It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears…

Water Lilly Pond and Weeping Willow by Claude Monet

If justice leads to anything it should lead to Hope.

This is certainly the biblical story of justice; a story which weaves the bright white threads of the Creative Desire of a God of Love through a tapestry of colourful and diverse patterns of human history.

For hope to exist there must first be despair or at least, the distinct possibility of it…for why and what would we hope for if we have nothing to hope against?

This is perhaps, what the late Stuart Adamson is getting at when he wrote his refrain ‘It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears’. While his own struggle for life-sustaining meaning ended pre-maturely, he -like many other artists before and since- makes vital links through his lyrics and music with the big questions of life; questions about justice which touch us all; rural and urban, poor and rich:

High above the forest in an unseen place
Where the clouds will gather on another race
In the dungeon depths of an unknown cave
There’s a stream that springs with a world to save

And it gathers up strength as it rolls along
And it gathers up hope for everyone
But it runs to plains where the farmlands weep
Through the brand new gardens where rich men sleep

He perceived that Hope connects us all as injustice connects us all. We each connect to Hope at different times and in different ways on our Journey when we encounter for ourselves the Life-denying, Breath-taking impacts of injustice. The penetrating question he asks: ‘will we know how to use Hope to good effect?’ echoes eerily down the corridors of human history. Sustained Hope is deeply transformative. Borne out of an encounter which often provokes and requires a change of direction in our thinking, attitudes, emotions and not least, our behaviours and patterns of life. Importantly too, it requires a lively imagination. Injustice has a habit of squashing imagination and suffocating Life-Breath. We forget how to dream the Dreams of Justice and Shalom; we forget to believe that they are Gifts which are contingent on our unwrapping of them. Hope awakened and energised by the lament of anger and tears reconnects us to Life-Breath:

I’m gonna find it, I’m gonna prove it
And show the whole damned world how to use it
When I find it, when I prove it
I know that some damned fool is gonna lose it
For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

The ugly consequences of injustice in our world can help to wake us up from our False Rest and we need to find and enter the River of Hope to lead us to our True Rest. Hope isn’t blind, but rather clear-eyed, tear-washed vision:

Past the chemical plant where the junk flows in
By the nuclear project where the children swim
Under bridges in a city where the bodies float
And the summer smell keeps the flies remote

…When we are awake, we cannot not see; we cannot be blind in the face of the reality which we perceive and we cannot fail to ask the question ‘why?’:

Through the swamp of a ghetto where the mission was lost
Where the dope is king and the silver boss
Past the trash and wreckage from the garbage trucks
Past the oil slick where the jail boat docks

…When we are awake, we cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by the false prophets of peace who promise power and force will secure Hope and Shalom-Peace:

To a home in some sea at the nations end
Where the submarine is freedom’s friend
If we need that river like we did before
There can be no need for it lives no more

This clear-eyed vision is one which sees injustice for what it is-a travesty of lost human opportunity to be Creative, Connected and truly Alive; an ugly hole in the tapestry of life which provokes grief and despair; a Party-Spoiler of the highest order:

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

A recent interview with Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, highlights the biblical tradition of prophetic lament which  both recognises and mourns the disasters of injustice precisely because it has sourced its clear-eyed vision of  what the Community of Shalom-Peace should look like in scripture and revelation:

…the laments in the books of Psalms and Lamentations are all an expression of grief but they are also an expression of hope. They are an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed. Such prayers are partly an address to God but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy. So I believe the transformative function of such prayers is that it transforms energy and rage into positive energy.

Brueggemann refers to ‘honest speech’ as a mode of waking us up to ‘honest action’ which has the energy to transform:

We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. We need a more honest and abrasive speech to bring our talk into connection with our social reality.

Whilst he recognises that we all have different responses and functions in response to the injustice and brutality in the world around us, he nevertheless draws our attention to the authorising of scripture of those who pursue ‘honest dialogue’ at a time when manipulative monologue, smoke screens and chimera have become the norm:

It is in the narratives and the psalms. Beginning with the Exodus narrative and the Elijah narrative and the Jesus narrative, they are all storied about public transformation that happened by courage of uncredentialed people. These kinds of narratives feed our imagination and give us energy and courage.

He also reminds us that ‘honest speech’ often erupts on the margins, where the encounter with the brutality of injustice and the brightness of hope are most keenly experienced; artists frequently encounter their truest voices at the margins as I’ve highlighted in previous posts here and here and here:

If you think about the Song of Miriam or those dangerous songs (many of which are in the mouths of women) we are invited to join that kind of singing which is a refusal to accept the dominant definitions of reality. Such singing and storytelling is an insistence that there is another way to experience the world and there is another way to act in the world. These are very important models and authorizations for us.

Importantly too, Brueggemann recognises that Hope, to be effective, has to be contextually relevant and imaginative in its response to injustice; which is to say that Hope dreams in Colour:

It is highly contextual. There are a variety of strategies that run from face-to-face engagement to pressure on public policy. We have to engage on every front because the issue is so urgent and the problems are so complex that there cannot be a single strategy. As we grow in our commitment to racial equality or social justice we have to be very imaginative. We have to find ways that have transformative potential.

Hope, like a river, can transform a landscape, but it needs to be channelled by vision which flows from the pool of tears and encounter at the edge of Goodness.

[Please enjoy listening to The River of Hope by Big Country and read Walter Brueggemann’s full interview below]

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Is the Church prepared to engage with civil resistance & non-violent protest?

‘Water belongs to the people’ Bolivian water protests in 2000

In A Time when civilian movements are becoming more and more common globally, when protests have intensified and gathered ‘do or die’ courage and momentum, when insecurity has both entrenched and displaced and scattered community in a myriad of complex ways, it seems right and good to seek to understand The Time and particularly, for those of us who are People of Faith, to seek to grapple with our response to The Time we are in.

Jewish sociologist, Emile Durkheim, thinking and writing in the context of the Industrial Revolution, notes the profoundly stabilising social function that order (even to some extent bad order) has and how a break from order creates a break from meaning which can result in alienation and produce new contexts of insecurity and ‘normlessness’ which he termed anomie. Contexts of anomie are highly volatile and dangerous. Unlike Weber, Durkheim conceives social cohesiveness around innate social tendencies towards solidarity which can be disrupted either by excesses of ego (excessive individualism and self-agrandissement) or, in his time, the fragmenting processes associated with Industrialisation (which he writes about in The Division of Labour). A break with order thus has inevitable destabilising consequences which need to be mitigated by the introduction of a New Order.

Richard Horsley, in his book, Religion and Empire: People, Power and the life of the Spirit, notes that the ‘order’ associated with Empire (which would include, in his view, the current neo-liberal form of globalisation) is in fact a ‘disorder’ and he closes the book with this:

The new world (dis-)order is suffused with power and powers. Critical analysis and awareness of how these powers operate and the effects they have can help enable religious communities to respond self-critically as well as creatively.

Resistance movements and protests highlight perception of ‘disorder’ and the recently published book, Civil Resistance and Power Politics co-edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash is the fruit of the Oxford University project on civil resistance which was established in 2006.  It is a very useful text which catalogues the many differing quests for political, economic, and social change over the past half-century, most of which have been nonviolent.

Here is a useful product description from Amazon:

This widely-praised book identified peaceful struggle as a key phenomenon in international politics a year before the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt confirmed its central argument. Civil resistance – non-violent action against such challenges as dictatorial rule, racial discrimination and foreign military occupation – is a significant but inadequately understood feature of world politics. Especially through the peaceful revolutions of 1989, and the developments in the Arab world since December 2010, it has helped to shape the world we live in. Civil Resistance and Power Politics covers most of the leading cases, including the actions master-minded by Gandhi, the US civil rights struggle in the 1960s, the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the ‘people power’ revolt in the Philippines in the 1980s, the campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, the various movements contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989-91, and, in this century, the ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia and Ukraine. The chapters, written by leading experts, are richly descriptive and analytically rigorous. This book addresses the complex interrelationship between civil resistance and other dimensions of power. It explores the question of whether civil resistance should be seen as potentially replacing violence completely, or as a phenomenon that operates in conjunction with, and modification of, power politics. It looks at cases where campaigns were repressed, including China in 1989 and Burma in 2007. It notes that in several instances, including Northern Ireland, Kosovo and, Georgia, civil resistance movements were followed by the outbreak of armed conflict. It also includes a chapter with new material from Russian archives showing how the Soviet leadership responded to civil resistance, and a comprehensive bibliographical essay. Illustrated throughout with a remarkable selection of photographs, this uniquely wide-ranging and path-breaking study is written in an accessible style and is intended for the general reader as well as for students of Modern History, Politics, Sociology, and International Relations.

As (good) research gives us ever clearer ‘maps’ of socio-political phenomena of Our Time the question for the Church (and of course for People of Faith more widely), is how do we interpret and live the message of hope and radical social justice of the Gospel in times such as these?

When I went to Bolivia as a mission partner with my husband and family, one of my earliest realisations was that I was largely unprepared to understand, respond to or engage with the considerable civil unrest we encountered there in the aftermath of the Water Riots (2000) and the indigenous uprisings against oligarchic-style, neo-liberal leadership of the country. I had neither a deep understanding of the social, political, environmental or spiritual processes which were contributing elements to the unrest nor a real grasp of what an appropriate missiological response would be had I been able to interpret the context adequately. When neighbours and local church members asked me if we would be joining the peaceful protestors on the streets (burning tyres and waving the indigenous Aymara flag and shouting anti-imperial slogans) I recoiled and we rapidly sought guidance from our mission agency’s policy documentation on foreign mission workers involvement with national politics!!

What we were facing was a manifestation of one ‘unstable context’ which Garton Ash’s comments  summarise neatly below:

 “…remove the elementary staples of organized, civilized life—food, shelter, drinkable water, minimal personal security—and we go back within hours to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all.”

In his New York Review of Civil Unrest ‘Revolution Without Violence?’ Brian Urquhart comments:

There are now ominous global problems, of which the increasing severity and number of natural disasters probably linked to climate change may before very long have such an effect. The resulting mass migrations alone would test the veneer of civilization as never before. Is humankind irreversibly stuck in a downward spiral? Or can it find the common sense and solidarity to fight its way back? Garton Ash is skeptical [and] also reminds us that while serious progress has been made in the art and method of radical political change, we cannot count on the automatic survival and growth of democracy, nor indeed on the self-correcting capacity of a predominantly capitalist system. We also face urgent global problems to which we have scarcely started to look for solutions. The popular political involvement that was the lifeblood of civil resistance movements, as well as determined and courageous leadership, is now desperately needed nearer home.

The question remains, how will the Church respond?