“I, Too, Am Going to Speak of Hope” - Part 3

October 31, 2020

“Hope, as a middle-class privilege, soothes the conscience of those complicit with oppressive structures, lulling them to do nothing except look forward to a salvific future where every wrong will be righted and every tear wiped away, while numbing themselves to the pain of those oppressed, lest that pain motivate them to take radical action. Hope is possible when privilege allows for a future.” - Miguel de la Torre

. . . 

“The first step toward liberation requires the crucifixion of hope—for as long as hope exists, the world’s wretched have something to lose, and thus will not risk all to change the social structures. The realization that there is nothing to lose becomes a catalyst for praxis.” - Miguel de la Torre


When I was a little girl growing up in North Carolina, Sunday was not so much a day of the week as a protective atmosphere in which to be cocooned. Sunday had its own gravitational dynamics and polarities. In my house, it always began with a large breakfast. My mother, and later my sister and I, would make scrambled eggs, salty grits, corn beef hash from the can, and toast nearly overwhelmed by its own butter and delicious burn. A few times a year my father would make apple jacks in the cast-iron skillet my grandmother had given to my mother. Sometimes there would be pear preserves or fresh peaches from the tree in our backyard. Always there would be gospel music streaming from the kitchen radio as we danced out our parts to the soulful rhythms of Sunday morning. 

Then we would pile into the car. Someone would invariably be left behind in the house reworking a tie or hurriedly trying to change stockings that had ripped long and high. They would be yelled after but soon would join everyone else in the car, alternating between embarrassed looks and resentful ones. Our Cadillac, which was a shade somewhere between pink and brown, would carry us the short miles to church. We would enter the vestibule to folx milling about and greeting one another. Then we would find our way into the deeper gravity and the deeper magic of the sanctuary. 

On those Sunday mornings, there seemed to be one truth that all the others orbited around: death always leads to resurrection. “Weeping may endure for a night,” the preacher would announce with confidence, “but joy comes in the morning.” Or the preacher would narrate the Friday death of Jesus in excruciating detail but then proclaim that “early on Sunday morning, he got up with all power in his hand.” Somehow, the preacher never talked about how long the night could be or that some would never wake into that new morning. Somehow, he never mentioned Holy Saturday and the way the shadows must have lengthened and stretched out to swallow those who had witnessed the Friday violence first hand. We always jumped to the end, choosing to perform alchemy on the experiences of those in our midst who were being devoured that very day. 

It’s only now, years later and months into a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting black and brown people, only now in what some have called a post-Ferguson world, that I can appreciate the enormity of what was skipped over and left out. I am left breathless by the gap between the way many people actually experience the world and the saccharine labels many of us with privilege use to categorize that experience. With scathing accuracy here’s what Miguel de la Torre, one of my favorite scholars, writes of this dynamic: “For so many of the world’s disenfranchised, they occupy the space of Holy Saturday—the day after Good Friday’s crucifixion—and the not-yet Easter Sunday of resurrection. This is a space where the faint anticipation of Sunday’s Good News is easily drowned out by the reality and consequences of Friday’s violence and brutality. It is a space where hopelessness becomes the companion of those who are used and abused. The virtue and/or audacity of hope becomes a class privilege experienced by those protected from the realities of Friday or the opium used by the poor to numb that same reality until Sunday rolls around.” What was implicit in the Sunday messages of my youth, but which we preferred to leave unspoken, was that before any new life could emerge, hope -- as embodied fully in Jesus -- died. Hope was literally crucified, and the crucified peoples of the world live in the fullness of that nightmare. 

I write this as a confession, as someone waking up. I am at the beginning of knowing Holy Saturday as its own atmosphere, albeit not a protected one that dances easily toward resurrection. I am at the beginning of peaking into the black hole and realizing the class privilege that I bear. In many ways, I am from gunshots and glass bottles broken open on the sidewalk. But I am also from parents who owned their own home and took me to visit colleges from the age of six onward. I do not know if age or the news cycle has finally opened my eyes to the way that hope so often blinds. In the end, my speaking of hope is really a cry of desperation. Again, I’m with de la Torre: “Rather than the prevailing theology of hope, I call for a theology of desperation that leads to hopelessness. I believe the greatest heroes of history, who have moved mountains for the cause of justice, have been those who out of desperation had no choice but to act.” 

I do not know if we are desperate enough. I do not if it is possible for those of us with privilege to exchange it for an evermore honest solidarity. I only know that insisting on individual hope as a pastor may be to engage in little more than the activity of a drug dealer -- offering a hit of escapism while the world spins toward greater fragmentation. Hope was crucified when Jesus died and hope must always be crucified on the way to resurrection. Yet, in the wake of the death of hope, desperation that leads to action is the only alternative to despair, the only alternative that keeps us in the work and keeps our humanity intact. The seemingly never-ending catastrophes of this year have birthed a new awareness of how much and how many in our world the shadows of Holy Saturday touch. With election day nearly upon us, the question is not which candidate is fit for our hope. We will make our calculations and cast our votes. The question is whether we will surrender to the gravity of desperation that leads to creative action regardless of our individual hope -- not because we know we will win, but because we must find new rhythms and rituals in the struggle for a more just world and in the struggle to remain human. There seem to be moments when hope will not save our souls, but the creative action born of desperation just might. Perhaps, this is one of those moments.

Rev. Tonetta Landis-Aina is a native of North Carolina and moved to Washington DC in 2004. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary and is passionate about marginalized people finding their stories in scripture as well as about the new shapes the church will take in the 21st century. When Tonetta isn't geeking out on the Bible or trying to piece together what God might be doing in this beautitul city, she is enjoying time with her wife and 2.5 year old son who loves to assure everyone that he's grumpy.