Signs of hope: a Comment symposium
Signs of hope: a Comment symposium

Signs of hope: a Comment symposium

Comment asked regular contributors to tell us of signs of hope they see in their daily work, in the spheres of culture where they are most active, or in the world at large. What follows is their observations and reflections.
—The Editors

December 1 st 2008
Appears in Winter 2008

Comment asked regular contributors to tell us of signs of hope they see in their daily work, in the spheres of culture where they are most active, or in the world at large. What follows is their observations and reflections.
—The Editors

Hope lands in my inbox every day. As the editor who is responsible for our social-enterprise coverage, I get to hear—and tell—stories about people and organizations who, driven by faith and/or their love of humanity and/or some impossible-to-articulate compassion, have devoted their lives to making others' lives better.

Hope is the woman who started the only drug company in America that intends never to turn a profit, but to create pharmaceuticals that people in the developing world need, just because they need them. Hope is two guys in business school who figured out a way for rice farmers to make electricity with the discarded husks from their harvest. Hope is an immigrant's kid who has devoted herself to bringing real teaching and reform to a corrupt inner-city school system. Hope is one of the wealthiest real-estate developers in America, who started one of the most ingenious, influential, yet unknown charities in the land to make sure that people much poorer than him had a solid roof over their heads. And lucky me, I get to run ten such stories in the next issue of the magazine—which means 750,000 copies will soon hit mailboxes and newsstands, disseminating these tales of hope.

Jeff Chu is a senior editor at Fast Company magazine in New York City.

When I look at the world on a large scale, as if through a wide-angle lens, things seem depressing, and there's not much any one of us can do to make a difference. But signs of hope in God's kingdom become evident when we look up close, as if through a microscope. I see Christians creating and supporting great art (,,,,, stewarding God's creation and teaching others to do so (, helping to break the cycle of poverty in Central America (, helping to educate the people of God to live well in the world and integrate their faith and their work (,,, and of course Comment magazine). These are some of the people and organizations I have been recently supporting with my money or volunteer time, and it's exciting to be part of what God is doing through them in small ways that have ripple effects throughout the world.

Rosie Perera is a writer, teacher, photographer, and software engineer in Vancouver, B.C.

My husband and I live a block away from a Caribou Coffee shop where we get our designer coffees a couple times a week, taking a break from our office. The cost is part of what we pay to become regulars at one of the few cultural spots where one can naturally join the conversation that goes on in the marketplace. We now know most of the employees and find ways to let them know we appreciate the work they do. Their response to consistent interest and respect often makes a greater impact than we imagine. We are especially fond of the young manager who is single and living with her boyfriend. Two weeks ago, I was surprised when she learned I hadn't been feeling well and brought us a special lasagna made with her very own homemade pasta and béchamel sauce. She stayed for an hour and a half telling me about her life, crying several times during our conversation. When she left, it was another reminder that what is important in an eternal, kingdom sense is often found in small acts of kindness given to others. And in God's inimitable way, here I was, deeply moved to think that he had also ministered to me through someone, who, as yet, doesn't even believe in him.

Margie Haack and her husband, Denis, are co-directors of Ransom Fellowship in Rochester, Minn.

A sign of hope unfolds in front of me every day as I sit at my desk. In the pine tree outside our home, Toad Hall, hung so I can see it from my office window is a thistle feeder. Day by day flocks of goldfinches arrive to squabble over the perches and feed. It's autumn as I write, so they have molted their bright yellow summer coats for more subtle winter attire, but their simple beauty remains, providing me flashing glimpses of God's glory. Their visits, which I cherish, remind me that the Creator has not withdrawn from this world nor turned away in disgust. And since I love the art of the cinema, each time I sit as the lights come back on as the credits roll I wonder. The best storytellers of our age spin their tales in those darkened rooms, often helping us to look honestly into the abyss of cosmic homesickness we all share in this broken world. Yet, so often—usually without sufficient reason, true—mostly they end their stories not with the counsel of despair but with a yearning for hope. Some mock them for failing to have the courage to tell the story straight, but I suspect a different force at work. Although they may not know it, or acknowledge it, or even rage against it, they live, as we all do, as participants in The Story that ends in the Restoration of all things in grace. Good stories are always echoes—fragmentary and incomplete, yes—but echoes, nevertheless, of that greater, richer Story. Still, J. R. R. Tolkien said it best:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Denis Haack and his wife, Margie, are co-directors of Ransom Fellowship in Rochester, Minn.

I live in a somewhat remote sea-side village, a traditional holiday place for people from both city and country.

There may be hyper-commercialism in other larger places down the coast, but Point Lonsdale continues to welcome holiday-makers who spend a couple of weeks in caravans or under canvas in our no-frills coastal parks. One precious feature stands out: the perpetual mixing of age-groups in carefree and happy relaxed interwoven "being together" at the local rink for skateboarding and rollerblading is amazing. Young children, just learning to use the skates, are accorded their turns while older skaters, some of whom are fully adults, wait and offer encouragement. It takes a while to see what is going on here but the age-mixing is a refreshing reality that keeps hope alive, say, when life is more age-segmented back at school. But it can also be seen when the surf is up and boys and girls, young men and young women and older "1970s" surfies all take their boards out and try their skills at catching a wave. Meanwhile, back at the beach cricket, grandmother has just shown why she is wicketkeeper—a great catch and now some roped-in passerby—what's your name again?—comes into bat.

Bruce Wearne is a writer and speaker in Point Lonsdale, Australia.

Doctors help broken bodies to heal. Lawyers broker disputes. Accountants guard against fraud. I work in perhaps the most optimistic of all professions, architecture. Architecture is optimistic for two reasons. First, if anyone wants to build anything, anywhere, their willingness to undertake an expensive and difficult task whose fruition is likely to be years away is a sign of hope in itself. Who starts a construction project when the world is about to end? This might explain why so few cathedrals were begun in the tenth century—and the twentieth. Second, architecture itself is a recognition that buildings have meaning apart from their basic role as shelter. One can create a shelter (a barn or shed) without doing architecture. But the engagement of an architect suggests that the client desires something more than shelter: to lift the human spirit. What could be a greater sign of hope than that desire in a pragmatic and economically stressed age?

David Greusel is a principal with HOK Sport Venue Event in Kansas City, Missouri.

On a week-to-week, month-to-month basis, I can't keep up with all the great writing I see. Even if I were to focus purely on publications from intelligent people of faith, I can't keep up. Books & Culture, First Things, Christian Century, Sojourners, Prism, the list goes on. Add the necessary Orion magazine for beauty and quality of writing. Add Paste though I barely understand the music world anymore—I can't take my eyes off it. If I must pick one sign of hope in our culture, I narrow it down to the Image Journal of The Arts and Religion. With the fifth-largest circulation of any arts journal in the world, Image has changed the face of faith for those in the arts world, and changed the face of the arts for faithful thinkers. In some strange way, Image has been my schooling, continuing to challenge me over the twenty years I've been a subscriber.

Image also launched me on an ecumenical journey—before reading it, I'd never encountered rich thinkers in the Catholic or Jewish traditions. When I open each copy, the world becomes exciting and huge and mysterious, all over again.

Image gives a great face to thoughtful, thought-provoking, deeply-engaged bold faith. I know longer believe there are only a small handful of thinking Christians out there in the world, or that we are relegated to certain denominations or geography. I see evidence that the people of God are vibrant and wrestling with what it means to be human—I'm glad they do that wrestling on a page, with a glossy cover, arriving in my mailbox any minute.

(I did not say "Facebook!" but I hope somebody else will. Facebook makes me just stupid with joy, and exposes me as a sentimental cuss).

Denise Frame Harlan is a writer in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

One of the places I am perpetually most cognizant of hope is Auschwitz. I concede it may seem counter-intuitive to connect an annihilation camp with hope, yet I do. Back when I thought myself an atheist, I had my first significant confrontation with the mass evil of the holocaust and it shattered my unbelief. Overwhelmed, I could not account for my hatred of evil. About the same time, in other places, I also found myself equally overwhelmed by the self-donational other-centeredness of Jean Valjean or the gospel's witness of the Christ. Here, too, my atheism was incapable of accounting for my love of deep goodness. Of course, I know that great evil can also have a deleterious effect on faith. Yet, in a world who's most efficacious sin so often is indifference (which Elie Wiesel called love's true opposite) there is hope in the fact that we can even now still be provoked by evil. In the great disequilibrium of evil (and, yes, in the even greater shock of goodness) we might find ourselves suddenly resonating with the biblical assertion that real love consists in hating evil and embracing good. To hate rightly is a first-step in moral maturation. More personally, I see this hope emerging in my two-year old boy. Even now, one sees the natural law at home in him as his eyes fill with water at what ought not to be but is—whether it's an undeserved shove on the playground or some other of his life's small but nevertheless real sorrows. He was given a knight's outfit for his birthday—complete with plastic shield and sword—and it's a wonderful idea to grow into. The little bodies of children have been called the repositories of the greatness of a future age; and they must be encouraged, fed by stories of past moral and physical courage in the face of dragons and dragonish ideas. My own abiding hope is that someday my son's now self-evident understanding of good and evil will discover its latent roots rest in God's expressed word. And my sustained prayer is that he will give himself to stand in the breach against evil and champion the full expression of love.

Marc LiVecche is a Ph.D. student in religious ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

What was it the Apostle Paul said? "Evidence of things unseen." In the world of crime writing, to have "seen things" is a euphemism for despair. As a crime reporter, I see things every week which I can't even report, things too horrible and too common: The infant child of a single mother dead, though no one did anything wrong; a young woman out of her head on something, staggering around shouting, "F***"; parents without the money to bury a boy, who was shot by police while dealing meth. "The darkness surrounds us," wrote the poet Robert Creeley, "what can we do against it."

But the thing is, people do things against it. People persist. They persist in hoping things could be better and in working to solve problems they know are unsolvable. Depression would be reasonable. Despair would be rational. But people still insist on pursuing the impossible: justice, peace, protection of the innocent, and a world without violence. We're like Ray Charles when he sang "America the Beautiful," a blind man singing about "purple mountains" and "shining seas" he's never seen, a black man in a racist country, belting it out: "America the beautiful," a country he believed in, despite what he knew. We persist in hope. We believe, without evidence, because hope is its own evidence.

It's completely, beautifully insane, but I see people daily demonstrating an unshakable belief that things can be better. Cops show up to work. Crisis counselors answer the phones. Paramedics give life support. People vote, have babies, get married, and pray to God. Every day, people have this fantastic faith, which they live out by doing completely normal things. It's madness, this persistence of hope. It's human. And, for me, it's the evidence of things I haven't seen.

Daniel Silliman is a crime reporter for a small daily newspaper in metro Atlanta, Georgia.

Hands-on hope. Like others, I've tried to nurture in my children a vigorous imagination and a measured approach to the wired world. A recent walk in London with the kids and their beloved stuffed rabbit and blue bear was a picture of imaginative play winning. We were tramping along towards a flat we'd just succeeded in renting—simply to walk by before dropping in for our daily groceries. The kids—ten and seven—wanted to show their favourite stuffed animals where home was soon to be. Whispering sweetly, the kids cradled their charges in such a way so our lively surroundings weren't missed. The stuffed animals have been through a lot, as their raggedy bodies betray, tagging along after our children who have experienced the accelerated pace of Washington, D.C. life, the surreal nature of Dubai and now London, described by a good friend as "aggressive." My kids' simple march down a London street lovingly holding their stuffed animals was a picture of much deeper things because for now at least, they are closer to reality than many adults who in rushing around often overlook what matters; their arms are locked around what can be felt and trusted.

Kathryn Streeter is a journalist based in London, England.

Have you ever thought that eternity might be boring? I confess I have. And so, apparently, did Wozzeck's captain. Thinking he waxed recondite, he dizzied himself contemplating the eternal: "Ewig, das ist Ewig!" But of course the world to come will be as infinite in wonder as its Lamp is infinite in glory—"in vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine." Our hope is in that world, even though we cannot see it. Who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24) Nevertheless, there are tokens of that world all around us, signs of hope, glimpses of the wonder that is in store. Sometimes this world feels all composed out: there are no more plots left for the playwright; no more syllables for the bard. The dancer's arm, intractably fastened to the dancer, can move to so many positions and no more. And the composer becomes all too acquainted with his notes. But in my work—composing music, studying music, teaching music—I see confirmed time and time again what Leonard Bernstein called "the infinite variety of music." There is always more music to compose. I see limitless creativity in my students and colleagues. Is it any surprise, considering the mind of our creator? He has made more worlds than our necks have stretched to see! It fills me with hope to see the infinite variety of music in this world, and gives me a giddy longing for the next.

John Wykoff is a Chancellor's Fellow in music composition at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The PATH Station at the World Trade Center. I find hope in the commonplace of my weekly commute into New York City. I've been regularly travelling to lower Manhattan this fall for a class at New York University. I park my Jeep in Jersey City and take the PATH train from Grove Street through the Hudson Tube to the World Trade Center station. My fellow passengers read newspapers, listen to iPods, check their cell phones, or stare resolutely at the floor. On my last trip, I noticed only a single traveller staring into the enormous construction site at Ground Zero. I joined him in contemplating the long rows of concrete, steel, scaffolding, and yellow lighting stretching out seemingly to infinity. Riding up the escalator to the West Broadway exit, I watched lines of people ascending and descending into this gaping hole in the fabric of the city. I glimpse hope in this cosmopolitan community of pilgrims who are reflectively or unreflectively carrying on with their mundane commutes into a still wounded city.

Clifford Blake Anderson is Curator of Reformed Research Collections in the Princeton Theological Seminary Library, N.J.

If asked to name a trend I see in the love lives of unmarried people of faith, it would probably be the lengthening of our single years—often to a decade or more. Accompanying this chastity endurance test is growing sense of fear that we have lost our ability to resolutely pair off and raise families. I hadn't found much reason to feel hopeful about this, until I learned in late July of a small but growing group of people who take each Monday to fast and pray about singleness. The chief request: that God would provide wives or husbands for those who want them, and unstick what's stuck and broken in men and women and our relationships with each other. Regardless of whether or how our circumstances change through this, the sheer fact of God's moving so many people to fast and pray is a major sign of hope. I enter the new year excited to learn how God will show up in our emotional and relational lives. If you're interested in joining the group, email and I'll forward details.

Anna Broadway is the nom de plume of a writer, knitter and Web editor living near San Francisco, Calif.

Lately, in the living rooms of friends, mostly in their twenties and thirties; in coffee shops and restaurants; and in small, independent businesses (I list only those examples which I've eye-witnessed), I notice furniture. Specifically, I'm drawn to chairs. And I'm heartened by what I see: real wood, conscious design, homage and innovation, and a gaining, ultimately, of form on function.

I'm not a student of architectural or design history or theory, but I trust that I can apply to others the principle that I recognize in my life, the idea that the aesthetic choices we make reveal not so much who we currently are as what we hope for, form giving outward shape to our inward needs. Perhaps this is a choice available only to those with the luxury to choose, but the culture in which I live typically has that choice, and what emotional longings it expresses are no less meaningful for that luxury.

These chairs, as I read them, express hope and desire: for the thoughtful use of our resources, for the valuing of individual craftsmanship over mass fabrication, for the stripping away of veneer.

Jeremy Clive Huggins is a lecturer at Fontbonne University in Missouri.

In biblical studies there has been a kind of sea change over the last generation or so. For more than a century the most prestigious biblical scholarship had been dominated by the kind of historical criticism which analyzes the biblical writings into many disparate and contradictory sources, which were then assigned to many different authors, living at different time periods, and reflecting competing ideological interests. Nowadays this kind of biblical criticism, although certainly not without continuing influence, has been significantly challenged by a new movement in biblical studies which wants to take seriously the final form of the biblical text, that is, the canonical shape of Scripture as it has been handed down to us by believing Jews and Christians. Nowadays it is not only traditional believers who speak of "the unity of Isaiah," for example, although mainstream scholars may mean only a literary unity, not a unity of authorship. With the advent of postmodernism, classical historical criticism is now widely recognized to be what it was all along, a typical product of the Enlightenment project, and the legitimacy (if not necessity) of faith-based biblical scholarship is increasingly recognized.

Al Wolters is Professor Emeritus at Redeemer University College, and researcher at the Paideia Centre for Public Theology.

Children are the biggest beacons of hope. In my work, I meet remarkable children from all over the world. I recently met a group of children in India who get together regularly to pray about the needs in their community. They pray for virtually everything: from schools that are in need of repair to domestic violence in their own homes. They pray because they have hope that things can be changed. It's a reminder to me that children are change agents in their families and communities. When children are hopeful, there's hope for all of us.

Dave Toycen is president and CEO of World Vision Canada, the country's largest humanitarian relief and development agency.

Natalie, one of the students on our trip in India, was a little nervous about the Leper Colony. As we walked in, the sun was bright, creating a dull glare off the straight row of red clay buildings. Flies buzzed around our heads as children played at our feet. How do you respond to families trapped in the deepest depths of poverty? As we slowly walked, a toddler stumbled between us. She had no clothes, her brown skin streaked with dirt, her black hair matted. While I felt sad for the little girl, wondering about the price of diapers on what little a Leper received from begging, Natalie reached down and picked her up. With a smile that would lift anyone's heart, Natalie raised the little girl in her arms, hugging her, kissing her; the little girl laughing with delight. Natalie did not pause. She did not have to think. She ran no risk assessment before reaching out to the lovely little girl. She responded to the need. I have seen so many students respond to others with beautiful love. Rachel's running after the limping man, down the broken streets of the South Bronx, to pray for him. Melinda's sharing a divine rap in Harlem. I have such deep hope for the future, as I have borne witness to the love our next generation walks in.

Mark Meehan is the Dean of the School of Business at Nyack College, New York.

Despite an economic downturn, a presidential race that is divisive, and living in a city where Christianity is all but dismissed, I have great reason for hope. At Boston Trinity Academy we have seen a student body made up of a widely diverse population of students (33% white, 30 black, 19% Asian, 10% Latino, 8% multi-racial) come together in order not only to increase their academic knowledge, but also to work to change the world around them for the better. Over the next seven months this sundry group will host a benefit concert for orphans in Nepal, work on a community revitalization project in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Boston (in which many of them live), and manage to be students working their way toward college and university life. Many will also depart for Nepal and South Africa to continue the work they have started in several orphanages, schools, and AIDS hospices. None of these students is required to do community service. Rather, they have determined that social justice and servant leadership are legitimate and worthy callings for 21st-century leaders and have gotten involved voluntarily. They have given their limited time, their limited resources, and their ever-increasing knowledge and talents to be culture makers, not social conformers. I, for one, am not only hopeful. I am confident in the future because of such amazing emerging leaders.

Timothy P. Wiens is Headmaster at Boston Trinity Academy in Massachusetts.

In our neighborhood of Toronto (historic Corktown: Moss Park and St. Lawrence Market), an increasing number of professionals—including eight families from our church—are moving into an area of the city that has been historically considered needy. Although gentrification is not new, this kind of influx has a different attitude. The new residents are showing a desire to mix with, respect, and live alongside their historic neighbours of much different socio-economic status. All of our church's small groups have gone out prayer-walking their neighborhoods in the city, learning to respect and 'see' the city with new eyes, to love the city on its own terms. The days of seeing the city as a missionary 'project' seem to be waning, as are the days of seeing the city as a place to merely consume. The concept of investing in the city, of seeking its peace, is gaining greater traction, both inside and outside church circles.

Dan MacDonald is the minister of Grace Toronto church (PCA).

Christians seem to be 'natural born dualists.' For whatever reason—perhaps because of the Gnostic cultural air we regularly breathe—believers everywhere seem to be inclined to otherworldliness as soon as they meet the Savior . . . 'so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good' ... as the saying goes. But the hopeful sign I see is that despite this ongoing tendency (evidently, we still need a fine, new book to tell us to be about the business of "Culture Making"), more and more Christians, young and older alike, are outgrowing their religious compartmentalization or the sacred-secular split, and are being properly educated into an understanding of the radically comprehensive character of the Christian faith. At last, believers are discovering that God is the maker, judge and redeemer of "all things" as the biblical narrative at the heart of a Christian worldview makes patently clear. This has huge personal and cultural consequences! It frees up Christians to become truly human, life affirming Christians as Christians, and it opens up the Church to vistas of faith, hope, love, life, and mission that can't help but produce change in the world. Increasingly, believers are saying NO to dualism and YES to the grand vision of the gospel of the kingdom of God in all its staggering proportions and implications."

David K. Naugle is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University.

Where would we be without hope? It is what we cling to in despair and that which spurs us on when times are good. It is the antithesis of cynicism, which corrodes the soul, our spirit and our ambitions. I find hope, oddly enough, in the world's economic crisis because at its bottom line it illustrates that there is a difference between ambition and avarice and people will have think about that. It illustrates that if you think about life as eternal versus temporal, you create structures that either add permanence to the world or set it alight. It shows that, as Jonathan Wellum has written, there are profound perils in short-termism—the bastard child of temporal adherence. It proves that ideas matter; that they are not just the ethereal pastimes of dilettantes, theologians, and philosophers but are at the heart of how societies work. It proves that the lessons we have been taught and that we seek to teach stand the test of time. And that gives me hope that people will open their minds and wonder why that is so.

Peter Menzies is a national commissioner with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, and a Senior Fellow with Cardus.

I spend quite a bit of time with students, both on my own campus and as a visiting lecturer at various colleges and universities. I am extremely impressed with the emerging generation of Christian student leaders. Many of them transcend the older "left" versus "right" polarizations on issues of politics and culture, with a commitment to the essentials of "traditional" morality accompanied by concern for the care of creation and a commitment to the poor and the oppressed. They have a global outlook, and they take a multi-racial, multi-ethnic culture for granted. There is an increasing interest in the worship practices of the Christian past, and yet with a desire to make those traditions come alive for our postmodern world. God's faithfulness endures through all generations!

Richard Mouw is President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

This event happened the day before I write this.

The bare, arid landscape of Afghanistan parallels the desperation of its people, trapped in demeaning warfare of the past thirty years. Yet persistent faith compels me to relentlessly plant life at the margins of hope and despair. Philanthropy provides a means to do this, and unexpected signs of hope bring great joy.

On a day when a suicide bomber blew himself up at government offices a block away from my hotel, killing five and wounding twenty-one, I walked through a garden of roses and gladioli outside the dust and volatility of the city. Brilliant bursts of saffron and crimson stood in stark contrast to the sandy soil. The garden was a place of beauty and peace, and also of learning and healing. Afghan war widows, though shrouded in burkas, would be trained to cultivate and reproduce these plants for sale in the markets. The relentlessness of hope exists in every human heart and is even more beautiful when contrasted to destruction around it.

Mark Petersen is Executive Director of the Bridgeway Foundation in Cambridge, Ontario.

It takes faith to imagine an oak where presently only an acorn exists, but the connection between faith and hope (mixed with a greater portion of love) has biblical warrant. The somewhat ugly and ill-formed acorn I come across in my daily work, in proportions unimagined just a decade ago, is the understanding that man is at his core a religious being. Although the secularization thesis still has adherents, who in blind faith convince themselves that labeling any religious talk as heresy can expunge religious reality, most in society—including those who are not religiously active—are realizing that such a denial of the evidence is foolishness. As this acorn grows, a new language will be required for public discourse that will acknowledge the motivating impulse of our deepest held beliefs. Space for the important place of religious institutions will be carved out, recognizing that worship isn't something we just do ourselves but is corporate in character. Opportunity will be provided for the gospel—both the biblical one and many other gospels—to be presented. As the acorn grows, there is reason to persevere expectantly, living out of faith, hope, and love and looking forward to the beauty, shelter and shade provided by the solid oak.

Ray Pennings is Senior Fellow and director of research for Cardus; he lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Wall Street has replaced the Twin Towers as the metaphor of our age. With the attack on the Twin Towers, the United States unified, however briefly, to address its adversaries—both real and imagined. But the dust and ash that covered lower Manhattan that fall morning obscured an even deeper problem. The Financial Crisis of 2008 and the resulting global financial tsunami made this problem evident. There is hollowness at the core of our culture. Short-term profits masked long-term bankruptcy. Under pressure, there was no there, there. How can this be good news? It is good news, because the prodigal's pigsty is the moment of awareness. Only when idolatries are exposed can reality be faced. It is crucial in the coming days and months not to scapegoat the financial crisis to the symbolic few. We are all to blame. We have lived beyond our means both financially and spiritually. Culture is not divorced from reality. Ideas have consequences. So does culture. We cannot divorce morals from markets and be surprised by corruption. We cannot celebrate consumer nihilism and decry meaningless spending. We cannot inhabit a virtual Second Life and pretend it has no real world effect. Reality bites and this is good news for all who will listen.

John Seel is a cultural renewal entrepreneur, consultant to Walden Media and others, and a Senior Fellow with Cardus; he lives in Cohasset, Massachusetts.

The headlines scream doom and gloom. There are nonstop references to the credit crisis being "the worst since The Great Depression." Powerful financial giants such as Lehman Brothers and American International Group (AIG) have been laid waste, destroyed by their own greed and short-termism. So where are the signs of hope in the midst of this unfolding global nightmare? For the first time in a long time individuals, families, and corporations—especially our financial institutions—are seriously considering their debt levels and are finally "de-leveraging." This strengthening of balance sheets will actually lead to a healthier economy in the long run despite the short-term pain we are now experiencing. Further hope is seen in the reality that for the first time in decades the "financial weapons of mass destruction" (as Warren Buffett calls them) otherwise known as derivatives are finally shrinking, reducing a major risk factor that existed in our financial system. Often it's only when things really go wrong that we are prepared or forced to deal with important issues. Light has indeed begun to pierce into the darkest areas of the financial system and this truly gives all of us increased hope!

Jonathan Wellum is CEO and CIO of AIC Limited, Canada's largest private mutual fund company. He lives in Campbellville, Ontario.

For me, hope, as I understand the Bible, is the certainty of the faithful who live in God's presence. You live by faith in hope when you patiently and steadfastly exercise the love God asks of us humans (Romans 5:1-5).

Traces of such hope which I notice around me are like invisible fingerprints of the Holy Spirit:

  • an older woman is praying in her inner room (Matthew 6:6) for communal understanding and peace in a congregation troubled by injured feelings and confusing leadership, although she may have as little an idea of what actually needs to be done as Augustine's mother did about the doings of her profligate son;

  • a depressed person with little self-respect grits out stellar, unnoticed service in a demanding job day after day, loving the neighbour, with no encouraging word for such bravery and dedication to the task;

  • a young woman has gone off to be a Christian nurse in Madagascar with a local arm of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, while the carelessness of us rich North American nations toward the helpless poor of the world is hardly recognized because the evil of poverty somewhere else is so "normal," integral to our middle-class way of life; and

  • an acquaintance dying of cancer soberly told the uncomprehending hospital visitor, "Soon I'll be 100%!" (The visitor thought the patient showed a false expectation of getting well during palliative care, while the dying believer meant, "Soon I will be in direct fellowship with the risen Jesus near God's throne")

For me these little acts nearby my cloistered, basement study desk show traces of genuine hope, which I share by noticing, remembering, and thanking God for them.

My own hope is a plodding, quiet, steady awareness of God's providing enduring grace through thick and thin en route during my life time (Romans 8:24-25, II Corinthians 4:16-18), while I am privileged to have the health to explore the worldwide treasures of writings by wise and foolish people. It's like reading Isaiah: you know for sure, after a couple of chapters of announced dire punishments, come glorious passages of the LORD's cuddling you close, keeping you somehow permanently safe and fundamentally comforted amid all the ills.

Calvin Seerveld is Professor Emeritus in Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto.

The entertainment industry is not monolithic. The same town that creates works of beauty like No Country for Old Men or The Dark Knight also creates Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton. Some people view Tinsel town as a cabal of snickering fat cats determining what we will think while they pick our pockets. It's more like a great debate, with hundreds of people shouting to get your attention. And therein lies the hope. The real power in Hollywood rests with the people buying the tickets. Sometimes viewers choose poorly, and usher in Jackass II. Sometimes they elevate an obscure work of sensitivity and insight, like Juno. And often they infuriate the would-be issue shapers of Tinsel town by ignoring their products, as demonstrated by the persistent failure of anti-Iraq war films. This great debate also offers hope for those who yearn to join it. A determined dreamer who has something real to offer, something that will gain an audience, can find a place in Hollywood. Profit trumps ideology. Sometimes the beautiful, edifying, thought-provoking works do, indeed, win.

Rebecca Cusey writes about popular culture from her home in Washington, D.C.

As a bookseller who travels on occasion to serve organizations, conferences, and retreats we are privileged to observe ideas proclaimed, seeds planted, plans hatched, relationships nurtured, prayers prayed, and we see these as signs of hope. God's Spirit is alive and working.

Organizations designed to work on large and looming social issues remain active; folks buy books from us to equip themselves to be thoughtful, aware, engaged, proactive, faithful.

For instance, in recent weeks I shook hands at an event with an African man who had seen genocide's worst and who now is a Christian lawyer working on mediation and reconciliation and justice in his homeland. At the same event we sat next to a young Christian woman who is a clerk for the Supreme Court of a struggling Eastern European nation. Like a modern-day Daniel or Esther, God has placed His people in places of strategic importance. A sign of hope, indeed.

I am given hope that there are Christian organizations that network followers of Christ in various societal and professional spheres—Christian Legal Society, Christians in the Visual Arts, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Council of Christian Colleges & Universities, Christian Medical Association come to mind—and they are nurturing folks in faithful thought and practice in their vocations. When we sell a wise and thoughtful book to a serious Christian who intends to live out Biblical convictions in the public square, in the work-world, or university, we are filled with hope. That there even are so many good books on this sort of stuff, from Christian and other publishers, is itself extraordinary. A generation ago this was simply not the case. This is a very large sign of hope.

Through our feeble work as purveyors of the printed page, we've learned of readers who have become inspired to bold initiatives and quiet choices, public witness and personal formation.

One might be tempted to be cynical in this info-glut, lightweight, culture to imagine that books and talk and conferences make a difference. But we've seen it, in good conversations on the meaning of city life initiated by pastors who have read the literature of the new urbanists; in college students "writing their papers to the glory of God" because they read Opitz & Melleby, Walsh & Middleton, Bartholomew & Goheen.

I see hope in the realization that God is pleased to use books like the Timothy Keller's Reason for God or N. T. Wright's Simply Christian to bring the lost back to Christ's fold. (I'm not alone in discerning this; the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have done stories wondering if, finally, such thoughtful and elegant Christian authors might receive the mantel of C. S. Lewis).

Bookstores, especially independently minded ones, are facing very hard times. Indeed, to develop a reading culture, even within our churches, will take a miracle of notable proportions. But I take hope not only by observing small examples of book buying and conferencing, but by the awareness of how large social reforms—led by the likes of Augustine, Patrick, Calvin, Wilberforce, Kuyper, or King—have had at their start the reading of a book. Might a book or two that we have sold, or that you have recommended or loaned, be a spark for such revival or reformation? We can hope.

Byron Borger owns Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.

I find signs of hope in the coffee culture that's been developing in North America. About twenty years ago a new immigrant friend laughed as he portrayed a major frustration with Canadian his entry into Canadian society. He explained how he went to a local restaurant just around the corner from his apartment, bought a coffee and sat down at a table to talk with some people. "They get up and go away," he said incredulously.

The problem was partly cultural. Where he came from, people gathered at coffee or tea shops and spoke with strangers. It was the way to learn a new language; the way to integrate into a new community. But Canadians typically went to McDonald's for fast food and quick family time. Outsiders not welcome.

Fast-forward two decades. Starbucks, Second Cup and a host of independent purveyors of fine coffee are providing places where Canadians come to indulge our craving for caffeine and to connect with other people—friends and strangers. People were not meant to be alone. We always find ways to reach out and know others. Coffee time brings us together. Words speed up the process immensely. We get to know each other by talking with each other.

Lately I've been speaking with a barista, a wonderful human being brimming with spiritual questions but full of apprehension about organized religion. She needs a conversation, many conversations, to invite her into better understanding and relationship with God.

Conversation, by definition, is not one-sided. It involves listening. It opens minds to learn new things. It demands discernment. How do we process what we hear? What do we take away when the cup is empty and the duties of the day reclaim our attention? It's sometimes said that coffee will stunt a person's growth, but real conversation is always a way to grow.

Doug Koop is editorial director of Fellowship for Print Witness, publishers of ChristianWeek. He lives in Manitoba.

When I search for signs of hope in the midst of economic freefall and election spin, I find myself thinking about thinking about Richard, Ann, Steve, Jill, Phil, Bill, and a host of others. The names are important but beside the point. Each of these persons belongs to a different small group of CEOs and senior executives in business: Richard and Ann in Pennsylvania, Steve in California, Jill and Phil in Minnesota and Bill in New York. These groups of men and women commit themselves to spend one day per month together, thinking about leadership, management, and life. They care as much about the life journey that each person is travelling as about the health of the companies they lead. Each month they hold one another accountable for the personal and professional growth. Many of these groups have been meeting for ten to fifteen years. And they pay over $10,000 per year for the privilege of belonging to such close knit groups! They take seriously the responsibility they have to their employees, their customers and their families. And they celebrate together. This gives me hope. Leaders who care enough to hold themselves accountable to be the persons they intend to be are on the road to healthy leadership, thriving organizations and flourishing employees.

Walter Wright is the Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Hope often lives in the spaces of paradox. At the recent emerging leaders event in Ottawa organized by Cardus, I had a long conversation with David Goa, something I've wanted to do since the turn of the millennium when Goa curated the wildly successful exhibit, Anno Domini: Jesus through the Centuries. Other emergent leaders were part of the conversation, which at times felt like sitting at court with Gandalf, and we all had questions and comments on a wide range of topics. In the course of the discussion, Goa explained that one of the reasons he had become interested in an exhibit featuring the cultural representations of Jesus over the last two millennia was the shocking ignorance many of his students displayed regarding the history and legacy of Christianity in western thought and culture. Not exactly hopeful. However, as our discussion continued, he pointed out that the vacancy of knowledge we lament also means that the antagonism and stereotypes have also gone. We now live, he mused, in a time that is similar to the New Testament church where opportunities to live out and talk about the deep hopefulness of the Christian message surround us daily. One of the challenges of Christianity in the west is that we possess, collectively, enough knowledge or experience of the faith to inoculate us against a real embrace of the message. Maybe a new sapling is growing from the stump—a hopeful thought that embraces the paradox of our current cultural conditions.

Milton Friesen is the Director of Operations for Cardus.

Cornell West introduced me to a wonderful quote by Vaclav Havel: "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." Being a minister in an urban setting that is secular, rootless, and transient, a place where serving as a minister often has me feeling like I have a purple head with green antennae, well, optimistic flights of fancy that envision some sort of utopia in this life never serve to salve my soul. Some marriages in the church crumble. Some people will never understand you or the vision. Some friends will never believe. Addictions continue to befall people all around me. The broader culture continues to see Christians as the problem and not the solution. Yet the Christian vision—the promise that Jesus will restore all things, that His own very prayer would be answered—His kingdom will come, His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven—gives me hope that all of this does make sense that, to quote Julian of Norwich, "All will be well." Recent glimmers of hope that I have relished: an agnostic scientist telling me that his epistemology has experienced a great shift in his time in our Faith and Science group; an ardently agnostic journalist remarking to me that she was moved by an articulation of the Christian story that she recently read with me in a study group; a woman who has been on a twenty-year search for God just found Him at our church; and how I love my wife and our kids with an intensity that could only come from God.

Bart Garrett planted Christ Church in Berkeley, California in 2006.

In one week from the day I am writing this, the United States will have elected a new president. All indications are that it will be Barack Obama. Given the history of slavery, racism, and prejudice, this could very well be the turning point for the healing of America's greatest moral wound. That gives me hope. But he brings more than his race to the leadership of the nation. He brings an overt willingness to work closely with allies around the world and to engage with other cultures and societies, without becoming relativistic in his assessment of the moral necessity of democratic polities, the importance of defending human rights, and the benefits of a regulated but basically open economy. That too gives me hope. I say this in the face of the world economic crisis which will be with us for some time to come. We have come to the end of the direct conflict between a totally free market economy and a totalitarian socialist economy. We are now trying to figure out how we can find a viable path between democratic capitalism and social democracy, both of which involve the democratization of the economic order with a little more or a little less independence of a controlled capitalistic system, shaped by international political supports and constraints. That is also worth of hope. But the ground of my hope is not in these arrangements, it is found in a profound sense of the Providence of God. The last century looked bleaker than this one as the world faced two world wars, a massive depression, the threat of a "mutually assured destruction" by nuclear power in the Cold War, and devastating revolutionary and nihilist movements over much of the globe. We not only survived this bloody century, we may have learned something from it: I hope that lesson is that the Providence of God will see us through in spite of our wanton and foolish ways.

Max Stackhouse is the Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

What gives me hope right now? As a citizen of the United States, I know that countless millions of dollars have been spent to condition me to respond that Barack Obama gives me hope. But I've got to admit, he kind of does. I don't agree with everything he stands for, but to be honest the prospect of an African American president gives me some hope for race relations at home and for the reputation of the United States abroad. I also find it hopeful that Rick Warren seems to be having some success in expanding the evangelical social agenda to include things like poverty and AIDS. And lastly, I find some hope for our civic health in the fact that the rise in gas prices is causing transit ridership to increase dramatically.

Eric O. Jacobsen is the author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.

I am greatly encouraged by growing interest and acceptance across Christendom of the biblical idea that our final destination will be a renewed earth—replete with cultural activity and artifacts. I was first exposed to this glorious idea through Richard Mouw's little book When the Kings Come Marching In. This truly positive affirmation of culture was reinforced by writings of the late Anthony Hoekema, especially his The Bible and Future. This powerful idea that our ultimate destiny will not be merely "heavenly" but soundly grounded on the earth was a central theme in my book Plowing in Hope. This is a sharp departure from the majority evangelical view that sees our future primarily (even exclusively) as an escape from our earthly existence. Once only the obscure belief of hardcore Kuyperians, this idea is gaining traction in the broader Christian community as evidenced by recently published books by the Baptist Michael Wittmer's Heaven is a Place on Earth published by Zondervan and Andy Crouch's Culture Making published by Intervarsity Press earlier this year. As this idea spreads I look forward to an epoch where Christians the world over take their cultural calling seriously—because it has a solid place within eternity.

Dave Hegeman is a librarian and writer in Newberg, Oregon.

Here's a sign of hope: organizations looking to find the image best picturing their work. This isn't new—for years, people have been imagining "good hands people" when they hear Allstate. Now an increasing number of businesses, schools, and other institutions are recognizing that we think in pictures, not mission statements. And since truth is won through metaphor, or a picture, (thank you, Lewis) this is a hopeful opening. It gets us past the watchful dragons. Finding the picture starts the genetic sequence shaping every institution: picture, story, code, and—last—culture. Institutions that discover their picture can write a good story about it. Every good story contains one code—ought, is, can, and will. That's street language for what we hear in the sanctuary—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. I'm helping institutions match the code (derived from their picture and story) to their culture. The closer their culture reflects their picture, story, and code, the better their organization. I've got a long way to go, since my aim is to get my foot in the door with the likes of Drew Gilpin Faust, Sergey Brin, Shelly Lazarus, and Steven Spielberg. They may not be interested in bringing biblical principles into their workplace, but they might want to find the icon best picturing their work. If we can get our foot in the door, we increase the likelihood of getting a place at the table—which might be the next sign of hope.

Mike Metzger is the President and Senior Fellow of The Clapham Institute in Maryland.

We have the Covenant, the Promise. Do we need signs? But people always want signs. "Am I getting this right? Give me a sign." "Are we on the right road?" We know things are going to turn out all right. But we want assurance. "Tell me again that it's going to be all right."

If only we had a direct line to God! If only we didn't have to rely on texts and the interpretation of texts. We want the Well in the Wilderness, the Pillar of Fire, the Cloud of Smoke.

Rabbinic Judaism tells us to be wary of the Big Hopes. We should be wary of teachings about end times and absolutes. "Patience, patience"—that's the rabbis' advice. They sound like the sages of the Wisdom literature. Or the Stoics, for that matter. The twentieth century taught us to be wary of the Big Hopes. Well, I hope it did. Be wary of the Big Schemers, the false messiahs, the world menders.

What can I say? We're living in peace and plenty. Under good laws—I don't say the best laws—in a beautiful land, enjoying glorious autumn weather. World indicators are improving. More women are in school, more babies live past their first year, more people are listening to Bach. More people are performing Bach! Are we grateful? No. We're preoccupied with the financial crisis: graphs are plummeting; and the environment: the sky's falling, oceans are rising. (I think of Ulysses's speech in Troilus and Cressida: "the bounded waters raise their shoulders higher than the shore, to make a sop of all this solid globe." Fear of floods . . . that's an old fear. The waters below the earth loosed again.

So can we allow ourselves to look for little signs? Little hopes? Jews are not supposed to read horoscopes. But synagogues in Eastern Europe usually had the Signs of the Zodiac running in a frieze around the sanctuary ceiling. I don't know why.

Small signs. I'm thinking. Well. People say "thank you" to the driver when they get off the intercity bus. That didn't happen ten years ago. The kids say thank you when you shell out on Halloween.

One youngster—four feet, Chinese, all in black with a painted face, looks at the shelves in our front hall. "You have a lot of books," he says." You must be a good reader." I say: "I'm a very good reader. Are you a reader?" Kid: "I'm a great reader. Thanks." He's already racing off. He and his pals have a lot of ground to cover yet. Three adorable little girls appear. His sisters? I ask: "Do you like reading?" "Yes," they whisper. One adds: "I love reading." "Thanks."

Pooh, says my neighbour. "They were Chinese. That's not a sign of hope. Of course they're readers. Now if they'd been anglo-saxon types that would have been a sign."

Janet Ajzenstat is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Although many may tend to conflate hope and optimism, I do not believe that they are the same thing. It is difficult to be optimistic in a world plagued by wars and rumours of wars, crushing poverty and a lack of respect for God's image-bearing creatures. Optimists will ignore such signs of sin and death and emphasize the positive, expressing misplaced faith in the human spirit, and anticipating that the best will win out in the long run. Why? Because it's simply in their nature to do so. It's better for our mental health to look on the bright side, irrespective of evidence to the contrary.

Hope is something different. The Christian tradition has always seen hope as one of the cardinal virtues, along with faith and charity (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope is much more than a vague expectation for future good. Hope ultimately rests in the promise of God to redeem his people and indeed the entirety of his creation. Everything we do in obedience to God's expressed will in Scripture is done in the hope that he will "establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17), using our fallible efforts to advance his kingdom.

By his grace, God sometimes grants us signposts of this hope along the path of our journey. I myself have been privileged to see these in my work as a university instructor. Two of these stand out. First, because God has called me to teach, I have had the pleasure of seeing nearly a generation of Christian young people sit in my classes. Each of these represents hope for the future, insofar as they are carrying in their hearts a dedication to living out the kingdom of God in his world. It is difficult to put words to the experience of seeing students catch fire with enthusiasm for the fullness of the life in Christ under one's own guidance.

Second, there now appears to be a solid consensus amongst contemporary Christians from a variety of traditions that we need to live our faith in all of life, including politics. This was not something I heard while growing up. At that time there was a significant element in the church that held that Christians should focus on evangelism (understood fairly narrowly) and leave social and political matters aside. This was a viewpoint I came to find deficient as an undergraduate and often had to do (verbal) battle with those voicing it. More than a generation later, a solid majority of Christians seem to comprehend that the life of obedience to God covers the whole of life, including politics. Of course, there is disagreement on where to go from here, yet there is also much that Christians hold in common with respect to basic understandings of justice, and that too is reason for hope.

David T. Koyzis is Professor of Political Science at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.

Signposts of Hope in Lynn, Massachusetts. We too often fail to stop and look for signs of hope. They can be harder to see, yet our pausing on them is essential to the practice of Sabbath-keeping and Shalom-building and our main directive in this Christian journey. Here are three that come to my mind as I live and work in Lynn, Massachusetts:

Last May we must have planted twenty sunflower seeds. As we planted here and there, kids drew sunflowers in chalk on the cement , watered sloppily and danced excitedly around—a

Janet Ajzenstat
Janet Ajzenstat

Janet Ajzenstat is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Current research interests include comparative constitutional law, Canadian democracy, and Canadian political history.

Clifford Blake Anderson
Clifford Blake Anderson

Clifford Blake Anderson is Curator of Reformed Research Collections in the Princeton Theological Seminary Library. He lives in Cranbury, NJ with his wife Rosanna, who is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).


Download and Share Articles From The Comment Reader

An introduction to Public Theology for the Common Good

Want more of the same fresh, thought-provoking content delivered right to your inbox once a week?