approach . . .


For many years now, my Facebook post on New Year’s Eve has been a line from a Counting Crows song:

long December and there’s reason to believe
maybe this year will be better than the last . . . .

I began to realize that next year never seemed to come through. It wasn’t better. Maybe it wasn’t worse, but I was expecting the turn in the script towards a happy ending, I was going to be routinely disappointed. In 2017 Jason Isbell gave me a different song and these words:

last year was a son of a bitch
for nearly everyone we know
but I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I am not an optimist. I don’t think that things are just going to get better. I have hope. No. I want to say that a different way. I hope—it’s something you do, not something you possess. I do think we can change things. I do think, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” But bending the arc is the hard and determined work. And I hope we can do it.

Rebecca Solnit says hope grows out of uncertainty: hope is not an open door, but the possibility of a door. John Berger says hope is “the action of approach, of measuring distances and walking towards.” Not just walking, but walking towards. He just doesn’t say towards what, even though he says we measure the distance.

If hope feeds on uncertainty, we have all the raw material we need, my friends. This long December has proven that last year really was a son of a bitch. What distances then, are we to measure? The best response, it seems to me, to measure the distances between us and start walking towards one another. I see many who are already on that path, which is why I hope. I hope for justice, for connectedness; I hope love is the last word.

We measure distances to calculate what it will take to get from one place to another. Let us measure the distances between ourselves and figure out how to reach each other. The distance us between those who are trapped at the border. The distance us between those who don’t look like us. The distance us between those who are our political rivals. The distance us between those who are related to us. The distance between us and the people behind store counters we see everyday. The distance between us and strangers. The distance between us and those we love most. Let us measure the distance and approach one another, draw nearer and see what uncertainty we can create.

In the story of Jesus meeting the person we, in Christianity, have come to call the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus responds to the man’s question about what he needed to do to have eternal life by saying, “Sell everything you have and come follow me.” The story says the young man went away sad because he was very rich. He could measure the distance, but he could not bring himself to approach. We live in a world led by those who are held hostage by the measurements of the walls they build, or the power the amass, or the wealth they can store up, all of which are fear-driven attempts to create the illusion of certainty. They do not approach, they demand. They fortify. They do not hope.

May the year ahead be one of approach for us. May we measure the distances between us, not to meet halfway, but to approach and connect every chance we get. Let us hope bravely and brazenly because we are committed to doing so. Whatever next year brings, I hope because I know we are in this together.



  1. Let love be the last word:

    My father in law (retired Methodist pastor), so far as we know, made his last coherent statement when he looked around the hospital room, found his preacher older brother & said clearly through the breathing tube: “Pray.”

    It’s the same thing, another verb: Pray, Love, Hope.

    Amen & preach it brother!

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