I was once an optimist, and I still am about a few things. 58 years of living, 58 years of two steps forward and one step back (and vice versa), and 7 years of regression at a national level have tempered my optimism, but not my hope.
Indeed, perhaps now my hope is even stronger than it once was. Those riding high hope only for things to remain as they are, only more so. Those who can see a vision of the future that is neither here yet, nor easily obtainable, must live on, must find inspiration to go on in the hope they find and nurture in themselves and others.
For me, the Gospel is hope—the proclamation that in the end, love wins; shalom/wholeness/a just peace is the divine design for humanity, and seeking it, co-creating it with God and one another, is the aim of a life lived on the Way.
So, my hope is found in memories of the times that love has prevailed in the past and my past, and in a shared vision of the future we are striving toward. That is where my hope of the mind is found.
But I’m also a singer, and there is no more hopeful place for me than music—a place where every emotion can be lived and shared and relived and reimagined. Even in the anguished minor chords of a Good Friday anthem that speaks of loss and violence and endings, there is hope, because we know the chord will resolve in the soaring joy of Easter fanfares. The rehearsal of despair and hope in song exercises those places in our heart and spirit and grows empathy. I feel it in hymns and anthems, though I could say something similar about some show tunes or other signpost musical moments in my life.
Hope is the song that rises from the midst of unspeakable oppression in pleading and proclaiming spirituals; hope is the all-too-brief, yet gentle tinkling notes of a briefly thawing ice-bound brook on the first warm day of March; hope is a black President rising at funeral for a black pastor/politician and his friends slaughtered by white nationalism to sing Amazing Grace, (written by a not-quite-reformed-yet slave trading white pastor to a tune he learned from enslaved people); hope is a chorus of trans and queer teens singing “This Little Light of Mine” in rap cadences; hope is the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus joining with the Chicago Children’s Chorus to sing Sondheim’s Still Here over the megaphone hatred of homophobic protesters.
“My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.”
Michael D. Kirby is entering his eighth year as senior pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church (www.northminpres.org) in Evanston, Illinois. A Texas native, he was an attorney for 12 years before attending Columbia Seminary, graduating in 2003. He is active in the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus and serves on the board of directors of Presbyterian Homes of Northern Illinois. He has served on the Permanent Judicial Commissions of the Presbytery of Chicago and the Synod of Lincoln Trails.