And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love is contraband in Hell,
Cause love is an acid that eats away bars.
But you, me, and tomorrow
Hold hands and make vows that struggle will multiply.
The hacksaw has two blades.
The shotgun has two barrels.
We are pregnant with freedom.
We are a conspiracy.
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here?
What better time than now?
All hell can’t stop us now
Optimism is a drug administered by privilege that dulls the edge of living in hell.
When he says faith, hope, and love are all that remain, Paul isn’t giving a wedding homily. He’s either just out of jail or headed there again soon. When he was sitting in a dungeon, faith, hope, and love were quite literally all that he had left. He’s talking here about faith, as in “faithfulness,” a commitment to act as though we know how it ends. He’s talking about a hope that prays for the prison to start shaking instead of succumbing to defeatism. And he’s talking about a love that acted in solidarity with the others in the prison as EVERYONE’S chains fell off.
Contrary to much of today’s diluted discourse, not a damn one of those three things are feelings.
If we talk about what it means to have hope, or to be hopeful, we need look no further than Paul. His life was spent defying the world around him. He wrote half of his letters from jail, was stoned, exiled, and eventually beheaded by order of Nero. He knew that even though his life might end, that this was not THE end. Here we are 2000 years later, still standing on his shoulders to catch a glimpse of what Hope might look like.
I think Assata Shakur was really repeating Paul’s story back to us.
“We must love each other and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Che Guevara, like every revolutionary, understood how this changed the whole game. Love is the meaning-making from which revolutions occur inside the hearts of the participants. To love someone is to fight for and with them. Hope is a byproduct of the process.
Today’s conversations too often revert back to a reliance on incremental change, gradualism, and bringing people along slowly. In Spanish, the words for “wait” and “hope” are the same, but I think we need to expand our imagination. Being told that hoping and waiting are identical twins devastates our sense of agency, but hope and action are sisters. Faith without works is really not faith at all, and hope without action is surely delusional or dead. Very rarely do things just “turn out okay.” If you’ve ever watched a person needlessly die, you know how ridiculous it is to believe the moral arc of the universe is affected by some passive gravitational pull. The world is only a spectator sport to those who will never have their life bound up in the whims of the empire. The pundits are never in the arena.
The hope that this moment calls for is not anemic or trite or vapid. It is not optimism. It is not only realizing that things don’t need to be this way, but a refusal to let them stay this way. It is an acid, rooted in love, that eats prison bars. Like Mary, hope is pregnant with freedom and possibility. Our task is not to wait and watch from the wings of the Coliseum for the world to turn, but “to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone.” Faith, hope, and love are the only ways we can understand our place in this cosmic drama, but don’t delude yourself: they are all action words.
Ben Swihart is a community organizer, church consultant, writer, institutional pyrotechnician/arsonist, and slowly recovering perfectionist based in the Chicagoland area.