Why We Welcome

I’m going to talk about nature and what's natural. We’ll see how our understanding of nature became a concept of natural law, and what that means. Then I’ll point to some very different lessons we might take from nature. I’m not going to get to it for a little while, but I want to let you know that it’s coming. It’s our mission to grow ethically and spiritually, and I think to grow ethically we need to develop our repertoire of concepts for reflecting on ethical questions. Among those concepts are natural law theories of ethics – which, in accordance with our mission, we’ll look at in a little bit.

First, let us note, on this Pride month, that we Unitarian Universalists have been at the forefront of progress of LGBTQ justice. We can be proud of that. We should remember, however, that, while we’ve been ahead of the curve on attitudes about LGBTQ folk, we have sometimes not been very far ahead of the curve.

As early as the 1950s, some Unitarian ministers were officiating at services of union for same-sex couples. Good for us. But: many of our ministers then were refusing to do such services, and those that did sometimes didn’t tell their congregations and didn’t hold those services in their churches. It was the 1950s.

Since 1970, our Unitarian Universalist Association has been on record as supporting the rights and worth of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. Still, the lived experience of these folk in UU congregations was often painful. In the 1980s, our national Unitarian Universalist Association conducted a multiyear, nationwide study of UU’s attitudes about sexual orientation. The findings “exposed many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance” that resulted in LGBTQ people being excluded from full participation in UU congregations.

In 1987, then-President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, William Schulz, addressed the General Assembly that June. Rev. Schulz said:
“We Unitarian Universalists have been the religious leaders in [the area of gay and lesbian rights]: in our establishment of a denominational office; in our support of ministers who perform services of union. But at the moment, our values and principles are being sorely tested: not just by prejudice from outside our doors, but by homophobia from within. Let me put it as directly as I can: far too many of our congregations are choosing not to call or even consider gay or lesbian ministers solely on the basis of their affectional orientation. When we hear questions like these posed about gay or lesbian candidates – ‘But will she talk about anything other than homosexuality? But will we become a “gay church”? But will he be able to counsel heterosexuals? But will the community accept her?’ – when we hear questions like these, we know we are in the grip of a profound terror.”
My guess is that back in 1987 those questions bounced around in this congregation if the possibility of a gay or lesbian minister were discussed. Some of you have been around here long enough to remember. And you’ve seen your own attitudes grow and change, along with the shift of your fellow congregants around you. Rev. Schulz’s 1987 address to the General Assembly went on to say:
“The fear of same-sex love runs deep in Western culture. But I beg us to understand that if such fear is permitted to control us, we will be in violation of everything which Unitarian Universalism stands for in the world. It is not enough to say passively and contentedly, ‘Why, of course, gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregation if they choose to come.’ What is required is the recognition that gay and lesbian people are already members of every single congregation on this continent. The issue is whether they feel supported enough to make their presence known. What we require is the courage and wisdom to acknowledge our own fears, both gay and straight, and to take active steps to make the welcome known to the gay and lesbian community.”
Back in 1987, we may have been ahead of the curve, MAYBE – but were definitely still ON that learning curve, and with a ways to go.

In response to the attitudes revealed by our study, in 1990, our UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association), launched The Welcoming Congregation program along with the Welcoming Congregation Handbook with lesson plans for 10 workshops. Congregations were urged to seek certification as a Welcoming Congregation, and to get that certification required completing a two-year education and discussion program designed to change those attitudes, correct those prejudices, and replace ignorance with knowledge and understanding. The first UU congregation to receive certification received it by the end of 1991.

One thing you may have noticed about Rev. Schulz’s 1987 address was that it was all about the L and the G, and nothing about the BTQ. The 1999 edition of the Welcoming Congregation Handbook was substantially expanded to be more inclusive of transgender identity and bisexual identity, as well as race and ethnicity. Four new workshops were added: “Racism and Homophobia/Heterosexism,” “The Radical Right,” “Bisexuality and Biphobia,” and “Transgender Identity: What it Means.”

In 2003, in the case of Goodridge vs. Department of Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples could not be excluded from marriage rights in Massachusetts. Hilary Goodridge led a total of 14 plaintiffs in that case -- 7 same-sex couples – and half of those 14, including Hilary Goodridge and her partner Julie Goodridge, were UUs.

In 2006, 16 years after our Welcoming Congregation launched, the milestone 500th congregation to attain the Welcoming Congregation status was reached. There were then, as today, just over 1,000 UU congregations nationwide – and we passed the half-way mark for our congregations being Welcoming Congregations later in 2006. Today, most of our congregations have the status LGBTQ Welcoming. In 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court required that state to recognize same-sex marriage. After Massachusetts and Connecticut, few people expected Iowa to be the third state to recognize same-sex marriage, but we were – in 2009 – though we also had backlash about that.

Through it all, we UUs have been out in front – even if often only a little in front – in understanding and welcoming LGBTQ folk. Many of us are LGBTQ folk, and what straight folk learn from LGBTQ folk, and what LGBTQ folk learn from other LGBTQ folk – what all of us learn -- is what perfect looks like. To explain what I mean by that, we have to look further back in history.

An idea that goes back in Western civilization for centuries and still occasionally manifesjts is the idea that LGBTQ activity is unnatural. What have been called “sodomy laws” were still on the books in 14 states until 2003 when the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision invalidated them. Those laws often made reference to unnatural acts. I know that few of us would subscribe to the idea that LGBTQ activity is “unnatural” – but let’s explore where this terrible idea came from so that we can better combat it where we see it cropping up.

The “natural law” is supposedly universally valid and therefore “natural” and discoverable by reason alone. The idea is that moral and legal order derives from the nature of the cosmos, or the nature of human beings. Natural law consists of a set of principles that can be seen to be true by our ‘natural light’ or reason. There are religious versions, in which the natural law expresses God’s will for creation, and non-religious versions in which human nature establishes conditions for human flourishing, and the morally right thing to do is to follow what our nature establishes.

When I was young and much taken with the idea of civil disobedience to unjust laws, this idea that were principles higher than the positive laws passed by congress and approved by the courts was very appealing. It's still appealing. This idea that there are principles of justice higher than statutes, principles which courts try to discern and apply, is an important, valuable, even necessary idea. Courts, of course, sometimes get it wrong, and may be criticized when they do, or when we think they do. The court might be getting it right and its critics the ones that are wrong, but we can’t have that discussion unless we presuppose the existence of such higher principles of justice. Presupposing them, we may then proceed to debate about what they are. What we’re really doing in such debates, I think, is trying to organize and articulate our moral intuitions in a way that might provide some guidance for us going forward. Natural law theory says criticism of unjust laws involves appealing to principles that are “discoverable by reason.” I don't think so. Such principles are certainly discussable by reason. Human beings can make arguments to each other about them – and we do. But I'd say the principles are more invented than discovered. But whether we are inventing principles or discovering them, I think it's important that we be able to give reasons for thinking a statute or a court decision is wrong -- and that we may sometimes find those reasons so compelling as to justify civil disobedience.

The dream of reason is to produce arguments so compelling that all people – at least, all people whose reasoning is working properly -- will arrive at the same conclusions – and that is a pipedream, a delusion. What natural law theory fails to account for is that reason, diligently applied by motivated reasoners, can always craft a counter-argument to any argument. The dream of arriving – through a process we self-congratulatorily call ‘reason’ -- at a universally agreed set of principles we can then inerrantly use in all our moral deliberations ain’t gonna happen. And when we expect that it could happen – when we expect reason to eventually yield universal agreement on principles that will settle all moral questions what actually does happen isn’t good.

In particular, let’s look at how natural law theory came to call certain sexual or affectional orientations unnatural. Aristotle gave us a version of natural law which said that what is natural, and therefore good, for any being, is for that being to realize its telos: its end, its purpose, its goal, the reason for its existence and the ultimate aim toward which it strives. Everything has a telos, and the good for that thing is to become what its telos is for it to be. The telos of an acorn is an oak tree. The telos of a knife is to cut.

And, for Aristotle, the telos of a human being is, in a word, flourishing. Actually, his Greek word is eudaimonia, variously translated as flourishing, or well-being, or happiness. I’ll go with flourishing. Our nature has an aim, and what makes something good, then, is that it facilitates realizing the aim our nature. What is good for a dog is what is perfective, or completing, of its doggy nature – what brings it to its fulfillment. What is good for a human is what is perfective, or completing, or fulfilling of human nature: that’s our flourishing.

That doesn’t sound so terrible. Flourishing is surely a good thing. But you may have noticed that what’s being assumed is that all humans have the same nature, and that perfecting or completing or fulfilling what we are as humans will be the same in all humans. Aristotle, we love you, man, but that’s messed up.

Then, in Aquinas’s hands in particular, the idea that everything had a purpose applied to each of our parts. Hence, it was an abuse of reproductive organs to use them for anything other than their “natural” purpose: which was to reproduce. Sexual acts not ordered toward procreation violated natural law; they were unnatural. Aquinas became the official philosopher of Catholicism, and so, to this day, Catholic teaching is that neither same-sex sexual activity, nor even artificial birth control, is permissible because that’s using the reproductive organs for something other than their purpose: to reproduce.

Most of us, I think, recoil from Aquinas’ conclusion, but it’s worth taking some time to clarify why. For one thing, we might say, we shouldn’t look to nature for answers to our moral questions. For another thing, supposing we do look to nature. We now know a lot about nature today that Aristotle and Aquinas did not know. We know, for instance, that species evolve.

If Aristotle had been aware of species evolution, and if he had applied his notion of telos not just to individuals but to species, he probably would have said that the telos of a species is to perfect itself through gradual incremental improvements in its functioning down through the generations. But already we run into a quandry. Take for instance, a species that lived about 6 million years ago and was the last common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Was its telos as a species to evolve into humans, or into chimps, or into bonobos? Which one of those is a fulfilling, a perfecting, of the last common ancestor, while the other two are mere aberrations? That’s not an answerable question – though I kinda like the case for bonobos myself.

Again, we really shouldn't be trying to take moral lessons from nature. Philosophers call that the naturalistic fallacy. But if we were going to look to nature for some pointers, then what nature would show us is that there are an unimaginably large number of branching possibilities – none of them better than others, and none of them having a telos other than to keep on branching out new possibilities, creative new forms.

If we were going to apply nature’s model to human society, then we would celebrate our branching out new possibilities, creative, sometimes, say, flamboyant, new forms for loving, creative new experiments with roles and identities. That’s nature’s way. Nature’s model is diversity, experimentation, and unpredictable change – and for manifesting that in the social realm, we are especially grateful for our LGBTQ folk – and especially proud.

If we were going to look to nature for some pointers, then there’s an even more radical lesson there. Gradual incremental improvements in functioning down through the generations is only part of how evolution works. Sometimes the change isn’t about things working better – like eyesight getting sharper or intestines getting better at digesting a new food source. Sometimes the change is a complete repurposing. In the process of evolution, parts that evolved to serve one purpose get appropriated for an entirely different purpose.

I really want us to understand this feature of how nature works – what “natural” really is – not because nature dictates morality, but because nature's way of species evolution does offer us a metaphor for thinking about how social moral evolution happens. So let me give several examples:

Mammalian forelimbs gradually evolved in one direction into bat wings. Evolving down a different branch, they turned into dolphin fins. But the original purpose of forelimbs was for walking on. Even grasping things with them was an innovation. Certainly, when they first emerged they had nothing to do with either flying or swimming.

Certain insect antennae turned into mandibles, with a function completely different from antennae.

A jaw bone in dinosaurs, fish, and reptiles emerged for reasons that had nothing to do with hearing, but, in mammals, that small bone was appropriated and made into a part of the auditory system.

An ancestor of wasps and bees had an ovipositor (egg-laying tube). It was there to lay eggs, not to sting with -- yet it was appropriated and made into a stinger.

Before there were land animals, certain fish developed a swim bladder, which they could fill with gas, usually air. This allowed the fish to stay at a given depth without expending energy on swimming. The swim bladder evolved into the lung of the earliest lungfish – and from there into the lungs of land animals. This device for staying at a given depth in water turned into the essential step for moving onto land -- which was entirely different from the purpose for which it originally evolved.

Structures that served one purpose get put to very different purposes. It happens all the time. Nothing could be more – shall we say it – natural.

It's easy to miss just how radical a point this is. Through millennia of Western civilization we have been making moral arguments "from nature": that certain actions were "unnatural," and therefore wrong, because they violated something’s purpose. It turns out nature herself repurposes organs. Building upon its inheritance, the lungfish transcended that inheritance and became a new thing on this earth. Bats and dolphins, mandibular and stinging insects, mammalian auditory systems -- and, one way or another, ultimately every complex feature of every species -- built upon its inheritance to transcend that inheritance and become a new thing on this earth.

If we are to draw lessons from nature, the lesson to draw is this: creative new purposes are just as natural, and just as important, as incremental improvements in fulfilling a prior purpose.

I said that what straight folk learn from LGBTQ folk, and what LGBTQ folk learn from other LGBTQ folk – what all of us learn is what perfect looks like. Perfect, we can now see, is not about getting better at some preconceived ideal. Perfect is the ever-branching creative repurposing of whatever we find ourselves with. Perfect is the discovery, or invention, of new ideals rather than attainment of a preconceived ideal. Perfect is becoming who we are, being ourselves, just as we are, just as we love, and just as we are becoming, whatever transitioning we may be in the midst of. How can we not take pride in that? How can we not be welcoming of that?

May it be so.


Active Hope

We'll look today at some criticisms of the very idea of hope. Then we'll see what conception of hope might we might want to retain in the face of these legitimate criticisms.

Philosophers have tried their hand at clarifying what’s going on when we invoke this concept “hope.” We use the word in a lot of different ways. "Hope springs eternal," "A glimmer of hope," "Hope against hope," "Live in hope," "Keep your hopes up," "Raise – or dash -- someone's hopes." Philosophers aiming to elucidate “hope” generally take as their starting point the “standard account” of hope. They then proceed to either defend, amend, or urge a replacement to the standard account.

According to the standard account of hope: to hope that something means two things: It means to believe that the thing is possible, and it means to wish or desire the thing. If you believe it’s possible, and you wish or desire it, then you are hoping for it.

That’s fine as a starting point because it does capture the way the word is very frequently used. "I hope my lottery ticket wins." "I hope you recover quickly from your illness and feel better soon." "I hope the car will start after that very hard freeze it was out in last night." We use the word “hope” to express wishfulness – for something that could happen, however unlikely. (We have to add that it’s something that could happen. "Wish" might sometimes be for something impossible. Hence, we enjoy stories about magical geniis that can grant the impossible – but we wouldn’t say that we hoped for something that we acknowledged couldn’t happen.)

But there must be more to hope than wishfulness within the realm of the possible. If wishfulness were all there was to it, I don’t think hope would belong with the spiritual qualities like peace, faith, love, and joy. You’ve seen those banners – especially around Christmas season – that say: Faith, Hope, Joy, Love, Peace. For our closing hymn today, we will sing that there is more love somewhere, and then: more hope, more peace, and more joy. It wouldn’t really work to plug in “wishfulness” for “hope” in those contexts. In our opening hymn we sang, “I’ll bring you hope when hope is hard to find.” If we’d sung “I’d bring you wishfulness when wishfulness is hard to find,” that would have a rather different feel to it. Or suppose that in 1st Corinthians, Paul had written: “And now faith, wishfulness, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” You’d be like: what’s wishfulness doing in there? No, the "standard account" fails to capture the spiritual significance of hope. There must be something more to hope than wishfulness, combined with belief in possibility. The standard account will do for a starting point, but it won’t do to leave it there.

Hope, on the standard account, might be escapism from reality, directing the mind to an imagined future when attention to the actual present might be more salutary. "Hoping" might be a euphemism for "in denial." Hope on the standard account is about wanting things to be different; spiritual wisdom is about loving what is.

The task of spirituality is, as psychiatrist M. Scott Peck put it, “an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” Wishfulness, a retreat from present reality into some imagined future, is an obstacle to spirituality. One study has found that the chronically ill may be happier if they give up hope.
People who suffer with a chronic disability or illness may be happier if they give up hope that things will ever improve, suggests a small but intriguing study . . . Why? Because people don’t adapt well to situations they think are short lived, they hold out for something better, which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. “Hope has a dark side,” says Peter Ubel, MD, one of the study’s authors. “It can make people put off getting on with their lives; in essence, it can get in the way of happiness.” For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Carnegie Mellon University, followed 45 patients with new colostomies, meaning each patient had his/her colon removed and had to use an external pouch to contain bowel contents. At the time of the procedure, some were told their colostomy was reversible—that they would undergo a second surgery to reconnect their bowels in several months. Other patients were told their colostomy was permanent and that they would never regain normal bowel function. . . . Over the next 6 months, the participants filled out a series of surveys designed to measure their psychological well-being. In the end, those who didn’t hold out any hope for getting their colostomies reversed were happier than those who clung to the hope that they would some day be back to “normal.” About the upbeat group, Ubel says, “We think they were happier because they got on with their lives. They realized the cards they were dealt, and recognized that they had no other choice but to play those cards.” (Time, 2009 Nov 3 -- CLICK HERE.)
Debbie Hampton's blog asks: "What if it is the hoping that keeps us from finding peace and happiness?" She writes: “Immediately after, my sons went to live in a different state with their father, and, without a significant other, I was left alone. Life was very bleak and painful, at first. Over the years that followed, I learned to reframe my thoughts and to see my situation differently." By neither "dwelling on the negative thoughts," nor "hoping for something different," she continues, "I was able to drastically relieve the suffering and pain."
"Right smack dab in the middle of the muck and mire of life, even at its very worst, it is possible to find happiness and peace because these qualities are in your mind. They exist in your thoughts ABOUT what happens, not in the actual happenings. Happiness is not in hope. It is in your thoughts and actions." (Debbie Hampton, "The Dark Side of Hope" -- CLICK HERE.)
Psychotherapist Karen Krett has written a book, The Dark Side of Hope: A Psychological Investigation and Cultural Commentary. Hoping, Krett points out, can preclude genuinely useful steps toward getting much of what the person wants. (Krett's article-length reflection on the topic: CLICK HERE.)

Danielle LaPorte blogs, "give up hope." She suggests that we drop the word "hope" from our vocabulary. Instead of saying, for example, "I hope I'll get the job," she asks us to consider one of these alternatives:
“I really want to get the job.” (“Point taken,” says the Universe.)
“I’m praying to get that job.” (Prayer is an action too.)
“I have done all that I can do to get the job.” (Yes! Stand tall.)
“I will either get the job, or I won’t.” (Precisely. Now you can get on with your day.)
“I expect to end up with a job that I love.” (Excellent! Open-ended and affirmative!)
(Source: CLICK HERE)
The American writer Henry Miller (1891-1980):
“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions. It's a sort of spiritual clap, I should say.”
Joanna Macy explains:
“Hope was a word that for years I didn’t use. I would say things like: Hope is a killer. Or: Hope distracts you from what you need to face. And look at the Buddha’s teachings; you don’t find hope in any of it. It takes you away from the present moment.”
Clearly, if “hope” is to be rescued – if we aren’t to give up hope on hope – something other than the standard account is called for. Hope – as a concept in Western cultures – is rooted in Christian theology. Let’s look back at that Christian idea and see if we can re-frame in a way that will work for us.

St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th-century spoke of hope and faith as related yet distinct in the way that the good and the true are related yet distinct. Per Aquinas, faith pertains to the true as hope pertains to the good. Specifically, faith relates to God as a source of truth, while hope relates to God as a source of goodness.

(Sidenote with regard to faith and truth: I’d say we’re not dealing here with the standards of truth with which scientists, historians, and criminal trial juries are concerned. We’re dealing with poetry – with the feeling of truth we get from a powerful poem that moves us see things in a new way. As I’ve said, theology is best understood as a kind of poetry. So faith is a way of relating to the ultimate through which we apprehend poetic, metaphorical truths.)

Hope, then, is a way of relating to the ultimate through which we apprehend a fundamental goodness of reality. Hope is one of the three theological virtues, the other two being faith and charity (love). Along with these three theological virtues, Catholic ethics also emphasized four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. As Aquinas explained it, what made hope, faith, and love theological, as opposed to cardinal, virtues was:
"First, because their object is God, inasmuch as they direct us aright to God; second, because they are infused in us by God alone; third, because these virtues are not made known to us, save by Divine revelation, contained in Holy Writ."
In this context, hope is the virtue that allows us to relate to God as a source of goodness who will provide for our needs and ultimately provide for eternal life, enabling us therefore to persevere through difficulties. From this theological conception of hope, the idea devolved in popular usage to mere wishfulness.

So: is there something in the original Christian theology about hope that we could tease loose from its Christian background and make use of? I believe that there is. Take this idea of the fundamental goodness of reality. What this comes down to, I would say, is that this life and this world can be meaningful.

To despair is to succumb to meaninglessness. Hope is the feeling, the attitude, that what we do, and this world in which we do it, means something. If you had a chance to read my column in this month’s issue of “Connecting,” then you saw how I invoke Vaclev Havel, who said:
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well – or even, I would add, the wish that that things will turn out in any particular way. Rather, hope is about meaning – about things making sense. Hopelessness, then, at its root, is a pervasive feeling that things – life, the world – don’t make sense.

Imagine trying to play a game with rules that are too complex to grasp and that change (or seem to) in unpredictable ways at random intervals. I wouldn’t see the sense in that game, and I’d pretty quickly give up. If, for some reason, I were obliged to stay at the table, I think I’d find myself just going through the motions, not really engaged. Now imagine that life generally felt like that: it just doesn’t make sense. That’s hopelessness.

When things – life, the world – make sense, then we know how to engage with them. We know how to play. We know how to form meaningful purposes and how to pursue them. We can persevere through difficulties. Whether our purpose is “realistic” or “ambitious” with miniscule odds of success, either way, our purposes give our life meaning. We can deal with steep odds if those odds make sense.

Failure, then, doesn’t deprive our efforts of meaning, for we understand the larger context in which our efforts had value: perhaps preparing the way for later success, or for others’ success, or just being a worthwhile experience. Indeed, hope is not about likelihood of “success,” but about having a sense that we know what we are doing, that we are engaged in something meaningful – i.e., something that makes sense.

Havel goes on to add:
“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”
Hope: the ability to work for something because it is good – just because it is good, not because we have any expectations of future results.

With reality-grounded hope, we act here and now without knowing what effect, if any, the action will have – without needing to know. Certainly, we never entirely let go of our attachments. We learn to hold them more lightly. When we do that -- when we loosen-up, a bit, the vice-like grip we habitually have on our attachments -- we are more open to the inexorable yet unpredictable flow of change: things passing from us and new things arising. We more readily adapt to whatever circumstances bring. And we’re more ready to respond in compassion -- because we aren’t clinging so hard to any reason not to.

When you love what is, you’re more ready to care for it -- while at the same time more flexible about what the outcome of your caring might look like. If working for change means having a very specific, detailed picture of what you want, then that’s not loving what is – it’s rejecting what is in favor of this other thing that you want in place of reality. Working for change doesn’t have to be that kind of attachment to a certain outcome. Working for change might instead be an open engagement that isn’t sure exactly what the outcome will be but works creatively with the situation to uncover possibly-surprising ways that needs can be better met.

Let’s call it closed hope when it’s an attachment to a specific outcome, when there’s demand energy, when center-stage is occupied by upset, blame, and judgment. Closed hope is a desire for change without accepting what is.

Call it open hope when it’s open-ended, reality-affirming, creatively transformative engagement for change that better meets needs without pre-commitments to any particular strategy for how that should happen. Open hope is engagement for change while at the same time letting go of attachment to results and fully embracing, loving, things just as they are. If you can imagine such engagement -- work and commitment yet without desires, motivated ultimately not by attachment to a specific outcome, but by the intention to express your true self in the world, trusting that manifesting your authentic caring self will be transformative in unpredictable ways beyond your control -- then you have imagined open hope.

Joanna Macy, whom I earlier cited as saying “Hope was a word that for years I didn’t use” – has come around to what she calls Active Hope – as opposed to the passive hope of mere wishfulness. It’s true, as the saying goes, that hope is not a plan. But despair is not a plan either. If we’re going to move forward, toward crafting a provisional plan and implementing it, then hope – the attitude that our purposes lend meaning to our lives – will be helpful.

Hope, Macy now says, is not something that you have; it’s something you do. Hope is a response to a calling you feel – a caring for our world. In Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, the authors write:
Active Hope is not wishful thinking. "Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or some savior. Active hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world. The web of life is calling us forth at this time. We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part. With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store, strengths to discover, and comrades with whom to link arms. Active Hope is readiness to engage. Active Hope is readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others,... A readiness to discover the size and strengths of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, our own authority, our love for life, the liveliness of our curiosity, the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence, the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead. None of these can be discovered in an armchair, or without risk.”
Macy and Johnstone describe a helpful continuous spiral, depicted here:
We may enter the spiral at any point, but if it’s not otherwise clear, then step in at the point of gratitude. Consciously articulate for what you are thankful. Writing it down helps cement gratitude as your anchor.

From there, is honoring our pain for the world. Face forthrightly and fully the harm. Reality, as I have said, is never depressing. Depression is a side-effect of attempts to turn away from reality.

With these two steps we are clearly closing the door on wishful escapism, but are grounding ourselves in the reality of both blessing and pain, of both the beauty and the tragedy. We may then see with new eyes, discerning afresh the task that this moment sets before us.

We may then go forth to engage that task. From the experience we find new bases for gratitude, and so continue on the spiral, each time around on a new plane. As Macy and Johnstone write:
“When we see what we love, it reminds us of what we act for. When we recognize the danger, it gives us a strong reason to wake up, show up, and play our part. What helps us face the mess we’re in… is the knowledge that each of us has something of great value to offer, a priceless role to play. In rising to the challenge of playing our best role, we discover something precious that both enriches our lives and adds to the healing of our world.”
May it be so. Amen.