SHANNON CRAIGO-SNELL. Disciplined Hope: Prayer, Politics, and Resistance. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019. Pp. 148. $21.00 (U.S.)
This book is Shannon Craigo-Snell’s response to the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. As a socially conscious professor of theology, she was stunned that we had “elected a person who was openly sexist, racist, dishonest, and completely unqualified for the office of the presidency.” She was distressed that the majority of white females had voted for Trump. She felt betrayed and began to view people who looked like her with suspicion (1).
As a self-identified “political lefty,” Shannon Craigo-Snell had invested her life in the progressive ideals and institutions of our country. The days following the election were a steep learning curve as her confusion gave way to the recognition that she had been naïve. A moment of clarity came when Alexis, a female African-American student hugged her tight and said, “I know you are surprised and you don’t know how we are going to survive this. But what is happening now is not something new. Things that have always been wrong with America are being uncovered. Alexis reminded her that “God is—and always has been—with us in the struggle for a better world” (2).
Those of us from an Anabaptist peace-church tradition recognize the wisdom in Alexis’ words, which come out of the long history of ostracism and oppression experienced by people of color. We also know something about such ostracism. For us it has not been racism but rather militarism that has kept us sidelined and oppressed—especially during major wars. Our nation has been engaged in continual wars throughout our history and our current military expenditures are roughly equal to the combined expenditures of the nations with the next seven largest military budgets. Unfortunately, this wrong remains covered and hidden from the moral consciousness of most Americans. The 2016 presidential election did nothing to change that and it appears that the 2020 election did not either.
Shannon Craigo-Snell found that her anxious and defensive attitude was even evident in her prayer life. As she reflects in the introduction of the book, prayer is a living practice that shapes our theology. The act of prayer reveals a deep hope that our God—who desires goodness, moves toward love, urges compassion, and is just—cares for us. Our prayer brings our concerns before the Holy, the mystery of the universe that holds all things together. “This can shift our sense of scale and give us a different perspective on our own realities.”
As a personal discipline, she therefore decided to pray daily prayers lifting up a person or group that is actively resisting the fear and hate that dominates our national politics. Because personal disciplines can be hard to stick to, she decided to post these prayers on Facebook as a form of communal accountability. The response was surprising. She began to receive constant feedback that her prayers were helpful to others. These prayers, written during the first year of the Trump presidency, are now collected in this book.
My hope was also strengthened by reading these prayers for individuals and groups resisting hate and bigotry while working for the common good. Many of these instances were gleaned from Shannon Craigo-Snell’s methodical perusal of the national news. The people she lifts up in prayer include those fighting against racism, police brutality, white nationalism, the travel ban against Muslims, the mistreatment of immigrants, and Trump administration efforts to reverse environmental protections which seek to mitigate climate change. I found it therapeutic to remember the events of 2017 through these prayers. Rather than being shocked and outraged by these events (as I had been at the time), I was reliving them through prayers for courageous people who resisted in various ways.
Beyond that, her prayers uphold ordinary people such as “artists who tell the truth about the world and help us imagine new and different worlds together” (37). Another prayer asks God’s blessing on “nurses who care for people without judgment” (42). Yet another prays for inspiration for journalists, scientists, and poets, who are equally the enemies of lies (47). Another is for preachers who “encourage congregations to live their faith in concrete ways, to motivate them to action” (48). We will not want to overlook the prayer for comedians and satirists who resist with wit and laughter: “We can be sane, informed, and engaged, but it requires levity” (24).
Similar prayers are for people struggling with mental illness who show us that resistance comes in many forms(51), for therapists, chaplains, and counselors who accompany others through the valley of the shadow of death in whatever form it comes (53), for labor organizers and union members who stand together in solidarity for justice (59), and for librarians who safeguard the best of human achievement and ideals (59). In perhaps a backhand swipe at some contemporary politicians, one prayer asks God to “bless every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, teacher, babysitter, and friend who teaches children not to call names” (72).
I regret the book’s paucity of prayers for peacemakers who resist war and militarism, which is our most egregious humanitarian scourge. This may reflect our inability to recognize and resist the militarism of our nation. I was, therefore, grateful to find one prayer toward the end of the book for the 63 Israeli teenagers who refused to be drafted into the Israeli army because they did not want to be part of the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. I join with Shannon Craigo-Snell in giving thanks for the willingness of those teenagers “to face persecution and jail rather than comply with such extreme injustice.” With her I pray, “Bless them God, and may their witness foster bravery in us all. Amen” (124).