On the day Notre Dame caught fire, I was driving to Indianapolis to see John Green. It was a live taping of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, which I followed avidly at the time. I don’t remember many of the show’s details, but I do remember John recounting something his supervisor told him during his brief stint as a hospital chaplain: “Now there are Easter Christians and there are Good Friday Christians. And I think you are a bit of a Good Friday Christian.”

“At first I was kind of hurt,” John continued, “but then I thought more about it, and I was like, ‘I do like a Good Friday service. I do like to weep and get down on my knees and kiss the cross. … And then Easter comes along and I’m like, ‘Oh, you know, that’s nice.’”

In my memory, this story is welded to the image of the great church on fire: the nineteenth-century spire collapsing in flames as the world watched in disbelief. And that fire reminds me of others: great islands of burning oil on the ocean’s surface, record-setting wildfires choking the air hundreds of miles away, US-made bombs dropped on innocent Palestinians, fireworks thrown at peaceful protesters as they speak against genocide. And the clouds of smoke are also other clouds, from the airborne virus we decided didn’t matter anymore to the pepper spray deployed indiscriminately by state riot police here at the University of Virginia last Saturday.

In this burning world, maybe the only way to be Christian is to be a Good Friday one. On Good Friday, there were no triumphant, smiling Christians. There were no Christians at all. There were only mourners, nursing their crushed hopes as the rocks cried out and the sky wept.

A couple weeks ago, I participated in an online colloquium about Christianity and climate change held by New Brunswick Theological Seminary’s Reformed Church Center. For the first half, the brilliant Kyle Meyaard-Schaap spoke about why Christians should advocate for better climate policy. He pointed to the climate policy wins of the last few years, including the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. He reminded us that politics is always shifting, that new coalitions are always possible, and that there is a long Christian tradition of political activism. He urged us to call our representatives and ask them to support the Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism and new EPA standards and protections. It was a powerful call to action—a reminder that there are always things we can do, that the fight against climate change is hard but not hopeless.

When it was my turn to speak, though, I wanted to talk about hopelessness. As the event’s youngest participant, I wanted to give voice to the feelings that so many of us under thirty have about climate change: frustration at growing up in a world already so far down the wrong track, anger at the generations above us for having done so little, and yes, hopelessness at the intertwined powers of an unaccountable fossil fuel industry, an obscenely profitable war machine, and an undemocratic electoral system. From this vantage point, a few tax credits for home solar panels (imagine owning a home!) doesn’t feel like hope.

But I did not present this as a reason not to act. In his talk, Kyle had framed his discussion of advocacy as a way of “loving our neighbor in public.” And in one of the most famous verses in the New Testament, Paul suggests that we don’t need hope in order to love. Love—even the kind that looks like votes and petitions and voice messages—can remain when hope falls away.

After I spoke, one of the colloquium participants raised his (virtual) hand to challenge my “downplaying of hope.” One of the key points of Christianity, this participant said—I’m paraphrasing here—is that God infuses our hearts with hope so that we can respond to the world’s ills. The story Kyle told of slow progress over decades filled him with hope, he said, and this hope was an “energizer” for action.

I responded that I wasn’t trying to exclude hope, but just to make sure we didn’t exclude those who don’t feel it. There is room for the hopeless in the climate movement. For me, that’s a key point of Christianity: there is always room for the hopeless.

This interaction has stuck in my brain because it wasn’t an isolated incident. Over and over, I’ve seen moderate and progressive Christian spaces enforce a right way to feel about the world. These correct Christian feelings are often, for lack of a better term, Easter-y: if not downright cheerful, then at least optimistic, winsome, hopeful. Things look dark, but God’s light is breaking in. Things are broken, but healing is possible. Things are dying, but resurrection is ahead.

I’m not arguing against the truth of any of these statements. I’m merely suggesting that we don’t always have to feel like they’re true, and that God’s voice might be coming from those who don’t or can’t or won’t believe them. On Good Friday, Jesus didn’t believe them. 

I’m angry today because four days ago police brutalized my community to silence a courageous expression of love and solidarity. I’m angrier because the war they were protesting has gotten worse once again. I don’t feel optimistic or winsome or hopeful. I feel like I’m watching the world burn, and I wouldn’t mind if the church—Gothic and otherwise—went up in flames with it.

But I don’t need hope to love. Student protesters across the nation are proving that. They’re gathering in encampments not primarily because they think it will stop the war, but because of their love for the world’s damned and oppressed—and for each other. 

I don’t know if there’s hope for change on any of the issues that threaten our collective future. On days like this, I don’t feel like there is. But the fight for Gaza is teaching me that we have to love anyway.

 

Photo by Flickr user manhhai (CC BY 2.0)

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