Hope often gets confused with optimism, but the two are not the same thing. When asked about the future well being of the planet in light of global warming and other environmental threats, one of my favorite professors in seminary used to say, “I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful.”
For him, there was a deeply theological distinction between optimism and hope. In light of the facts, he was not optimistic that environmental catastrophe could be avoided.
However, because of his faith in God and strong belief in God’s ability to transform people’s hearts and lives, he was hopeful a better future could be possible for the planet. Hope, unlike optimism, has as its foundation the reality of God’s presence and activity in the world. For Christians, hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in God’s ability to bring new life into the most difficult of circumstances. God is a God who can bring love and life in the midst of death and destruction.
So what does hope look and feel like? It is not just wishful thinking or blind optimism. In order to actually feel hope in our hearts and bodies, minds and souls, we must act. Ultimately, to be hopeful, we must participate in helping to create what it is we hope for.
Recently, I experienced this truth in a deeply personal way. As a Christian, I believe that gay and lesbian people, like everyone else, are created in the image of God. I believe God loves gay and lesbian people in the same way that God loves all people. And because I believe that, I support marriage between gay partners and lesbian partners.
One of the things I hope for, as a pastor, is the day when I can legally preside over the public celebration of love and commitment between two gay men or two lesbian women. This year in Minnesota, we have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that seeks to put an end to my hope, and to the hope of many others, that all people would have the freedom to marry the person they love in our state. In light of the facts of how these amendments have passed in other states, I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful.
I am hopeful because at the Minnesota State Fair I had the opportunity to join more than 130 other clergy and religious leaders from a variety of denominations and religious traditions to sing and to pray and to talk about how we can support marriage for all people in Minnesota. It was a profoundly hopeful experience, as we acted towards the hope we share of a more inclusive and loving Minnesota.
What I experienced at the State Fair clergy gathering was that acting towards the hope I have for gay and lesbian couples to be free to marry in Minnesota also caused me to reflect on the importance of continuing to value love and commitment in my own marriage and in the marriages of all of my friends and family members.
Marriage is a journey filled with highs and lows, challenges and joys. By supporting the marriages of others, both gay and straight, we can strengthen our own marriages. In taking concrete actions toward what it is we hope for, hope will become real for us and our love for one another will flourish.
The Rev. Siri Celine Erickson is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater.