June 6, 2016
Death by Privilege.
The headline on today’s Life section of USA Today is somber: “The sad intersection of fame, drugs and death” leads into an article examining celebrity addiction and demise, sparked by the recent coroner’s report on Prince’s death.
Elvis Presley; Jimi Hendrix; Chris Farley; Michael Jackson; Amy Winehouse; Whitney Houston; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Heath Ledger: no list of tragic, premature deaths is exhaustive, because the path from notoriety to discouragement is heavily traveled.
Anne Case is a researcher at Princeton University whose research on lifespans in America has exposed a tragic malady she calls “deaths of despair.” In a time when white privilege is a political issue, the life expectancy of people most often envied is not increasing as fast as others. While trend-lines concerning heart disease, cancer, stroke and car accidents are all positive, addictions and suicide have gone the other way.
Prince: dead at 57, from a fentanyl overdose. Not in a dirty alley, next to a dumpster, but in the elevator of his royal palace at Paisley Park, in Minneapolis. Estimated net worth: $300 million. Privilege: societal rights and benefits enjoyed only by a few, beyond the advantages of most others.
A few years ago, hope became a political pot-of-gold offered as an election outcome. It was a winning marketing strategy, but it appears to have been an elusive and empty promise. After years of policies sold as the formula for hope, Americans – the most privileged nation in history – report a broader sense of hopelessness than ever before.
What is hope? “An optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”
Hope and fear are compelling forces, capable of driving people to action as they set a course for life, both now and in the future. While the political season brings one or the other into public discourse in the race for power, the private moments – when the internal voices are the only ones heard – bring people to their baseline demeanor, and paint their outlook for life going forward.
Hal Lindsey says “man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” If hope is that essential – and, if people who have everything else end their life when they find themselves without it – where can one find a stable and certified source for one of life’s critical components?
Paul of Tarsus offers this insight: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
Catch that, again: hope comes as a part of a package, along with faith, grace, perseverance and character. The process uses suffering as a tempering furnace that strengthens without destroying.
Christians are either happily deluded, or steeled by hope. Death by despair, or, alive with hope: that seems a reasonable choice with only one great answer…