We describe hope with the futility of optimism or as the paragon which keeps us alive. Rarely do we talk about what hope really is.
My son asked to play tennis with me.
And let’s be honest, the couch was comfortable. I just sat down. But…
I said “Sure, Buddy!” and turned to his sister and asked if she’d like to come with us.
The three of us gathered our stuff, bundled up, and headed to the courts to play. The racket case and a hopper full of balls in tow.
We played for 30 minutes before we had to take a bathroom break. So we loaded up the car to find a chance to rest, then came back, this time, to play basketball. A serious game of 1-on-1+, with Daddy as the designated shooter.
We played and ran and hopped on swings at the neighboring park before heading home again in the crisp late-fall air.
I didn’t want to go, but I did. And my body was surprisingly sore the next morning.
The whole thing was beautiful.
Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t want your hope
Last weekend, I listened to Krista Tippet’s interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. It didn’t disappoint.
Coates is that rare breed of public intellectual with a history grounded in the material and a poet’s vision and bite. When he speaks about race and injustice in the U.S., he speaks a profound truth we’d all rather ignore. But we do so at our own peril.
Coates has wealth of experience. He knows what it is to be in the unemployment line. He knows what it is to hustle and work. And this gives him insight into the ways these systems are rigged against people of color and other minorities.
He also grew up with culture, beauty, and books all around him.
The interview abounds with its own beauty, both delicate and difficult. He breathes life into the pain of the world and how we are but people within it.
Then it takes a turn.
Not actually a turn as in a different direction so much as this was the direction all along. The terrain shifts, but the beauty remains. The audience asks him
Where’s the hope?
and he exclaims that he can’t do that! He’s a journalist! Journalists present the world they see, they’re not trained to offer hope.
And it struck me that asking “where is the hope?” is the wrong question.
Prophetic Truth or Nostalgia?
People hear from Coates about the systemic injustice and the vision of what a different society would look like. They hear his 2014 appeal for reparations as unrealistic. But they do so while ignoring the truth that it’s the only real solution to the scourge of racism.
Through much of his work, Coates names the problems. And he also offers the solutions. It’s just that they aren’t how-to manuals. They aren’t feel-good cheers of encouragement. They are prophetic reminders that we are living in an unjust world.
We want hope like we want nostalgia: the intoxicating feeling that everything in the present is just peachy as long as it looks like years ago. But that isn’t what Coates, or the gospel, offers. It’s something else.
We Misunderstand Hope
We store the concept of hope in our brains with strange neighbors. It goes to the park with Dualism and plays catch with Anger. It eats dinner with Do and watches Netflix with Talk About It.
We describe it with the futility of optimism or as the paragon which keeps us alive. Hope is the heady concept cast as either the fluffy nothing of faith or the over-taxed glue holding our lives together. That’s either nothing or everything weighing on one concept.
Rarely do we talk about what hope really is.
Hope is the knowledge that the game isn’t over.
Hope is not only knowing that we have to play out the 4th quarter, but the recognition that we’re still in the first.
Coates Makes the Same Mistake
When Ta-Nehisi Coates laughs at these questions about hope, it reveals that he’s making the same mistake those asking him the question make. It isn’t just that he isn’t trained to offer hope, he doesn’t understand that’s what he’s already doing.
One can only make the case for reparations if it is the one thing which needs to always be on the table.
A New Hope
The subtitle of the original Star Wars movie is A New Hope.
It perfectly encapsulates the movie. Not only because Luke Skywalker has emerged as a new Jedi, but without a resistance to the Empire, there is no hope.
Here, we define hope, not by the achievable or one’s state of mind, but by the existence of chance. Resistance.
One of my favorite lines comes from its sequel, from the last living Jedi, Yoda.
Do or do not. There is no try.
I used to think this was the traditional debate: talk vs. action. It’s really about the instrument of hope. Is it realized? Or do we pretend it isn’t there?
Faith and Hope
I come by my hope through faith. Not because I believe the right things, but because believing is trust.
In this, I embody hope.
The Embodiment of Hope
The laughter and exasperation from Coates in this interview is beautiful. He’s in front of people hungry for hope, looking for the silver bullet. So they pepper him with questions; the deepest questions of our time. He can’t answer them.
He wants to and he can’t. His laughs express his longing to help. He thinks help is to answer their questions.
But they’re the wrong questions. And he can’t answer them anyway. They’re honest questions, yearned for questions. And none of them, Coates included, can see the question and answer is in their midst.
He is offering them hope.
He is the hope.
Sitting in front of them, revealing the world for what it is. Both prophet and poet: he is the hope.
His frustration and laughter is hope.
His naming a better world is hope.
Talk isn’t just talk. It’s also a do. A do which awakens others to our systemic injustices. It shares with us visions of solutions.
It gives us everything we need to go change the world.
We don’t need to go find hope. It’s right in front of our faces. It’s here! In our hearts already! Where there is a chance, there is always hope.