Shine More Hope
Written by Alex McNeill, More Light’s Executive Director
You may not know this, but I am the older brother of two siblings. My birthday is in November, and though my younger brother and sister were born three years apart, their birthdays are in the same week of June. As a kid I thought it to be the height of unfairness that everybody seemed to get a birthday celebration in the same week of June, and here I was left out when November felt an awfully long way away. Every year as their birthdays approached in June, I remember hoping so earnestly as they opened their presents, that I would get one too. One year I begged my mom for weeks to have a present to open when we celebrated their birthdays. Though my parents didn’t have a lot of money to spare for a child whose birthday was still nearly six months away, that year, and for a few years afterward, my parents made a point to give me a small gift to open alongside my siblings.
If you’d asked me then to define hope, I probably would’ve said hope was like a wish rooted in the desire for something. Now I understand, the difference between a wish and hope is that a wish is something focused on one’s self, while hope is grounded in love and rooted in something greater than ourselves. We hope for another person, a community, a nation, or the whole world. As a kid my wish was to be given a gift, but my true hope was to have the recognition that I still mattered to my parents, to feel a connection with my parents and my family that would reassure me I was loved.
Yesterday was the first day of Advent, a season of waiting and expectation before Jesus’ birth. Sunday we lit the first Advent candle, which symbolizes hope. Hope is a tricky thing, because it is inherently a longing for what we do not see, and it often seems we hope most ardently when our circumstances seem most hopeless.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, his hope for the community is that they would “abound in love for one another, and for all.” He uses the word agape for love, the highest form of love used by the Greeks. The author Paulo Coelho wrote: “Whoever knows and experiences agape sees that nothing else in this world is of any importance, only loving. This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of human history… when we love and believe in something from the bottom of our soul, we feel stronger than the world, and we are imbued with a serenity that comes from the certainty that nothing can conquer our faith.”
When my sister was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Right away, our family was introduced to a group for families of kids with cancer. I already prayed and hoped my sister’s cancer would be cured, and thankfully it was. However, meeting other 8 year olds, 3 year olds, 15 year olds who had cancer, my agape love for the community expanded my hope. I hoped the kids I met had good caretakers, got to experience joy amid their suffering, felt loved by their community. I hoped for an end to cancer. It’s hard to keep hope contained when you experience such deep love.
In Advent, we are reminded that we are to hope for something that is not immediately present to us. We hope and work for the eradication of diseases, for everyone to feel loved and seen, an end to destructive systems of oppression, even knowing that it may not happen in our lifetime. We light the Advent candle as a visual reminder that hope is here for us even when we may not see the thing we hope for come to pass. The flame burns brightly, reminding us to find hope rooted in love.
40 years ago, when a group of individuals and congregations formed what would become More Light, they did so in circumstances that felt a bit hopeless. Many people were feeling broken, afraid of the escalation of violence at the hands of the church, the erasure of people’s identities and experiences. We saw this quite literally as, while loved ones were dying of AIDS, the government and the church were either silent or antagonistic. When those first More Light churches came together, it was with the hope that transcended their current circumstances. Their agape love for the people in their congregations instilled in them not only a hope, but a courage to do what was just, even at great cost.
Because of your support More Light has cultivated a persistence rooted in hope for 40 years. We are resilient and impatient for justice – waiting as if it can happen tomorrow, knowing that every step forward builds the movement and every step back gives us more resolve to keep going.
During Advent, I ask you to join us as we reflect on times we have seen our dreams deferred, times we have seen our dreams come true, and the hope we have maintained through it all. Relationships and community have always been the key components of expanding the welcome table. We live under threats to our identities, threats which attempt to bar us from public spaces, and threats which make LGBTQIA+ children feel unsafe to be in school. These threats aim to make us isolated and afraid, and tell us we should not and will not be allowed to thrive in this world if we live out our truth.
During Advent and through the end of the year, we will be sharing more about our ambitious plans for 2019. In the expectant hope of fulfilling those plans,More Light has set a goal to raise $40,000 – an acknowledgement of how much we have accomplished in the 40 years since More Light began, for the work that lies ahead of us. It is an ambitious goal, precipitated by circumstances that remind us, now more than ever, to persist in shining more light into our world. We are asking you to participate in this giving campaign in the hope and trust that we will Shine More Light together than any of us could do alone.