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Time for Hope: Practices for Living in Today’s World

Time for Hope re-imagines hope in today’s world. It begins with the premise that there is a crisis of hope, especially in the West. For many, optimism about the future has been challenged by global conflicts, ecological disasters, economic distress, and political disillusion. Often the religious response to historical despair is to remove hope from history and to focus on a better afterlife or to turn from ethical action to aesthetic experience. This book seeks instead to change thinking about hope in history by exploring the narratives of time that shape and determine how human beings understand their lives.

Keshgegian sets up the problem of hope as located in the dominant western Jewish and Christian narrative of linear time. In this narrative, God directs time and history toward an end, which is not only a culmination, but also a resolution and fulfillment. Time for Hope examines the logic and limitations of this linear, end focused view of time and it looks at attempts to revise or correct it. The book also explores alternative views of time that are more cyclical and present centered or that attend more to the past, especially tragic and traumatic pasts that cannot be resolved by any future fulfillment.

The goal of the book is to offer a remedy for the crisis of hope, not only by proposing alternative narratives, but also by suggesting specific practices and habits that will lead to thinking and living differently. The book outlines a theology of hope appropriate and adequate for the historical, social, and theological challenges of life today. It tells a life-giving story.

From the Introduction:

We live in world of change. Sometimes change is for the good. Everyday we are presented with new technologies and medical advances in an increasingly shrinking globe. At the same time, disaster and danger seem to haunt our every turn. We can no longer count on such essentials of life as air and water to be safe and freely available. Whether we fear terrorist attacks from foreign soil or our neighbors next door, we do not live as comfortably in the world as we once did. We are suspicious of what our elected leaders claim to be true and wonder who in the world we can trust. Those of us who dreamed of a better life for our children now wonder whether they will be able to live as well as we have, or our parents did. Despite claims of progress, life is not necessarily getting better. For many, it is a struggle for survival.

How are we to sustain hope in this world that seems to offer little promise of a better future? Life seems less hopeful, the future less bright. Yet we long to find our way to a more hopeful life. We continue to read the signs of the time and look for indicators of hope. We yearn to make the most of the time of our lives. A desire for fullness of life seems to be “hard wired” into human beings. From a religious point of view, such desire comes from God, who created us and endowed us with mind and spirit, capable of imagination and endless creativity. We were made for hope.

This book explores the character of such hope in the context of today’s world. It begins with the premise that to be human means to live in time, to be time-bound creatures. Our lives are chronicled by their days and their years. Collectively, we live by the rhythms of decades and centuries. We inhabit time and it inhabits us.

The habitation of time is what is meant by history. We tell time, not only by clocks and watches, but also by the stories we tell about our lives. These stories shape our views about the world; they constitute our history. We live in these stories and the stories live in us.

We do not all tell the same story. We do not all live by the same narrative. To be sure, there are common elements--such as birth, death, work, family--but what these mean and how they are lived and experienced vary. These differences produce multiple stories. Tribes and nations develop group narratives, grand stories, that have the status of myth. When we live inside a myth, we forget that it is a story, simply one way to talk about life. We believe it describes and proscribes the way things really are and are meant to be. Among these myths are religious worldviews, which tell us about who God is in time, and about God’s relationship to our time. These narratives about God shape the meaning and nature of our lives. They tell the tale of hope: hope for history and for life.

This book will explore ways in which our telling of time affects our understanding of hope. It will examine how our narratives shape our lives. Along the way, I will consider such questions as: What happens when the stories no longer ring true, when changing circumstances make them hollow? What happens when we seem to misread the signs of the time? What do we do when our sense of hope feels threatened? I address these questions not for all times and places, but for right now and here, America in the period called postmodern. My exploration will pay particular attention to Jewish and Christian narratives that have so permeated and shaped the culture of the west.

Judaism and Christianity have consistently maintained that God is in charge of history and that God’s purposes are being enacted in and through history--in other words, what happens in history matters because it is God’s work. Despite Christianity’s emphasis on salvation of the soul and eternal life after death, despite even occasional attempts by Christian groups to deny the value of historical experience, the importance of history as an arena of God’s presence and activity remains a central Christian affirmation.

For Jews and Christians, history has purpose and direction, an ending, a telos, which is both fulfillment and consummation. Jews wait for the Messiah; they anticipate the fullness of God’s shalom (peace and harmony) as reflective of God’s intentions. Christians say the Kingdom of God is manifest in history and/or they imagine an ultimate cosmic battle in which God will be victorious. They look forward to an ending in which God will set all things right. Jewish and Christian understandings of hope have been so molded by the conviction that time and history have a linear trajectory that other perspectives have scarcely gained a hearing. In the modern era, the grand or meta-narrative of the modern west appropriated and adapted this narrative to view time not only as linear but also progressive.

This grand narrative of the western view of history and hope no longer works. It does not feed our hope. Nor does it ring true to our experience. What if we paid attention to different narratives of time? What other ways of imagining time and history would emerge? Might these better account for the challenges and contradictions confronting us today? This goal of this book is to tell time differently, to offer a narrative better able to nurture hope today.