Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

My Part in [is] Redeeming Hope

Written by: on February 15, 2015

I don’t recall the exact year, somewhere in the 1950s, there was a campaign to take pride in our country. As a child I recall the promotions, with public incentives, to do our part to “clean up” the environment. There were road signs everywhere which today might be considered distasteful, and distracting but at the time were an incentive to do our part to beautify our community by not littering. I recall a sense of gratification as I took seriously that I could make a difference. It was obvious to me the change that took place and to this day I cannot allow even the smallest paper to escape proper disposal. It perplexes me that people will throw trash without regard to the environmental effect of their action. This carries over into larger more significant practices, such as recycling. I like the commercial that depicts a plastic bottle rolling along for some great distance until it bumps into a recycling container; as it is placed in the container, the commercial advocates “give your trash a second life!”

My family has always been conscious of waste. It wasn’t, however, until I lived in a developing country and observed children ladling water from a roadside puddle that I sensed the real value of a “cup of water.” There are multiple ways that I have learned to be more conservative. At times, diminishing resources trouble me. The draught in the western states can overwhelm me if I allow it. I do try to ignore it and hope that those who can make a difference will rise to the occasion.

According to authors Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, the “Great Turning” is the story of innovative and creative responses to the “Great Unraveling,” which the authors refer to as the unraveling and “collapse of ecological and social systems.”[1] The unraveling is a consequence of self-seeking prosperity and economic growth without regard for the misuse of earth’s resources or the consequence of diminishing resources. The Great Turning they note, “is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world.”[2] Active Hope is not the answer to the problems that confront humankind nor a solution to impending disaster. The authors make this clear as they note that Active Hope is not offered “as a blueprint solution to our problems but [rather], as both a set of practices and insights to draw strength from and as a mythic journey to be transformed by.”[3] Ellen LaConte in reviewing Active Hope, refers to it as “Great Turning’s New Testament” as she writes:

Here are the unflinching diagnosis and prognosis and widely tested protocol for self-healing and lifesaving that can help a critical mass of us to recommit to learning, living, and acting effectively on behalf of Earth’s beleaguered human and natural communities.[4]

It is important to understand the author’s perspective because it impacts the content and context of Active Hope. It is written in a self-help genre. When we encounter problems, “’Dangerous,’ ‘frightening,’ ‘out of control,’” we become overwhelmed and paralyzed, incapable of acting to confront the impending crisis. It is this failure to cope that is “even more deadly [than the impending crisis], for the greatest danger of our time is the deadening of our response.”[5] The answer is “active-hope” or perhaps it is “self-hope” for if we fail to engage the world in which we live, the single piece of trash or one wasted cup of water contributes to the problem and hastens the loss of resources and the demise of all that is great and beautiful in creation. We ought to take the biblical admonition to humankind “to work and care for”[6] the garden earth as a preservation imperative that we cannot avoid.

I make this observation because the authors clearly see “hope” not as something we have but as something we do – hence, the title, “Active Hope.” Although not a total antithesis, this type of hope is not the traditional Christian value of hope as “sure,” “not disappointing,” as “substantive and evident,” “overflowing” and without limit.[7] The Christian hope is in a person, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that makes hope alive and real. Christian hope is active as humankind joins God in the work of reconciling all creation to God.

I do not fully share Macy and Johnstone’s dismal outlook on planet earth and I struggle with some of the positions they assert as disastrous outcomes and the bleak future they declare. My own fears are founded in the huge social and philosophical changes that have taken place in a post-Christendom world. There is wisdom and purpose in Macy and Johnstone’s words, “Active hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”[8] But what do we hope for? And how do we participate? It is by joining God. The authors suggest four “movements” that can “reconnect” us to the hope we seek: 1) Coming from gratitude; recognizing where happiness truly comes from, 2) Honoring our pain for the world; there is hope despite suffering, brokenness, and pain, 3) Seeing with new eyes; understanding the wonder and grandeur of creation, to see all though eyes of peace and love, 4) Going forth; to believe in the future, to imagine the possibility.

We can achieve what we hope for. We can counter the fear of the overwhelming task as the church is in the world to “preach good news to the poor … proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[9] We do so as we join God seeking the hope God proclaims for the world, the reconciliation of all creation.

[1] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012), 4.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., Kindle, 36 (emphases mine).

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] Genesis 2:15 (NIV).

[7] Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:24-25, Romans 15:1-4, Hebrews 11:1-3, Romans 15:13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Luke 4:18-19.

About the Author


7 responses to “My Part in [is] Redeeming Hope”

  1. Ron,

    Great, well-balanced post. Thanks for sharing.

    I thought this book had a lot to offer, but like you, I don’t think it offered enough. However, I don’t have the answers to these problems either and sometimes, like you, I can lose hope. Why are some people so foolish and careless? Why do we not think long-term? These are important questions. Will it take a crisis to open our eyes? Will it be too late by then?

    As a Christian, I do have hope. But I don’t want my hope to give me a “I-could-care-less attitude.” And so many Christians do that. Perhaps they even do that to “hasten the Lord’s return.” How sad. Personally, I think that is a selfish attitude. We should care for what God has called “good,” including all of creation. Thanks for sharing that in your post. Christians needs to listen to that. God have mercy on us and on our planet.

    • rhbaker275 says:

      Bill, Thanks for your response.

      Actually, I did like Macy and Johnstone … I just viewed much of their concepts from the perspective of the hope we have in Jesus and our call to join God as ambassadors of hope. One of my favorite verses on hope is Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” An abundant experience of hope (see Michael’s post) equips us to serve as ministers of hope – overflowing – what a great thought. Thanks, Bill

  2. John Woodward says:

    Ron, your post is wonderful. I think you stated well some of the things that I had been thinking, but so much better.

    I think it was when we were children that “Don’t Liter” came into being…I kind of remember that whole campaign of civil and country pride. (I guess it shows our age?) But I do appreciate some of the questions you brought into your blog – very important questions, like: “but what do we hope for? And how do we participate? It is by joining God.” I concur fully that the only hopeful way forward is through joining in with God’s program of reconciling the world…but this put’s it on God’s term and with God’s agenda. Here is where we need to come together and here is we can find a way forward that benefits the most because it won’t neglect the least of these (that often get lost in our programs and projects of social and political and environmental change). I appreciate your important thoughts! Thanks, Ron.

  3. Ashley Goad says:

    Ron, this here is one of your best posts. It’s personal, profound, and professionally critiques the authors’ rationale. (I was struggling there for a third “p”!) You’re right, the authors lost me for a bit with their mother earth and doom and gloom prophecy, but I did relate, much like you, to the striking differences between our consumption rates in the USA versus those in developing countries. My favorite things to tell first-time mission trippers is that they have a limited time and water in showers. Their faces immediately go pale… But we encourage them to be part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem. Inevitably, they return from those trips emphatically changing their lifestyles based on what they have seen. I think this goes with what you wrote – Christian hope is active as humankind joins God in the work of reconciling all creation to God. … I’ll re-read your blog again, but it really spoke to me, Ron. Thank you!

  4. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Ron, Your post is a great reminder to cultivate the care of creation in our faith communities. I agree with you, we can achieve what we hope for by joining God. As you succinctly state, “We can counter the fear of the overwhelming task as the church is in the world to “preach good news to the poor … proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We also must respond to our Christian call to keep the earth.

  5. Julie Dodge says:

    I think you drilled this down to the right point. Even if the ecological state of the world is not your thing, the authors provide a process by which to address the things that are. And of course, as believers we start with things of God. Your post also demonstrates the lasting impact concentrated efforts can have. Nicely done.

    • rhbaker275 says:

      Julie, Thanks,
      I really can agree with Macy and Johnstone – I simple have, as do many in the cohort postings, a different perspective – I see God seeking to reconcile all creation and we are called to join God in the ministry of reconciliation. This does encompass planet earth and all the resources over which we have been made stewards.

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