Ripples of Hope

presented February 11th, 2018

I have a bird feeder set up in my backyard. Not a lot of people in my subdivision feed the birds, so despite my marauding cats, the feeder is popular.

Pigeons, sparrows, juncos, finches, and cardinals hang out in the trees nearby everyday, twittering madly and taking turns at the feeder.
I watch from the sliding glass door in the kitchen.

American poet Emily Dickinson’s words come to my mind “hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul.”

But if I move too close to the window, there is a group squawk and the birds all take flight.
These days, this does feel like my sense of hope, something light, slight, and easily startled away.

It may be the grey skies and seasonal affective disorder speaking,
but it does feel like every time I see a bit of hope on the horizon,
and take a step towards it,
hope up and flies away into the trees, keeping a safe distance until I back off.

This is probably not a healthy relationship to hope.

I know it leaves me uncertain of what to do next, not to mention feeling rejected by the cardinals.

This state of uncertainty may be a healthier approach to hope.  A hope not that the world should be happy and healthy and filled with beautiful birds who aren’t afraid of me, but a darker, deeper hope.

A hope that acknowledges that the world is uncertain, and the news is bad. The future is unknown, and it looks like it might be worse before it gets better.

Oddly, it is in the uncertainty, in the unknownness of the future, that hope lies.
This dark, deep hope is more sustainable in the long run.

Rebecca Solnit says that “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.

When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.

Hope …is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter,
who and what is may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.

We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

When you acknowledge that the future is unknown, there is space to shape it.
What we do matters, even though we may never know the impact.
This is deep, dark kind of hope.

It’s a hope based on the fact that each of us matters.

Act with integrity.  That’s enough.
If you are called to speak out, speak out.

Because what you do matters, do what matters to you.
Try to live your values as best you can.

And you can only do this over the long term, you can only sustain acting with integrity if you let go of expectations of effectiveness.
We live in a time when success counts, when we are measured by accomplishment.

It is easy to feel a failure when we march for women’s rights and then experience sexual harassment the next week.
It’s easy to feel like our work is not bearing fruit.

But we don’t actually live in a world of direct cause and effect.
We live in an interdependent web, where we don’t know the full extent of how our actions impact.

We need to trust and have patience.
In the early sixties, during the era of nuclear proliferation, a group of women brought their children to protest in front of the White House against nuclear testing.

The demonstration is small, less than one hundred people. The women and kids stand in front of the White House in the pouring rain.
It doesn’t seem to make any difference in the moment.  One woman, Lisa, leaves feeling frustrated and powerless.

A few years later and the anti-nuclear movement has grown.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, a well known child care expert, is one of the leading voices of the movement. His public profile has greatly increased attention on the anti-nuclear cause. Spock is speaking at a much larger demonstration in Washington.

Still engaged with the issue, Lisa comes to the protest.

Spock tells the crowd how he came to take a stand on nuclear weapons. A few years earlier, he had been in Washington and seen a small group of women and children in the pouring rain, protesting. “If these women are out there in the rain”, Dr. Spock said to himself, “their cause must be really important.”

And that’s when he decided to join the movement, and use his power and influence against nuclear weapons.
(from the introduction to The Impossible will Take a Little While, ed. Paul Loeb).

Let us act with integrity, living our values, and holding onto to hope.

Trust that even the smallest actions make a difference.


I’m speaking of hope today because hope helps us resist injustice.
The deep, dark hope of choosing right without reward lets us keep going through the hard times.

Vaclev Havel, the Czech poet and president, once said that
“Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.
It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. …
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense…
[is] an ability to work for something because it is good…
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.”

Hope is the certainty that something makes sense,regardless of how it turns out.

To live with integrity is to have hope.
By honouring our own values, resisting that which insults our soul, we know our actions are right for us.
This lets us keep resisting, even when it feels like the resistance is futile.

Trusting ourselves, paying attention to what feels right to us, helps us know what needs resisting.
As people, we often resist what is personally painful.

But if we pay attention to our inner dialogue, we can become aware of the reasons behind our internal resistance.
Sometimes we truly aren’t ready for a difficult conversation, we are still processing.
Sometimes we are taking the easy way out.

We know what is the right thing to do, if we take time to truly listen to ourselves.

Engaging in social resistance asks us to be clear about what matters to us.
If an issue matters enough, we will figure out ways to work to bring it into being.

As UUs, we held services of union for same-sex couples long before equal marriage rights became law.

Writer Paul Goodman wrote,
“Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about.
Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted.
How would you live, you personally, in that society?
Start living that way now!”

As we begin to live with our own integrity – directing our love and attention towards the issues that matter to us –
we also begin build relationships with others.

And it is these relationships that help sustain us, that help bring us back to hope.

Margaret Wheatley is an American activist who works with people in Zimbabwe, an African country struggling with violence and famine.
She notes that her colleagues in Zimbabwe still find joy, not in their circumstances, but from their relationships.
“As long as we’re together, as long as we feel others supporting us, we can persevere.” said one person.
Another said “how we are going is important, not where.  I want to go together.”

I believe this is the DNA of this chalice community.
Our mission statement embodies hope and resistance and going forward together.

We deepen in spirit, to develop self knowledge and know what matters to us.
We nurture community, so that we may go forward into that unknown future holding hands.
We act for an equitable, sustainable world, so that we might bring the world we want into being.

Deepen, Nurture, Act.

Living this mission,
we live with hope in seemingly hopeless times,
we find joy in our relationships with one another,
and we seek a world of love and justice.

We may not know what effect our actions may have, we may not see change for a long long time, but each choice we make to resist injustice helps.

As Robert Kennedy said:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice,
[they] send forth a tiny ripple of hope,
and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression…”
Let us offer up our small ripples of hope.

Let us live out our mission to Deepen, Nurture and Act.
So Say We All.


Recent Sermons