Back when I was a fledging youth worker I used to have a toolbox of questions I could ask groups of teenagers to break the ice. None of the questions were particularly awe-inspiring, but a great way to get conversation flowing and mask my initial awkwardness.
One of my most-used queries was the heavily plagiarised inquiry, 'If you were stuck on a desert island, and could only have one book, album and film, what would they be?' What it lacked in originality, this question made up for in variety.
Yet, from the hundreds of times I asked this question, there was an overwhelming favourite choice of movie that resonated across a diverse group of teenagers: The Shawshank Redemption.
I remember once trying to understand why this film was so popular. There's not a lot of action, no romance and the male lead character isn't exactly a heart-throb (sorry, Tim Robbins).
It's filmed largely in a drab concrete prison, with pale lighting and an eye-startling lack of colour. There's no fast cars, no entrancing femme fatale, no Disney-esque theme song. The movie progresses at a slow pace, with no Michael Bay explosions to be seen. It is narrated by Morgan Freeman—always a treat—but there's something else that sparks Shawshank, and I think that one thing is hope.
The central conflict in this movie is between hope and despair. In this maximum security prison—a place that is devoid of hope, life and beauty—we are asked to watch the richness of human life as the prisoners dream of life beyond the walls.
We hear them remember past moments which are alive, enigmatic and electric, and then see others forbid such dreaming as futile and dangerous. Hope and despair lock horns and struggle throughout The Shawshank Redemption, connecting with our deepest human longings.
Faith, Something and Love
In Christian belief, there are often held up the big three bedrocks of theology: faith, hope and love.
Christians can wax eloquent about love. We know to turn to 1 Corinthians 13 and can often stutteringly quote that love is patient, kind, does not boast and a lot of other great stuff. We know stories of love, we highlight verses about love, we sing of love, we preach sermons on love. At the risk of creating a major syntactical sin: we love love. Christians and love are like middle-aged men and rugby—we may not be great at it, but we understand it quite well.
It's the same with faith. We know to flick to Hebrews 11. We hold up the great heroes of the faith and continually urge each other to a deeper faith. We talk of Peter walking on water, of David facing Goliath, of Mary believing the angel. Our story is a story full of faith, and again—often our lives echo the cry of the sick child's father before Jesus—'I believe; help my unbelief!'
Yet when it comes to hope, often the Christian Church becomes strangely silent. We don't have a familiar passage of Scripture to turn to, nor do we sing songs that centre on hope.
I have noticed many pastors and preachers can speak for hours on the impact of the cross, yet appear tongue-tied when asked to speak on the hope of the resurrection. We can do Good Friday well—but the hope of Easter Sunday often appears foreign. As a result, we become bilingual believers—fluent in love and faith, but ham-stringed when it comes to hope.
When I look at the world around me, I see a half-hope world. Advertisements dangle jingles of hope in front of us, yet this hope is merely temporal. The hope is for tomorrow, a hope of beauty and wealth, fulfilment and health. True hope—fulfilling hope—looks beyond the walls of immediacy and speaks of a future that is beyond our experience. This is a hope that is sorely lacking in the atmosphere today.
Quaking in Hope
In February 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near Christchurch, destroying much of the central city and ultimately causing 185 fatalities. A few days after the event, I flew into Christchurch and spent a brief period of time amidst the aftershocks. As I stepped off the plane, the level of despair in the air was palpable. People were shell-shocked, petrol stations were closed, and lives were in turmoil.
Yet, as I went to a church on Sunday, the vicar wisely asked us to begin by singing a song not of faith, nor of love—but one of hope. The small congregation stood and with shaking-yet-strong voices, sang with one voice:
'Greater things are yet to come
Greater things are still to be done, in this city'
It reminded me of the prophets of old, standing amidst the blood-stained rubble of Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed, and most of Israel had been slain or dragged off into slavery. Yet among the death and despair, these Spirit-filled voices rang out:
'You will be called 'Sought-After', The 'City No Longer Deserted'... Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.'
The Prophetic Word
These creative words of hope ushered in new possibility to the despair that surrounds.
In one of the most poignant scenes of The Shawkshank Redemption, Tim Robbins' character—a prisoner in Shawshank—manages to broadcast a duet from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro across the prison.
As the guards rush to stop this, each prisoner ceases to work and stares transfixed at the loudspeakers, speaking beauty and hope into a lifeless world. In that moment, the walls disappeared, the prison ceased to exist—and in the words of Morgan Freeman: 'Every last man at Shawshank felt free'.
To be prescriptive of how-to-hope would be artificial and plastic, but the challenge remains. To live a life that speaks hope that can be heard, seen and felt; a life that sees the brokenness, affirms the pain and suffering, but sees a future of difference that transforms the present.
Jeremy is an Innovation Consultant, communicator and lover of all second-hand bookstores.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html