Sunday Reflections: Looking for Hope and Finding My Superpowers
For me, it’s been in short supply since around this time two years ago.
As a survivor of sexual violence, I woke up devastated in the early morning hours after the election to hear that our nation had elected a man who openly advocated sexual violence to the office of president. Even more so, I was devastated to learn that it was fellow Christian brethren who had chosen to do so. I had spent months leading up to the election wondering why my fellow Christians weren’t speaking out about this man’s violence towards and statements about women. Every day of silence I felt my hope seeping out of my pores.
As the growing incidents and speech regarding misogyny, racism, bigotry, anti-semitism and hate for the marginalized and the poor have increased, I have felt a growing lack of hope swell within me. This lack of hope started to sink into despair, darkness, fear and extreme anger towards my fellow Christians who had spent years preaching one thing and were now openly endorsing something that did not and does not in any way align with the teachings of Jesus. But then I found hope in the writings of John Pavlovitz.
Sometimes soon after the election, I found a blog post by Pavlovitz that expressed a Christian regret that felt familiar to mine. Here was a man of faith, a minister, openly questioning the Christian church’s support of the current president. He spoke specifically about why victims of sexual violence had felt betrayal, a betrayal I felt and continue to feel deep in my bones. He called out the Christian church’s silence on growing racism and anti-Semitic speech. He openly challenged the Christian church’s support of Trump as president. He is bold, brash, and speaks directly to my own concerns.
Pavlovitz represents the type of Christianity I feel called to. A Christian faith that asks us to truly love our neighbor, to give to the poor and support the hurting, to welcome the other because the Imago Dei is in every human being. Reading the online blog of this man and several other progressive Christian women – including Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey and others – helped me to reclaim my Christian faith. You see, I had been told for so long that I couldn’t call myself a Christian if I didn’t support x, y or z that I started to believe it, even though x, y or z didn’t align with Scripture. I was hurting and lost and Pavlovitz was one of the writers that helped me find myself again and to reclaim the Christian label that was an important part of my identity.
A few weeks ago, Simon and Schuster tweeted about an upcoming book called Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World- Saving Manifesto, and I was anxious to read the newest book by this fellow Christian whose blog had helped put me back on solid ground. And I really needed a little bit of hope as mid-term elections approach. The people at Simon and Schuster were kind enough to send me an advanced copy and it did not disappoint.
When I began reading Hope, my family was sitting in the living room with me. I kept reading sentences out loud to them and feeling so inspired, I just started from the beginning again and I began reading the book out loud to my husband and two children. I didn’t read the entire thing out loud to them, but I have shared with them several passages and have encouraged them to read it.
Here’s another thing you need to know about Pavlovitz: One of my best friends in the world is an atheist. Even he follows Pavlovitz and reads his blog, because Pavlovitz is inspiring, challenging, respectful, welcoming and factual. I was stunned when I discovered that we were both reading and being inspired by this same writer, especially because Pavlovitz does not hide or downplay his beliefs in any way. He is firm in his faith while being holistic and welcoming.
One of the metaphors running through this book is that of the superhero. Like many of us, Pavlovitz was obsessed with superheroes as a child and has thought long and hard about what kind of super powers he would want and why. But in Hope, Pavlovitz reminds us that we can all be superheroes. It doesn’t even have to be in big, splashy ways. Opening your home up to a stranger for dinner. Saying a kind word. Speaking up and out for truth. We all have our own super powers, we just have to find out what they are and then boldly use them for good.
Being a huge Avengers and Wonder Woman fan, I really appreciated the underlying theme of super heroes with super powers as a call to action. It works for me, though it will not work for everyone. I have a friend who hasn’t seen any super hero movies and finds the concept quite simply stupid, so even though she would agree with the main points of this book, she would find the ongoing superhero metaphor tedious and ham fisted. I love her any way.
Hope and Other Superpowers is the book we need for right now. Actually, it’s the book we needed two years ago. And in many ways I fear that right now is too late, but later is better than never. In some ways, it breaks my heart that this book is coming out on the same day as the mid-term elections as I feel it could have inspired a lot of people preceding the elections. And I fear that we will need it more than ever after the mid-term elections depending on the outcome. Although to be honest, we always need hope, and though I personally feel this book is coming out too late, too late is definitely better than never.
Pavlovitz did not disappoint with this book. It challenged, it inspired, and it calls us all to action. Some of the qualities he discusses, in the stories of superheroes of course, are compassion, sacrifice, courage, humor, humility, honesty, kindness, creativity, persistence, wonder and gratitude. He talks about archenemies and kryptonite, the self-doubt and other crippling things we have picked up along the way that stop us from seeking out our inner super-hero. He reminds us all that every hero has an origin story and that along the way there are moments of failure and regret.
I loved reading this book. I needed Hope and, as I often do, I found that hope in the pages of a book. This past month, Thing 2 and I have been hard at work on a project that she asked me to help her do called Operation BB: Books in Backpacks. It takes time, it takes money, and it takes space in our home in which I can’t stand clutter. But when she came up with the idea, there was something in me that wanted to help her and wanted to help her succeed. We started the project before I started reading this book, but reading it reminded me that not only as her mother, but as a compassionate human being, helping her do this project was the exact right call. I could have shrugged her off with concerns about time and money, both real concerns. And we have relied on the kindness of friends and strangers to help this project be successful. But every moment that she is engaged and supported, she is being given a building block of hope and a chance to find her super power and ways that she can make a difference. She felt a stirring inside her and though she needed support, as we all do, she has pursued it. The chapter about kryptonite and archenemies really resonated with me because I know that so many of us have had those harsh and discouraging words spoken to us that makes us feel like we have nothing much to give to this world and reading Hope helped me to address them in my own life and reminded me that I was doing a good thing as a parent in helping my child by giving her positive building blocks on her journey to hope and finding her true identity.
I hope that everyone will read this book. You don’t have to be a Christian to do so as Pavlovitz is very clear that this is a message rooted in love and compassion for all and that everyone has some super power to offer into this world. I also highly recommend following him on social media and reading his blog.
I’m going to go to end this post and go to church now, a place I thought I would never be able to return to after the election. It’s a different church and I still struggle with some of the messaging, but I’m finding ways to hope again. And I keep trying to find my superpowers and use them to help bring hope to the hurting world. I hope you’ll join me.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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