'Do you have hope for the future?' A simple question perhaps, and one where you would almost always expect a positive answer (which raises questions about why you would ask the question in the first place). It is surprising, shocking even, when the answer is 'no'.
I've been a little quiet over the past week or so because I have been working in Israel/Palestine, a part of the world that tends to absorb all your attention whilst you're there. As we travelled to different places and talked to Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, the question of hope was often raised. I think this was perhaps the first time in 10 years of visiting that no-one from the region even bothered to mention the so-called two-state solution. Instead people acknowledged the situation as one of stalemate, deadlock even, in political terms with a leadership on both sides unwilling and unable to make the moves necessary for peace. And yet, day by day, the circumstances on the ground alter and change or become embedded, meaning that the status quo is in a constant state of flux.
In the midst of all of this, when you ask the people if they have hope for the future, they tend to say no, meaning that there is no solution on offer. That lack of solution or even vision seems to stultify and paralyse. I remember a psychologist friend of mine once telling me how, in work with clients who had been abused or mistreated in some way, it was impossible to do any emotional work with them if they were waiting for the outcome of a compensation claim. It was as if they needed to hold on to the hurt, anger, injustice until a tribunal of some kind had ruled it legitimate and worthy of restitution.
One of the many questions I am left with from this most recent visit to the Middle East is, can you separate out hope and solutions, so that one is not dependent on the other. There are obviously big questions about where any workable solution will come from, but where can people of faith and goodwill find hope in the midst of the misery and deadlock and vilification? Further, is it possible to retain hope and not be seen as either delusional or a collaborator?
Desmond Tutu says: "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” I can testify that I have met people of light in the last week, who have inspired me with their lack of bitterness and generous hospitality. They have reminded me that peace, justice and reconciliation are not abstract concepts for the classroom, the courtroom or the mediation table. They are embodied in lives lived and love shared and forgiveness and friendship offered.