On Monday nights a small group of us have been watching a series of short films based on the book “America’s Unholy Ghosts”. Smack dab in the middle of a stream of information regarding the church’s complicity in systemic racism, the author answered a question regarding the future. He stated that he understood there was a distinct difference between hope and optimism.
Something clicked deep in the recesses of both my brain and my heart.
You see, I’m a creature of hope. It’s part of my DNA, my faith-structure and my wiring. Hope is intertwined not just with faith, but also trust. For me, hope is the dependence upon the Divine and belief that regardless of what today or tomorrow brings… God remains in the middle of it.
Optimism, on the other hand, seems to be linked more to our own actions. These may not be the standard definitions that have been blessed by Saint Webster, but they do tease out in my mind how I can be both filled with hope… and yet feel despair. I can fully have my hope and trust in God and feel like the world is going to heck in a nicely decorated handbasket.
Cool, right? The problem with my sussing this out for myself is that it also comes with the realization that although there is nothing needed from me in regard to hope (God is God, and that’s enough!) when it comes to optimism? Well, then….
Our own optimism is closely linked to that of our neighbors. As long as my neighbor is hungry or fearful, that confidence that today will be at least as good as yesterday is unreachable. Our choices impact the lives of others, as does our inaction (for instance, it isn’t enough for me to not be a racist, I need to be an anti-racist). What we do, who we are, impacts the whole.
The church has a dual role in pointing toward that hope we have in God while also working to create communities where our actions reflect the kin-dom of God. This is not passive work, but requires action grounded in the intent to build that kin-dom. We have a responsibility for this work that is part of our calling… and closely interconnected to that hope that we feel. The good news is that, as always, we never do this work alone.
I’ll continue to be a creature of hope but becoming more optimistic begins with my own actions in response to my siblings. Today is a new day filled with hope, thanks be to God. Will it be filled with optimism? That’s up to what we do next.