I count myself among the many in my generation of mainline Christians and theologians, raised in the US, who may be seen as the inheritors of the Moltmannian promise of the reign of God, and of the varied expressions of this promise which from it flowed. Insofar as we have had this promise written upon our hearts, many of us have also faced our own delayed parousia as a result. Utopia has not been realized. Justice is not established in all the earth. Many of us feel as if we live in the shadow of the frustrated hopes and aspirations of those who came before us.
Some of our congregants are turning to (or back to) white nationalism and other racist ideologies for answers to, and explanations of, their pain, allowing neofascist movements to be the authors and authorities of their hope. These forces are casting for them new visions and dreams of a “greatness” that is to be yet “again.” These hopes require strong beliefs in quite dangerous ideological frames. They are leading Christian people to create concentration camps for refugees and to open fire in Black churches, in synagogues and in grocery stores.
Some among us have turned from the world all together, insulating ourselves from the fear, the pain, the violence, and the rhetoric that continues to flare up all around us. It is easier to lose ourselves in TV or movies, entertainment or work. Perhaps we lose ourselves in drugs. It is easier to turn off and tune out, so we do not have to feel the call to responsibility or enter into the anxiety and the pain that compassion so often demands. We reject faith, hope, and love, in exchange for a new opiate: escape into self-isolation. We arrive at a time not unlike Bloch’s Germany: How do we hope? How do we hope so that all might live?
This book intends to be a small contribution to a larger conversation about hope. It also intends to be useful for pastors and church-builders as well as those who work in community organizing and movement building. Such work depends upon hope and spiritual strength, whatever dogma one does or does not believe. My desire is that this book might be a source of hope, hunger, and desire for a better life, especially for those who skew agnostic or atheist, for those who are belief-fluid, and for those (like me) who find it hard to believe.
Praise for An Unpromising Hope
“Thomas Gaulke has crafted a striking text that shows his ingenuity as both a theologian and a creative artist. With mastery, he raises questions about unbelief that Christian believers are called to consider as we live in a world with myriad ways of understanding the big questions of life. His insight leads the reader to consider the ways that all lives are part of an ecosystem that is beyond the boundaries of the beingness of humans and other living things. Provocative. Essential reading for these times of un-hope and hope.”
—Linda E. Thomas, Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
“Thomas Gaulke’s exploration of hope is exactly what is needed in the church today. He weaves together a variety of frameworks for finding and defining hope with brilliant insights and a pastoral heart. As a person of faith who sometimes finds herself despairing, this book is balm for my soul. I can’t wait to share Gaulke’s work with the people I serve.”
—Laila Barr, Pastor of Lifelong Learning, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, Prior Lake, Minnesota
“An Unpromising Hope stands squarely at the intersection of rich scholarship and deep pastoral insight. Gaulke enters into a global conversation of theologians and philosophers to explore the questions of hope and hopelessness that are felt so powerfully in contemporary churches and, crucially, at their margins.”
—Marvin E. Wickware Jr., Assistant Professor of Church and Society and Ethics, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
“Two questions guide Thomas Gaulke’s book: Where might we look for hope outside of promise? Where might we find hope for an agnostic church and for those of us who find it hard to believe? In different ways, Gaulke shows us how hope is possible in a space that is, perhaps, closer to the gospel—that is closer to Jesus—than the frail forms of hope we hear everywhere. Against a Christian tradition that seals the promise to a few and circumscribes hope to a proper belief, Gaulke shows us that hope is only possible where hope is not given. The Thomas of this book shadows the Thomas of the Gospel, and the results are strikingly close. Both of them have had a hard time believing, but both have also touched Jesus. Don’t be mistaken: this is a mighty book!”
—Cláudio Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
“Theologies of ‘hope’ have served to frame strong ethical imperatives toward activism for many decades now; however, in an increasingly broken world, we have long needed a more grittily realistic appraisal of how faith can coexist alongside work for justice. Not only does Thomas Gaulke’s book provide such an intensely searching and fearless appraisal of our prospects, but his unflinching realism exists—exuberantly—alongside a virtuoso demonstration of theological creativity and synthesis drawing on spatialized eschatologies, womanist ethics, and liberation narratives enshrined in both theology and popular culture. His book will be especially helpful for activists who are in need both of theological inspiration and of resilience in the absence of guarantees, and should marvelously disrupt theological conversations about hope, its limits, and its horizons in the years to come.”
—Robert Saler, Research Professor of Religion and Culture, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis
About the Author
Thomas R. Gaulke is a belief-fluid Lutheran pastor, serving in Chicago since 2009. Working in community, he has co-founded and collaborated with neighborhood groups across Chicagoland, working to shut down dangerous polluters and provide public transit. Occasionally co-teaching Public Church at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Tom is currently the pastor to Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Cicero.