Jack has just turned 80 years old, and his health is declining. I’m with him at the hospital at a low moment. He is still as handsome as ever. In his younger years, he was an excellent athlete and then a fine coach and teacher. He has shaped countless lives, but now, as his body is able to do less and less, his spirit is struggling. He is much loved by his wife, daughters, and grandchildren. His mind is sharp. I sit by his bedside as we talk. He is frustrated and angry. He had been visited by yet another physician whose bedside manner, according to Jack, left much to be desired. He describes how the young doctor looked at the chart more than at him and matter-of-factly talked through his current condition. Then, ending her visit, she glanced at him and said something along the lines of “well, we’re doing pretty much all we can do” and walked out of his room. “Can you believe it?!” he asks me incredulously. “Rodger,” he says emphatically, “remember this. You have to give us some hope. We have to have hope!”
I have kept his words of wisdom in my soul every day since that visit.
There is much to worry about these days, from the Delta variant of the coronavirus to unstable weather in much of the world to broken relationships to a deeply divided nation. It is easy to despair. Yet theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us in his important book Theology of Hope that the greatest challenge to hope is not despair but acquiescence—when people simply accept things the way they are.
Kristen, one of my former students from Columbia Seminary, was called to serve a church in rural Ohio. Soon after she arrived, she was looking around the building and found the nursery. When she opened the door, she discovered it had become a storage room. When she asked about it, she was told that it had been years since the congregation had a baby in their midst. Kristen asked if it would be okay if she cleaned out the nursery. Two ruling elders offered to help, and over the next few weeks, the three of them emptied the nursery and repainted it. After visiting a few garage sales, they found a nice rocking chair, changing table, some lamps, and some toys. For a few months, the nursery sat empty. Then, in the spring, a young family visited the church. The parents were delighted with the nursery. The young mother said it looked like they had prepared it just for her daughter, and the elder said, “As a matter of fact, we did. We were waiting for you.”
Leaders have a choice. We can accept the status quo, say that’s just the way it is and we are doing pretty much all we can, or we can choose not to settle for the way things are. Our people are desperate for hope. That’s what leaders do. Leaders hope!
- When was a time you experienced hope?
- When have you chosen not to settle with the status quo and instead choose to do something different?
- What do you see as a source of hope for the future?
Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka serves as the senior associate pastor and director of adult faith formation at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. Prior to joining the staff at Village Church, he served as a professor of Christian education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
This article is the eighth in a 12-part series focusing on PC(USA) leader formation as a part of the Year of Leader Formation: Investing in Ruling Elders and Deacons. Additional resources are available at www.pcusa.org/leader-formation/.