By the Rev. Indhira Udofia
*Author’s Note* I had a sermon. It was a great technical homily that tightly braided the exegetical notes of Isaiah 49, Pauli Murray’s work, and the commentary about American exceptionalism. I thought that I could give you that sermon and just ignore the overwhelming anger and pain that I was feeling since news of Alton Sterling and now Philando Castille surfaced. I wanted to give you those 3 pages but then I saw these words:
We know about hope. Hope was the promise that was presented to us when Obama was in office. It was the change that we could believe in. We betted on hope and applauded ourselves on making change happen and embodying progress by electing the first African American man into the White House. We know this hope. Some of us are hoping that we can cash in on it when we elect the first woman president of the United States and then we will really be progressive. We, as a people, always bet on hope. It is the purpose of the dream. We hope that we can achieve the justice that was promised to us at the building of our nation. Yet, there is another side to hope.
Pauli Murray knew about the pain and fatigue of hope. In her poem, “Dark Testament: Verse 8”, Pauli Murray writes,
Hope is a crushed stalk
Between clenched fingers
Hope is a bird’s wing
Broken by a stone.
Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —
A word whispered with the wind,
A dream of forty acres and a mule,
A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,
A name and place for one’s children
And children’s children at last . . .
Hope is a song in a weary throat.
Give me a song of hope
And a world where I can sing it.
Give me a song of faith
And a people to believe in it.
Give me a song of kindliness
And a country where I can live it.
Give me a song of hope and love
And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.
Yes. Hope is something we often bet on. We glorify hope and believe that as long as hope is alive, anything is possible. We shape our lives and communities of this hope even when the world tells us that it is impossible to dream.
The Israelites in our story received such hope. Some of you may be familiar with the context for Isaiah. But for those who don’t, let’s get a read of the audience for the scripture. Israel has split in two and have waged war against each other: the North – Israel and the South: Judah. The Assyrians and Babylonians have capture the wayward Israel and held them captive, destroying their temples and cities, and shaking their faith. God sends Isaiah to tell them of their impending destruction but then their restoration and so much more is to come and our hero is a nobody, a mysterious savior that will not only restore Israel but heal the world. We know that the prophet Isaiah is alluding to the Messiah in these passages based off of our readings of the Gospel. Jesus, born of a poor virgin in the rough part of town, was literally hidden until the appointed time. And even that hope of a Messiah led to the crucifixion of Jesus by the hands of a disciple who couldn’t believe that God may do something different than what he had hoped for.
Hope is a fickle and tricky thing. It is birthed out of the desperation of a people who need to be delivered or rescued from something. I thought a lot about hope over the past 48 hours. Pauli Murray believed so strongly in a world that could really embrace all that she was that she poured her gifts and talents into many areas to make it so. She often spoke about the hope of true community and the work of healing and reconciliation across all lines of difference. For as much as she fought or dream, she hoped for a world that could embody it.
And yet, she knew that all this hope brought pain. It is hard to keep hope and stay joyful when two men are shot and killed in less than 24 hours from each other in acts of state sanctioned violence. It is hard to hope when chants of “Make America Great Again” ring out underneath confederate flags and mob style violence are the norm at a presidential rally. It is hard to hope when the victims of murders are constantly blamed for their own death just by the color of their skin and the lack of economic opportunities presented to them. Indeed, Pauli was right. Hope is a song for a weary throat and often our world is not safe enough to hear the songs and cries of a better world. I think about this when we hear God said that he has hidden the Savior of Israel in the prophecy.
The hope of justice doesn’t always come in the flashy places. It is not coming from the talking heads and the pundits. The blue vest alone isn’t going to save us. No, the answers to our present challenges are hidden within the hope that lay before us. We know that God continues to send messengers like Isaiah and Pauli Murray to speak a better world into existence. I want to desperately tell you it is going to be alright. I want desperately to join in the chorus of songs of hope and reconciliation. But the world is not ready for my song of hope. The world is not ready to receive the song of faith and healing. I cannot offer you hope because I still hear the piercing cry of Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son, wailing. I still hear the 4 year old daughter of Philando Castille comforting her mother as her dad was shot in cold blood in front of her. The world cannot hold our hope anymore. Our world is the same world that Pauli lived in over 50 years ago and continuing to hope still hurts.
So, in the Spirit of Pauli and our ancestors, I will take my song of hope and protest and fashion a better world through action. Through loving on people, by fighting for justice, by working for policy change, by fighting the complicit silence in the pulpit. Because I am tired of singing a song of hope for a world that cannot and is unwilling to change, I am following the heroes that are hidden in plain sight. For the queer and trans folks of color out protesting for a better life in Black lives matter, labor movements, and beyond, let their words and challenges be the sharp swords and polished arrows. For the youth who speak into their contexts and demand a better education, opportunities, and a just world, let you see them raising up not only restoring our nation, but the human world. Because simply resting in hope for things to be better isn’t enough anymore, unless we have created a world that can actually hear it.
Indhira is just a rebel with (multiple) causes – an M.Div & MSW who cares about spiritual trauma in the church.