A 1998 movie starring Sandra Bullock bore the title: “Hope Floats.” The movie features an unassuming housewife who learns of her husband’s infidelity on a national television talk show. In shock she returns to her small home town to try and put her life back together. She eventually discovers that only “hope” can float her life again.
Hope sells! Our president ran on hope in 2008. In 2012 he told a new narrative but it was still rooted in the premise that what he hoped for in 2008 would still come if we would trust him with four more years to finish what he had begun. It was a much harder political sell in 2012, but in the end a significant number of people believed him and heard echoes of hope again. Seemingly that’s what made the difference in the end.
I am inviting you to join me in a new kind of hope, a hope that is not found in the policies of the left, the middle or the right. (Once again, I am not calling you to withdraw from society or public life, as some will suggest.) I am very happy to be a citizen of the United States and realize that I have a responsibility to my earthly home. But here is where we get easily confused. Our last and best hope is not the United States, for all the good that our land represents in its unique experiment in democracy. As followers of the Son of God, our hope must in the Lord Jesus Christ alone!
Stan Hauerwas and Will Willimon (photo at right) saw this back in 1989 when they eloquently wrote “to be a resident alien is a formula for loneliness that few of us can sustain. Indeed, it is almost impossible to minister alone because our loneliness can too quickly turn into self-righteousness or self-hate” (Resident Aliens, 12). I have found this to be profoundly true. I know many in my generation who have left the church. They see the huge flaws, the phoniness, the politics and all the religious games we play. In their disillusionment they have left the church and do not plan to come back. (Some have suggested that there could be as many as ten-plus million people in America who seek to practice a vibrant Christian faith without any relationship to a local church.) The resident alien status of such Christians has led them to discover some beautiful truths about Jesus, but they can no longer see how the church has anything to do with their practice of the faith. The danger that I’ve discovered is that this response quickly leads to “self-righteousness or self-hate.” (Few who have left church will admit this or they would very likely seek to reconnect with the church in some visible expression!)
The Millennial Generation
As I work with the youngest generation, the so-called millennials (born after 1982), I see this reality day-in and day-out. These youngest adults are ready to stand for something with passion like no young adults I’ve seen since the 1960s. But they want to get involved with others, not alone. They are not lone rangers. They know that they can only survive and thrive with others. (The preponderance of broken homes in their personal background marks them deeply!) What I believe they desire more than anything else is friendship. What I offer them in my mission is nothing more or less than genuine friendship. The response is beyond amazing. I believe they are the “future” of what the church will look like when they begin to live as mature aliens in a post-Christendom culture. I also believe that they are better equipped to understand what Clarence Carter meant when he said, “It takes the whole community to make the community whole.”
Older men like me can either embrace these new young leaders with deep love them or walk away them and the culture of Babylon and further promote the culture wars. So far the largest part of conservative Christendom culture still prevails in my generation. Very few older Christians seem willing to let go of the past and help us move into a different future. But that future is secure! It is not secure in our legacies or institutions but in Christ and in his people living in the love of true community.
We who know the Lord know these words to be faithful and true (Philippians 2:12–14):
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing.