A Conversation on Hope: Alika Galloway

February 25, 2018
Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen
Rev. Dr. Alika Galloway

Psalm 65; Romans 12:9-18

Hart-Andersen: I’m pleased to welcome our good friend Alika Galloway back to Westminster once again, she was here just last month. Today we’re here to continue our Lenten conversation about hope. Alika is co-pastor, with her husband Ralph, of Liberty Church here in Minneapolis. We are grateful for our partnership with that congregation. Thank you, Alika, for being with us.

Galloway: So glad to be here.

Hart-Andersen: In preparing this Lenten series on hope I was reminded that the Book of Psalms is chock full of it. Even the psalms of lament – those passionate cries of the heart where all seems lost and the world has come crashing down on the poet – even they eventually offer a word of hope.

Hope is never far from the Hebrew psalmist. When circumstances press in and push down and tear apart, somehow, the psalmist always finds a way to hope. “When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,” the psalmist says, “….You answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 65:3, 5)

Hope is our constant companion, it’s the lens with which we look at the world. Wherever we go we take hope with us

When I’m with someone facing dire circumstances, a terrible diagnosis, an unwanted transition, or a bleak future, the most important thing I can offer them is hope. Yes, referrals to social services or a good doctor or lawyer are helpful, but people in dire circumstances need more than that. They need something intangible to help them face the road ahead. When the way forward is not clear, the human spirit needs encouragement, and hope provides it.

Alika, how does hope play a part in your ministry as a pastor?

Galloway: It is vital to us, Tim. It is as if life and death…because hope encourages us and enable us…it empowers us to face another day. And not only face the circumstances which surrounds another day…not just with us personally but with us as a community. Hope unborn is often our reality. And yet there is a deeper reality than that. It is with the power and the possibility of God.

Hart-Andersen: Alika, so much of your ministry is with people who have little reason to hope. I am struck by what the Apostle Paul tells the church in Rome to “rejoice in hope.” That’s a curious juxtaposition: to rejoice, to praise God, to sing with joy, all while you’re hanging on to hope. It seems like he kind of has it backwards. We usually save our rejoicing for when what we are hoping for actually happens. But Paul tells us to start rejoicing early, when we are still in the hoping stage and the outcome is not yet known. You may be in dire straits, but praise God anyway. You may be facing an intractable situation where you’re on the losing end and there’s nothing you can do about it, but sing with joy anyway, because of the hope you have.

It’s not that easy. Being hopeful doesn’t always give rise to joy so readily. I think the Apostle Paul is stretching it a bit. Sometimes anger and fear get in the way. And sometimes we simply cling to hope because everything else has slipped away. There’s not much joy in that. And you find that in your ministry all the time.

Galloway: It is all around us, it’s 24/7, as our young people say. And I am reminded of an ancient story where right in the moment before the abolitionist’s moment happens, Frederick Douglas is very upset and he has given up hope, essentially. He says, “This is never going to happen, my people are never going to be free, I’m not going to be able to go on this way.” And in the back of the room, as it was recorded, by then Frederick Douglas is weeping and shaking and on his knees (and I feel like that sometimes when I look at what the world has offered all of us in this present day.) But the story goes on to say that right in the middle of the room stood a 6 ft. tall woman with a very deep voice, and it happened to be Sojourner Truth. She tells Frederick Douglas this, as he’s weeping and shaking and other people in the room are saying it’s impossible. Sojourner Truth looks at Frederick and says, “Frederick.” And he says, “Yes, Sojourner?” “Is God dead?” And that was the energy that encouraged Frederick Douglas to get up and hope for another day, to hope for the impossible. So hope then becomes our fuel. It becomes our gas. It becomes our ability to rejoice. It becomes our energy. And as we approach that mindfully, not ignorantly, not without anticipation, but knowing that God is yet alive and as our confessions say, in life and in death we belong to God.

Hart-Andersen: Hopelessness has both personal and social dimensions. Oftentimes we can do something about our personal circumstances, but rarely can we effect change on a societal level.

Watching high school students advocating for sensible gun control after the latest school shooting may end up being a lesson in how little we can do to bring about quick change. But it’s also a lesson in how hope never dies. We’ve been in this place before where we felt like the gun violence was at a tipping point and now was a time for change. And the galvanizing that seems to be happening now, we hope will bring change but it may not. And this possibility may slip away again. But those young people are reminding us that hope never dies. It may go dormant for a time but hope will still lie there and rise and have its way. Those students are teaching us that even with the odds stacked against meaningful change, hope encourages us to get up and try. And try again. And try once more, until hope is realized.

Alika, in James Weldon Johnson’s beautiful anthem there’s a line about hope, and it connects it to rejoicing like the Apostle Paul does.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.

It’s difficult to see how the present has brought us much hope in the arena of racial justice. Disparities are only getting worse. Rates of black unemployment and imprisonment are disproportionately high, while school success and income are disproportionately low. And there doesn’t seem to be much political will to help improve the situation.

Can you sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Alika?

Galloway: I think we must sing it. Just like our ancestors before us, sing a song that is ancient, we must sing it because that last phrase in that stanza is ‘Let us march on until victory is won.’ It doesn’t say that it will be immediate, but we have to continue to march as our ancestors marched in 1963. It was the Children’s March that finally broke the back of segregation. It was when the children marched. So our hope resides in our babies, our hope will reside with who is in our neighborhood, it resides within our hearts and even those of us who have been stained by disappointment have to join our young people in this march for justice, in this march for equality, for their lives. All of us read the newspaper and some of us adults have been tainted. But we don’t have the right to take away their hope. We must march with them.

Hart-Andersen: Amen. Another line in that poem:

“Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chast’ning rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?”…

There is a rhythm of hope.

Galloway: There is a rhythm of hope and there is an obligation for hope. I find, and Tim and I have been talking a lot about this, and I’ve been telling everybody that I can tell, go see the movie Black Panther. How many of you have seen it? Everybody raise your hands, even if you’re lying. Just raise your hands…because you’re gonna see it, I know you are, and I’m hopeful that you’re gonna see it.

At the time where our President has said that these nations are…uh-huh…all of the sudden you see a movie that is now number one, a movie that is now one of the top grossing movies in the world, that celebrates the greatness that has come out of the African continent. Whether it is Marvel-ized or not, it doesn’t matter, that greatness is real. That greatness is still standing. That greatness is still standing among us. And all of you are African, all of you that is where your ancestors came from. So it is our movie. It is our movie and it is about us.

That is where our hope comes from…that divine intercession comes at a time when we most anticipate it and then all of the sudden it is here. That is why we hold on to it. That is why Paul says we can’t live as a people without it. We must have it.

Hart-Andersen: Alika, I didn’t see many hands go up when you asked about the movie. Let me explain a bit about Black Panther, I know you’re all going to go see it now. It’s a story of a fictional African civilization, it’s from Marvel comics. It’s called Wakanda. Wakanda is kind of a hidden nation. It presents itself to the world as a third world country experiencing poverty and struggling. Actually, underneath that is this glorious, complex, technological civilization way more advanced than the rest of the world has ever seen. The movie is the story of the coming out of Wakanda to the rest of the world and the struggles that are around that.

Alika and I have been talking about this movie and the experience of the movie. When we went there, it was opening night, it was a big crowd at the theatre. It was the most diverse movie-going crowd I’d ever seen. And, in fact, the impact of that movie, for me personally, wasn’t so much the film, but what happened in the community that showed up together to see it. There were young folks, older folks, and in between folks. There were Black kids and Latinos and Asians…it was America who had come to see that film. We got there and there was a big crowd and so I asked Beth to get in line for the popcorn and I went up to wait outside the theatre to get close to the door. It was packed and there was one place to sit down and I needed to sit down because of my knees. There was a bench and there was room for one person on the bench because the rest of the bench was taken up by a great big, young, African American guy about 20-years old with a hat pulled down low over his eyes. Not the type of guy I would typically sit next to. You know how it is the things we carry along in ourselves about others. Well, I sat down next to him and I was there about a minute and he turns to me and he says, “Are you into Marvel?” Of course I had no idea what he was talking about so I said, “Yeah…I’m into Marvel.” And then we proceeded for twenty minutes or so in that crowd to have this conversation about Marvel comics and the characters and about Wakanda and about that crowd that was gathered there that day and that was what we talked most about..look at who is around us! And right there on that bench, right outside the movie, hope welled up between the two of us…Alika?…

Galloway: Actually I was lost in your description because that is what happened to me. So, I went to the movie with my daughter and son-in-law and their Chatty Cathy daughter. And so, next to me, we were in a long row, next to me was a whole bunch of white males in their 20’s. And Inara was sitting next to me and now I figured it out, they did that intentionally so that they could watch the movie and Inara and I could talk. I don’t know much about Marvel…you don’t get that in seminary. And so Inara was asking me questions I could not answer. So about halfway through or maybe early on, the 20-year olds started laying on my lap so that they could talk to Inara. So Inara would say, “Neema, is it this and this and this and this…” and I would say, “Inara, honey, I don’t know.” I didn’t want to lie to my grandchild ‘cuz I was threatening to make it up. So they said, “Look Neema, because they were hearing her call me Neema, and those young white men began to instruct Inara about the movie. For me, that is what hope looks like. That would not have happened maybe 10 or 15 years ago. But there is a new world rising up…it is rising up, it is rising up. An our young people get it. We are the ones who are far behind. And now we can begin to lay on Neema’s lap and begin to talk to a six-year old. Now I’m giving this part away but y’all hear me now…don’t get up when the movie looks like it is going to end. Don’t do it. Because Marvel always hides something in the end. We were all getting ready to get up and they said, “Neema, Kevin, Aisha, and Inara…don’t get up, don’t get up! Something else is coming.” And I say that not only to prepare you for the movie, but don’t get up! Something else is coming! Hope is coming. It is alive. Don’t get up! The credits look like they’ve come but God has a surprise. Don’t get up. We’re still here.

Hart-Andersen: Alika, we went back to see the movie again because we got up the first time.

Biblical hope is like that. It resides within us even though we might not be aware of it. And it takes an experience such as, in this case, cultural entertainment, it takes that experience to free it. It takes the experience of young people who know in their hearts they have inherited this hope. Biblical hope is inherited hope. It comes from the Hebrew people who were in bondage and they hoped for 400 years and they were led out to the freedom of the land of promise. That same hope is born along with the prophets  who spoke to the poor in the world and the abandoned that God would not abandon them. And then Jesus who came not to just one people but to all the people as living hope. And that is our inheritance as people of faith. And it is incumbent upon us to bear that , to remember that, to share it, and to bring it forth into the world.

Alika, you all do that so well in North Minneapolis with women of color, with children who are suffering from the disparity in our educational system. Thank you for that.

Galloway: You are welcome. It is, hopefully, my legacy. Because I’m the hope and the dream of the slave. I stand here with grandparents who maybe went to second grade. Most of them were domestics. And now I stand with a Doctorate…I am the hope and the dream of the slaves. They didn’t get to do it but they got to pass it on to me. And it is that legacy that we all must pass on to each other. If you are not Native American, then you are immigrants in this country. And someone came here out of hope for a better world. And now we must pass that legacy on as Christians. It is our obligation. Paul says don’t live as a people without hope. And Jesse Jackson…remember when he ran for President? What was his line? Keep hope alive.

Hart-Andersen: Alika, you do that for us at Westminster and you do that for a lot of people and we give you thanks. Thank you for being with us today.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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