Worship – Sunday, May 17, 2020 “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love ...” ― Marcus Aurelius
It’s graduation time! The seminaries of the Graduate Theological Union have creatively designed virtual ceremonies to mark this special time in the life of the graduating seminarians. I thoroughly enjoy graduation celebrations, recognizing and rejoicing with students who have completed their course of study. It is interesting that the celebrations are called commencement, signaling a beginning, a new start. Certainly, it is an end also – the end of papers, exams, deadlines, semesters. I perceive commencement as the forward threshold, the ever- expanding horizon. Yet, what has gone before in terms of academic preparation is not terminal. All is preparatory for what comes next, service (ministry) in and to an enlarged context, a greater community. Rev. Phillips Brook wrote:
“ … when a person starts afresh, either with the newness of a new day, or with the stimulus of altered circumstances, or with the inspiration of a new work, what this new start ought to do for him is to refresh the deepest principles by which he lives…. So in a new beginning people ought to feel, and in some new way who they are and what great powers are at work upon them, as they do not ordinarily feel these things in common times.”
Under normal circumstances, family, friends, administrators, staff, peers, and faculty gather at this special time to joyfully applaud the graduates for their accomplishments. The graduates have not journeyed alone; but, have been companioned by those just mentioned as well as writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, domestic workers, educators, ministers, transportation workers, even creeping, crawling things, and things some might consider inanimate. In other words, graduation hails the completion of a communal effort, a community sojourn. Indeed, there is no self-made individual. All are the result of multitudes of mentors, great clouds of witnesses. Each has been resourced by Life. Each therefore has an obligation to life. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, in describing something that he actually observed wrote: “The madman shouted in the marketplace and no-one stopped to answer him. Thus, it was confirmed that his thesis was incontrovertible.” Whatever the madman uttered was indisputable, stood, was not challenged. Walt Whitman, however, instructs us to: ”Re-examine all that you have been told... dismiss that which insults your soul.” Our seminarians have learned to speak to the madness of our society, voicing alternative messages. We, too, must speak clearly the message that we cannot live without each other. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If not clear before, certainly this COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare that we have allowed mad folks to speak and organize our world in ways that are insane and harmful, that destroy the common ground of our existence, and entomb vaunted values of American society. What a mess has been created visibly as well as in the nooks and crannies of our living spaces – inequity, devastation in rural areas, reservations, cities, states, and nations. Hear Marcus Aurelius again: “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” Surely, the day to day rising death count should insult our souls when we realize this did not and does not have to be the reality, especially in a nation where so many of its leaders identify as Christian. Did they never hear the words: “Our” Father . . . Give “us” . . . “our” daily bread . . . forgive “us” . . . “our” debts”. . . “we” forgive “our” debtors . . . and lead “us” . . . deliver “us.” For Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick this understand of “our,” “us,” “we, ” – the collective – was crucial for manifesting a generous, inclusive, just, and compassionate society, “No more vital problem confronts humanity today than learning to say that [“our”]. Human life is caught now between two contending currents – on the one side, the unifying forces that create proximity; on the other, the disruptive forces that prevent community. Is there any greater tragedy in life, whether in a family or in a world, than thus to have proximity without community?” The gospel of Matthew records this message: “. . . when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or unclothed or ill or in prison, and did not minister to you?... I tell you truly, in so far as you did not do it to one of these, even the least of them, you did not do it to me.” We have the scientific and technological prowess to build a land where there are no “least of these.” What is missing is the vision. What is missing is the will. Helen Keller stated: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Dr. King raised a relevant question in the title of his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community! He exclaimed: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy… We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. . . . For its very survival’s sake, America must re-examine old presuppositions and release itself from many things that for centuries have been held sacred. For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property-and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power…. One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change…. We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…. We still have a choice today:… This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community."
It is the “our”, the “we”, the “us”, the community, the connectedness that I seek to convey. We are intertwined, interconnected as articulated by Dr. King and embodied in Dr. Thurman’s search for common ground. May this reality be our guide when we come from under the grip of this coronavirus -- that has lessons for us -- and walk together into a common ground of authentically living for and with each other. Carl David Onofrio, poet, composer, musician, prophet who will be graduating from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in just a few days penned these remarkable insights partly inspired by Fellowship Church’s Dorsey O. Blake Forum last October.
Common Ground The sun was glowing As it dropped away At the growing edge Of the fading day And if destiny Hangs upon your hands We will save the city We will work the land Where we laid the tracks Of our long friendship Where we sowed the seeds Of our greatest needs That which has no soul Cannot be strategic What we feed will grow And it's Love we'll pick There will be no past greater than the future There will be no way better than together We're the seeds of seeing the way forward We know the road ahead we will prepare for We will hold the doors of heaven open For everyone who chooses to walk through them To learn to accept the love you found And work to make our home on common ground
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. – George Bernard Shaw