Active Hope

Presented June 9th, 2019

There is a cartoon that reflects my state of mind more than I wish to admit to. It is of two side by side office counters, like box offices. On one side is a long long line of people, on the other side there is no line up at all – the person behind the counter is reading a book.

Above the line up is a big sign saying “complaints.” Above the person reading the book it says “gratitude”.

I spend many mornings in the line up for complaints, especially after reading the news, even though I know gratitude is essential for well being.

But its hard to not to complain when I hear about the anti-choice laws being passed in the United States. Or when I see more short sighted choices by governments closer to home. Or the loss of species, or the rising tides of racism and homophobia, and… you get the picture.

Stepping out of the complaints line takes effort. But I know I need to move over to the gratitude counter. Not to ignore these issues, but so I can respond to them.

Gratitude enhances resilience, when we see all the good that surrounds us, it’s easier to fend off despair. Gratitude helps us better navigate the tough times.

Acknowledging the bounty of gifts that surround each one of us is profoundly strengthening. Knowing we are surrounded by the good and the worthy helps us face trouble.

Most days I try to take a few minutes to think of three things to be grateful for – like the Toronto Raptors – and over time I have found that it does help with resilience.

I feel better when I connect to the positive in my life. Gratitude begets generosity and kindness.

In a psychology experiment – back when there were still public telephone booths – researchers left coins in the booth for the next user to find – enough money so that they could make their call for free.

When the person was finished using the phone and left the booth, a researcher would “accidentally” drop a file of papers in front of the subject. This was also done in front of phone booth users who did not find money for a free call.

People who found the lucky gift of coins were significantly more likely to help the researcher pick up the dropped papers. When we are grateful we are more inclined to help others.

I know this can seem trite – being grateful for a basketball team – when the arctic permafrost is dissolving – but gratitude matters.

Experiencing gratitude builds our generosity, our ability to act and help others. It’s easier to see other options and not give up in despair. And we need – the world needs – resilience and generosity.

Activist Joanna Macy says there are three main cultural stories that are being lived out right now.

One is business as usual, that the world overall is just fine, the problems of today are just typical issues faced by industrial global capitalism and can be fixed with new technology. If you are white and have a stable job in stable country, it’s easy to tell this story. It’s not that bad. Human resourcefulness will find a way.

The second story is the great unravelling. The world is in decline and is only going to get worse – economically, loss of resources, mass extinction and so on – basically the news headlines. Millions of people are living this story – from global refugees to people who can’t make a living working 2 to 3 minimum wage jobs.

There is also a third story – just beginning to be shared, beginning to be lived – the story of the Great Turning. The Great Turning is the grand adventure of our time – the transition to a life sustaining society committed to healing the earth. One where technological advances support ecological and social justice.

The Great Turning is in its early stages, and it can’t happen without people willing to live into this story, to choose this story of a healthier future.

This story – of solar panels and electric cars – of inclusive societies and human rights – needs people who can see the good in the world. It needs people who can choose the good, people who are grateful, who are resilient and generous, who trust the Great Turning is possible.

The Great Turning needs people who have hope – active hope.

As Charlotte shared in the reading this morning, active hope is knowing what we hope for – what direction we want to move towards – what values we want to express.

In active hope, we take steps – large or small – to move towards what it is we hope for. This hope does not require optimism, which these days can be hard to find.

All active hope needs is intention. With intention, we choose, we act. Whether or not we have a chance for success, we know where we want to go and we choose actions that take us there.

Active hope is about our intentions – not outcomes. Active Hope is a practice. It is something we do rather than have.

Joanna Macy says:

“Active Hope is not wishful thinking.
Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or by some saviour.
Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life
on whose behalf we can act.

We belong to this world.
The web of life is calling us forth at this time.
We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part….

Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths
in ourselves and in others;
a readiness to discover the reasons for hope
and the occasions for love.

A readiness to discover …, our love for life,
…the keenness of our senses,

and our capacity to lead. 

None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk.”

(Active Hope- How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Chris Johnstone and Joanna Macy.  2012)


Guardian columnist Rebecca Solnit finds hope in the protest movements that are happening around the world.

From protests of farmworkers for living wages to the students walking out to protest climate chaos, protests show that people care. That these are issues that matter to enough people to show up and say so.

The Green New Deal Town Hall meeting held here a couple of weeks ago is an example of strategic organizing to change the world. Of people caring enough to come together and organize, putting their energy into shifting the political landscape.

These actions are organic – they rise up and emerge like mushrooms after rain. Many people see these protests as temporary events that accomplish little, but each action, each person who participates, shifts the greater cultural story.

These are people choosing the Great Turning, who have decided what world they want, and are making active choices to move in that direction. And while any one protest might not seem to do much – there is no immediate change of political heart – they reveal what matters  to people.

The people who participate find solidarity and inspiration. And they make connections, building awareness, building understanding.

Mushrooms, it’s good to remember, are just one part of a much larger fungus underground – one that is alive and growing. So even when no mushrooms have popped up, there is still a power and presence underground, growing and developing.

The movement towards the Great Turning is present even when no one is protesting. Even when the headlines only focus on the unravelling.

And while a protest like Standing Rock speaking against the Dakota Access pipeline did not stop the pipeline, it has led to other positive changes.

The Standing Rock protests educated people about indigenous rights, it helped with healing old wounds for the Native American participants, it encouraged allies to work harder for more renewable energies, and even inspired people to run for Congress.(

Every protest, every shift in activities, helps move the story. What world do you hope for the generations to come? Is it one with clean air and clean water? Does it include monarch butterflies and elephants? Does it include living wages and safe shores for refugees?

If we know what we want the future to look like, we can begin to work towards it with our choices today. We can live for something bigger than ourselves. We can, each of us, choose active hope, and chose to be an activist.

Activist simply means someone who is active for a bigger purpose then personal gain. Being an activist doesn’t mean just attending protests. It’s anyone who is actively engaged in healing the world, who is choosing the Great Turning.

These can be small choices, like using a metal straw. They can be bigger choices – seeking a national climate chaos response.

We won’t always make the best choice – we won’t always be able to tell what the best choice is – and sometimes we won’t be able to make a choice. And it won’t always seem to make a difference.

But if we live by our intentions, and accept that the outcomes are unknown,  we practice active hope.

We can do the best we can, the good things we can do.

We can all use our skills, experience, networks, enthusiasm, and temperament to heal the world.

Activists can be artists, grocery store clerks, managers ….whatever your work is.

It’s about your intention and your choices within your life as it is.

You won’t always be able to choose for healing, but keeping that as part of your intention makes a difference in the long run.

In Boston, on the side of a ramp to a busy highway stands a man with a sign. He stands there every weekday morning for an hour. And has been doing so for over 3 years. The sign says “Climate Change is Real”.

Warren Senders is a musician who was looking for a way to protest climate breakdown. At first he wrote letters to newspapers, being published in the Boston Globe and New York Times and more. But telling the story of climate breakdown over and over again was depressing. So he decided to act, to do something every day to make a difference.

He stands by the highway with various signs about climate change and ecological justice. This may seem so small, but as Warren says, he is seen by daily commuters.

Who everyday see a man who cares enough to stand there in rain, blizzards and broiling heat.

Most drivers ignore him, others honk their horns and wave in support. Once a bus driver opens the bus door and asks him who is paying him to be there. Warren tells the bus driver he is doing it for the world.  The world? asks the bus driver. Is that some kind of left wing group?

Warren has a 13 year old daughter. He does this small thing because he wants her to be able to say her dad was not indifferent, that he did something in the face of climate breakdown. (Protest as Practice by Elizabeth Preston, Orion Magazine, Autumn 2018)

Warren is choosing the story of the Great Turning. One of thousands – hundreds of thousands of ordinary people living with active hope.

I believe this is also a place for Active Hope. This is a place where we commit to act for an equitable, sustainable world.

We have chosen the Great Turning together.

I encourage you all to consider all the many small ways you can live this new story in your own life.

May we take the long view, and continue to make choices large and small for a healing planet and flourishing people.

So Say We All.


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