It can seem that it's all we have these days. Sometimes, we feel kind of ashamed to admit to having it. Isn't it naive in the face of the numbers? Do we not know that unemployment in Appalachia is up, that health is worse than the national average, that diplomas are more scarce, that people continue to move away? But something in us refuses to give up hope. We have to hope that the world will be better for our children. We have to hope that we will figure out solutions to these problems. We have to hope that the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Hope. It is one of the things that "remains." Like faith and love, it cannot be forcibly taken away from us, no matter what the circumstances. It's as though a desire for Hope was put into the very fabric of our being. We put out our antennas, straining to pick up even a faint signal of it. We're desperate for Hope. We like to think hope is good, no matter what. But if we are concerned for souls, we have to ask, "Where have our friends, our families, and our neighbors placed their hope?" And if we are serious believers ourselves, we have also to ask, "Where am I putting my hope?"
It is worth noting that we often put our hope in the past. We see our past as our main reason to hope. We in the mountains do have a proud heritage, rich in family, beauty, diversity, wealth, and local pride. But hope in the past is not proper hope. It is simply not fitting to hope for what was past. We may, of course, hope for some of the good things of the past to happen again. But if we linger too long hoping only to re-live what was, we will find that we are not striving at all, only remembering.
We see that some of us put our hope in other people. Very few of us these days claim to hope in something like "the good of humanity," because we know (from the Bible and from our own experience) that the human race is not good. We people make a lot of bad choices. However, for some reason, when enough not-good people get together, we often find reason to hope in them and what they're doing.
The groups of people in which one decides to hope is often polarizing. Right now in our nation, so much talk is of two different groups: those who put their trust in the group of broken people called Government and those who put their trust in the group of broken people called Business. That these groups (the Government and Business) are so often intermingled doesn't matter to the debate most of the time. People love to argue over which group can solve our most pressing problems. This is true on both a national and a local scale. In my home, for instance, there is heated debate about whether Tourism (presumably led by the Government, followed by Business) or Coal (presumably led by Business and backed by Government) is the lead-runner for the future of the area.
However, we know that, deep down, our hope is not really in CEOs and legislators. If asked, I wager that most of us would say we wouldn't trust them to reliably do the good and the right with anything! And by "anything," we really mean...our money. Money is the common thread in the local debate over a Tourism- or Coal-led future. Both assume our only hope is in money, and in getting more of it. If we only had more money, our towns and our people could get more or this or better of that. And we have to ask ourselves, "Is that really the Hope of my future?"
As Christians, then, we shrink back and repent. We ask God to change our minds and our thinking because we know that our only Hope is in God, who made the mountains and all who have ever lived and worked in them. We know we are not to set our hearts on Money. God knows what we need and He is able to supply it as we follow Him. We just need to put Him first. But how do we put God first when we think about the well-being of mountain communities? How do we put God first when talking with other people about coal, politics, money, creation, and the future of mountain communities?
First, let us not shrink back from the current need for correct, living Hope in the face of the challenges before us. There are temptations everywhere, signs trying to make us think that this or that is really our hope and our future. But we must look to God, who has promised to give us both a Hope and a Future. We can put God first by asking for His thoughts on the matter. We can put God first by listening. We ought to ask Him about the story that is unfolding in the life of our communities. What has He brought us from and what is He taking us to?
The answer is not merely "from earth to heaven," for scripture teaches that the God who is the God of forever is also the God of Today. Our hope is not merely in heaven, but in God, who is the God of both heaven and earth, the past, the future, and the present. He does not have us here to merely wait until He calls us home; He has us, His Body, here for such a time as this. Therefore, we need to ask Him for specific wisdom. How has His plan been unfolding until now? What is He wanting to do with our communities now? What is His vision of the future of the people and place of the mountains?
So we turn to the One who is our only Hope to ask Him about the future and the hope He has planned for us, our friends and neighbors, our communities, and our land. What good things has God planned to do here? What good tools and abilities has He given us to use? What does God have to say about our current statistics, the declining business, population, and health in the place we call home? Is there any collective sin of which we need to repent? Does He want to heal the people and the land? Is there any part of His work that He would give us the pleasure of sharing? How has He blessed us to be a blessing to others?
I would challenge us to sit down with our family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Jesus's famly, and ask some of these questions together. Let's see what God will do.