Radical Hope

There is a story told in a book by Jonathan Lear entitled Radical Hope, a reflection on the life and destiny of Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow nation of Native Americans, a people whose way of life was destroyed by white settlers supported by a white government.

As the great chief sank deeper into despair for the future of his nation, broken by the destruction of all that gave his people meaning, Plenty Coups had a dream. He took the dream to the tribal elders who accepted, processed and interpreted it.

The substance of the dream was this:

  • Our traditional way of life is coming to an end…that life is about to disappear;
  • We must do what we can to open our imaginations up to a radically different set of future possibilities;
  • I need to recognize the discontinuity that is upon me…I need to preserve some integrity across that discontinuity;
  • I do have reason to hope for a dignified passage across this abyss, because God – Ah-dabt-dadt-deah – is good;
  • We shall get the good back, though at the moment we have no more than a glimmer of what that might mean.

The great chief’s dream turned out to be a guide, an experiment to seek a new way of living in the world, a new way that avoided both the resignation of despair and the suicide of resistance to white power, the latter an option taken by other tribes.

To live out of this revelation requires that one not be filled with plans or blueprints or schedules or budgets or creeds or “six easy steps’. It can only be lived out by that which God gives.

This way of hope is the work of ministry in an age of despair.

Doing advocacy for good causes is urgent. But more urgent, in my view, is the nurture of venues of obedient imagination in which unuttered possibility is uttered, thoughts beyond our thoughts are thought, and ways beyond our ways are known (Isaiah 55:8-9). In such circumstance, walking by sight is likely a return to the old ways that have failed. Walking by faith is to seek a world other than the one from which we are being swiftly ejected (Hebrews 11:14).
Walter Bruegemman, Reality, Grief, Hope – Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. p128

(If you would like to read the context for this post, download the PDF Hope and Despair – Brueggemann from the Resources page of this website)

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