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The many unexpected shapes of hope

Journalism that witnesses restoration in every area of life

This editorial is a revised version of the speech Angela gave over Zoom in November as the recipient of Redeemer University’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for her 12 years as Editor of CC.

When I started with Christian Courier in January 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had just prorogued parliament, Barack Obama was inaugurated and the financial crisis put both countries in an economic downturn. In one of my first editorials, I looked for silver linings in the fiscal slump, like the Green Energy Act, an uptick in home cooking, and a pastor who said that “people draw closer together and rely on each other in tough times.”

While hunting for these different perspectives, I used at least one thing I’d learned at Redeemer in Dr. Bowen’s Postmodern Lit class, from that time we read a Julian Barnes book that imagined Noah’s ark from the point of view of a termite; namely, that there is more than one way to tell the same story.

It’s fun to scan the titles of other editorials from that first year: “Drive-by mission projects,” “Toddler theology,” and “All mothers work, but the pay really varies.” Yup, we had young kids when I started with CC, ages one and three, and they were such wonderful . . . material. Like that time Robin got mad at her Zonderkidz Bible because it didn’t show God in Genesis 1. Just your regular art critic, age three.

“Where’s God?” she wanted to know.

“That’s God’s hand,” I said. A stylized hand held onto the earth, in the picture.

She was totally unimpressed. “Where is the REST of God?” she said, unconsciously echoing the cry of so many adult hearts. “I want to see his FACE!”

Another day at lunch, I prayed out loud with “Thank you God, for . . .” and then rushed through a long list. Before I could say “Amen,” Alba, who was two, piped up with, “God says, ‘You’re welcome!’” She had this beautiful understanding of God as listening to us closely. And responding. And being super polite.

Two notable editorials

There were some Letters to the Editor, especially in the early years, that were not super polite. Many of them came from men, often older, often Dutch. They meant well, in the same way that my Opa meant well when he asked why I got “just an A” instead of an A+, when I was a kid. His goal was to challenge me to try harder. This very specific style of “encouragement” feels like thinly-veiled criticism, and I’ve gotten a lot of that, over the years. We are pointing out these mistakes so you can fix them! And we won’t bother mentioning what you might have done right, so you don’t become too proud.

There are two other editorials I want to tell you about, because they illustrate how closely linked my years as an editor are with motherhood. In 2010, I lost a baby in the second trimester of pregnancy. And then I wrote about it, and somehow that helped. There were, interestingly, only a few responses from men. But I did start hearing from women – of all ages. From a grandmother in her 60s who had lost a baby years ago and still remembered. From young women who had gone through the same thing. And, to this day, that editorial has unfortunately been the most requested – photocopied or emailed more times than I wanted to, for cousins and friends and the friends of CC readers with their own versions of that story.

The second editorial was a few years later, shortly after Ben was born. There was a trend at the time called the 100-Mile Diet – good and thoughtful attempts to eat food that’s been grown closer to home – within 100 miles, if you’re really serious about it. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek editorial about breastfeeding – after all, it’s local and sustainable! The lowest carbon footprint ever! I called it the Zero-Mile Diet, and included a picture of Mary nursing baby Jesus. Not a lot of men responded to that one either, strangely. Though I do remember that Bert Witvoet really liked it.

Different kinds of hope

Why am I telling you all this? Because we are more than, as Jamie Smith puts it, walking brains on a stick. We have bodies, and lives, and we live in certain places, in this moment in time, and it all matters. It matters to God. When we use who we are as friends and relatives and neighbours to make decisions at work, then we live with integrity. When we bring our faith to the boardroom and to the ice rink and to the ballot box, then we live with integrity. No compartments.

That’s part of what I learned at Redeemer and that’s my vision for the pages of CC – You want to write about your dad? Or vaccines and social media? Or problems with church leadership? Of course! It all matters! And those are all columns in the October Christian Courier, by the way. God is with us, in this broken and beautiful world, and there’s way more than one way to tell that story.

Let me close with this.

It’s a really weird time to be a journalist. Typically, journalists are not living through the same crisis they are reporting on. Now those distinctions are gone. There’s nowhere to retreat to anymore, outside of COVID, to objectively report on COVID. How can we still find & publish messages of hope that mean something?

Well, I think the answer is that hope, like story, comes in many different shapes, too. Hope can be found in our honesty, in our dreams, in our roots, in the voices of our kids. And hope can even be found in criticism – which that generation of Dutch men tried to convey to me, and which has really just become clear to me during COVID.

“Critics are the real optimists,” someone said recently – and that was a lightbulb moment for me. Critics are the real optimists, because they see how things could be better. We will not ignore or accept ecological crisis, infinite economic growth, racial inequality, the prosperity gospel or bad theology in praise and worship songs, because Christ calls us to make things better. To find our place in God’s ongoing redemption story.

That perspective is, amazingly, even more hopeful than where I began, after the Great Recession of 2008, searching for silver linings. If we truly believe that God is working, through us, to restore every bit of this earth, even the very broken things, let’s bear witness by writing about that.

May you be surprised by hope this Christmas, as we celebrate the glorious truth that God came into the mess with us, for us, to bring lasting change. Let this weary world rejoice (safely)!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Christian Courier!

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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