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“Hope is a dangerous thing.” 

In The Shawshank Redemption those words referred to the lengths a person will go to escape incarceration.

But Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, was right. Hope can be dangerous.

Because hope is like fire. Without proper safeguards, it can cause great damage. Extremist leaders often use false hope as a way to mobilize instability into chaos and immorality. Hope unmoored from reality is delusion.

But used responsibly, hope can sustain and propel us toward greatness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope, and about fire. As of this writing, I’m in the middle of another job-related transition, and my wife and I might need to relocate. If we have to move, I hope to find another place with a wood-burning fireplace. I’ve grown quite fond of the experience of selecting the wood, arranging it, and watching the fire slowly consume it. It helps me feel like a real Oregonian.

It also reminds me of Jeremiah, speaking of the prophetic word as fire, shut up in his bones. Jeremiah was expressing the urgency with which he felt called to deliver God’s message of impending judgment.

Without proper safeguards,
hope can cause great damage.

But maybe this applies to good news too. Maybe there are moments where we need the fires of hope deep in our bones.

Consider our political moment. The heat may have temporarily subsided, but America is still embroiled in a continual cry for justice and accountability. As Proverbs 13:12 tells us, hope deferred makes the heart sick. So hope exists, in one sense, to keep us from letting delay turn into despair. When we experience a setback, hope provides the necessary elements of possibility and urgency that help us move forward. Hope is also a necessary element of criminal justice, because without the hope of restoration, reconciliation, and reparation, our cries for justice devolve into bloodlust for the punishment of our enemies.

But perhaps hope is most like fire because if we don’t tend to it, it goes out.

See, fires need three basic things: oxygen, heat, and fuel.

So tending to hope requires breath—not only the monitoring of our own breathing in self-care, but the continual breath of the Holy Spirit. As we survey the Covid pandemic’s effect on church life, we remember it’s the Spirit’s breath that can bring new life out of the ashes.

Hope also requires the heat of conflict to temper it. To the traumatized heart, hope can feel scary, and so can conflict. But conflict can also be a byproduct of people working hard to bring dreams to fruition. If you avoid it for too long, your movement grows cold.

Finally, our hope must be fueled by the vision of a new day. I recently took advantage of a friend’s food truck launch by setting up my DJ equipment and playing music for the people in the neighborhood. Logistically, it was a gigantic hassle; between setup, tear down, and loading in and out, it pretty much took all day. But I did it because music is something that fuels hope in me. And by the responses of the hundreds of people who walked or drove by that intersection, maybe it did the same for them. Those bass-driven beats provided more than just a soundtrack for their afternoon—they provided hope that something new was happening.

Hope assures us that the future is possible and lights our way forward. So in this season, tend to your hope; and like a fire, let it spread.

About the Author

  • Jelani Greenidge is the missional storyteller for the Evangelical Covenant Church and ministers in and around Portland, Oregon, as a worship musician, cultural consultant, and stand-up comic.

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