Photo: Night Sky
Not the Light that Precedes the Dawn
I participated in an Advent ritual this past Sunday. You know the one -- a purple candle is lit and we say some words about hope. At my church, those words got unpacked later in the service. The preacher pointed out a distinction that I continue to mull over this week as I go about the various opportunities and challenges of my work as Room for All's director:
Hope is not the light at the end of the tunnel, not the light that precedes the dawn... That's optimism. But that is not the deep hope, the gospel hope that breaks into the utter darkness of our lives.*
I realize how much I rely on seeing glimmers of light in order to feel optimistic that the dark night of LGBTQ exclusion in the life and ministry of the RCA will end. I'm sustained by the mother of a gay son who pushes back against the repressive climate in her church by creating a support group for other parents and allies. A congregation with a lot to risk asks for help in writing their new LGBTQ-inclusive welcoming statement. An elder who wants to "start the conversation" with her pastor. A slew of RCA college and seminary students at RfA's recent national conference. The approval of a first-ever classis-wide welcoming statement. An out-of-the-blue contribution from someone who trusts us to use it to make a difference.
Without those tangible flickers, I can easily lapse into pessimism. I get angry when I encounter exclusionary policies, practices and comments across our denomination that hurt people and deny the gospel. But pondering the difference between optimism and hope has nudged me to examine my own attitudes. Can I have hope even when I'm not feeling optimistic? Sunday's sermon gave me reason to think so.
Optimism is a reactive emotion, dependent on what we see around us. Hope neither depends on the vicissitudes of our personal feelings, nor on the chance that weâ€™ll catch a glimpse of light before dawn. And that's a relief. Deep hope â€“ gospel hope â€“ is possible solely because of the incarnational, already-not-yet "God with us" who is Light. In Jesus, hope is possible by what we can know in the dark. We wait in the certainty of hope that we cannot see.
Put that way, optimism seems saccharine, even a bit narcissistic. And while optimism may salve, it's not particularly motivating. But gospel hope, that kind of "knowing in the dark" certainty, gets me up on my feet and willing to take risks. Rooted in gospel, hope is defiant, even subversive. As RfA's mission statement has it, "Compelled by the inclusive love of God revealed in Jesus Christ." There's nothing passive about hope!
So what does all this say about RfAâ€™s ministry, and your part in it? Be assured, we rely on the encouraging light that comes from all of you; we couldnâ€™t find our way without your conviction, your ideas, your witness, your prayers, and your financial gifts. Our ministry depends on you, and your support is crucial at this juncture in the RCAâ€™s ongoing deliberations.
But does our mission depend on you? No, because that comes from outside of ourselves. Even in disappointments when we canâ€™t see the way forward, much less the retreating backside of LGBTQ exclusion in the RCA, the hope we have in the inclusive love of God revealed in Jesus Christ compels us. Because we have hope, we support LGBTQ young people and their families. Because we have hope, we offer "Building an Inclusive Church" workshops. Because we have hope, we're building a roster of "Room for All" churches. Because we have hope, we meet with consistories and RCA classis leaders. Because we have hope, we offer inclusive worship at General Synod.
We welcome you to actively wait with us â€“ the dawn is already-and-not-yet here.
Blessed Advent, friends -- and thank you!
*Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Allan Janssen