"When this election is over," I heard the young woman say, "we're going tohave one president and one hero. "Which one," she asked me pointedly, "would youwant to be?" It's decision-making time. We all get a chance to answer thisone. And the answer is that there can't be just one hero. Heroism--and the hope that makes heroes--is required of all of us.

The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down its ruling inthe Florida electoral recount case. That ruling, ambiguous asit may be, for all intents and purposes determines who has really wonthe presidency of this country. Or to be more precise, in the absence of fullelectoral information, the Supreme Court's ruling at least determines, a full 35 days after theelection, who will be officially inaugurated as president on January 20,2001.

So, case closed? Not exactly. Legal doors may have slammed shut as a resultof this month of maneuvering and the finality of the Supreme Court's ruling, but some spiritual doors may have opened for all of us for the first time in decades.

During the past month, we have learned with stark clarity, on widescreentelevision in the intimacy of our own living rooms, that law and justice arenot always the same, that the legal and the moral, the obvious and theacceptable, are not always bedfellows. We have also learned that hope and confidence are not thesame thing. Confidence we've always had as a nation; hope we may justnow as Christians be beginning to understand.

When we were racing to the moon during the 1960s, we knew thatonce we put our national mind to it, our United States would plant the first flag there. No problem. In the face of an oil crisis during the 1970s, we had the confidence as a nation that if the oil ran out, all wehad to do was go into a laboratory somewhere and we could invent asubstitute. No problem. In the middle of a globalrecession and communist insurgencies during the 1980s, we never lost confidence in the Americaneconomic system. Confidence has, in fact, been the hallmark of Americanhistory.

But confidence and hope are different things. Confidence is the innerconviction that we are equal to whatever task is before us. It is thecertainty that we are bright enough, strong enough, powerfulenough to meet a challenge and best it.

Hope, on the other hand, iswhat sustains us when we have little or no confidence left. At the end of abad stretch, hope--hope that the will of God will finally prevail--is all that isleft to sustain us. When it becomes clear that the things on which we havedepended aren't really dependable, hopemust replace confidence, or nothing can replace confidence at all.

With this presidential election, we watched our traditional American certainties fade in front ofour eyes. During the past several months, in a country we thought was founded onimpregnable civil structures, the political system has chosen partisanshipover statesmanship, the electoral system has fallen into disarray, and thejudicial system has fractured. Confidence in each of them has wilted--among ageneration that has already seen the United States fight dirty wars underringing moral slogans and the presidency itself tainted by lying, skullduggery,and sleaze. Now, democracy itself is in question. Now, confidence in the civilreligion is shrinking. Now, it is hope in things beyond the political that we need.

Thedisintegration of the conventional is a hard way to learn a spirituallesson. On the other hand, maybe it's the only thing that really brings aperson, a people, a nation, to choose between the commonplace and the heroic,the shallows of confidence and the depths of hope.

But hope may be the missing virtuein a country that has long believed its own press about "equal protectionunder the law" and "democracy" and "blind justice." Because we never doubtourselves, we seldom examine the gap between what we say we do and whatwe're doing until the gap becomes obscenely exposed for all to see.

Then, in the midst of the embarrassment and the disillusionment that comeswith the unmasking of any great charade, it is only hope, not confidence,that gets people through bad times.

Well, it's bad times when only half thepeople in a democracy vote. It's bad times when the people who do vote don'treally know if or when their votes have been or ever will be counted. It'sbad times when partisanship passes for law. Then the only thing that cansave a people is not the party, not politics, not power. Then it is the timefor hope. Hope knows that whatever happens, God lives. Hope expectsthat however bad it looks, this moment will ultimately yield something good. Hope says begin again.

Winners may have confidence, but real heroes--those who have seen bad timesand lived to rise above them--live in hope. It's a sad day for our country to find itself with a president who not only has no mandate to lead but not enoughcertainty in the popular vote even to justify his mounting the viewing standin the first place. But it is not a sad time when a country rises abovepartisan confidence to realize its responsibility tobuild a future based on the vision and values that magnetized it in thepast rather than on the party politics to which it has descended in the present.

Al Gore needs hope right now. America needs hope right now. And George W.Bush needs hope right now, too. We finally have a president, but we have nowinners. What we need are heroes.