Brief Reviews

Luther E. Smith Jr. – Hope is Here! [Review]

Hope is HereGiving Dimension to our Hope

A Review of

Hope Is Here!: Spiritual Practices for Pursuing Justice and Beloved Community
Luther E. Smith Jr.

Paperback: WJK Press, 2023
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Reviewed by Julie Germain

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,” the apostle Paul states. How many of us think of this as a competition between the three and love wins out? As a young man, Luther Smith, the author of Hope is Here!, was challenged by a sermon which stated that “the greatest of these is hope.” Following that sermon, he has spent his life in pursuit of a fuller understanding of hope which “became a spiritual quest that has disclosed hope’s presence for all the seasons of my life” (ix).

In my experience, hope is not frequently at the forefront of sermons or in our minds; faith and love win out so much more often. I was excited to delve into what Smith had to offer on the subject. And while I am a perpetual optimist, I especially wanted to see what Hope is Here! could offer for wider communities and Smith did not disappoint.

Smith spends the first two chapters outlining hope, its role in our lives and communities, and the invitation hope offers to our communities. Our best life as Christians and human beings is lived in community with others, what Smith calls the beloved community. Within the beloved community, there is engagement and a longing for justice to roll down. Smith states the focus of the book is “for us to be enlivened by hope, to experience hopefulness, and to live as a people for justice and a beloved community” (17). Hope invites us into a relationship and moves us toward “new awareness and opportunities for coming alive” (44). Each chapter closes with a list of “Questing for Questions” to assist those reading, whether by themselves or in a group, to reflect on the thoughts and feelings each chapter brings.

In chapters 3-7, Smith discusses the spiritual practices that help deepen hope within the beloved community. The first is contemplative praying. Prayer is at the root of the rest of the practices. Prayer helps us remember the words of the prophets (chapter 4). Prayer draws us into listening and moves us toward crossing identity boundaries (chapter 5). Prayer increases our empathy and assists us in transforming conflict (chapter 6). And finally, prayer draws us closer to God which finds fulfillment in celebrating community (chapter 7). In the Epilogue, Smith asks what our response will be to this book. The answer “will be lived day by day in all our tomorrows” (185). We cannot just read this book alone and have the answers; our transformed lives from our beloved community guided by spiritual practices will move us toward hope.

Smith deftly weaves stories of various beloved communities throughout the book. He explores prison ministries, the origins of a ministry to those experiencing homelessness, a refugee’s plight of coming to the United States after years of turmoil, among others; each story brings out new dimensions of what a beloved community looks like and how we can apply principles to our own communities. Smith also talks deeply about how his experience as a Black man in America, particularly Georgia, is defining for him and his beloved community. As a white person reading this, I was grateful that Smith continually offered his perspective to help challenge my own ideas of what hope could be.

My one critique of Smith is that some of the chapters feel repetitive and could be edited to help the chapter’s thoughts flow more succinctly. But in the same vein, Smith’s thesis of hope is reinstated multiple ways and woven throughout. As we read, we are constantly reminded of what previous chapters posited and how those thoughts and ideas build upon the other spiritual practices. All the practices culminate in the final chapter, “Celebrating Community.” While Smith does set up celebrating community as a spiritual practice, he also acknowledges that community is “where we come alive to ourselves and our purpose in creation” (160). All the other spiritual practices are bound up in (beloved) community and that is where we find true community (179). 

In the Epilogue, Smith concedes that there are many other spiritual practices found within the pages of the book. All these practices are ways to transform us. He states, “Hope is in the practices, and the practices enliven us to experience people, situations, ourselves, and God with greater awareness of our purpose and the power of love” (186). When we enact hope through various spiritual practices in our lives and communities, then we are able to pursue justice and practice the beloved community.

This book would be a welcome addition to a congregation’s library and a great book to share in a book club or study group where community members are looking to commit themselves to the work of love and hope.

Julie Germain

Julie Germain lives in San Diego and is a case manager for people experiencing homelessness. They enjoy woodworking and being outdoors. As a lifelong participant in the Stone-Campbell Movement, they are an elder in their local church. Hailing from Oregon, they have lived in a myriad of places including East Tennessee and Tanzania. Julie earned an MDiv from Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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