Book Review: The Other Side of Hope by Danielle Strickland
REVIEWED BY JESSICA MORRIS
Is hope more than a tagline or a feel-good sentiment when we are feeling down? In her new book, The Other Side of Hope, Danielle Strickland flips the narrative on despair and cynicism, asking us to embrace hope even in the most unexplainable situations.
Part story, part guidebook, you literally flip this book upside down to go between narrative and theology – and while the divide may cause some discomfort, the juxtaposition makes both sides heroes in their own right.
We hear story after story about how hope appeared in unexpected places. Danielle opens up about her own story, highlighting how a supernatural experience – an experience of Jesus while in a jail cell – changed the course of her life. There are stories about the people Danielle met while pastoring in the most poverty-stricken area of Vancouver, details about her time in Europe just months after the fall of Communism, and even a mind-boggling scenario where she saw someone raised from the dead. And yet, she also shares an experience where a community prayed for someone, and they weren’t raised for the dead – revealing how hope exists in both scenarios.
Anyone who has been in church for more than five minutes will have heard stories like this in the past, and they never cease to become less powerful. However, Danielle’s candour and, yes, even cynicism makes the stories palpable. These aren’t just stories of victory. Like each of our lives, they are gritty, imperfect, and filled with doubt, beauty, grace, and hope.
The stories alone will move you and drive home the emotional and spiritual truths of hope – that it exists despite pain, trauma and injustice, and also within the darkness of these. But once you flip the book and see the framework of hope, you are given the language to understand better what she shares. Danielle compares it to the back of an artwork, where the sound structure of board and frame hold up a masterpiece. And within this structure, Danielle unravels theological mistruths and religious trauma that has led us to become cynics, isolated by pain and content with a shallow version of hope found on bumper stickers.
She looks at the nature of humanity and our deep need for connection, highlighting how hope is eternal – a characteristic of, or essence, of Jesus. And then later, rewrites the interpretation many Christians have on ‘Original Sin’ and the shame we carry due to this. Instead, revealing how God made humanity and showed us to be worthy of his love in the beginning.
People who have experienced church hurt or religious trauma will find a home in Danielle’s words because she lays out how, historically, the western protestant church has culturally hyper-focused on sin to retain power and structure. Declaring, “Our life story and human story does not begin in sin”, she invites you to a new understanding and experience of life and spirituality. Never straying from the core belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again, she reframes the harmful narratives we have inherited and shows how true experiences of hope mean “we are being rescued from what we thought was true about God.”
I have read plenty of books about how to live a better life as a Christian. Yet, I have also read plenty of books that tap into an intangible, unidentifiable hope – whether it be through poetry, stories or mantras. Danielle has encapsulated both facets of the human experience in this book. Making it a powerful conduit for internal healing and a welcome harbour for those who no longer fit into the framework a religious institution expects. This is potentially Danielle’s most profound work yet.
The Other Side of Hope is available online, on Audible, and at Christian bookstores.