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Optimism vs. Hope

February 15th, 2019 by Stephen Bauman

Carol had been beaten down by several terrible tragedies. The first shocker: her daughter had drowned in the backyard pool while celebrating her third birthday with friends. Then, during the subsequent counseling, her husband fell in love with the therapist whose professional boundaries were swamped by passion. Divorce ensued. Two years later I sat with Carol in an emergency room where her other daughter now lay in a coma following a biking accident.

Carol told me she had lost all hope. She quietly asked where she might find some. She was not optimistic about her future.

At that moment I didn’t have words, but I did take Carol’s hand. I sat with her for a long while. Off and on we spoke about mundane matters. My presence was all I had to offer, really.

Later, back home, I stumbled into this wisdom from Vaclav Havel: “Hope transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons … Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.”

Those of us in the religion business dare to name and describe that source of hope. We may use different words and images, but all point to something much larger than ourselves because we instinctively know that hope can’t really be hope unless its capacity outstrips our own puny powers. So, I/we say hope is rooted in God, the One who inflated our lungs in the first place, and the One to whom we shall return at the last. Like faith, hope comes to us as a kind of gift.

Carol’s daughter eventually had a long, but mostly full recovery. Along that road we had several conversations about hope… faith and love, too. She remarried. Her daughter flourished. Hope advanced…

… And speaking of hope, two weeks ago I wrote about the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church that begins a week from today. This conference will determine the future of our denomination as it formally grapples with its tortured posturing concerning human sexuality. Refer to that piece for links to various resources that elucidate the issues, including a blog post I wrote explaining where I stand. And I am remembering that optimism is not the same thing as hope…

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.