When I was in the second grade, I spent an afternoon playing at a friend’s home across town from where my family lived. At supper that evening, I recounted all the things I had seen, the size of my friend’s home, his family’s possessions. I asked my father why our house was so much smaller, why we didn’t have the things I had seen at my friend’s house?
Daddy answered, laughing, “That family’s rich. They can afford to live in a big house, to have a lot.”
“So what, aren’t we rich?” I asked.
“No, Michael,” he said exasperatedly. “We’re poor and we’ll always be poor. Open your eyes so you can see the world as it really is.”
What Daddy said shocked me. From that time on, I began to look at my surroundings and family situation differently. I increasingly did not like what I saw and experienced.
Reading Opens the Mind
A long-standing joke in my family states that someone made a great mistake in teaching me to read, which I learned to do at a very early age. I fell in love with books and the worlds they opened to me. Aunt Anita James played an important role in my developing fascination with novels. By the time I was in Junior High School, I read adult books from the two libraries in LaGrange. Mother, to her everlasting credit, told both librarians to let me check out whatever I wanted to read. This authorization came about when one of the librarians initially refused to let me have a copy of Forever Amber. To this day, I would much rather read a good novel than watch the best programs available on TV.
Some of my childhood friends thought I was weird: I read a lot and enjoyed discussing sermons I heard in various churches around LaGrange. My new way of looking at reality, the exciting worlds opened to me through books, and what I learned in church all profoundly affected me. The rhythm and focus of my life, my view of reality, seemed different from my family and friends. I became impatient to leave LaGrange and seek a new life. I didn’t want to be poor, although I knew I could not pursue a life whose purpose was only to accumulate wealth. I needed a career that would fascinate me, a career that had intrinsic worth.
Choosing a Career
Athletics and music were quickly discarded as careers. I never heard a call to the ministry: When I was told that the ministry involved both comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, I knew that only one aspect interested me. Academics were my strong point. I became entranced with science at LaGrange High School, although I never lost my love of novels and the desire to write. A career in science met my requirements on several levels.
From the time Andrea and I married, I never felt poor again. We went through some extremely lean years while I was in graduate school, even with Andrea working. The subsequent years of my postdoctoral fellowship in New York, when our first daughter was born, were also financially difficult. Our finances thereafter improved incrementally and steadily until we left academia: The financial pressures moderated when I became a corporate warrior.
I once remarked to Andrea that I knew we were financially poor during those early lean years but that I had not felt poor. She immediately responded, “That’s because we were hopeful!” As usual, Andrea defined the important issue.
The Richness of Hope
We will light the Christ Candle in many of our churches and homes on Christmas Eve. With the lighting of this candle, we come to the end of Advent by celebrating the birth of the Christ Child and his redeeming power of salvation. The old revival hymn speaks the truth: Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Hope in Christ fundamentally characterizes the Community of Believers. Through hope, we believe in God as Parent, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our belief transcends without contradicting our attempts to comprehend the physical world through the prism of scientific knowledge. Hope propels us forward to new life. We live, we serve, and we die within the Community of Believers because we have hope in Christ. Our hope, which is tangible rather than abstract, feels like the first stirrings of the child within a mother’s womb. Who cannot thrill to such hope and promise?
Blessings to everyone. May we all live in the joyful hope of Christmas as the prelude to Easter.