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The Challenge of Hope

Part III: Surprised by Herring

False Creek is gross. It is not a place I would swim. It is a stagnant caldron of effluent inhabited by obnoxiously bright algae and the refuse of houseboat-living sea vagrants. That said nearly one billion herring were born there because some do-gooders put mesh around creosote pile-ons so that herring eggs wouldn’t get poisoned.[1]  Herring are a big deal. For many first nations communities, they were more important than salmon. They attract dolphins and chinook salmon, which attract orcas and and people with boats. I bring this up because it’s not a story I expected. I expected False Creek to slowly fill with garbage and gull guano until the dragon boaters moved their competitions to Kitsilano Pool. I had expected herring to eventually be extirpated in the Salish Sea, chinook salmon to make Hitchcock-like (more youthful readers should substitute Stan Lee here) cameo appearances, and dolphins and orcas to reside only in documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. But then my friend Luke told me a story about Herring in False Creek, and my despair was subverted.

Do-gooders helping herring in False Creek set-off, and similar stories, chain reactions that can challenge the air of invincibility that shrouds hopelessness, and the sense that all will become Walmart. I believe that for any of us to have a shot at following Jesus into the broken stories of this world, we need to recover our hope (I’ll be using a lot of second person plural, because this whole hope business is something we have to do as a community; despair we can do by ourselves, to hope we need others).

Recovering hope means we need to remember what our hope is, what it looks like. That was the thinking behind Grandview’s summer sermons series: Images of the Kingdom Come. The series is meant to give us an idea of what we’re hoping for. It’s like looking at the picture on the box of a puzzle as we try and put it together: images of the kingdom give us an idea of how to act in anticipation of hope’s fulfillment. Those images are also inspiring--they get us stoked on what we’re hoping for, and it’s encouraging when we see echos of our “not-yet” hopes showing up the in the “now”. When what we are hoping for is in focus, it transforms how we live.

Scripture has quite a few pictures of our hope: a wedding feast for a baby sheep, a wolf and lamb play-date, a bunch of different peoples singing songs about and basking in the radness of God. Some elements of our future-y hope have had episodic previews in scripture: the early church community, Jesus’ resurrection stories, even some of the worshipping community getting together around the tabernacle. The bible contains images of what a well ordered world in intimate relationship to God looks like. Recovering our hope means understanding, and being inspired by, those images of God’s kingdom come.

Many of the images we have for our specific Christian hope are apocalyptic. The word apocalypse comes from Greek, and means revelation: an unveiling or opening-up. The last book of the bible is actually titled Apocalypse. Former Regent College faculty Darrell Johnson, or as overly familiar ex-regent students refer to him: “DJ”, reminds his readers that apocalyptic literature does two things:  it sets “the present in light of the unseen realities of the future”[2]  and “sets the present in light of invisible realities of the present.” Apocalyptic literature (rightly understood) can challenge our despair with jarring images and stories that show us that things are not as they seem. That is just how DJ explains what Revelation is for recipient churches whose situation seemed hopeless; God through St. John was showing those churches that things weren’t as they seemed by using crazy visions of monsters and sky-cities. Today there is need for people like John, and art like Revelation, to help us rediscover and digest the radical nature of our hope.

There are some truths that fit best in stories of apocalyptic battles between good and evil, giant winged-monsters and white riders. The first time I ever read Lord of the Rings, I was home from university. (Let the uninitiated note that a spoiler is coming). I was slogging up the steps of Cirith Ungol, frustrated with Frodo and Sam, wishing they could just finish their bit so I could get back to Gandalf being awesome. Then Shelob, a giant spider that puked darkness, stung Frodo and the whole point of the story was spoiled, the hero failed. I threw the book across the room, cursed, and stomped into the kitchen to tell my nerd father what I thought of his precious Tolkien. My Dad smirked and told me I might want to keep reading. I did, and much to my surprise, Frodo was not dead, and the quest had not failed. My Dad, Luke, and John offer helpful reminders that the story is not over, our knowledge incomplete, and that we should be wary of hitting the despair button and tossing the book across the room. Recovering our hope means remembering our limited perspective and staying connected to the story.

Christian hope is rooted in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Two themes in the Jesus resurrection stories I think are helpful in recovering our hope. First, there was something very unexpected about Jesus dying then 3 days later showing up places really really not dead. His friends and the smart folks of the time didn’t see that coming. There’s something surprising about hope. God is a little tricksy when it comes to the timing and methods of redemption. The second theme, or detail, is Jesus’ still-gaping wounds. Wounds he even got his friends to stick their hands in. To me, this detail seems to take our suffering and hurt (our reasons for despair) seriously. Jesus’ wounds aren’t erased in the world to come. Our hope isn’t that all the brokenness of the story will be redacted from the final edition. Our hope is that in Jesus’ resurrection everything is transformed and made new: the desecrated places will be restored.

When we eat these resurrection stories, when they are our sustenance, we train ourselves in the art of hope. Resurrection stories help us sustain and practice hope. Hope is absolutely necessary to going the way of Jesus--a way that leads us through darkness and suffering into glory. When we recover this hope, and walk the cruciform way of Jesus, we bring light into the dark places and broken stories of the world. The good news of Jesus dying, rising, and someday returning in glory is our hope; in the words of Lady Galadriel: “[M]ay it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”[3]

 [1] Herring lay their eggs on submerged structures: kelp and things like that. The only thing resembling these structures in False Creek are the pile-ons of piers and docks that are soaked with creosote. The creosote kills the eggs laid on them. By surrounding the pile-ons with mesh, these do-gooders (the North Shore Streamkeepers) give provide space for herring to reproduce.

[2] Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge (Vancouver BC, Regent College, 2004), pg 26.

[3] JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, (New York, NY, Houghton Mifflin, 1988), pg 393.