Last week at State of Formation, a number of fellow contributors wrote inspiring posts about the meaning they find within their respective religions. One of these posts in particular caught my attention. My friend and colleague Amanda Robinson wrote a very thoughtful piece entitled Meaning Vs. Hope. In her post, she expressed her frustration with result-oriented hope and pointed to the emphasis on human action within the Jewish tradition as the place where she finds meaning. Given her dedication to environmental issues in a time of ecological crises, she has found that basing her actions in hope is mostly disappointing but basing them in meaning can sustain her work and passion.
I enjoyed her post because I share her feelings about result-oriented hope. I too am done with it. As a lesbian ecofeminist, it is far too easy to be disappointed by my own actions, the church’s actions, and society’s action in regards to issues of sexuality, environmental concern, and violence against women to sustain a result-oriented hope. I do not anticipate a day in which all of society’s ills will be mended. I don’t expect racism, sexism, or poverty to disappear no matter how many people are dedicating their time and energy to such causes. However, it is my religious life which sustains my involvement in activism and my belief that the hard work so many people are doing is invaluable.
For many years, my understanding of Christian hope was built upon the idea of progress. I thought that with enough effort and patience, time would inevitably bring good changes. As a Christian, it was my job to contribute in partnership with God as we moved forward to a better day—always better than yesterday.
However, as I was introduced to feminist thought, this understanding of hope began to seem naive. I realized that as much progress as we have made in terms of women’s issues such as the right to vote, the legalization of abortion, and the opportunity to have a career, the chance of ever achieving full equality is slim to none. With each step forward, we take one, if not two, back. Today there are more ways than ever to objectify women’s bodies via technology, violence towards women continues to be a cultural norm, and Christian language about God remains as exclusive as ever. The needs and concerns of women across the world are a millennium away from being heard and met.
Once this reality set in for me, I began to find the same truth in other justice related issues. The result-oriented Christian hope I believed in for many years became nothing more than a disappointment. To work for betterment in the world with motivation built upon success is a guaranteed path to burnout. Here, I share Amanda’s desire for a different sort of perspective – a more honest one.
I have read a wide range of Christian theologians’ perspectives on hope and many of them coincide with the result-oriented hope I can no longer uphold in my own spiritual life. However, when I read feminist theologian Kathryn Tanner’s “Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity,” I found an understanding of Christian hope that I can get on board with. Tanner’s explanation is not bound by results or progress but on reflecting the eternal life of God in the present.
Though it has been a long time since I have read her good words, what I remember of her explanation has transformed my daily life and perspective on justice work. Tanner’s theology suggests that in Christ we are invited into the eternal life of God, a life which is free from all social injustices where the earth is cared for, queer teenagers are not bullied, and the hungry are fed. Our hope lies in the opportunity to reflect this paradigm of God in the world. As receivers of God’s gifts, we in turn give to the world - not motivated by success or failure but motivated by the desire to bridge the gap between the life of God and the life of this world.
With this theology, I work towards equality for women—not because I think it will be achieved globally, but because to do so reflects the eternal reality of God on earth. I can advocate for animal rights or inclusive language and not get burnout when tomorrow brings no sign of change. My actions or the actions of my community are founded upon the life of God and the opportunity to reflect it in the world, not founded upon success. This is my hope.
Photo Source: Giulio Menna (Attribution via Creative Commons)
Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.