An acquaintance who is a confessed “religious skeptic” asked me in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, “So, what are you positive thinkers going to say about this?” It was a fair question. I had two responses for him, which I will share with you.
First, I am positive about God. That’s very different from always being positive about society in a given place or moment in history. We humans have a long track record of being violent and contemptible. God has a long narrative of moving into the mess we’ve made of things with redemption and grace. I’m positive that what God has done, God will continue to do.
Second, I am positive about the courageous nature of decent people. And there are a lot more decent people than there are those who are violent and contemptible. Admittedly, as already noted, it is hard to be naively positive about this given moment in history. In our country we have devolved into a hate-anger-and-vitriol-driven people. Those who should lead us by example are often the worst offenders, which gives others the mistaken impression that taking the low road is acceptable. It isn’t. But, when that occurs in so heinous a way as we witnessed in Charlottesville, the decent folks step forward with courage and commitment.
Those of us of a certain age remember the sixties. We remember that decade of social unrest. We remember the demonstrations – demonstrations to say “No” to segregation and also to a faraway war that served no viable purpose. We remember how people took to the streets where they were often met with aggressive and dangerous opposition. But they continued to march and protest because that was what got the attention of those in power (and, thus, who had the ability to change what needed to be changed). And change did come. The war ended. Racism did not end, as we are all sadly aware, but segregation became illegal and progress has been made.
Even in the wake of something as unthinkable as Charlottesville, I find encouragement in seeing people once again taking to the streets, writing editors, and contacting legislators. They are marching and standing up and speaking out in astounding numbers, as they did fifty years ago. The incarnate evil of the KKK and Naziism seems to be galvanizing the good (and often silent) people. Young and old, black, white, and brown, rich and poor alike are stepping forward to say “No” to systemic hatred. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are lending their voices to the chorus. Overwhelmingly America is saying, “Not here! Not in our land! Not on our watch!” We have not forgotten the brave patriots who gave their lives during WWII to fight against Naziism and fascism. Their lesson was not lost on us. We have not forgotten the freedom fighters and courageous marchers from the 60s. Their lesson was not lost on us. We have not forgotten Jesus’ social challenges in Matthew 25. His lessons were not lost on us. Heather Heyer will not die quietly and be forgotten. Her name will live on. Her murder will become a legacy of determination to decent people. A friend said to me over breakfast today, “Last night my wife and I asked each other what we will do to honor Heather Heyer.” Lots of people are asking that, and the answer is: “We will stand fast and stay strong. We will look evil in the eye and as a united front will say, `Not here! Not in our land! Not on our watch!’”
Jesus challenged his followers to, “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Notice that he didn’t use soft or easy language. He didn’t ask that we hop into a dune buggy and follow or climb into a limo and follow. Instead, he selected an image associated with sacrifice and suffering. Following him is not always easy. But it is always right. So, right now Americans en masse are rising to follow a Prince of Peace. Tens of thousands are stepping forward, arms and spirits linked, all determined to keep our country “the home of the brave and the land of the free” for all people. So, while our hearts are breaking over what happened last weekend, our spirits will not be broken. Evil will not prevail. Why? Because God is more powerful than evil... and because decent people are becoming increasingly vocal and courageous. I am positive about those two things. Therefore, even in a moment of deep shadows, I know that Light will come.