At my core, I’m an eternal optimist. No, I’m not the type who only sees wonderful things. I see plenty of junk. I see the injustice. I see the hatred and fear. I see the resistance to so many things. I see plenty of idolatry. I see the meanness. I see the brokenness. I see the despair. I see the lack of hope. I see the orientation towards violence. I see the toxic individualism. I see it all. And it weighs heavy on me.
And yet in spite of all of that, I remain an optimist.
Here’s what being an optimist in the midst of all that means to me. It means that I have hope that things will get better. I have a belief that they will. Maybe it’s buying into what MLK said – that the moral arc of the universe is oriented towards justice. Maybe it’s because I have a low anthropology and so I have low expectations.
I think part of my ultimate optimism is founded in faith. I don’t put my faith in humanity’s progress or humanity’s efforts to make life better. I see plenty of examples of the opposite of that. Rather, my hope stems from God’s actions in creation.
At the end of John 6 some of the people following Jesus get offended at what he is teaching and they stop following him. And Jesus lets them go. He doesn’t chase them. Probably because he doesn’t really need them. His focus is on proclaiming God’s kingdom and hope, and inviting people into that. He asks the Apostles if they are going to go away also. Peter has the answer that I resonate with – “Lord, to whom shall be go? You have the words of eternal life.” Amen Peter!
Out hope isn’t in humanity. Rather it’s in Jesus. That’s why I can be an optimist. Because no matter how resistant humanity is to God’s kingdom, Jesus will overcome it. Creation will be restored ultimately. People will be set free. Healing will happen. Shalom is where we are heading. No amount of human effort is going to change that. Where else are we going to go? No where.
So how does this play out for me? Every morning I have a routine while I’m waking up. I turn off the alarm. I input my milage from the previous day in an app that tracks my progress. I check the weather. I pull in emails so that I can delete some pretty easily, but also so I can read a morning reflection I receive by email. And I check a couple of “news” sites – sites that are really less news and more spin schilling for their preferred ideology. I don’t really check these news sites to get the news – beyond just knowing how they are riling people up. I check them because I have hope for change. Each morning I see more of the same – blame, scapegoating, spinning, us/them messaging, idolatry, greed, selling sex, etc. And each morning when I quickly scan I remain hopeful that change and transformation will happen. One day I’ll read those sites and the stories will be different. They will offer hope and vision. They will become welcoming. They will seek peace. They will be stories that reflect the kingdom of God.
And until that day comes, I’ll take my 2-3 minutes to keep checking the sites. I don’t get disappointed by the fact that they haven’t changed. They are really predictable at this point. It actually provides me with motivation – motivation to get up and get moving. The spin from the news sites motivate me to participate in the unfolding kingdom of God. Not because I’m going to change things. But rather because God is already at work. Jesus is proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand – that it’s here, right now. We are invited to participate in this new way of being. And I get to invite others into this as well.
Being an optimist doesn’t mean that I’m always happy or in a good mood. Often I’m not. I have to deal with reality and sometimes reality is a downer. But being an optimist isn’t about what mood you are in. It’s about where you are oriented towards. It may suck right now, but I have hope that will change.