Replace “Hope” with “Perseverance”- A Tool to Combat Both a Pandemic and Racism!

Replace Hope with Perseverance-  A Tool to Combat Both a Pandemic and Racism!

This reflection introduces the idea of replacing the language of “Hope” for improvement with the value of “Perseverance” in the current setting of 2 very chronic and trying conditions- a protracted Pandemic as well as ongoing Systemic Racism.

This concept is presented by two scholars, Reverend William H. Lamar IV- pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, and Anthony Pinn, professor of religion and the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University.

Reverend Lamar first introduces this concept in his  Interview with NPR about his “Watch Night” sermon to welcome the new year 2021.

The “Watch Night” service dates back to January of 1863, when the night before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Black congregations held overnight vigils and prayers.  This service is still celebrated by many African American churches as a transition into the New Year.    For the congregation at Metropolitan A.M.E. church- this service had special significance after the difficult 2020 year when the congregation dealt with both the crisis of the pandemic as well as the crisis of systemic racism.  Just one month prior to the “Watch Night” service, Metropolitan, along with Asbury United Methodist, were the targets of a violent rally affiliated with the Proud Boys. The two churches’ prominent Black Lives Matter signs were torn down and destroyed.

Reverend Lamar framed his service to point out that 2020 “did nothing to us”. 

He states: “The most egregious things that happened were because of our own systemic racism, because of our own refusal to challenge capitalism, because of our own refusal to grant universal health care.  2020 did not do that to us; the American refusal to treat human beings as human beings did that to us.  …this is God’s vision, and we have agency. We can make the new world if we move in this direction.” (and work to correct these issues).

As many in his congregation were looking for hope, Reverend Lamar challenged his congregation with a reflection on the meaning of Hope:  “One of the things that I’ve been struggling with is the language of hope. And I think that many of us – we perceive hope as waiting for God to do something for us.  But hope is always an enlistment of human beings to co-create the new world alongside God.  Anthony Pinn talks about the grammar of hope needing to be replaced with the language of perseverance.  I don’t know that I want to completely remove hope, but perseverance calls us into the fight, into the beautiful struggle.”

Anthony Pinn, as referenced by Reverend Lamar, first introduced the value and satisfaction derived from Perseverance in his discussion of the Greek mythological story of Sisyphus.

As the story goes- Sisyphus was given an eternal punishment by the gods of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back every time he arrived at the top.  You would think that this punishment would make Sisyphus defeated, however he continues the task with full awareness of his circumstance.  Sisyphus can choose to feel defeated, however Pinn points out that Sisyphus simply concludes that “all is well…the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Pinn asks the question: “So, why not just surrender and assume this is the end of things as we’ve known them? Why struggle to make improvements? Why work against the spread of this virus? Why attempt to safeguard life in such uncertain times?   Simply because we can and not because we are sure (or even likely) to find victory or the fulfillment of our efforts.”

Pinn concludes: “We struggle with our own task, work against the threat of this virus, but as Sisyphus we should do this (continue our efforts) simply because we can.  COVID-19, some day, will withdraw—and we will leave our homes again, gather with family and friends.  But the virus won’t be gone, the threat is ever present.  Things are “well” not because the threat has been tamed, but because we persist. We should work to make life better, and in so doing we imagine ourselves, like Sisyphus, happy.” – Anthony Pinn

Both scholars see the value of Perseverance and how it can be applied to our continual combat against both the Pandemic and Systemic Racism.  Neither problem is going away soon, but hopefully we can find a sense of happiness in the effort of the struggle.

-Mark Elliott, MD, MBA

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