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by Berry Friesen (February 24, 2017)

In my previous post, I highlighted the frame of reference through which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. viewed the US-led empire.  I again encouraged attention to A Public Call to Protect All People as a possible frame of reference.  And I invited readers to suggest other possibilities.

This past Sunday, my local newspaper (LNP) published an essay on “hope” by Mark Wenger, the director of pastoral studies for Eastern Mennonite University in Lancaster.  Wenger begins his essay by noting the dystopian mood in parts of our country these days and then invites us to consider a way of “living forward” amid these challenging times.

I encourage you to read Wenger’s complete essay.  It offers another frame of reference for viewing life in uncertain times.  Perhaps we could even call it “resistance.”

His essay includes four sub-headings, one for each of the letters of the word “hope.”  I quote those subheadings below.

1. “Hold on to the promises of God.”

Of course, this begs several questions—who is this god? how do we know of his promises? what is the content of those promises?  In his short essay, Wenger doesn’t fully answer these questions. 

But he points to Jesus Christ as the embodiment of those promises.  And he says this:  “At the core, God’s [promises] are acts of generosity and commitment.  Think of it:  sovereign God binding himself to creation.”

Creation itself is under threat by our modern way of life.  The Trump Administration is rolling back even the modest changes put in place to reduce that threat.  In the context of this environmental cataclysm, Wenger says God has bound himself to creation. What a remarkable assertion!  

2. “Obey God and walk in his ways.”

Any sentence that starts with the word “obey” elicits our skepticism, right?  Yet Wenger has a fresh way of talking about it.  Here’s what he says:

“Imagine a birdwatcher who wants to catch sight of a rare bird.  Only the foolish go crashing loudly through the bushes or splashing through the marsh.  The bird will be long gone.

“But the wise obey the rhythms and patterns of the forest or the wetland.  The wise move in sync with the surroundings and will be much more likely to be rewarded with the prize.”

I’m a birder and this image of obedience resonates with me.

3.  “Participate in the hope of others.”

Wenger insists “it is almost impossible to be hopeful very long all by yourself. We need each other to sustain hope in dystopian times.”

Yes, indeed, we need companions.  In our preface to If Not Empire, What? John K. Stoner and I make a similar point:  “We urge you to find at least one discussion partner to join you in reading this book.  The discussions you have together, and the collective actions you join, will contribute to the political alternative we need to create.”

Think of all the times your spirits have been lifted by others.  There are too many for me to count.    

4.  “Exchange the love of things for love in relationships.”

Positive human relationships are the decisive factor in human flourishing, says Wenger.  If we want such relationships, we will need to think through our priorities. 

This is similar to the point Dr. King made in his prescription for America, calling for a shift “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” 

Looking at Wenger’s essay as a whole, perhaps it does not strike you as a political stance.  I would have held such a view at an earlier point in my life, but not anymore.  Increasingly, as I’ve recognized our bleak predicament here in the empire, I’m coming to appreciate the power of an anti-imperial culture.  It’s stronger in some ways than the power of the state and we help create it as we go about living in a life-affirming way. 

So think of Wenger’s “hope” as a culture-forming template, pointing to what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”  And yes, as a way to resist the empire.