241 years ago, our founders created a country based on the radical view that liberty was not doled out by a self-aggrandizing monarch but was an inalienable right. The heirs of that spirit of liberty fought a Civil War to protect it, to declare it sacrosanct.
80 years later, another generation volunteered in droves to safeguard that same spirit for men and women across the world that they had never met. They knew, perhaps better than anyone in history, that it wasn’t just the fate of the war that hinged on their utter selflessness. It was the fate of humanity.
20 years later, men and women gave their lives for another civil war. One that wasn’t fought on rolling hills of grass but on the steps of schools, the seats of a bus, and the stools of lunch counters.
Evil knows no geographical boundaries. It is not confined to one race, one gender, one country. But neither is love. Neither is the fervent belief that liberty and justice belong to all and not just a few.
Since its inception, since its radical birth on the tongues and pens of Enlightenment thinkers, this country has seen its share of evil but it has also always been filled with men and women who believe that humanity is worth fighting for. Who choose to call evil by its name. Not just when it is easy but also when it is hard.
Meeting hate with hate will always end with more hate. At some point, it is not enough to isolate it, to sweep it to the side, to disenfranchise the people you find abhorrent. Truman and Churchill recognized this. They knew that in order to build a new world order from the ashes of Europe, they could not afford to repeat the mistakes they made after World War I, when punitive measures were the only party favors doled out.
They had to give those who some viewed as wretched and undeserving the tools to build a different life and, more importantly, the will to see the possibility of that different life.
They met hatred with grace.
Yes evil needs to be decried. And yes punitive measures need to be taken. But that isn’t enough. If we are going to change the course of history instead of repeating it, we have to do more.
You don’t change the minds of people with hate. You change it with love. If you want to get all biblical, that’s kind of the point Jesus was trying to make.
When my kids are fighting, I always ask them two simple questions: What is your goal? And are your actions getting you closer to that goal?
Is your goal simply to punish people who have hate in their hearts or is it to change their minds? You can tell them to get out of our state. You can tell them they don’t belong here. And you may be right but that doesn’t solve the problem. It just moves it. It pushes it into someone else’s back yard.
So if your goal is to have a community or a world in which people don’t hate other people for the way they look, the people they love, or the religion they practice, then ask yourselves how do we get there?
How do we change the mind of a man who is brandishing a tiki torch from Home Depot and spewing slurs at people he doesn’t know?
I don’t know the answer but it’s going to take a lot of courageous people to show grace alongside of indignation. To meet the hatred with love.
It’s radical for sure. It isn’t easy. It will make you uncomfortable. And it will take time. But mostly it will take grace.
Charlottesville is my special place. It is where I met my husband and where we got married. It is where I studied the law I so revere. It is where I feel my dad next to me and my boys every Saturday in the fall. It is where a basketball team and their coaches gave me a court on which to mourn my loss and celebrate our love.
Charlottesville is my grace. Where I give it and I receive it. It is where I love the hardest.
May it give us all the grace to love hard in the days and weeks ahead.
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