Volume 4, Issue 7, May 1996


We are living at a time of great pessimism in our society. These are not cheerful times but unsettled and uncertain. There is a great deal of distrust and disloyalty among us.

This is not a new experience for people. In fact, there have been many times worse. Nothing could have seemed more distressing than the tyranny of Cromwell and the Long Parliament in the 17th century England. Churches were destroyed and people's freedom suspended. It was in this time a layperson, Sir Robert Shirley, did an extraordinary thing: he built a church, one which stands to this day in Leicestershire. For his pains he was imprisoned and died in prison. Later this inscription was placed over the entrance to the old church:

In the year 1653
When all things were throughout
ye nation
Either demolished or profaned
Sir Robert Shirley, baronet
Founded this church
Whose singular praise it is
To have done the best things
in ye worst times and
Hoped them in the most calamitous.

Christianity is an ultimate optimism founded upon a provisional pessimism. Pessimism comes and goes. It is provisional, temporary, changing. Optimism has to do with belief, faith, and hopefulness. It is persistent and eternal. Hope and faith belong together.

In 1487 an explorer named Bartholomew Dias sailed along the west coast of Africa. He had gone further south than any sailor before him. Finally he came upon a great promontory. He named it, "The Cape of Storms."

That is what it was to him. While he was there he had to battle high winds and waves. He did not see what he had hoped to see, a new, rich paradise. When he later reported back to king John II of Portugal, his sponsor, the king saw the possibility of this being a sea route to India, which explorers of the time were trying to find. The king renamed the promontory "The Cape of Good Hope." This was only a hope, as yet unfulfilled.

But, in 1497, a decade later, Vasca da Gama, followed through on this hope and discovered the way to India. The hope was fulfilled.

And so we pray at the beginning of the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come", and then turn around at the end and say, "Thine is the kingdom."
Jesus showed us the Cape of Good Hope, and the future is ours.

Camping in Algonquin Park taught me a lesson about growth and change. A forester showed me a small growth of deciduous trees growing in the shade of a pine forest. He pointed out the pines were maturing and beginning to die. He said that as the pines die their space will be taken by the young deciduous undergrowth and a new and different forest will develop.

In community old institutions mature and die. Social changes take place; new organizations come into being. Christianity is being challenged to form not only new ministries for a new age, but to begin to forge a new consciousness of the meaning of freedom and responsibility. Freedom is the opposite of fear, which is a state of mind among so many of us today. For free men and women such phrases as the sacredness of the individual and the sanctity of the imagination will be more than cliches. For them parables are more meaningful than laws, illustrations more helpful than rules. If the spirit of revival is moving amongst us, well and good, for we shall then renew our strength, mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.

The realm of God is growing in our midst, ready to make our world new.

Indeed, our faith is an ultimate optimism founded upon a provisional pessimism.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.