A Tiny Ripple of Hope

Written by guest blogger and Pastor of Life Transitions, Paul Gauche

It’s been a number of weeks since the unrest, violence and bloodshed fueled by racism, hate and intolerance erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia which ultimately took the life of Heather Heyer, a 32-year old paralegal at a local law firm. Since then, there has been much soul-searching as the country wrestles with its past and struggles into its future while trying to make sense of its present.

My own reflections on these events have taken me in many directions. One of the stops along the way led me to a speech delivered on April 6, 1966 at the University of Cape Town by Senator Robert F. Kennedy who spoke out against the racism that was ravaging the country of South Africa. To this day, many historians agree that “The Day of Affirmation” speech was among his greatest. One sentence buried deeply in the soul of that address to a country wrestling with its past, struggling with its future while trying to make sense of its present was this line:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, more than 50 years after the speech was delivered in Cape Town, South Africa, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the scene of continued injustice and striking out. In horrifically graphic ways intolerance struck out against tolerance, protesters struck out against counter protesters, racism struck out against equality, the Alt-Right, the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi groups struck out against Anti-Racism groups, and bigotry and violence struck out against benevolence and peace.

And then as if it wasn’t personal enough, two people whose names we might not have ever known suddenly became part of our daily conversations: James Fields struck out against Heather Heyer. And in that one moment we saw how hate struck out against love and how death struck out against life. So much injustice. So much striking out.

It was nearly noon on that Saturday when I reached out to our daughter, Sarah, her husband Travis, and their two daughters—our granddaughters—live in Charlottesville. Over the past five years we’ve come to love and appreciate their town, affectionately known as “C’ville” and home of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello and the University of Virginia. This is a town with fabulous restaurants, beautiful parks, great shopping, amazing coffee, and a deeply rich, thick and very chewy history—which, for many people is very, very complicated. On that Saturday morning I called Travis to get a sense of the chaos and pain we were seeing on television and hearing on the radio. I also sent a text message to Sarah who was working in labor and delivery at the UVA hospital which was at that point on “lock-down” as the injured protesters began arriving. As her dad, of course I wanted to know how she was doing, if she was safe, and if she would let me know when she arrived safely at home at the end of her shift. Sarah’s response was brief:

I will let you know… I’m so sad for humanity! There’s so much brokenness here. But somehow it’s enough that Christ is our life.”

Later that night Nancy Lee sent an email saying, “Our hearts are breaking, but we have hope as well! So let’s work to create a better world for everyone—for Ruby Grace and Ryann Mae and the little one to come. Here’s to doing our own family soul work together…” to which Sarah’s responded: “Thanks for sharing this—we so appreciate these words. This is all so very hard and difficult. Grateful to be encouraged by the many people all around who see our small place in the world and reject the evil alongside us.”

Yes, indeed, the time to reject evil has come. And gone. And come again…again. We can no longer sit by pretending this is someone else’s battle to fight, someone else’s battle to wage. It is time to stand with those who have become too tired to stand. It is time to speak for those who have become too hoarse to cry out any longer. It is time to remind one another of Robert F. Kennedy’s passionate speech in which he called each of us to be part of something entirely different, something stronger than despair, something stronger than hate.

A tiny ripple of hope.

But how? How do we do that? At first, I thought to myself, “You know, Burnsville seems so far from the Front Line of what’s happening in places like Charlottesville, Boston, Barcelona, and Phoenix. But then, almost as quickly, I reminded myself: “No, the front line is right here! This is the front line.”

The front line is where peace and benevolence strike out against violence and bigotry. This is where the movements of anti-racism strike out against the evil of xenophobia. This is where tolerance strikes out against intolerance, where love strikes out against hate, where the momentum of life strikes out against the movements of death. The front line is wherever we are at any given moment. The front line becomes visible in those several brief moments whenever we not only see, but confront intolerance, injustice and hatred with the courageous response of hope… even a tiny ripple of hope.

Each time we answer an email or return a phone call, we have several brief moments to make a lasting impression of love and hospitality. Each time we welcome someone into wherever we live, work and play we have several brief moments to bless someone else’s life.

Each time we take an extra moment and say hello to someone and look them in the eyes, we have several brief moments to embody the welcoming presence of peace and justice—the welcoming presence of the Prince of Peace who calls us to peace.

Each time we connect with another human being—family members, someone in the parking lot, someone on the street, someone in a restaurant, on the freeway, along the trail, another driver, a service provider, a barista, a teacher, a police officer, a neighbor, a friend—we have several brief moments to bless them with our presence, with our generosity, with our hospitality, with our kindness, with our love, with our welcome—with every bit of our hearts, minds and souls—we have several brief moments to change the rhythms of despair into the momentum of love, the rhythms of death into the momentum of life.

So, where do we start? First, we begin with our own families and in our own homes where we learn and teach love. Our kids and our grandkids deserve to grow up with a deep understanding of the dignity and beauty of every person; no exceptions; not just people “like us” but all people. So talk to your children and talk with your grandchildren. Let them know why you are disturbed by events like those in Charlottesville and Boston and Barcelona and Phoenix. Talk to your adult siblings and in-laws, especially when racist or bigoted comments are made within your family gatherings.

Secondly, take a stand. So true the old adage, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” So meet with others and seek ways together of standing up for values that improve the lot of someone else, not being afraid to strike out against injustice. When we do that we’ll be sending forth tiny ripples of hope, which will cross each from a million different centers of energy and daring. And ultimately, those tiny ripples of hope will build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Paul Gauche serves as Pastor of Life Transitions at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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