Optimism vs. Hope, in a Pandemic

My latest in the Christian Courier.


Where would you put yourself on the optimism/pessimism spectrum? I suppose I land just slightly on the optimistic side, though with serious bouts of pessimism thrown in now and again. Among my friends there is at least one eternal pessimist (with an astonishing capacity to see the worst in every situation) and a few who seem born entirely to optimism (forever confident things will be just fine).

Perhaps we all slide along the continuum, depending on circumstances, but our optimism quotient also seems a fairly fixed personality trait. You occupy some place on this spectrum and there’s not much you can do to change that. Maybe it’s pessimistic of me to say that!

But let’s make this a little more concrete by asking about our present pandemic moment. Are you optimistic we have finally flattened the curve? Are you confident there will soon be effective treatments for COVID-19? That we might see a vaccine within the year? Get back to something approaching normal life in the next two years? Continue reading


Anxiety (a new poem)


An old acquaintance appears with-
out invitation, under the radar,
fastening invisible hands on heart
and throat – salvo in ongoing war.

Disorienting deja-vu says I’ve been here
before, but “here” is lost and adrift;
familiar faces somehow out of reach,
with utter otherness imbued.

Greet this friend, enemy – refuse to
fight in a contest that only can be lost;
give an inch and he’ll take a mile,
every resource necessarily exhaust.

Clichéd sweaty palms and pounding
heart capture it, but also cannot;
one moment holds agitation and distress,
a cup running over with panic,

residue of fight or flight in a world of
passing threats and impossible leisure,
quaking hands and restless eyes
bespeak a fear of life’s erasure.

A cross not taken up or chosen,
neither a path walked with intention;
only inarticulate hope this blackness
somehow shares his death, beaten;

a battle of inches and seconds remains,
strategies multiplying succeeding failing,
the adversary somehow best ignored.
Fight by laying down all weapons.

fear in its place…

King Ahaz is afraid. We know what that feels like. Fear has touched each of our lives.

Perhaps you have a childhood memory of finding yourself suddenly alone in a public place – you have lost sight of your mother or father – you can’t find them. Your chest tightens in fear. Panic sets in. You run – you search.

Perhaps as an adult you have encountered or known someone who is prone to anger and violence. If so, that experience of clammy hands, of a pounding heart, and of weak legs is something you know well.

On the other hand, perhaps your fear is not quite so visceral, not so full-bodied – maybe your fear is more of a steady anxiety about life, about your health, about your children, about your future.

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Fear Factor 2010

My sermon from yesterday, inspirted in part by the book Following Jesus in a culture of Fear, by Scott Bader-Saye.


At beginning of every New Year we usually take a moment to look back, don’t’ we. Over the past few days you may have thought about what the year 2009 meant for you as an individually. More publicly, various newspapers and magazines and television stations have also recalled the events and personalities that shaped our collective existence in 2009. Of course much of what the media chooses to focus on has an air of unreality to it – many of the events and personalities they highlight have nothing really to do with our lives – but we remember nonetheless.

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