There Is More Hope Somewhere
Rev. Douglas Taylor
May 21, 2017

    There is more hope somewhere,
In the midst of the realities of sorrow and pain
    There is more hope somewhere,
In the face of tragedies and heartache and shame
    And I’m gonna keep on, till I find it,
Because I believe it’s true
    There is more hope somewhere.

The world we live in is not made of sunshine and daisies. There is suffering and heartache, cruelty and disease, systemic injustice and natural disasters. Yet it is also true that there is tenderness and compassion, friendship, beauty, grace, and love. 

A hallmark of liberal religions such as Unitarian Universalism is our insistence that we face the world with our eyes open, to engage in the travails of the day allowing that engagement to impact our faith and vice versa. It is hard to sell a gospel of hope while acknowledging a discouraging reality of suffering and injustice. Yet that is exactly what we do here. We offer a gospel of hope in the face of the world’s terrors and each individuals suffering. That’s how it works for us, or at least how we strive to have it work. The hope is grounded in reality, acknowledging both the good and the bad, the tenderness and the cruelty. Our hope is not in turning away, but in seeing it all.

“Ours is no caravan of despair.” (Rumi) Unitarian Universalism is a hopeful religion. If we began, as others do, with a statement that human nature is fallen and basically sinful it would be easier to explain evil. But we don’t do that. We, instead, boldly proclaim we are not born sick, sinful, or fallen. We say we are born blessed and able to bless others. Ours is a hopeful religion.

And yet there is an argument against hope that aligns with UU theology. I first grappled with this argument through the story of Pandora. The Greek story of Pandora is in that category of myth and creation story told to explain the existence of evil and suffering. Interestingly, Pandora’s story also asks, “what is the role of hope?”

Typically we read the Pandora story to say that hope is a final, almost forgotten blessing. But here is an interesting interpretation that claims otherwise. Is hope left in Pandora’s Box to indicate that it is readily available to us all or is it another item on the list of bad qualities like illness, war, and suffering?  Do we read it pessimistically or optimistically?  What if hope is not a final blessing but instead a final cruelty, stringing us along?  “Not only are humans plagued by a multitude of evils,” one commentator suggests, “but they persist in the fruitless hope that things might get better.”  (Beall, E. “The Contents of Hesiod’s Pandora Jar: Erga 94-98,” (1989) 227-30)  Perhaps our propensity for hope is simply one more cruel trick of the Gods to keep the game interesting, lest we all quit.

I hope my secret crush likes me back, I hope I passed that test, I hope we win this war, I hope someone rescues me, I hope climate change is exaggerated, I hope my check won’t bounce, I hope I remember how to spell Connecticut correctly. Is hope a trick to keep us from facing reality? Perhaps our propensity for hope as a species is simply one more cruel trick of the Gods to keep the game interesting, lest we all quit if we realized it was hopeless.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” says poet Alexander Pope; and there is scientific research that suggests we are hard-wired for hope. Yet Sigmund Freud suggested hope was merely a delusion. Karl Marx’s quote about ‘the opiate of the masses’ applies for the concept of hope as well for religion in general. And Nietzsche, at his nihilistic finest wrote: “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” Nietzsche, Marx and Freud are pointing out how hope can be a tool to keep people trying when evidence suggests failure is the only possible result. Hope, in the worldview of Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche, is merely a shallow and unfounded optimism; an aspect of our human psyche that can be used against us. 

It makes me wonder if there is a different translation for the version of hope I usually talk about around here. You know how in ancient Greek there are 3 or 4 different words we translate as love? Perhaps there is something like that for hope. …Alas, that is not the case. I checked. There is really just the one Greek word for hope and it means pretty much what we think it means. We don’t have a separate word from another language for hope that means ‘false hope’ compared with another word that comes out as ‘true hope’ or ‘deep hope.’

So here is where I go this this. As Unitarian Universalists we try to keep our beliefs and practices grounded in our experiences, framed by reason and connected to our compassion. Thus we believe in a hope that is grounded in reality. We hope, but we do not ignore what is really out there, what’s really going on. The hope we preach here is a compelling call to engage with the world because we have a crucial role to play in making life meaningful and beautiful for ourselves and those around us. For all the atrocities recorded in the news, there are countless deeds of courage and love that are catalogued nowhere – though accumulated in the heart of each person. A hope in that reality is never false.

    There is more hope somewhere,
In the midst of the realities of cruelty and oppression
    There is more hope somewhere,
Because on balance the suffering is not the whole story
    And I’m gonna keep on, till I find it,
Because the evidence is mixed, which means…
    There is more hope somewhere.

Don’t be lulled into denial, thinking the fears of the world can’t touch you. That leads to false hope. But also don’t be tempted to despair thinking that all our hopes are unrealistic. Instead see our hope in our capacity to engage in both the joy and the sorrow and thereby to make a difference.  Having navigated that argument against hope, let me entertain another one; similar perhaps but with Buddhist nuances.

In her book “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodren spends quite a bit of time talking about the Buddhist perspective of fear and fear’s impact on our living. At one point she talks about a Tibetan word that combines Hope and Fear. She says it is a common enough word, I assume because it is a common enough experience.

“Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides.” Pema Chodren writes. “As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This … is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.

In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.’”

Pema Chodren in “When Things Fall Apart,” pg 39-40)

What Chodren is lifting up is how the very concept of hope is rooted in dissatisfaction with the way things are. Hope looks ahead longingly; it is not about being mindfully present in this moment. Hope is about how ‘what is’ is not enough, it is about wanting more.

There is more hope somewhere,
Because we are afraid we don’t have enough already?

Now, being fair, there is something deeply true about this. Hope is a constant companion to fear. People cling to hope, out of fear. The two go together. However, hope is a powerful motivation leading us to work for a better world. A better world than the moment we live in now with its injustice and terror, heartache, illness, and suffering. Hope leads us to make changes. Rather than accepting our lot in life, we strive to improve it.

But to do so, there must first be dissatisfaction, trouble, concern, fear. If everything were fine, what purpose would there be for hope? Hope may be an antidote, but every antidote assumes a poison. Pema Chodren says to be rid of fear we must also be rid of hope. She writes, “If hope and fear are two sides of one coin, so are hopelessness and confidence.” (Ibid p41) To abandon hope, as she suggests, is to not let the fear prod you into reaction. It is to let go and trust in something larger than hope.

Acceptance is the key. The first Noble Truth is that suffering is true, accept it. The other three Noble Truths are not about hoping to change things so the suffering stops. They are about accepting the suffering and not letting it rule you.

If the first argument against hope, from Nietzsche and friends, claimed that what you hope for is not real; this second argument from Buddhism is that what you hope for is not yet. Don’t focus your energy on what is not yet, focus instead on what is. Accept it, but don’t be ruled by it. I feel comfortable arguing away the concept of false hope, arguing in favor of a grounded hope instead. I have a harder time arguing away this second piece.

And I think it is because what Pema Chodren says about acceptance. Can we accept what is? Where we are right now is holy and beautiful. Every person is a spark of the divine, every corner of the earth is a garden, we are always on holy ground. Hope, as we preach about it here in Unitarian Universalism, is not a devaluing of the ‘here-and-now’ in favor of a glorious hereafter. It is a hope grounded in finding the beauty and holiness that is already here among us.

What if the world you long for is already here? What if our hope to build a better world is not because this one is fallen or lost in sin, but simply because we love what already is here as beautiful and good and just, and will do our part to keep it growing.

I cannot, as Pema Chodren suggests, abandon all hope. I am not Buddhist enough to do that. But I see the wisdom in keeping my hopes based on what already is beautiful and bountiful before me today. Hope need not be borne only of dissatisfaction and fear. Hope is about a vision of love and peace and justice growing into more love and more peace and more justice.

Our world is on fire with strife and turmoil. Terrible experiences of war, disease, injustice, and pain are ever present in life. But that is not the whole story. Because there is also love and there is also kindness and there is also beauty and grace and generosity and joy and sacrifice. And these do not cancel out the terrible things and the suffering. Instead they ride alongside the suffering. All that is good and holy and beautiful deepens the well and strengthens the walls. Our ultimate hope is not that the suffering and injustice will be cancelled out, but contained; not halted, but held.

Our hope is not in turning away from the realities of injustice and heartache, or in seeking to fix them. It is in facing these things with clarity knowing that we have the resources to make a difference. This is not an optimism that hides from reality. It is a realism that sees an ultimate hope for the fulfillment of grace. 

    There is more hope somewhere,
For there is an abundance of beauty around us now
    There is more hope somewhere,
Even as difficulties surround
    And I’m gonna keep on, till I find it,
Finding it in our simple lives lived with love
    There is more hope somewhere.

In a world without end, may it be so.