Tender Hope

I spent the week before Thanksgiving in Boston, with 10,000 other religion scholars gathered for the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) meeting, to share in scholarship, and think & reflect together about the deep and complex challenges facing our world. I am vocationally drawn toward and called to the intersections of the church and the academy and the world, where action and reflection meet. I attended sessions with titles like: “New Materialism, Religion, and Planetary Thinking,” “Populism through the Lens of Religion and Race,” “Sacred Texts, Theory, and Theological Construction,” “Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma,” “Staying with the Trouble: Cultivating Selves in Relation with the Most Vulnerable,” “Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection: Performance, Precarity, and Disruption,” “Afro-pessimism and Black Theology,” “Toilet Justice: Peeing and the Politics of Marginalized Bodies,” “Speaking of Liberation: Unexpected Sacred Texts in Contemporary Social Justice Movements,” “Critical Theology against US Militarism in Asia: Decolonization and Deimperialization.”

Even though we were gathered for nuanced theoretical reflection, the scholars and scholarship I am drawn to (and seek to contribute to and with) reflect deep engagement outside the walls of the ecclesia or academy, and a passion for using every tool we have—thinking, writing, praying, marching, dancing, preaching, teaching, singing—to build a world that is more just, more caring, more faith-filled, more livable. A few days into the meeting, a group of Christian scholars gathered to present The Boston Declaration, a statement signed by scholars, pastors, and activists (including myself) that denounces Christian complicity in “poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression” and calls on Christians to reflect the life and love of God by working actively against these systemic sins. “Action on the part of the church is warranted,” it reads, “at a time when women, people of color, and various ethnicities, individual religions, immigrants and distinct sexualities are targeted for slander and violence from the highest offices of government. We cannot sit idly by and allow the people and the earth to be accosted with series after series of unjust policies that allow the interest of corporate profits to expunge the future for coming generations of humans and other living species.” (To read the full declaration, and to sign your name in shared commitment, head to: https://thebostondeclaration.com/)

In a few days, those of us in the Christian tradition will embark on the season of Advent. Advent is short, only four weeks, and it is my favorite liturgical season. During Advent, we prepare, we make room, we listen and pray and stay awake and get woke and light candles and imagine and breathe deep and labor in birthing a world that is marked by the love, justice, peace, hope, compassion, connection, and joy proclaimed and practiced and enfleshed by Jesus. A student active in the Wesley Center recently taught me a new word: weltschmertz—feeling the pain of the world; world-weariness; a disconnection between how the world works, and how it should work. Advent is a season of living in and tending to weltschmertz. Longing for what does not yet seem possible. Tender hope. The Hebrew word for hope is tivkah, meaning a binding together, an interweaving. Hope is born by tending to the interwoven connections with one another and with the Divine. Tivkah hope is weltschmertz hope: hope that is never triumphant but always tender, always tending to our longing for amore just, more loving, more livable world. Thérèse of Lisieux taught that we come to know God by participating in God. Participating in God is the practice of faith: organizing communities, mobilizing resistance, practicing faith-filled care that is fierce, tender, generous, and transformative. Faith is the practice of tending tenderly to the aches, the pressing weights of the world, the pervasive pains and violences that are personal, relational, political. During Advent, we read stories and listen to prophets and poets describing deep ache, longing, need. We remember that we belong to a Story, and a Savior, who teaches that salvation is the healing salve of justice and tenderness, and that wounds, and weariness, and wilderness spaces are the very sites of encountering God. During this Advent season, may you feel and tend to and participate in the Divine, drawing near, in and through it all…

-Rev. Anna Blaedel

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