The Gift of Hopelessness

Meredith Wade offers their reflections on hopelessness and truth-telling in the season of Pentecost and the season of transition as they complete their second year in Life Together, a faith-based community organizing fellowship cultivating young people as prophetic leaders.

When I walked into ECM’s Annual Celebration last Tuesday, I thought I knew what to expect. A nice meal with my fellow Life Together fellows, perhaps a new prayer or chant, definitely some awkward small talk with acquaintances from across the Diocese. What I didn’t expect was to be set alight.

But we are in the season of Pentecost, after all, and the spirit of brave, honest, often painful truth blazed across the stage in the form of Dr. Miguel De La Torre. He spoke bluntly and insightfully about his work on immigration justice, calling out common fallacies in social justice work that allow white Christians to hold onto our material wealth and comfort while still feeling good about ourselves. “I’m not speaking to people in power,” Dr. De La Torre clarified at the end of his keynote. “I’m here to speak to the people of color. The rest of you are just lucky to overhear the conversation.”

To my fellow white people reading this, I encourage you to listen to Dr. De La Torre’s words if you haven’t heard them already. If you were lucky enough to hear them the first time, I encourage you to listen again. They have been a beacon and a challenge to me in my last few weeks building prophetic community in Life Together. I know they will ignite something in you, if you let them.

The truth is, I am often hopeless. I am part of a generation that has come of age against a backdrop of catastrophic climate change, rising gun violence perpetrated by white male terrorists, and immigration policies that eerily resemble concentration camps. In my lifetime, it has become normal to have lockdown drills in schools to prepare for the event of a mass shooting. I graduated college into a world with escalating racist, homophobic, and misogynistic violence. I struggle to imagine a future where my loved ones and I survive - let alone where future generations can thrive.

So when Dr. de la Torre called us to view hopelessness not as a defeat, but as a catalyst, I felt that as a balm. To have my hopelessness taken seriously, then framed as something that can sustain my activism, was a tremendous gift:

”I never struggle for justice because I think I am going to win...and yet I continue to struggle, because I’m not a savior, I’m just called to act.”

I recently had the opportunity to give a sermon reflecting on my placement at St. James’s Cambridge, the congregation where I spent the last two years organizing toward a relational, justice-driven food ministry. I could’ve easily stood up at the pulpit and talked about how I succeeded there, all of the things I accomplished, all the moments that prove I am smart enough, capable enough, and good enough for this work. But what I am most grateful for as I end my time there, and especially as I grapple with my hopelessness, is that St. James’s gave me the opportunity to fail.

To do community-based work, that taps into people’s hearts and desires and mobilizes them towards a common goal, you have to be able to connect. You have to be honest about your own heart’s desires, or risk manipulating the hearts of others. You have to be able to fail.

Jack Halberstam says that failure is a uniquely queer enterprise, that it allows us to dream beyond capitalism’s measures of productivity and success. It makes room for us to bore holes in the toxic positivity of American culture, positivity that at times functions as a brick wall between ourselves and authentic connection with each other.

Roxane Gay says that in these dark and tumultuous times, hope is a cop-out. Simply hoping allows us to “abdicate responsibility” for what comes next. I have often been guilty of squeezing my eyes shut and hoping for the best, rather than taking a step - however shaky - into the unknown to discover what is possible. If success means never taking risks big enough to make a mistake, I don’t want it. We are called here not to live safely within what we have seen to be possible. In fact, there is reason to believe that limiting ourselves thusly is killing us.

We are called here to take risks worthy of all that we stand to lose, which is to say, all that we have the privilege of loving in this world. And the only way to know we are taking steps big enough is to fail.

As you carry on following God’s call towards justice, authenticity, and community, I invite you to honor your failure as a sign you are taking steps that matter. Fail big. Fail often. Fail in pursuit of a world more beautiful than our own. The stakes are too high not to.