlando and Arlington are opportunities to seek the presence of Christ, to reach for support, and to lean on one another in our common journey. These are also occasions to struggle together as we hear different interpretations of history, confront discrimination and oppression, listen to diverse perspectives and experiences, and commit ourselves to just and loving relationships and faithful witness. As we move forward I pray that hope will continue to connect our story to God’s story, as we are rooted and built up in Christ.