February 3


A Story about Hope

Once upon a time, there was a small church on a hill… that preached a powerful message of hope. 

The preachers and elders of the church spoke so eloquently and with compelling conviction. Every weekend, people flocked from miles around to hear their message of happiness and positivity. These people were known as the “hopeful” ones.

Meanwhile, in the middle of town, was a factory of deceit and corruption that spewed clouds of black smoke into the air. All of the people from the town worked in this factory to make their wages to buy their food and pay their bills, and every day they cut down the trees from the forest around their town to feed the furnace of their factory.

On the weekends, the people faithfully went to the small church on the hill to hear the gospel message: “We all can see the deceit and corruption that’s brewing in our town, but fear not, dear friends! You won’t have to suffer long. We are working hard to develop new technologies that will make working in the factory so much easier. Your hard work is paying off, and there will be great rewards for you in the near future! There’s so much to be hopeful for! All we have to do is have faith!” Many people cheered and celebrated at the promise of this word. And as they toiled at their factory jobs throughout the week, they sang their favorite song: “Don’t worry…Be happy!”

Still, there were those who did not believe the same message. They said, “Gosh, it’s so horrible working in this factory day after day. These trees are so heavy, and the furnace is so hot. It doesn’t seem like anything will ever get better. The future is so bleak and gloomy.” They too had charismatic and eloquent leaders who spoke with powerful conviction, and they met together for services in the middle of the week at the small church on the hill. These people were known as the “hopeless” ones.

For the most part, the hopeful ones lived in harmony with the hopeless ones, and occasionally people would attend different services depending on how they were feeling or what they wanted to hear. Nevertheless, the weekend services seemed to be the most popular, and the message of the “hopeful” ones spread far and wide. The preachers said, “We must continue to grow and spread our message! Our children deserve to have more than we ever had at their age, and we must make that happen!” And with this positive message growing in their hearts, the people doubled their efforts to expand and evangelize their hopeful conquest.

Over the following years, people continued to flock to the small church on the hill, and as their message grew so did their congregation. Eventually, their church wasn’t so small anymore, and they had to clear away more of the forests to make room to build a much bigger church. They would record their services and broadcast them to people all across the land. Children learned from the time they were born how important it was to be a “hopeful” one, and nobody ever dared question the message.

Preachers proclaimed, “Isn’t it so great to know your future is safe? Don’t worry, if you get sick someday from breathing in the black smoke, we will build hospitals and wellness clinics you can go to and be cured! We will develop the most advanced healthcare and illness-prevention system possible to make sure your symptoms are well controlled! And even if you do die someday, as long as you believe in the Church of Hope, you’ll get to go to heaven! It’s all going to work out. Just keep the faith!”

Older parents reminisced with each other, “You know, life has definitely had its ups and downs, but I feel I’ve done the best I can. I’m just glad my family is doing alright. Besides, my kids turned out to be good factory workers. I’m sure things will be just fine.”

And so, things continued like this, day after day, month after month, year after year, generation after generation. As promised, the technology got better and better. As the forests were cleared away ever more efficiently with better saws and logging machines, trucks were built to haul them to the factory from miles away. The furnace was rebuilt with reinforced steel and concrete that made it no longer hot and uncomfortable, and new contraptions were built to carry the heavy logs, making the job much easier and less labor intensive. As the air became harder and harder to breathe, devices were built for each person to keep in their home to clean and filter the air, and practitioners of medicine, ancient and modern, honed their skills to treat all those that became ill. Information and knowledge grew and grew, and as the problems did too, so did the people’s ability to find more solutions.

Through the changing times, the choruses of propaganda grew for each side. The gospel of the “hopeless” ones was played through every news channel. Their leaders despaired, “So many people are sick. The chaos is rising, and it seems there’s no way out. There are so many people to blame for this despicable mess we’re in. We must find other solutions to fix these horrible problems, but each and every answer the hopeful ones have given us has only made things worse. What are they going to do next to screw things up?”

As tensions continued to rise, the “hopeful” ones became ever more fearful of the “hopeless” ones, and the division between each side grew wider and wider as each side clung to their convictions.

One day, as the yellow and grey smoky haze filled the horizon, a young boy asked his mother, “Why do we go to the big church on the hill?”

His mother replied, “What a silly question. Sweetheart, we go there because that’s where all our friends are, and it’s how we find security for our future. You want to go to heaven, don’t you?”

The boy responded, “But it doesn’t make any sense. Why are we cutting down the trees for our factory? I like trees.”

His mother smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry, my darling. We are planting new trees. Everything will be just fine.”

“But the smoke is getting worse every day,” persisted the boy. “What’s going to happen?”

“It’s ok, dear,” his mother cooed soothingly, running her fingers through his hair. “The Church will come up with an answer. We just have to believe and have faith!”

The boy said, “But what if I don’t want to go to the Church of Hope anymore?”

His mother scolded, “How could you say such a thing?! The Church is everything we have! I won’t stand for anymore of this nonsense! You hear?! I’m your mother and you must listen to me!”

“Yes, mom,” the boy replied. But deep inside, he knew something wasn’t right.

Over the following years, he continued to obey his parents and go to church every weekend, but as he grew, so did his questions about why. Some days he felt alright, but most days he felt a sick and queasy feeling in his stomach and suffered from debilitating migraine headaches.

This persisted until one day as he was walking along the dirt path just outside of town, he came across a very old man sitting on a rock on the side of the road. The man held a large staff and had a long gray beard that grew out below his dark, knowing eyes. He said, “Young man, I recognize that long off look in your eyes because I was once there myself. Come, sit down and rest with me a while.”

The boy took a seat on a rock next to the old man. “I feel so lost,” said the boy dejectedly.

“If you didn’t, that would be concerning,” responded the old man.

Quizzically the young boy asked, “What do you mean?”

The old man replied, “Feeling anxious, depressed, and lost are normal and expected consequences of a world that reveres the religion of Hope above all others. I acknowledge you for journeying out along this dirt path and not just continuing in the factory like so many others do. Wisdom is stopping before you are stopped.”

The old man could see his words were having an effect on the boy, and he paused for a moment to let his words sink in. Then he continued, “You know, there is another way…”

The boy inquired curiously, “What is that?”

“Well,” the old man continued, “it isn’t an easy road, and it certainly isn’t a popular road. But there is a way that doesn’t require hope at all.”

The boy’s eyes perked up. “Please tell me more.”

The old man explained, “There’s a dark road, that goes deep down into the slums of our society. It doesn’t disregard them or pretend they don’t exist. It lives right alongside the poverties and bears testimony to the way things are. It doesn’t try to fix them or cover them up with solutions, but it sits with them and wonders what it really means to be human in these troubling times.”

The boy replied, “This sounds deeply grievous and frightening, yet there’s a part of it that sounds exciting.”

“It’s not a journey for the faint of heart,” responded the old man. “And you can be quite certain that you won’t come out on the other side all in one piece. But as I can see in your eyes, there’s no going back.”

The boy asked, “But how will I know I’m on the right path?”

The old man replied, “As you walk along this road, the question to ask yourself isn’t ‘What do I need to do?’ but ‘How did things come to be this way?’. This is truly a ‘hope-free’ proposition.”


“Hopeful” and “hopeless” revolve around the same axis: hope. They are two sides of the same coin.

Hope is not mandatory. For example, you don’t need to “hope” that you are reading this sentence right now, nor do I need to “hope” that I am writing it. The reason is because the present moment is generous.

Hope lives in the future. When does the future happen? It doesn’t. Hope is a carrot on a stick that keeps you endlessly chasing after it without ever getting it.

Faith and hope are blanket insurance polices that seek to declare victory before any of the work is done.

In the midst of a world that is in perilous trouble, these times call for us to proceed without any guarantee that anything good will come of it.

This is truly a grown up proposition: to live as if what we do in our lives has consequence without the need for positive assurances. Grownups see that the enterprise is worthy in and of itself and sign up for active duty without the need for encouragement from anyone else.

This is the essence of true freedom: to act differently in the face of unchanged circumstances.

A few things to wonder about…

What have been the consequences of hope on our world?

What might we miss by clinging to hope?

What might it mean to live life “hope-free”?

About the author

I advocate for the mutual nourishment of the personal and collective human spirit and all beings of the Earth by the open sharing of beauty, gratitude, and sorrow and the regular practice of grief in conversations, gatherings, writings, poetry, ceremony, and song.

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