Dangerous, Rebellious Hope (Part 3 of 3)

“Why do we have a winner? Hope. Hope. Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is a good thing. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” —President Snow, “The Hunger Games” Movie

The Hope series (Cheap, Crappy Hope; Passive, Boring Hope) actually grew out of the idea for this third post—the idea of dangerous hope. I was sitting in a theater, watching The Hunger Games, watching the ruthless President Snow reflect on how “a little hope” keeps people subjugated  but too much hope brings the danger of rebellion. I started thinking about how so many great stories begin with (noun)hope, a hope that changes the protagonist, giving the character the courage to fight for freedom from tyranny and oppression. In the best stories, hope gives rise to a rebellion. In the best stories, hope is dangerous to the powers-that-be. And it occurred to me that in our most cherished stories, the rebellion is always fueled by one particular kind of flame: Love. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading about Narnia, or Mordor, or Hogwarts, or Panem, or the Dark Tower, or Jerusalem—love is always the final word in hope-full, transformational, redemptive rebellion…

You may have heard of The Hunger Games?

The story depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which a fragment of the population—the Capitol, led by President Snow—rules the rest of the population in twelve outlying districts. The Capitol appears to rule by brute force, but President Snow understands the true secret of the Capitol’s tenuous hold upon the districts: a delicate balance of hope. Each year, the balance of hope is maintained by staging the Hunger Games—a televised death-game in which two children from each district compete to survive, with only one coming home alive. This one child maintains the balance of hope, representing to the people the most meager hope of survival. Meanwhile, in the opulent Capitol, the people are anesthetized by the cheap hope of abundance and trends and entertainment. President Snow understands that the extremes of human experience—bare survival and gross prosperity—can be used to subjugate people and to maintain power.

You see, cheap-little hope keeps us oblivious to the possibility of big, brilliant hope, the kind that brings transformation and a hunger for freedom. So, numb the people with the pursuit of comfort and trinkets and thoughtless happiness. Give some of them drugs to make life more pleasurable, to help them escape the pain, to make the confusion of existence feel a bit more manageable. Give others philosophy and theology, so they can satisfy themselves with thinking about hope, rather than living it. Give them a little hope, yes, that is a good thing, a feeble spark by which to warm their souls, because the soul needs at least a little warmth. But keep it contained, because the flame of real hope is dangerous to the status quo.

When we are transformed by hope into a people who forsake the shackles of self-preservation for the freedom of a redemptive life, we give rise to a rebellion against a world hell-bent on keeping us preoccupied with survival, and competition, and wealth, and power. As it turns out, hope isn’t an escape from the dangers of living; hope creates dangerous living.

To live hopefully is to live heroically.

What does this act of heroism look like? How do we rebel against a world in which the very ingredients of rebellion—strength, power, wealth, influence, and violence—are the strings upon which we already dance? Has the game been rigged? Is any kind of authentic rebellion even possible?

Near the end of her first year, my daughter reminded me there is one other ingredient of rebellion, and it’s more powerful than all others combined.

We were sitting at the breakfast table. She had just thrown a bowl of oatmeal on the floor, not out of malice but, I think, simply to watch it splatter. Nevertheless, for the first time in her new life, I was angry at her. I picked her up, looked her in the eye, and I harshly communicated my anger. I tried to subjugate her with fear and shame. (I’m not proud of this.) And that’s when my precious little thing looked at me, and she staged a rebellion. She didn’t slap at my face, or start crying, or let out a rebel-scream. Instead, her eyes shimmered with tears, and she leaned into me. She slid her head underneath my chin, she gently squeezed the back of my neck, and she sighed softly.

My daughter leaned in with love.

She gently declined my game of power and selfishness and violent escalation.

Is this how daddies end up wrapped around little fingers? Is this how a world might end up wrapped around the little finger of a love-rebellion? Is this kind of love—the kind that is not about romance but about sacrifice and given-ness, not about warm feelings but about the dangerous life opened up to hardship and pain—the hot-flame of rebellion?

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a threat to the balance of crummy hope. She threatens to give the people a burning hope, not because she’s a survivor (although she is), and not because she is immune to the seduction of opulence. She is a threat because she loves. Not romantically, but sacrificially. She loves her sister enough to take her place in the Games. She has an abiding gratitude for the sacrifice of her companions, which cracks open a sacrificial love for them, as well. And she loves freedom enough to defy the Capitol through her own death and destruction. President Snow has stumbled upon a young girl whose character has been transformed in such a way that she is free of the Capitol’s system of oppressive hope, and her freedom gives her the power to love.

Don’t we live in a kind of Hunger Games? Isn’t the world organized around a competition for survival and wealth? Might we become a people so transformed by hope that we forsake the oppressive hope of meager survival or abundant wealth for the rebellion of a sacrificial kind of love? When the angry man in the car next to us has spittle flying and middle fingers waving, might we lean in with love—a gentle smile and a slowing down and a yielding to him? When the cashier in the checkout lane is treating us like trash, might we lean in with love—wondering about her story, expressing our appreciation for her life and her service? When our children are ready for a showdown about the broccoli, might we lean in with love—giving them a choice and aching with them when they don’t get dessert? When our spouses are ready to duel about upright toilet seats or how to celebrate the holidays or who is contributing more to the relationship, might we lean in with love—opening our ears and our hearts to the pain too deep to express? When we feel shame, and all of our doubts and insecurities are churned up and everything in us says to run and hide, might we lean in with love—entering into the vulnerability of our brokenness and finding connection there?

Lean in with love.

And fan the flames of rebellion against a world determined to keep you preoccupied with survival and prosperity. Lean in with love, knowing the danger of it, knowing you may not get any love in return, knowing the world will try to put down your rebellion with strength and power and violence. But lean in, knowing your hope has prepared your character for all of it, and knowing the freedom you have been seeking can be realized only in the arms of a sacrificial, self-forsaking, open-armed kind of rebel-blaze.

What’s Your Story: Have you ever leaned in with love, when you were tempted to do violence? Or has anyone every surprised you by leaning in with love? What did that act of rebellion look like? Please feel free to share your story, or any other thoughts, in the comments below. If you are reading this by e-mail or RSS feed, and you would like to comment on, or share, this post, click here to go to the blog. 

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Photo Credit: Photo taken from the following website, http://wallpapersa.blogspot.com/p/fire-wallpapers.html

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Catharine Phillips

    What a wonderful image. Thank you. It is so easy to think of all the times I have not done this: Lean in with love. Again, what a wonderful image. Still, I know how transformative it can be when I am the recipient of such love. I can name a few times when I have tried to offer such love… but it doesn*t seem to be mine to name those as successful, if that*s even the right word, Such things, I think, are for the recipient to name (like you just did, receiving that love from your daughter)..

  • Victoria

    I am new to your posts but want to say thanks. Your contributions to the Kingdom are incredibly powerful! I am better, more hope-full, for having read them.

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  • Jen Street

    Thank you for putting into words the story of my heart, transformed over the past year but the unfailing love and hope that only loving Christ brings.

    • Jen Street

      *by lol

      • drkellyflanagan

        We knew what you meant. 😉 Thanks for sharing, Jen!

  • Cari

    I want to share just a little portion of all that I am thinking about, after having read this wondrous article ( which I shall with everyone I can, by the way.) I think of how often this “leaning in with love’ can be so often mis understood and rejected by the recipient. In my life, when I have been able to do this very thing you speak of, the recipients (and some observers) seem to view me as weak, or just flat out dumb. I know better. However, it is still hurtful.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Wow, Cari, that is right on. Leaning in with love makes little sense unless we feel ourselves held up and sustained by a bigger Hope. Maybe it’s supposed to hurt when we do it and no one understands. That might be just what makes it a sacrificial kind of love. Blessings, as you continue to lean in.

  • keenasira

    Kelly… well done. I find your blogs incredibly thoughtful and poignant. If I were writing these blogs, they wouldn’t be much different. The ability to “lean-in” is too scary for most people in relationships. It means, to some, that they must become vulnerable and believe, albeit mistakenly, that we must give up our power and labeled “weak.” In fact, the exact opposite is true…that vulnerability is empowerment. We become fearful with the “what if” questions because most of us have been conditioned to fear losing… when in reality, we should be “losers” fearless of leaning-in.