Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Myth of Hopelessness

Wait and HopeImage by Pandiyan via Flickr

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29:7

Survivor Story

On January 9, 2006, Ellin Klor was on her way to a new knitting group. She was a 56 year old children’s librarian, who went to work in Santa Clara, CA and then drove the after school car pool for her daughter. She loved teaching this new class. After parking her tan station wagon, she hoisted her bags from the backseat. As she climbed the stairs at the front door, she stubbed her toe and fell. She landed chest first on her knitting bags. She rolled over, got up and scolded herself for carrying too many things.

Once inside the house, she felt a growing ache in her chest. It was not out-of-breath pain. As she lifted her red sweater to look at the source of her pain, she was stunned to see a four-inch long, jagged splinter of a wooden knitting needle, jutting from her chest. “Oh my God,” she whispered.

Her friends frantically suggest what to do. Some wanted to pull the splinter out. But Ellin said, “No” -- a decision that saved her life. If she had pulled the spike she would have quickly bled to death. Then the friends wanted to quickly drive her to the hospital, but she said “No” called 911. That choice was also lifesaving. Jostling in the car might have move the barb and fatally damaged her heart.

After hours of testing she found out that the needle has penetrated her sternum. The point of the needle has grazed her heart, nicking the right ventricle. Surgeons opened her chest, stitched up her heart. But, this was on part of the struggle for Ellin. 12 days after her surgery she awoke with excruciating chest and back pain. At first the doctors found no immediate explanation for the pain, but later a radiologist from Stanford brought Ellin back to the hospital to tell her that a high-grad invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer) had been found. If not for the needle, she would more than likely have grown silently beyond treatment.

Ellin said, “I didn’t die from the knitting needle, so I’m not going to die from cancer.” She was determined to survive. Ben Sherwood, in his book “The Survivor’s Club,” lists three rules for survivors. First, everyone will join the Survivor’s club: “everyone will face a life and death struggle sometime; Second, “your immediate challenge is the only one that matters.” No matter what the challenge your deal is as big as anyone else’s; Third, in the ordeal, you will “discover strength where you least expect it.” You have more resources than you realize.

I’m a Survivor

I’m a survivor. I’m here because I survived a life threat. When I was three or four the pilot light in our furnace went out. My parents and I were asleep as the house filled with natural gas. One spark and our home would have exploded. Some how my dad was able to stagger to the front window, open the window and then collapse to unconsciousness. Fortunately, my grandfather was coming by that morning and found us. He opened the windows and doors, and help us revive. If he had not come, if my dad had not gone to the window, I would not be here today. In this crisis, my family found the resources to survive. I believe God had his hand on my life, even when I was not able to help myself.

My grandmother was a survivor. She spent harsh days on the prairies of South Dakota. She contracted TB and was sent to a sanitarium to die. A woman gave her a Bible and said, "Read this and believe in God." She did, asking God to let her live to raise her 3 year old daughter. She was the only person out of 24 in her ward to leave alive. She survived. Later in her seventies, she was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery and treatment she survived and lived to 93 years of age. Through her difficult life, my grandmother found the resources to be a survivor. She found strength and faith she didn't know she had.

The Myth of Hopelessness

To be a survivor you have to debunk the myth of hopelessness. Sherwood writes about the “myth of hopelessness.” Most people believe “when a plane crashes, everyone dies.” Many of the famous crashes in the news tell us this is true. But, Arnold Barnett, a 60-year-old professor at MIT, analyzed all the data from the last 10 years and determined out of 53,487 people who were involved in plane crashes, 51,207 lived. The survival rate was 95.7 per cent. The National Transportation Safety Board stated: “Contrary to public perception the most likely outcome of an accident is that most of the occupants survived.”

One of the consequences of the myth of hopelessness is “that when people believe there’s nothing they can do to save themselves, they put themselves at great risk.” (Sherwood, p. 59.) He says that when people think things are hopeless they do nothing to try to save themselves. He calls this the myth of panic. It’s like the baby chicks that freeze under the shadow of a chicken hawk. This response is called “tonic immobility.” When the unexpected threatens some respond by freezing and doing nothing. And they often die.

It is easier to freeze in the face of disaster. Taking responsibility for our lives and facing the crisis is more difficult.

One can expend more energy on what one cannot do than what one CAN do. Our faith calls us to express our hope by facing reality and taking responsibility for those things we can change. Christ calls us to live out the Gospel, not live in fear over the massive changes challenging our world.

Hope in the Midst of Disaster

I recently attended a lecture by one of my former professors, Louis Stulman. He spoke about how the prophets offered hope in the midst of disaster. He said the Prophets spoke intensely about trauma – especially those that shattered their world – events beyond their capacity to cope. Kathryn O’Connor – writes about how prophets speak to the collapse of the world, when things come unglued.

The prophets dared to feel when others only seemed to numb themselves. They took God to court – over the moral order of the universe – to find justice.

Jeremiah expresses an acute sense of vulnerability and powerless in the face of disasters of life. He writes a meditation on trauma and disaster. But, the Prophets speak about more than trauma; we can read the Prophets as a survivors guide for living in the midst of disaster.

Speaking from the book of Jeremiah he describe several characteristics of prophetic hope:

1. Prophetic hope is real. It is not an abstraction. It is tied to a particular corner of the world -- always tied to local context. Prophecies are anchored in a particular time and place. They speak new realities to particular people in a specific context.

2. Prophetic hope is candid about disaster – all forms of denial have to be shattered in order for hope to emerge.

· Prophets break a number of denials and deceptions.

· Henri Nouwen – we say, “let’s forget it,” but we leave forces loose which come back to hurt us. Hope enables us to engage reconciliation in conflict.

· Hope is about truth telling – abandoning falsity is the beginning of hope.

3. Prophetic hope comes through making meaning of suffering as the way through suffering.

· Ezekiel spoke of God as “Yahweh Shammah” - God is there … in Babylon.

· Suffering is not arbitrary – Ezekiel affirms that God is present in suffering.

4. Prophetic Hope embraces ambiguity. It refuses to offer simplistic answers. It refused to flatten the world into a monolithic, singular, safe, simplistic set of categories.

· The prophets will not reduce the cause of Israel’s collapse into a singular cause.

· The Prophetic community participates in the ongoing conversation about the disasters of the world.

· Prophets are at home in the multiplicity of interpretations.

5. The prophetic hope does not always demand winning.

· We instructively link success and achievement with hope.

· For prophets winning is not everything.

· Hope came even to the losers.

· Survival takes the place of winning.

· Sometimes just showing up is a great thing – surviving catastrophe is a great achievement.

6. Prophetic Hope involves working with others to build a better world. It’s about community building.

· The prophets spoke of hope in action – “to heal the world.”

· The 8th century prophet Amos cried, “let justice run down like water”

· Micah sought justice is done among his people.

The exiles were tempted to do nothing. They were afflicted with tonic immobility. But Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to seek the shalom of the city where God had set them -- “There you will find your shalom.” God told them through the prophet to “unpack your bags and seek the peace of the city where you are.” The key to survival and for that matter hope is to act. To engage reality, face one’s crisis with hope. It is to be a survivor, finding resources we didn’t know we have. It is to find God in new places, places we thought too dark for God. It is to join God and others, right where one is, and do all one can to build a new world – to bring the peace of Christ to people living in the midst of disaster.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29:7

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