new year

One word for 2014

dare

After a year of ‘hope’, I started searching for my one word for 2014.

It’s all part of the One Word 365 project, an alternative to New Year’s resolutions. You choose one word to shape the year, a word that will act as a kind of compass, guiding your steps and influencing your decisions.

The word I have settled on for 2014 is dare.

I’m not sure if I really chose it: it didn’t feel as rational as that. I just prayed and thought a bit and before long I found that dare would not leave me alone. First it kept jumping into my head, then I started seeing it all over the place – in book titles, in a talk at church and even on Facebook status updates.

I’m excited about this word for my current stage of life. With all the offspring away at university there seems a spaciousness about the days, an opportunity to launch out into new things that wasn’t there before.

At the same time I’m watching my parents become increasingly frail and am more aware than ever before that we cannot take a healthy body or mind for granted.

Reflecting on dare I’ve realised how easy it is for some of us to play safe in life – and how much we might miss in the process.

:: If we play safe in relationships we will possibly avoid getting hurt – but we will also stop ourselves from enjoying the deep rewards of community.

:: If we always stay quiet in order to keep the peace, we can never be instruments of change.

:: If we are over-cautious with money we can miss the opportunity to invest our lives in projects that could benefit people long after we are dead.

:: If we stay in the shadows because we fear people will ridicule us or judge us harshly, we will never discover what we might have accomplished in the light.

In 2014 I want to change from being Mrs Cautious to becoming someone who dares.

I will dare to love people even though they might not love me back.

I will dare to say yes to opportunities that might not work out (I’ve already started with that one – more in a couple of weeks!).

I will dare to speak my heart out more often.

I will dare to risk criticism.

I will dare to make mistakes

2014: the year of dare.

Picture by Christopher Johnson. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

2013: learning about hope

derwent bridge

When I chose hope as my one word for 2013, I must have thought I knew what it meant. Writing about the choice here, I said it would be my touchstone for year, a prism through which to view whatever unfolded.

It turns out that was a bit over-ambitious. If I think about the role hope has played in my life this year, I seem to have mostly been working out what it means! It’s been worth it, though.

Partly, my new understanding of hope has come about through reading. Some truly formative books have fallen into my hands over the past twelve months, and the most important of them was Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination (thank you, Kelley Nikondeha!).

Brueggemann helped me to identify false hope, which is actually a form of hopelessness. You can recognise false hope because in the end it doesn’t change anything.

The false hope offered by our affluent Western culture is that the answer to any discomfort is to consume more. In the short term, and on an individual level, this works (hello, new shoes and chocolate cake). In the long term it makes things worse. Our pain could be a catalyst to action but over-consumption dulls our emotions and takes away the energy we need to act.

In effect, the more we eat, drink and buy, the more deeply we reinforce the very structures that imprison us.

Brueggemann introduced me to the unsettling notion that the only way to real hope is through pain. We have to begin by looking unflinchingly at the darkness that is both around us and within us.

This idea was reinforced for me during the Advent just passed, through many of the Bible readings traditionally associated with that great season of hope.

It is the people walking in darkness who see the ‘great light’ promised by the prophet (Isaiah 9:2).

Or as Richard Rohr puts it in his book Preparing for Christmas: ‘We must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness – while never doubting the light that God always is … That is the narrow birth canal of God into the world – through the darkness and into an ever greater Light.’

It sobered me to think that if we manage to dispel the darkness temporarily, with all kinds of artificial things that are ultimately themselves part of the darkness – then we could miss the true light.

Which leads me to Leah Kostamo’s Planted. This book tells the funny and grace-filled story of how Kostamo and her husband established a branch of the Christian conservation organisation A Rocha in Canada, and also weaves in some serious wrestling with issues of justice, community and how to live simply in a world in crisis.

Unsurprisingly, hope is often in short supply among those who care for the environment. As Kostamo puts it: ‘Knowing what conservationists know, it’s only logical they would be tempted to despair.’

Gently and convincingly, Kostamo explains how her Christian faith roots her in hope – ‘hope that some day, some how, some way redemption is possible for all things’.

This is not another airy-fairy, false notion of hope. It is a hope born of what Kostamo calls ‘a divine adventure of reckless love’ – namely that other great Advent theme: the incarnation. An all-powerful God could choose to engage with creation in any way at all. The decision to become a part of it by taking on human form has endless implications for the way we think about the world.

As Kostamo says: ‘The incarnation shows God’s commitment to creation. The Creator becomes the created in the ultimate act of solidarity.’

The ultimate act of solidarity. Therein lies the third thing I have learnt about hope – it is inseparable from action. Another book that influenced me profoundly was Ellen Davis’s Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture. Described as an examination of ‘the theology and ethics of land use’, it sounds dry but it is the opposite. It propelled me into the garden, determined to care for it properly, recognising for the first time that care of the land is a non-negotiable part of my Christian discipleship.

I still have so much to learn as a gardener but already I am understanding that the actions of caring for soil and seed, leaf and bud, bring about a new kind of consciousness, an opportunity to disrupt some old and hitherto unquestioned notions about how to be in the world.

It’s not a bad place from which to enter 2014. I’m glad I joined in with the ‘one word’ idea. It turns out it was, as I hoped, a much better way of starting a new year than making lots of soon-to-be-broken resolutions.

The picture is of the Derwent Reservoir, Derbyshire, on Boxing Day 2013

one word for 2013

Can you really choose just one word as a focus for an entire year? In the last few days a positive rash of ‘words for 2013’ has been erupting all over the blogosphere, thanks mainly to this link-up. I read a few and realised that in many ways having one word as a touchstone, a prism through which to view life for the following twelve months, is a whole lot better than making a heap of resolutions and then forgetting them.

I prayed a bit and found there was a word that kept nudging me and just wouldn’t go away.

The word was HOPE. And it made my heart sink.

Oh no, I thought, hope is what you need when times get really tough. I must be thinking of this word because I’m going to have a hard year. Um, can I have a different word please?

But I kept seeing the word everywhere and as I mulled it over it began to make sense. I thought of all the reading I’ve been doing about the state of the environment and in particular about the way our busted food system continues to wreak havoc on the earth and in the lives of individuals.

It’s hard to pick from the abundance of grim facts out there, but here’s a couple that I came across just yesterday.

  • In 2012, China bought up sixty per cent of the world’s soya beans and fed them all to pigs (story here). I’m not having a go at China in particular – for years the west has been destroying virgin rainforest in order to farm cattle for our beef addiction.
  • In Ethiopia, a prime target for foreign land acquisitions yet also a major food aid recipient, an acre of land can be leased for less than $1 per year. (See this factsheet from the Earth Policy Institute.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. How can we respond to injustice and stupidity on such a massive scale?

We can despair – the opposite of hope – and there is a certain logic to that, but it achieves nothing and makes our lives meaningless.

We can ignore it. It’s easy enough in the midst of a busy and often anxious life: deadlines to meet, shopping to do, family to care for. But it’s the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting ‘la, la, la’. It changes nothing and sooner or later people will tell us we look stupid.

Or we can hope.

peony shoots: hope of glory

peony shoots: hope of glory

In 2013 I am choosing hope. This is quite a discipline. I am a natural pessimist with a tendency to depression. But I am choosing hope because it’s only through hope that things ever change.

peony bud

I am choosing hope because I have seen, for example, how a handful of committed individuals set up an amazing movement called Incredible Edible Todmorden (motto: we don’t do negative) and now their town is being transformed from post-industrial decline to a place with a burgeoning local food economy that is building real community and creating proper jobs.

peony unfurls

I am choosing hope because I believe the tomb was empty on Easter Day and that God is still active in the world, bringing good out of evil and hope out of despair.

As Tom Wright puts it: ‘Hope is what you get when you suddenly realise that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.’ (From Surprised by Hope. This book changed my life, no exaggeration.)

I am choosing hope because I believe that with this God it is never too late to change.

peony bloom

 

2013? Bring it on.

one word logo