Hope Is a Map

Reflecting on Practices of Cultivating Hope

Editors Note: Each month, Bearings contributors offer insights on a key theme in the practice of life-as-ministry. As the final installment in the issue, The BTS Center’s scholar-in-residence Pamela Shellberg, PhD reflects on the articles in the issue and poses questions for further reflection by Bearings readers and the communities in which life-as-ministry plays out for them.


  • What is the character of hope? What do you mean when you say you have hope? (This is hope in an interior way.)
  • What does hope look like? What does hope do or accomplish? (This is hope in an exterior way.)
  • How do you cultivate hope?

In the new Bearings year, we’ve been orienting ourselves according to the idea that “map is not territory.” A map gives us a certain perspective on a territory, certain ways of accessing a territory. But it is not, of course, the whole of the territory. Things aren’t entirely to scale. And, a different map would highlight different realities.

For the first issue in our new magazine format, we’ve taken practices of cultivating hope as maps to the territory of the changing church in a changing world. All of the month’s articles approached the challenge of cultivating hope by remapping realities that have seemed—since forever in the minds of some—fixed and unchanging. The new maps traced by our contributors Corinna Guerrero, Loren McGrail, and Lawrence Richardson place hope within some kind of political or cultural matrix—protest against the violence of nationalism and white supremacy; Arab Palestinians’ and Palestinian Christians’ protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestine; and childhood trauma of poverty, mental illness, homelessness, and abuse. Along the way, hope itself becomes the trail we aim to follow through rocky, uncertain terrain.

What do these maps reveal about the content and character of hope?

On what map or point on the cultural matrix is the question of hope most pressing or vexing for you?

Each of the authors, by the end of their pieces, have also located hope on a theological and spiritual matrix or map. They locate, for instance, “a choice to follow the Cross above the false idols of political parties, supremacy, and nationalism.” They make claims that “we stand where God stands and we join God’s mission for another world.” They link us to our ancestors, remembering that “The same God who walked with those who came before is the same God who walks with us now.”

What do these maps reveal about the content and character of hope?

On what map or point on your spiritual matrix is the question of hope located?

Consider the ways the authors’ have suggested for cultivating hope. What does each one offer you? Which challenge your idea of hope? Which expand it?

  • Adopt Hope’s daughters, Anger and Courage.
  • Do what the prisoners and the jobless do.
  • Hope must be cultivated and conditioned.
  • Go to the places of suffering and struggle, to the garden of broken shadows.
  • But there were small, concrete practices that, in time, added up to hope.
  • Hope challenges powers and principalities.
  • … safer, more compassionate environments promote the kind of hopeful optimism that comes from being loved.

What is the relationship between cultivating hope and preparing your spirit for God’s work in the world?

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Cover photo: Don Ross, III, “World.” Via Unsplash. CC2.0 license. Recolored, cropped.

Inside photo: Ron Smith, “There is Always Hope.” Via Unsplash. CC2.0 license.

Pamela Shellberg

Dr. Pamela Shellberg is the Scholar-in-Residence at The BTS Center, crafting “Course Corrections,” a program for imaginatively responding to changes in the church and in life based on the biblical template of Paul’s life and writings. During the 2015-16 academic year, Pam was the visiting professor of New Testament studies at Andover Newton Theological School, jointly appointed by ANTS and The BTS Center. She is the author of Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts: Purity and Healing in Luke-Acts (Fortress Press, 2015). A teacher in schools for lay ministry in the Maine Conference of the UCC and the New England Synod of the ELCA, she thinks and writes about the metaphors in poetry, art, and music as lenses for bible reading and as tools for interpretation. Pam may be reached via e-mail.

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