Don't let our hope die off

January 20, 2009|By M. Dion Thompson

My hope is that we will not lose hope - that some of the energy, joy and promise we feel now will still be around next year. Some of it will dissipate. That is only natural. All passion cools. Sooner or later the fever passes, and we have to decide whether or not to move forward.

When President-elect Barack Obama says there will be some tough times ahead, I hope we will try to understand what that really means. And when he speaks, I pray he will remember that he is not alone.

He, upon whom we have placed so much, will not single-handedly make America a more just society. In large part, that is our job. My wish is that when the candle of hope burns low, we will light another candle and keep at the good, hard work of bringing America closer to its ideals.

Something amazing has happened. The evidence is everywhere you look. My 14-year-old son has posted will.i.am's "Yes We Can" video on his MySpace page. Friends and clergy forward e-mails; one pictures the president-elect emerging from a river in a white robe, as if he has just been baptized. Along with the picture is a prayer for his safety. In my parish, there is joy and thanksgiving.

The symmetries of this moment are startling. How is it, 45 years to the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech articulating the hopes and dreams of millions, that Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party's nomination as its candidate for the presidency? How is it that 40 years after 1968, a year when we were at war with ourselves and the lesser angels of our nature held many a day, we come to such a remarkable year? How is it that five days after Dr. King's birthday, Mr. Obama will take the oath of office?

In a sense, it has always been about us. Our leaders have lighted the way, but we must shoulder the burden. After all, we wanted to form a more perfect union. We could not hallow the sacred ground of Gettysburg anymore than the honored dead from both sides had done, but we could rededicate ourselves to freedom. We had to put aside fear and draw strength from a president's fireside chats. And we had to press on toward the Promised Land after the death of our Moses.

I come from two traditions fueled by this audacious notion of hope. As an African-American, I can look back over the history of my people and see times of tremendous hope - and times when those hopes were trampled underfoot and all that seemed to remain were shattered bones and broken dreams.

And yet the flame did not go out. That light shines in the darkness and is not overtaken. Without it, the early believers of my faith would have disbanded sometime in the first century. But they did not. In spite of all evidence that the world had not changed, they kept on believing. They kept on hoping. They were not unique in this; they were as human as you and I.

May we become emboldened by what has happened, become resilient and determined not to let the promise this election has offered slip by. As much as President-elect Obama embodies our hopes, may we remember that only we, collectively, will be able to realize the grand dreams this day brings.

The Rev. M. Dion Thompson, a former journalist and author of the novel "Walk Like A Natural Man," is the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Covenant in Baltimore.

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