Pittsburgh, Peter and Hope

Pittsburgh, Peter and Hope

After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” John 21:19

On a concrete wall outside old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a Cleveland fan once spray painted the words, “Pittsburgh Sucks.” In support of the message, no one from the City of Cleveland ever removed it. Any fan of the Cleveland Browns in the ’70’s could tell you in great deal why. The Steelers ripped the heart out of every Browns fan on their way to glory.  To this day, I struggle to manage my hatred for Pittsburgh. Jesus and I have talked about it in great detail. He understands.

The truth is Cleveland and Pittsburgh have always been attached at the hip. Both were beacons of hope during the Industrial Revolution. Both were devastated by unemployment when their industries collapsed in the ’70’s. And, they were both nearly destroyed by pollution. In Cleveland, as most remember, a river caught on fire. In Pittsburgh, the downtown disappeared in a cloud of thick grey smog. The pollution was more than an eyesore, it wreaked havoc on the health of the people.

Years ago, Pittsburgh made a critical decision. It determined its hope was not in the industries of the past, but in the technology of the future. As a result, Pittsburgh was radically transformed into one of the more beautiful and clean cities in the United States. The move improved the economy, the environment and the health of the people. When I visited the city in 2011, I hardly recognized it. Yesterday, the Mayor of Pittsburgh affirmed the cities commitment to the future.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change pact angered me. To me, the issue is about more than climate change. It’s about not taking seriously how important clean water and air is for human life. The decision also reflects a tension in our culture not limited to the environment. There is a desire in many to go back to something lost. It is visible in individuals and I see it in the Church.

If you are struggling with past, present and future issues, perhaps you should read the 21st chapter of John. It speaks directly to this condition. Peter is lost during the time of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Directionless, he returns to his past fishing life. The trip is unsuccessful. Maybe he forgot how to fish. In the midst of failure, Jesus intervenes and turns the trip into a success. Then, he gently takes Peter into a different past life. He gives him three opportunities to recommit to the future. They model the three denials of his past. It feels like Jesus is reminding him, the past is the past, but your future is your hope.

Like Peter, our past is our past. It can shape our future, but it can never be the location of our hope. The past in the Bible is always about remembering our identity and the past acts of God to help us cope with the present and lead us into the future. The future is not something to fear, but a dynamic encounter with Christ waiting to happen. The future, at least to Jesus and the Mayor of Pittsburgh, is  about hope. It was a great lesson to learn.

Click to read: John 21: 15-19

Reflection Questions:

  • What about the present do you feel threatens the future?
  • How does this influence your attitude towards hope?
  • Can a person have faith without hope?
  • How can you be renewed in hope?
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