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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
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.” 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” 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. 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.” 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.” We do so as we join God seeking the hope God proclaims for the world, the reconciliation of all creation.
 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.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., Kindle, 36 (emphases mine).
 Ibid., 1.
 Genesis 2:15 (NIV).
 Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:24-25, Romans 15:1-4, Hebrews 11:1-3, Romans 15:13.
 Luke 4:18-19.