Disruptive hope

Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.

“Return to Normal” and “Build Back Better” are the two dominant mindsets for COVID-recovery. Any suggestion of more disruption would invite stone-throwing, but that may be our future. High levels of present anxiety and fear for the future lead to equating hope with more tranquility. Is there another kind of hope? Is hope possible in the midst of forces that are disrupting every area of life?

I imagine the followers of Jesus had similar questions in the weeks leading up to Easter.

Overturning the moneychanger tables in the temple square could be cheered as courageous protest. But claiming the title of King of the Jews in front of the powerful Pilate? That’s dangerous disruption of the existing order. And then comes the resurrection: death to life, with claims for renewal of the whole world. The ultimate disruption! Scary and upsetting – but also a purpose that grounds a different kind of hope.

Smart, powerful hope

The disruptions we are experiencing in COVID-times are serious, but they are small compared to the upheavals that will likely come as the increasing impacts of climate change intersect with social unrest that is an inevitable result of growing social and economic inequities. Both of these patterns are well-documented. In a new book called Commanding Hope, Thomas Homer-Dixon struggles to provide his children with a reason for hope in the face of these combined threats. He is alert to the reality that today’s children are the first generation with lower expectations for their future material well-being. Homer-Dixon is known for early predictions of the damage climate change is now doing and the 2008-2009 financial crisis. He studies complex systems and wicked problems. Those are problems that require major changes in worldviews, institutions, and technologies to effectively address them.

Hope in such a disruptive context, says Homer-Dixon, needs to be realistic, alert to threats without denial or minimization. It will take more than positive thinking, optimism or even resilience to maintain hope. Christians would agree with his assessment that faith in technological change is misplaced hope. Hope for our times needs to be active, even aggressive. “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” said eco-philosopher David Orr. Homer-Dixon adds that it needs to be astute in understanding different worldviews, have moral clarity, and be powerful enough to drive complex changes and counteract the fear and negative emotions that come with danger to our own realities. Another insight I appreciated is the need to emphasize what people have in common, while not ignoring differences, in a more profound pluralism than we see in today’s focus on divisive identities.

Commanding or disruptive hope?

In the end, Homer-Dixon grounds a Commanding Hope in the universal impulse to protect our children and the recognition that we share a common future. Imagining a better future and engaging in a heroic fight to achieve it can be grounds for hope. It seems a rather slim basis to me. I find myself wondering if his children will find it enough to sustain them. To ground my hope, I turn to the resurrection as God’s disrupting hope for disruptive times.


  • Kathy Vandergrift

    Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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