Do Not Lose Hope

Early on in our marriage I learned one thing about my wife.  She could be persistent.  Once she got an idea in her mind, especially an idea concerning one of my chores, I might as well give in.  I knew I would, sooner or later, anyway.  This woman is most persistent.  Okay, somedays I think, “obsessive.”  I know where she got this from — her mother.  Mom lived with us the last nine or ten years of her life.  I got to know her pretty well.  The apple did not fall too far from that tree.

Actually, it’s such women who redeem the planet.  They are the embodiment of Jessie Jackson’s chant, “Keep Hope Alive.  Keep Hope Alive.”

Luke tells of one such woman.  This is a woman who has been wronged by an unjust judge, in fact a bully, and is seeking justice.  At all hours of the day and night she is at his door demanding her due.  After enough sleepless days, he realizes he’d better attend to her complaint if he is to have any peace.  Yeah, I know this man.  I commiserate with him.

In such manner we are enjoined by Jesus to be persistent in prayer.  “Do not lose hope.”

When I was a young, unformed lad, my heart was set on a pocket knife.  Did I mention this to God?   You bet I did.  Days and weeks went by and nothing happened.  When I brought up this need to my parents, I was told that this wasn’t happening. “We’re not sending you armed to school.”

What the persistent women yearned for was not some minor trinket with which to impress her friends.  It was JUSTICE.  When we pray and work for justice, God will meet us on the picket line and in the polling both.  God will work with us to keep hope alive.

Prayer is not some magic manipulation of God or reality.  It is not a panacea for our neglect, indifference or stupidity.  At best, it is a pouring out of the heart of what is upon our heart at the moment.  It’s about what is roiling our soul.  It’s about what keeps one awake at night.  It’s a wrestling match with God.  It is a summons to the Spirit within each of us.  A summons to that Spirit within the collective community.  As my friend Rabbi Beerman was wont to say, “My prayers are my marching feet.”  All our feet.

Call it prayer.  Call it meditation.  Call it reflection.  It is all about the essential inward journey we take to remain human.  It’s about the journey we take to stay connected to others – our common life together — and to creation.  It’s about the source of all life and what makes the day worth getting out of bed.  It’s about putting on our pants one leg at a time and engaging in the existential struggle with God, with Truth.

The small vignette from Genesis of Jacob fleeing for his life, encountering an unknown stranger in the dread of night is a window to our faith vocation.  It is to struggle for preservation, to struggle for a way forward.  To struggle with the God of all hopefulness.

For Jacob it is a struggle which consumes the evening of despair.  In the end is blessing. 

“When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket…he said [to Jacob] ‘Let me go for the day is breaking,’ but Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’  “What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’  Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed’…So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’”

This, like unto another story of holy perseverance in our faith tradition.  A poor, destitute woman, really – a nobody in the eyes of the male deciders – demands her due, struggles with an obtuse, entitled man of power.  In her struggle, she wears him down.  That is the holy struggle of Jacob.  She prevails and obtains blessing.

To God?  Into the wider world?  Once prayer has been launched and set loose, who’s to know the end of it?  Definitely beyond my pay grade.  But I do know my own heart, if I listen closely.  If I attend to my needs and the needs of others, the needs and pain of the world – I find a divine reply.  Sometimes as clear and distinct as my wife’s summons.  If I allow that prayer, that inspiration, that idea to germinate and take root in my heart, it stirs up my gumption.  It grabs hold of my date book and my wallet – my hands, heart and mind.  That I know is the power of prayer.  The courage to change the things I can change and the wisdom of when to stand back.

Without that interior life of prayer and reflection, these days it’s nigh on impossible to keep hope alive.  It takes a village to keep hope alive, or at least a community of care.  All of us is most often smarter and wiser than any one of us.  Jacob did not cross the ford at Jabbok by himself.  He took everybody with him.  All.

The Children of Light are today up against racial hate and misogyny in many forms, whether on the Los Angeles City Council or those here at Claremont attempting to keep Claremont free of “those people.” 

Right now, toxic masculinity is killing the planet.  Thomas Friedman correctly notes that Putin’s war is not only a war against Ukraine and the West, it is a war against the planet.

We only have a decade left to mitigate the worst effects of global warming, and Putin’s war is diverting international attention and resources from this priority.  This is what Friedman writes:

“There was no good time for Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, idiotic invasion of Ukraine. But this is a uniquely bad time. Because it’s diverting worldwide attention and resources needed to mitigate climate change — during what may be the last decade when we still have a chance to manage the climate extremes that are now unavoidable and avoid those that could become unmanageable.”[1]

Does Putin care?  Not a bit.

But one does not need to go halfway around the world to discover such men.  Right here at home we have Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville on Black people: “They’re pro-crime,” Tuberville said. “They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”[2]

This is not just a dog whistle.  It’s a bullhorn.  And nary a Republican colleague has called him out on this racism.  “I might have chosen other words,” one halting milquetoast mumbles. 

This is what’s destroying America, dragging us down into a cesspool of shame.  No, you don’t have to travel far to encounter such.  We have plenty of our own homegrown piggy guys.

We idolize them.  Is there any other reason such antisemitic idiotic narcissists as Kayne West get such good press and such huge followings? – with his rant about going “Death Con 3 On Jewish People?”  This is America???  Sounds more like a Nazi thug out of the 30s.  Or, maybe it is America — Charlottesville, USA, August 2017?  Appalling and disgusting.[3]

That poor, indigent woman going up against a judge who couldn’t be bothered would have instantly recognized these guys.   All cut from the same cloth of self-centered entitlement.

Folks, that’s why we have unions — so women are not subjected to such atrocious behavior in the workplace.  So, there is redress, justice.

It should be noted that among the staunches opponents to Putin’s ware are several prime ministers of the Nordic countries – all women.  They know what it is to have had to take a bunch of crap from ignorant, sexist men.  And they aren’t going to take it from Putin.

The prime minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas’s speaking for her nation: “When it comes to Putin then, of course he is a war criminal and must be prosecuted for the crimes of aggression he has committed.”[4]

“And you shouldn’t be negotiating with terrorists because it pays off for them.  We will pay a higher price in the long term,” she added.”

When asked about an “offramp” for Putin in Ukraine, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said there’s only one off-ramp for Putin.[5]

“The way out of the conflict is for Russia to leave Ukraine,” Marin told a reporter on Friday. “That’s the way out of the conflict.”  She bluntly added, “He can leave.”  Whereupon she turned heel and walked off.

She would have understood what that woman supplicant before this judge would have had to contend with.  That is the struggle that engages God.  And will throughout this dark night of war.  Is there blessing to be had?  We’ll see.  Ukrainians are learning what all peoples have learned when emerging from subjugation:  Freedom’s not free.  These brave people continue to keep hope alive through the missiles and the atrocities inflicted upon them.  In the subways singing hymns and other songs, they do indeed keep hope alive.  And also, for the rest of us who join them through the miracle of electronic media.

I close with two women, courageous women who have fortified my hope this week.  One is Cori Bush.  She came to my attention when I saw her on TV camped out on the steps of Congress all night, urging her fellow representatives to address homelessness, addiction and marginalization.  She herself had been homeless at various times in her life.  Probably one of the very few congressional members to know such extreme circumstances.  Her new book, Forerunner, is her life story.  I know now the source of her strength – she is very clear about from where her help comes.  It from the Lord who has taken up residence in her heart.[6]

Get that book.  It’s not an easy read given the trauma Cori has endured over her life.  But as a nurse, a pastor, an activist, and now a congresswoman from Missouri, she has endured.  She inspires all of us to keep hope alive.

The second woman getting the Last Word is Loretta Lynn, award-winning Country Music gem from Appalachia.

Loretta’s songs were stories of heartbreak, betrayal, addiction and poverty.

Long ago as a little guy I’d turn on the old tube radio and listen to these songs.  One night my father came in and when he heard what I was listening to, yelled: “Turn that off.  You don’t want to be a G-D hillbilly, do you!”  This was the West Virginia culture he had rejected.

Much later in life, I developed an appreciation for the stories these songs told – the pathos, the deep longing, the blessing of a culture that tied people together at the deepest levels.

Loretta Lynn endured it all, growing up in a backwoods holler in Tennessee.  Married at the age of fifteen to a sometimes-faithful husband who struggled with alcoholism.  Mother of three of her six children before she was twenty.  Yet she prevailed.  Her people have prevailed.

Her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was an earnest prayer which brought hope to millions all across the nation’s airwaves.  Loretta gets The Last Word.

Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter
In a cabin, on a hill in Butcher Holler
We were poor but we had love,
That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of
He’d shovel coal to make a poor man’s dollar

“My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines
All day long in the field a hoin’ corn
Mommy rocked the babies at night
And read the Bible by the coal oil light
And ever’ thing would start all over come break of morn[7]

All we can say for her and for all these persistent, in-your-face women is, “Thanks be to God and Blessed be!”  You have “struggled with God and with humans.”  By the grace of God, You will prevail.  Amen and amen!

[1] Thomas Friedman, “Putin’s War is a Crime Against the Planet,” New York Times, September 27, 2022.

[2] Eugene Scott, “Democrats Call Sen. Tuberville’s Comments About Crime and Reparations Racist,” Washington Post, October 11, 2022.

[3] Cole Delbyck, “Kanye West Tweet About Going ‘Death Con 3 On Jewish People’ Removed By Twitter,” HuffPost, October 9, 2022.
4 Astha Saxena, “Europe’s new ‘Iron Lady’ Kaja Kallas calls on West to not negotiate with ‘terrorist’ Putin,” Express, October 9, 2022.
5 Nick Mordowanec, “Video of Finnish PM Explaining Putin’s ‘Way Out’ of Ukraine Viewed 4M Times,” Newsweek, October 7, 2022.



[6] Cori Bush, The Forerunner (New York: Knopf, 2022).

[7] Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” written and sung by her and various artists, released in 1970.  The song became a number one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart later that year.

October 16, 2022, 19 Pentecost, Proper 24

“Do Not Lose Hope”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission

Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-6

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