I guess it’s a good thing when a class you’re taking keeps you up at night. In addition to the steep course fee and the heavy study load, why not throw lost sleep into the bargain? A course I’m taking on restorative justice and peacemaking called “Ethics of Reconciliation” is so compelling that I had a nightmare about it. Instead of the classic student nightmare in which you realize that you forgot to study for an exam, in this nightmare I realized that I had forgotten to go to class. That may not sound dramatic. What bumped it into the category of nightmare, though, was that forgetting class meant that I had missed the class discussion, a level of discourse that is so intriguing that I am disappointed when the hands on the clock edge toward the closing hour of the class. In my nightmare, there was no way to recover the discussion I’d missed. I woke up with a start.
Yes, the class is that interesting. It keeps me awake in other ways, too: I wrestle with the content. Sifting through several centuries’ worth of just war and peacemaking theory and practice, and reconciliation/mediation/arbitration efforts and truth commissions and nonviolent direct action, I wrestle with it on a personal level. War is costly; so is peace. Peacemaking has cost people their livelihoods, freedoms, credibility, and in some cases, their lives. Just this morning I came across an essay by Chris Hedges in Truthdig about personal action. Writing in the context of two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that seemingly have no point and no end, Hedges is going to attempt to chain himself to a fence outside the White House in protest. “From now on,” Hedges writes, “hope will look like this.” Here’s what Hedges says hope is not:
It is not having a positive attitude or pretending that happy thoughts and false optimism will make the world better. Hope is not about chanting packaged campaign slogans or trusting in the better nature of the Democratic Party. Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government. …Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state.
Here is another description of hope, from Daniel Santiago, speaking on the words of Oscar Romero in Harvest of Justice: The Church of El Salvador Ten Years After Romero:
But hope is not resignation; it is a commitment to continue to struggle even when things seem to warrant surrender, when hope flares, it allows human beings to overcome monstrous difficulties. It allows people to defy common sense and confound strategists. Hope experienced in the extreme, like faith and love, is miraculous.
This is the kind of hope that builds concrete realities in the world. As Hedges notes, this kind of hope has a cost. Hope is being packaged and sold in glossy dollops; you can open a book or a magazine or tune into a talk show to find numerous people hawking it, selling it as a program for self-improvement. How “improved” do we need to be? People accomplish things in the world not because they apply templates of success and wait for it to reward them, but because they become passionate and go out into the world, raw and unimproved, laying their humanity on the line. Hope cannot be bought. As Santiago notes, it is a commitment. I say let it run to extremes and so become miraculous in what we can do, not in a pretend universe, but in the world where we are.