I’ve heard the word hope a lot lately. The Audacity of Hope, written by our president-elect, is the first book you see when you enter Borders. Those of you who worship at liturgical Christian churches know we are in the season of Advent; four weeks focused on hopeful anticipation.
So, where are you this holiday season? Are you hopeful? If you are a merchant whose sales are down, if you’re a church leader who sees attendance and giving in decline, if you are a parent who has already told your kids that Santa won’t be bringing as much as last year?
One of the problems with hope is that it is often confused with optimism. Optimism looks at the future in a rather specific, concrete way. Ron Santo is a great example. Five or six days a week last summer I would tune the radio to WGN-AM around 1 p.m. and hear Santo yell “this is the year!”
Like optimism, hope looks to the future in a positive way. Unlike optimism, hope is less predictive and more open ended. For example, the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis begins with God telling the old codgers that their descendants would outnumber the stars. When Abraham and Sarah questioned God about the baby, citing evidence like menopause and erectile dysfunction, God said, “Don’t worry about it. Trust me.” Thirty years later, the old couple had a baby. Thirty years they waited, and the two old timers, if they were skeptical, might have said, “One down, a billion to go.”
The Letter to the Romans declares, “Hope that is seen is not hope.” There was no evidence, no rational reason for Abraham and Sarah to believe the promise, let alone change their lives in the expectation it would be kept. That’s hope.
If Santo were hopeful instead of optimistic, he could still have shouted, “this is the year,” but by that he would have meant, “I believe that this team has the right attitude and competent leadership, and when you have that, something good will happen; maybe a championship, maybe not.”
When Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope, he wasn’t being an optimist. In that book, he is saying that if we as a nation return to our values and ideals, good things will happen. In his post-election speeches, he has cautioned that recovery will be difficult and sacrifices will be required. And, I think, that’s all Americans expect of him. No miracles. Just leadership based on values and ideals we all espouse when we’re at our best.
Lou Cavallo and the school board, Mayor Anthony Calderone and the village council, Heidi Vance and the chamber, whoever your pastor is … we don’t expect miracles. We know that there are no easy fixes. We don’t expect you to be the long awaited Messiah.
What we do expect is that you do the right thing-based on the best information available-over and over again, whether you get good results in the short run. We don’t ask you to be winners during your term of office. All we ask is that you lead us according to the values and ideals we live by when we’re at our best.
We tell you that because when we lead by our ideals and values, in the long run good things will happen.
Hope is audacious, because there is no way to prove that dreams will become reality or that promises will be kept. But neither is it blind. In the short run, the proof is not in the pudding. It’s in the ingredients and in the competence of the chef. Because we have leaders and followers in this village who, when they’re at their best, lead by the ideals and values we all share, I have hope.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.