Daring despairing

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Credit: Xavier, https://www.flickr.com/photos/xavier33300/12859486384

A pastor, fond of quoting business aphorisms he considered appropriate to the life of faith, told me once, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

I have no solutions. I see no way out. I am exhausted from alternately assigning blame, seeking solutions and hoping. I am beyond hope, edging despair. How about you?

My generation was born with hope that technological advance would keep us ahead of ruin. Our communications technology and our “entitlement to know” livestreamed us worldwide news and the inability to not know what damage our technological society is to sisters and brothers in the global majority.

My generation went to war when I was 16 years old, and we’ve been at war ever since. Everyone knew it was a war for oil, but everyone also knew that we needed the oil.

My generation was taught that we could achieve anything, given centuries of slavery, genocide and looking the other way.

I saw the best minds of my generation medicated back to work because pharmaceutical solutions turn a better profit than the talking cure.

The scope of possibility for a good future is shrinking almost perceptibly to the rapture or an impossible miracle.

And I no longer believe in the rapture.

I no longer believe in the basic goodness of people. Or if I do, I simultaneously believe in the basic ineffectual nature of their goodness and in the horror of their passions.

I no longer believe in reforming the system from within.

I no longer believe in building a new society within the shell of the old.

I never believed in the random act of kindness, nor in paying it forward, nor in positive thinking.

I do not believe that good-thinking, good-acting people are good enough at extractive and exploitative business and politics to finance their good ideas. God is on the side of the large battalions. The only religion that gets heard is the shrill and bloody cry of the wannabe martyrs, the sales patter of the slick and the smooth blandishments of the professionally calm. For the more sophisticated worshipper, doubt is sanctified.

For a time I believed that the church of Jesus Christ had the willpower, the expertise, the finances and the goodness to end war, overturn injustice, heal the sick and build a free society. I have not seen this happen, and it’s not for want of trying.

I now believe in original sin. Evil passes from the killing field, through the trade network, to the marketplaces, to our parents’ dinner table, through the umbilical cord to the unborn awaiting their chance to commence active exploitation.

Like the prophet said – we be all doomed. Our children will not understand us, and what they understand they will not forgive.

Like the prophet said – flee the city. Buy a farm, host retreats.

Like the prophet said – it’s easy to triumph in the summer sun and in the vintage, when the red blood is full of wine and the marrow full of lambs.

I wish I could offer hope. By this point in a sermon I ought to. But hope is beyond me; or I am beyond hope. Distracted by fickle, comfortable, logged-in living; I will be happy again, hopeful again, trusting again. But I don’t have any solutions. Only problems, edging despair.

All we have is despair. So let us despair with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.

Not the despair of the individual crushed soul, but collective, honest, ritual despair at systematic crisis. Despair as a verb; a reasonable response.

Not just Jesus, but Job, Hannah and all Nineveh wept.

Neither terror nor the inconvenient truth moved the people to repentance. The audacity of hope produces systemic status quo. The prophet’s welcoming hand and judging finger have both failed. The only thing left is the sackcloth.

Let it out. Outburst your long-suppressed rage, horror, disgust and sorrow. Weep in shopping centres, bank lobbies, in the woods and on the pipelines; mourn the ruin all around, cry with eyes of faith, blind to hope.

Like my queer mentor said – better out than in. Let’s be honest about who we are, how we feel.

Perhaps lamentation can go viral, bypass the hopes of the billions and pierce the souls of mothers to lead us. Could despair bring repentance/re-turning/revolution on a meaningful scale?

Like the prophet said – cry your tears until you dissolve into them, and wait for your God to resurrect you.

Peter Haresnape is a full-time member of Christian Peacemaker Teams with the Aboriginal Justice Project. He is from the U.K. and attends Toronto United Mennonite Church.

Issue 32

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 32, Winter 2013, Thirty more sermons you'd never hear in church.

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