Editorial: October 2022
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
Whilst this quotation is often attributed to St Augustine, it’s almost certainly a mis-attribution. These words are apt for the theme of this issue of Crucible. They are even more apt if in fact they constitute a ‘mis-attribution’ of hope.
In the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, I reached out to a series of young and emerging theological voices in order to begin to look at what might resource theological reflection and action in the decade ahead. Each contributor here is in their own way committed as much to a theologically rigorous activism as to theologically rigorous reflection. I hoped that bringing these voices together would produce a resource that would serve the Church’s action and reflection for life after the pandemic.
When we met over Zoom (naturally), I asked them to set down the ideas that they thought needed to be heard for the decade ahead as we emerged from Covid. The shorthand I used for our task was in the form of a question: ‘What gives you hope for the next ten years?’ This was partly as a result of my immediate reflection on the theological response to the last great global crisis at the end of the Second World War. An over-riding theme which emerges in post-war theology is that of hope. Hope dominated secular and Christian thinking in Europe and shaped Western mindsets for a generation. From Ernst Bloch to Jurgen Moltmann, hope was in abundance. This trend of optimistically looking forward to what would follow the war began during the war itself. Alan Jacob’s The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis sets out how, even during the war, theological thinking and plans for action were being drawn up in the hope of what might follow.1
Each of our contributors went away to write their contribution. As their manuscripts came in, it became clear that, like our opening uotation, I had engaged in an act of ‘mis-attribution’ of hope. In different ways, each of them pushed back at the suggestion that hope was a useful or even appropriate concept to utilise, in the face of the lived experience from which theology emerges. I had become, to use Luke Larner and Rajiv Sidhu’s phrase in their article, a peddler of hope.
Our authors remind us that ‘hope’ is a privileged concept. To be able to hope is to be a person who has the privilege which enables hope to be entertained. The connection of each of these authors with the people and communities of which they are a part, or amongst whom they identify, makes them alert to the reality that, for many, ‘hope’ is simply an inaccessible and privileged aspiration.
Pope Francis writes: ‘hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems’ (Laudato Si, 61). But the foreground in our articles is the lived reality of people and communities for whom there seems to be no way out. To have hope in Francis’s sense implies that individuals and communities can direct their own steps in the first place. Instead, we encounter the reality that many marginalised communities are always living in relation to the steps dictated to them by other and more powerful voices. To have hope in Francis’ sense implies that the problems facing individuals and communities are solvable: they are not prevented from enacting the solutions which would enable liberation. Here, we encounter the reality that for many, the expectation that there are ways out, that it’s possible to walk new ground freely, that it’s possible to put solutions into practice, is one that cannot be taken for granted. To have hope in these things is already to have access to the power and privilege that ‘entertaining hope’ implies.
Our authors bring a connection, whether personal or associational, to the daily lived experience of those about whom they are writing. Each of these authors’ thinking and activism is shaped by the people and groups amongst whom and alongside whom they live and work. Such people are subject to the processes of marginalisation which erode hope, whether due to race, class, gender, sex, sexuality, identity, perceived ability, or precarity. This theological and actual connection to a real and lived experience is one of the fruits of the dialogue represented in this issue.
The principle of “nothing about us without us” is well-known in policy terms. Here we see that it is also vital for any theological vision hoping to confront the challenges of the generation ahead, whether from Covid-19, war in Europe, the climate emergency or political upheaval. Without listening to the voices of those for whom hope is as yet off-limits, our theological horizon would be limited to the privileged peddling of hope — in the face of the reality of God’s presence among those whose hope is otherwise being eroded.
Florence O’Taylor helps us to cultivate our attention and to learn to ‘hear justly’ these voices. She draws on the writings of Simone Weil and Vincent Lloyd in order to develop a keener attention to the way things really are. She argues, ‘we are called to resist illusory narratives propagated by those in power, and instead pay attention to reality, through hearing the cry of injustice uttered by those who experience affliction’. Attention leads us to see reality for what it really is. This in turn helps us in our theologising: ‘Rather than pretending to know what love and justice look like in the abstract, we might learn to recognise it in the embodied dignity in struggle that we witness in real lives.’ For O’Taylor, privileging the voices of those who do not enjoy privilege within existing power structures enables us to ‘learn from communities that have been marginalised by such power structures, recognising that they do not simply provide an alternative perspective, but a better one’.
Jack Belloli draws on his experience of finding structure amidst the chaos of the pandemic through two regular online gatherings: a live-streamed Mass, and a poetry group. This latter experience of poetry provided a holding structure for feeling, and forces his exploration of ‘what’s generated if public theology is interrupted by models of social engagement located outside the Church, and is open to receiving from them as a collaborator, rather than giving to them’. This leads to his exploration of the question: ‘Might my experience of a ‘secular’ space, where poetry is still read avidly and passionately for its difficulty, highlight new ways in which theology might be done ‘if public life’s destroyed’?
Belloli draws on the work of Rowan Williams, Willie James Jennings, and others. For him, attention again emerges as a theme of significance. For Belloli, this involves an attention to the forms of social reproduction. He argues that whilst the Church has a commission to spread the Gospel, it has ‘no commission to reproduce the society in which it finds itself, as if that were the basis for its own survival. Indeed … part of the Church’s task might be to disrupt the toxic and life-destroying habits of social reproduction that our society accepts. It can do so only by attending to its own habits of common life, trusting that the security of what it reproduces lies ultimately with God.’
Selina Stone’s essay puts clearly the theme that runs through each of our contributors. She begins by noting that grappling with despair, rather than prematurely grasping onto ‘Christian hope’, will be crucial to the work of Christian ethics, theology and Christian spirituality in the years to come. She draws on the writings of Calvin L. Warren to move away from a politics of hope to a spirituality of hope. This is in the context of anti-blackness which has been written into the fabric of society. For Stone, amidst such anti-blackness, a spirituality of hope is grounded in the reality that whilst ‘the arc of history bends towards justice’ … this justice, it seems, is not an inevitability.
Stone explores the realities of black lived experience, accepting Warren’s invitation ‘to face the world as it is, but not to bind our identity to political struggles which are futile’. Viewed as such, ‘spiritual and cultural resources are not simply tools to change the world but gifts to be enjoyed in the present’. Stone is sceptical about the possibility of changing the realities of the present in the face of the persistence of anti-blackness. She therefore eschews hope for endurance whilst living in a system which is founded on violence against black people. In this system, finding ways to endure with participation in the Spirit enables survival, even if does not bring hope: ‘Joy, it seems, might be the core to endurance, even when hope for the future might be too much to expect’.
Finally, Luke Larner and Rajiv Sidhu together set down the inappropriateness of hope as a concept for the present, drawing on a series of questions from Fr Jarel Robinson-Brown: ‘Why the rush to hope? Why the need to move on so quickly from lament? Why can’t we just sit in the darkness?’. Sidhu and Larner turn to Cornel West to explore the ‘gangsterism’ present in modern day church and society. To overcome such ‘gangsterism’ they insist requires the stripping back and rending of much of the way the contemporary Church orders itself. They have little expectation that the Church (of England, at least) is likely to embrace such a kenotic reordering. This is why they don’t ‘peddle hope’. They recognise that the problems which beset the Church are problems beyond their control, and there is no reassurance that things will get better.
Instead, they argue, ‘these troubled times call for a Church which rejects those nefarious dealers who peddle hope like a drug, be it an opiate for the masses, or indeed an opiate for the institutional Church. No silver bullets will prop up what is destined to be torn down. No three-year front-loaded funding or strategic development project will unstrip the body, stitch the curtain, or close the hole in the heavens’. For Sidhu and Larner, ‘apocalyptic love’ is the ground for optimism in the face of what otherwise might lead to despair.
All they have left is this apocalyptic love which does not transform the darkness but enables the darkness to be survived and realised as a the source of revelation that it is. This radical love in the darkness is what gives them them ‘not false hope, not a faith brought on by sheer force of will, not something we can count, quantify, or fit into an application for additional funding, but “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).
Whilst the quotation with which we opened may be a misattribution, these voices point in their way towards the ‘beautiful daughters of hope’ to which the quotation refers: ‘Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are’. Reading these voices helps us in orientating ourselves theologically for the generation to come. But they also show the anger and the courage required to theologise and to act in the present moment. If the anger and courage of these authors bear fruit, perhaps one day hope itself may find new birth.
Fr Simon Cuff is Vicar of St Peter De Beauvoir Town in London. He is the author of three books: Love in Action, Only God will Save Us, and most recently Priesthood for All Believers.
1. Thank you to Sara Schumacher for this reference.