From the Rev. Sarah Monroe, Chaplains on the Harbor:
Hope Beyond Hope
Five years ago, I went to the Holy Land with the Bishop. We visited Bethlehem and we spent some time at the wall dividing Israel and Palestine. I snapped a picture of a spray painted message; in black paint, the scrawled words said “hope beyond hope.” Surrounded by a community, in that moment, that was reckoning with incredibly high poverty and unemployment and unrelenting dehumanization and military occupation, it was an apt message.
I took that picture back home with me to the streets of Aberdeen, where we also deal with record high unemployment and poverty rates. I have a young man in prison who has promised to spray paint that message on a sign for me to put up at our church community center.
Well before this epidemic, the community I am privileged to serve has faced unrelenting poverty, suffering, incarceration, and death. Today, things are worse. This Holy Week, we are watching the number of local virus cases rise, as in the rest of the country. If you are homeless, you are hard pressed to find a bathroom or a place to rest or even to charge your phone. Police all over town are telling people in makeshift campsites to move on and so they trek from one end of the city to another, increasing risk of contagion, exhausted, afraid. Hundreds of people lost their jobs in Westport when the shipyard closed their doors. Many of our people live without running water or electricity, unable to follow even the most basic recommendations of the CDC. Those of us who have loved ones in jails and prisons are terrified for their safety, as few safety measures are in place in institutions where people are crowded together and many are in high risk groups.
In this time, we at Chaplains on the Harbor have continued to feed people within state guidelines with our six meal programs a week. We have continued to check in on people. One of our outreach coordinators, Tracy, says; “We cast aside the risk of coronavirus, while following strict safety guidelines, so that we can be out there letting society’s castoffs know that each and everyone in this nation matters… We aren’t giving up on them, and that helps them not give up on themselves.”
The state has released funding to house people in hotels, but only once they become sick, not before. A lawsuit is underway in the Washington State Supreme Court, demanding the release of prisoners in high risk groups, and others are pushing for the release of all people held on bail (not convicted) or who have under a year to serve. Bishop Greg has called on Governor Jay Inslee to go further and to use empty hotels for the immediate sheltering of all homeless people in this pandemic.
The streets feel grim this Holy Week. Hope seems a little beyond my ability to conceive. People need so much more than they are given, than they have access to. We are facing a pandemic in a county where there are 59 hospital beds, 10 ventilators (they are working to double that), and two thousand homeless people with maybe 80 shelter beds. The small businesses already struggling are hitting breaking point. Essential workers in service sectors have almost no protections. The fragile lines that seem to have barely been holding us together are breaking.
But the guys and gals we keep in touch with in prison are still joking, still more worried about their families on the outside than themselves.
But Tracy and her crew continue to show up.
But we are breaking ground in a permanent farm location to grow food for the community.
But people are still helping each other on the streets, looking out for each other.
But women in the community are sewing masks for essential workers and hospital staff.
Hope beyond hope.
It’s not a cheery kind of hope, its not the American version of positivity that refuses to acknowledge the hard things, its not what popular psychologists tell us when they say “just be positive.”
It’s a hope deeply rooted in reality, a reality that is unbearable, a reality that is cruel beyond belief. A reality where people survive despite injustice, where people fight for life despite not getting their needs met in a world of plenty.
It’s a hope borne of love, the kind of love where people would die for each other, suffer with each other, the kind of love that is messy and broken, the kind of love that truly sees the face of God in another person.
It’s a hope borne of struggle, a hope that believes that, even when the odds are against you, you still fight and sometimes you win. Borne of a struggle for life and the means of life, every day. Borne of a struggle for what Jesus said he was about— having life and having it more abundantly.
In our faith, Jesus died this week. And, Jesus rises too, rises to hope beyond hope, rises to bring life to his people.
We have survived much and, for the poor of this country, this pandemic is just one more obstacle in the struggle for life, one more struggle in the endless struggle for life.
And all we can do here at Chaplains on the Harbor is spray paint the words “hope beyond hope” across our hearts.