SGIS Class of 2018 Valedictorian and Salutatorian Speeches

[Last Saturday we had a lovely Commencement for the St. George’s Independent School Class of 2018. Attached here are speeches from the Valedictorian, Lucas Williamson, and the Salutatorian, Carolyn Lane. Yesterday I posted the two talks from our Baccalauteate Service as well, and on Tuesday I posted my remarks from the CommencementLucas and Carolyn wrote speeches for an audience to hear them, not read them. With that in mind, please excuse any editing errors. JRP]

Lucas Williamson

Valedictorian–Lucas Williamson

Teachers, students, and families of St. George’s Independent School:

Although it may yet be difficult to believe, our final minutes together have finally arrived. Before I begin the speech proper, I strongly encourage you, the members of the Class of 2018, to take some time and look among one another and truly appreciate the presence of your peers – this remarkable group of young men and women will never again be fully assembled. Sure, there will be the occasional alumni event or class reunion down the line, but it is inevitable that many of you will be absent from these. Moments like these are truly precious. I know that I do not speak only for myself when I acknowledge a certain surreal atmosphere hanging low within this tent surrounding us and giving rise to the awesome, yet bitingly ephemeral, sanctity of this very moment in time.

Now, as I have gathered by my own inquiries, the number of people present at this event who are confused as to the true role of a valedictorian is rather astonishing. It is unfortunate that so many of us have learned the definition of the word “valedictorian” as the member of the graduating class with the highest GPA who gets to write some fancy speech to say at his commencement. This is not his entire purpose, nor is it even his most important. However, upon closer examination of the Latin roots behind the word “valedictorian,” his job becomes clear as day. “Valedictorian” can be divided into two parts from which it takes its meaning: “vale” comes from the Latin word vale, which means “goodbye.” (When said to a group of two or more people, it acquires a suffix, becoming valete.) The second stem in “valedictorian” is “dict,” which comes from the latin dictus, meaning “having been spoken.” Thus, a valedictorian is best defined as “one who says goodbye.” Although the honor of this title is traditionally given to the highest-ranked student in the graduating class, my real purpose here today is to say goodbye.

And so, one who is tasked with delivering this honor is met with the following conundrum: how does one say goodbye? How does one speak of such an exhilarating yet tear-jerking moment in time– a single, transitory moment in which one great era ends as another, perhaps even greater era begins– in a manner that both does it’s perplexing nature justice and provides it’s participants with a satisfactory end? These questions have weighed heavily on me for some time now, and I hope to answer them in a manner that makes some sense.

As I prepared this speech, I figured a solid place to begin building my farewell would be that bothersome trial in which many of us have endured much suffering throughout this past year: calculus. I firmly believe that adversity is an excellent teacher, and I would encourage each member in this audience to take that to heart. Now, to the uninitiated, calculus is the mathematical study of change, working with strongly related rates at which various processes happen in order to solve real world problems. Often, in the course of our studies, those of us who deal with calculus must deal with what is happening at single, critical points in time. For example, a typical problem may ask a student to determine the speed of an object at a specific moment given a function that describes its motion. What strikes me about this scenario is that we are looking at unrealistic conditions. There are an infinite number of points that make up a standard continuous function, and they all sort of blend together into this thing called a line. Where does one moment begin, and another moment end? And sure, we can certainly talk about what an object does at any of these specific points (and don’t get me wrong– this is important stuff to talk about), but when would we ever encounter an object frozen in time? We wouldn’t because that is impossible based on our current understanding of the laws of physics.

And that brings us to the following realization: math– calculus, statistics, mathematics as a whole– is fiction. Realistic fiction, perhaps, inspired by the world around us, but fictitious nonetheless. It is a means by which we understand the universe, and a means by which we are able to communicate its inner workings to one another. Math is a language: it is the language with which we speak to reality. Without it, without counting numbers, or standard deviations, or derivatives, we as a species lose touch with the inner machinations of the world. And, just like any other language, we use it to talk about things– things like how many apples there are in that tree, things like how different one score is from another, things like how to describe critical points in time.

And, what is a goodbye but a critical point in time? It’s a moment in which everything changes after which things will never quite be the same again. But, an important point I raised earlier in this discourse is the uncertainty of the discrete existence of such points. Sure, we can approach them by looking forward or backward to them all we want, but a goodbye just happens. Moments are transitory: the past and future seamlessly flow into one another in the present. Again, I pose the following question: where does one moment begin, and another moment end? As the old saying goes, the present is a gift.

If we examine this relationship logically, then if all goodbyes must be said in the present, then goodbyes must be gifts too. Sure, they might be bittersweet gifts (or not, depending on who you’re saying goodbye to), but in the best case scenario, they provide us with an obligatory end to a finite era that accentuates the sentimental value of the memories we have forged while enabling new growth to occur. By their very nature, all ends are themselves beginnings. As a testament to the truth of this fact, many traditions from across the world recognize this relationship between ends and beginnings in their own way. In his Tao Te Ching, the elderly wiseman Lao Tzu writes of a fundamental balance of opposites to the universe known to the Chinese as the Tao and to many Americans as the Yin-Yang, and there are few concepts that demonstrate this balance as that of a farewell. In Buddhism, there is this idea of dependent origination where all physical phenomena simultaneously arise from their respective opposites, and it is clear that beginnings cannot exist without ends. And, in Christianity, there is a notion of death leading to life anew, just as the end of our time at St. George’s must lead to the birth of our new lives in the adult world.

So, how does one say goodbye? My approach to answering this question is hopefully accomplished by this speech– to remind the person to whom you’re bidding farewell that a goodbye is paradoxically little different from all other moments in time while unspeakably sacred as a gateway from one age to the next age. All things must come to an end (such is the nature of our universe), but all ends must lead to new beginnings. And, perhaps most importantly of all, I’d emphasize our shared pasts as something time can never take away from us: for as long as we live in good health, we will never forget our memories we have created together at this school, and as long as the universe exists, it can never undo the effects of the actions we have taken here. But, my time speaking to you all is almost up now as are our years at St. George’s. Members of the Class of 2018, fellow academics, athletes, and artists; friends… men and women, the hour of our ascension into the world at large is at hand. Do good out there. Valete.

Carolyn Lane

Salutatorian–Carolyn Lane

To Mr. Peters, the St. George’s board, and distinguished members of the faculty, it is an honor to stand before our acclaimed alumni, family members, and friends gathered here. But most of all, it is an honor to be here with you, class of 2018.

14 years ago, you all opened your arms and dragged me through the doors of the Germantown Campus, as excited as ever to be welcoming a new student, even one who had masqueraded as a Briarcrest Saint for a year. That year, we jumped all over the school, shouting incoherent phrases and wishing we would be chosen to sleep in Mrs. Foreman’s fort during nap time. Some of us brought animals to show-n-tell, and many more broke out the building blocks during free time, eventually connecting enough to wrap from the wall of one classroom and into the teachers’ secret workroom. At that age, we learned that the best rewards were ice cream sandwiches and that being a little crazy is okay. We learned to be ourselves, as being anything but was not even option.

Six years later, we – with 10 or so new additions to the mix – moved from the hallway where we’d spent 3rd and 4th grade learning multiplication and voraciously reading to reach AR goals to the stand-alone 5th-grade rooms across the sidewalk. It was there where we received the first hint of what life would be like here at the Collierville campus. At the conclusion of each class period, we would pick up what hadto have been 1,000 pounds of books and trudge up the ramp from Ms. Petite’s room to Ms. Tate’s and Ms. McWaters rooms. Of course with our class being who it was, there were always a few who would take a shortcut and leap over the metal railway separating the classrooms; some cleared it their first try while others may have become friends with the ground a few times before mastering the skill. Soon after, our learning environments changed from those on campus to the caves of Cumberland Caverns. It was on the Cave Trip that we learned to spelunk through the caverns’ natural tunnels, army crawl through its low corridors, and slide down the muddy terrain of Bubblegum Alley. The caverns were where some of us learned that bringing a portable air mattress on a class trip was a recipe for disaster, as throughout the night all the mattresses magically came unscrewed and everyone woke up lying on the cavern’s jagged surface. At that age, we learned that Mrs. Tate’s humdinger project could quickly become the bane of a fifth grader’s existence and to enjoy our elementary-school moments while we could.

Five years later, our focuses shifted as we entered sophomore year and began to understand that our futures were starting to unfold. We joined clubs, played on sports team, and starred in musicals. We rode the Wagon Wheel all the way to state, where our football players earned a state championship ring, and after that amazing win, the whole grade celebrated the entire ride back to Memphis. We learned to accomplish our goals and to try our hardest to be the best versions of ourselves. We had students join the journalism staff and recognize that being a storyteller is just as important as being a storymaker. We traveled to Heifer Ranch, where we learned that Luke Georgi could still make a fantastic meal with only rice, carrots, and the spices Ellie Franklin smuggled in from her house. We figured out that there is so much in this world for which we have to be grateful and that we must always take advantage of the opportunity going to a school as amazing as St. George’s gives us. We learned to blossom where planted and to never doubt our incredible gifts, as they had begun to shape us into the people we would become.

Fast forward two years as we all began our final year at St. George’s, utterly unaware of how fast the time would fly. Those first couple of weeks, we opened our arms to the two newest members of our class and helped them find a place within our family. We applied to colleges in what felt – for some of us – to be a never ending cycle, only made worse by the endless “what college are you going to” questions we received to which our reply was more often “I don’t know” than anything else. This year, we learned to step out of our comfort zones with three new water polo players, five new soccer players, and two new thespians joining our teams and drama troupe for the first time. We learned to reach for the stars, to push ourselves even if we don’t succeed the first time, and to enjoy the time we have left.

But regardless of how much I have been preparing for college these past four years, here I am standing before you, 14 years after first walking through these doors, having absolutely no idea how to tell you goodbye or how to move on from the school or the people that made me who I am today. You taught me how to love, how to fight, how to win, and how to cry. You taught me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect all the time and that not being okay is perfectly fine. You taught me to love myself not in spite of my flaws but because them. You taught me to be me, and it’s for that that I can never thank you enough.

So as we begin to move on from our time here at St. George’s, I want you all to take what you have learned here and soar. Go be world-renowned scientists, Michelin star chefs, Tony-winning Broadway actresses, millionaire CEOs, world-changing political correspondents, pulitzer-prize-winning journalists, and everything I know we as a class have prepared each other to be.

As I close out this speech and say my final farewell to the incredible friends and family I have made here, I only have one more request. As my dad reminded me when I began writing this speech, it’s been scientifically proven that valedictorians and salutatorians typically don’thave the most successful careers of their class, so to any and all future millionaires out there, remember, donations to the Carolyn Lane fund are always appreciated.

But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being such an amazing class and family to me over these years; I truly will never forget each and every one of you. Thank you.

One Body, Many Parts: An Opening Convocation Reflection

[I gave the following homily at the Opening Convocation of St. George’s Independent School on its Collierville Campus two days after the violent and tragic white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.]

Good morning!

Good first morning of the 2017-2018 school year. A particular welcome to our sixth graders just joining us for the first time on this campus, as well as to the remarkable and impressive Class of 2018.

Hear the last part of today’s scripture from Romans again: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

These lines got me thinking about our differences and our interconnectedness. It also made me think about our individual bodies and how when one part is not working well, all the other parts are affected. This played out in my life when I faced significant hearing loss.

For the first time in 2002 in my left ear and later in 2015 in my right, I had a condition called Otoschlerosis. When one has Otoschlerosis, the stapes bone—a tiny bone—the smallest in the human body—stops vibrating. That means that there is nothing to communicate sound vibrations to the ear drum. As a result, over the course of about six months, I went deaf in the affected ear. Hearing aids reduced the problem to an extent; however, hearing aids seemed to eliminate a lot of sounds and voices in order to allow me to hear the voices closest to me. In order to do what they do, they simplify the world of sound.

During these two periods of hearing loss, it was stunningly disconcerting to find myself in a world that felt constricted, too small, oversimplified. I was missing so much. I felt out of balance, and in fact, I would lose my balance sometimes.

The condition left me discouraged and exhausted because I knew what better hearing sounded like. I remembered what it was like to hear clearly and make meaning from the many voices around me. I knew I was missing what I considered to be a necessary variety of voices that surrounded me.

Fortunately, there is a surgery that largely solves the problem called a stapedectomy. It is an amazing surgery in which the stapes bone is removed and replaced with an artificial stapes bone made of platinum and Teflon. Today my hearing is close to normal. Going to our scripture today, I have never been more aware of the value and interrelatedness of all of our different body parts and systems than when the bandages were unwrapped a couple of weeks after surgery and immediately I could hear again. I felt whole again.

I was so overwhelmed with the amount of sound I could now hear after these bandages were removed that I had to sit down for a while before driving. The world had opened back up, and I was overwhelmed and elated for an hour or so, a dangerously distracted man. For the first time in many months, I could hear people speaking around the corner, and I could understand people without having to look at them while they spoke.

The sort of deafness I experienced is not the only kind of deafness. Deafness can also affect a group of people who cease to hear voices not their own.

Here is my worry: in our country and in the world there is a risk of becoming deaf to each other because we forget the importance of hearing different voices. Rather than losing our hearing to a medical condition, we could simply forget to use our ears. St. George’s stands against that kind of deafness. Our school is intentionally a place that challenges us, at times uncomfortably, not to be deaf. It challenges us to hear the voices around us. It challenges us to work with others, to benefit from and share with others.


Our school is intentionally a place that challenges us, at times uncomfortably, not to be deaf. It challenges us to hear the voices around us. It challenges us to work with others, to benefit from and share with others.


Over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, evidence of deafness to those of different backgrounds revealed itself in the hateful, bigoted statements voiced by white supremacists, and their actions led to dreadful acts of violence.

Following this violence at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, issued a statement that said in part:

“Violence and extremism in the guise of racial identity or racial pride are as sinful and twisted as violence and extremism committed in the name of God. The tragic events in Charlottesville today, and the hatred that fueled them, grieve the heart of God. All of us need to repent of the racism that still flourishes in our nation.

Together, we join with all people of conscience and goodwill to pray, in the words of our Prayer Book, that God would “take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth.”

Reverend Hollerith continues, “We will pray for the victims of this tragedy; for God to soften the hearts of those blinded by racial hatred; and for all Americans to find the courage and strength to do the hard work of repairing the racial divisions among us.”

The work of our school, and any great school, is to create an environment where we do hear each other, care about each other, and recognize our shared humanity. This effort has never been more important. There is so much wonderful work and fun and shared purpose ahead for us this year at St. George’s—it is in our hands to make something valuable out of this school year, but I want to challenge each of us to fend off the deafness wrought by arrogance and narrow-mindedness. I want you to listen to the experiences of those different than yours, listen to those who go to different houses of worship than you do, listen to those that come from a different zip code than you come, listen to those who look different than you look. Becoming educated involves learning more about others and challenging our assumptions. To do this, we have to listen carefully.

In the school year to come, let’s remember the gift we have been given that allows us to come together in this school, and help us to hear and learn from the remarkable variety of voices around us. I am excited about the year to come at St. George’s—I can’t wait to get it all started.

Thank you.

Some pictures from the first day of school at St. George’s…

 

 

“Education is What Remains”: A Cum Laude and NHS Induction Talk by Dr. Amos Raymond

Dr. Amos Raymond

[It is just about Spring Break here at St. George’s Independent School. You can feel the momentum pulling us toward a well-deserved time away from school before the run toward the end of another school year. Before we let completely go though, we had our Cum Laude and National Honor Society Induction Ceremony on Thursday to celebrate outstanding students, as well as to celebrate the role of scholarship in our school. We were fortunate to have Dr. Amos Raymond speak to our assembled Upper School community. Dr. Raymond is a former Board member at SGIS, and it was in that role that I got to know him a bit. Here is the introduction Tom Morris, Upper School Director, provided in advance of Dr. Raymond’s reflection: 

“For the past decade, Dr. Raymond has maintained relationships with multiple medical facilities and is currently devoted to the Veterans Affairs Medical Centerand Lakeside Behavioral Health. After finishing his undergraduate degree in biology at Emory University, Dr. Raymond completed his medical studies and graduated from the University of Tennessee-Health Science Center College of Medicine. In addition to his practice and medical consulting, he serves on the advisory boards of both St. George’s Independent School and Hope House, the only facility in the state of Tennessee designed to meet the unique needs of HIV-affected children by addressing their educational, social, psychological, and health needs. His deep passion for young people and education led him to create an educational program called Urban Whiz Kid,which strives to motivate students to take charge of their educational endeavors. Dr. Raymond and his wife, Chevida, have two daughters, both of whom attend the University of Memphis Campus School. The family is active at Coleman Avenue Church of Christ.”

Dr. Raymond is a wonderfully thoughtful and caring man who has led a professional life dedicated to the health and well-being of others. I aspire to have much in common with him. I have copied his remarks below.]

I want to first thank all of you, the steadfast and selfless Board of Trustees and Head of School, Ross Peters for this very special opportunity. In particular, Ross, you are a smart, heady but well-measured and compassionate educator who’s presence is greatly valued and appreciated by the St. George’s community.

I am even more grateful for this immense privilege in sharing a few words with you students in this National Honor Society Cum Laude Induction Ceremony.

It is Albert Einstein that inspired my words today and in this spirit, I open with a profound and befitting quote: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Our life’s journey is indeed our true path to learning.

Some have said that we are taught, educated and placed in a classroom for the first 25 years of our lives, then we work for 40 years and then we live the remaining 10 years or so of our lives, relishing in our golden years, riding off into that proverbial sunset. Well, this over-simplification of our life journey leaves out the many colorful stories of family, relationships, adventure, misadventure, love, laughter, grief and the exuberant feelings conjured during an awesomely plain game of stickball or handball.

Growing up in Brooklyn holds for me so many meanings. They all are significant though some more than others but if I may, this badge that I have carried with me has ultimately shaped me into the individual that I am today. I am the sum of all of my experiences, good and bad. My upbringing in an immigrant household and community, my fondest recall of my teachers and classmates, my introduction t0the violin in the 4th grade and even my rough and tumble experiences have all chiseled me into this God-fearing, emotionally intelligent and sentient being. Back to the quotation… “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Albert Einstein was a German born, Jewish theoretical physicist who influenced philosophy of science and also credited for the theory of relativity, yielding probably the most widely recognized equation in the world, “E=MC2”. However, a few highlights of his incredible journey affords us an opportunity for reflection.

He was forced to leave his home in Germany and formally renounced his citizenship during Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. Believe it or not, his cottage was raided and seized by the Nazis and converted to a Hitler Youth camp. Despite being politically left-leaning and a pacifist, Einstein is on record for having written a letter to President Roosevelt, urging that the US look into Nazi Germany’s efforts in making advancements towards building an atomic bomb. By way of well executed machinations, this resulted in the birth of the famous Manhattan Project.

Albert Einstein was also known for his stance on civil rights in the mid 1900’s. He openly spoke and wrote against racism in the US where he regarded it as America’s worst disease handed down from one generation to the next and that those who bought into such ideologies “suffer from a fatal misconception.” He was a member of his local NAACP chapter in Princeton, New Jersey, had close ties to W.E.B Du Bois and received an honorary degree from the Historically Black College, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Albert Einstein was also instrumental in founding Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was friends with Charlie Chaplin, Niels Bohr, the Bengali polymath & winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Tagore and other luminaries and intellectuals. He loved music and was an accomplished violinist where he played chamber music with well known ensembles of the time. J. Robert Oppenheimer, a fellow theoretical physicist, reported in a 1965 lecture that many of Einstein’s early writings were peppered with errors which helped delay the publishing of some of his work for nearly a decade. Imagine that, the genius’s writings had flaws.

Will Rogers said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” #aintthatthetruth

By no means have I completely chronicled Einstein’s life, but I believe imagining the full dimensions of his personal journey, one can see how it may have shaped him into the historical icon that he is.

My medical studies and training span a host of topics which include anatomy, pathophysiology and pharmacology. I have studied long and hard. I am well equipped and empowered to diagnose and treat a patient dying from the ill effects of a heart attack, but what I have keenly learned was how to calm the excited and frightened patient or temper the frenetic medical staff as the environment in the emergency department will most times seem uncontrollable.

Another example of an incredible man and their journey was The Apostle Paul. As we know it, he was no saint in his prior version of himself. In fact, this son of a Pharisee and tent maker was a staunch opponent of the Christian people during his time as Saul. However, his notable road to Damascus led him down a path of mutability. With the help of Ananias and faith, Saul became Paul, a fervent follower and advocate of Christ. By far, Paul is considered the most prolific author of the New Testament. His journey was long, arduous and ultimately led to martyrdom. Again, attempting to understand the fullness of his journey and to encourage you, I will read the KJV of Philippians 3:13 &14: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” You all will traverse the many long and arduous roads, prudently navigate the forks, decidedly make headway towards your goal and along the way, you will learn.

 

As you all are being groomed as life long learners, it is with the God gifted ability to think and learn will you all forge paths, relationships and the soul of your fellow brothers and sisters. I want to congratulate each and every one of you on your journey as all of you will find your own special paths.

To those of you who finds yourselves…Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Summa Cum Laude and lastly, Thank You Laude…Congratulations!

Cum Laude Inductees
National Honor Society Inductees

St. Paul’s Thanksgiving Message: A Chapel Reflection on Humility

St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael
St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael

[I gave the following talk in our 6 – 12 Chapel service this morning]

Happy Thanksgiving!

The excerpt from Chapter Twelve of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, today’s scripture, is just as much a message to us as it was to the members of the early church in Rome. Sent to us almost two thousand years ago, Paul’s letter has landed in our mailbox just in time. We find it there right when we need it most. Listen to this morning’s scripture again:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”

To my ear Paul provides a perfect Thanksgiving message. To live toward the expectation he delineates would be to live one’s life as a form of thanksgiving.

I struggled to write my comments for today’s chapel service. I started and stopped. I postponed and delayed. I thumbed through quotations from Mahatma Gandhi to Ernest Hemingway, and from Abraham Lincoln to Elie Wiesel. I stared at my shoes, and stared at a blank computer screen. Sometimes in the days leading to one of my talks I have found a kind of easy inspiration from events beyond our school. Not so this time. Actually I have found much in the news this Fall to quash inspiration. Nationally, we often seem to be pulling apart, straining against each other at a moment when ideally we should be coming together. It is like we are forgetting something, something really important, amidst the din of fake news stories, shallow, angry debates, and the self-righteous commentary of talking heads. What is it we are forgetting?

Too often recently we have forgotten ourselves and lost sight of each other. We have been so focused on what divides us that we have missed what ties us together. Lost in our certainty that whatever position we hold is correct, we have become dismissive not only of opposing views, but far more dangerously, of the people who hold them. This is not a place we can or should stay as a nation. It is fortuitous that HUMILITY is our Chapel theme for the month of November because it is humility that should guide us in exactly the same moment that the world around us seems consumed by its opposites: narcissism and pride. If Pride is the sin of forgetting God, Humility is the virtue of remembering him. Thus Paul’s words call us to be counter-cultural, to resist what he calls the “pattern of the world” in order to be transformed through faith.

C.S. Lewis offers an informative and concise perspective on humility, saying in his significant work called Mere Christianity that: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Lewis in only fourteen words—“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”—elevates humility to its proper place among human virtues. He pushes back against an inaccurate definition of humility—that it is a low view of one’s own worth—and instead asserts that humility is a recognition that we exist in connection and in relationship and that we should seek communion with others. Rather than diminishing us, being humble allows us to see that we are created by God to be part of God’s creation. Therefor, humility, perhaps ironically, allows us to see that we are a part of the eternal.

Fascinatingly, in Paul’s letter to us, he does the same thing. Hear it one more time:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”

 Like C.S. Lewis, Paul is defining humility. He is also offering an approach to life where our actions can be the embodiment of thanksgiving. He is giving us the ground rules for living a good life. We need to listen to him.

In an essay called, “A Native Hill” Wendell Berry layers a challenge on top of all this talk of humility and of thanksgiving. He says:

“We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”

Like St. Paul, and like C.S. Lewis, Berry is providing perspective on humility and, I believe, through his use of the word “reverence”, perspective on thanksgiving as well. He points us away from believing that we can know everything when he calls us to “acknowledge” “mystery”, to “stand in awe”, and to “recover the sense of majesty of creation.” He also challenges us to live by the idea that “what is good for the world will be good for us” instead of the more self-centered idea that what is good for me is good for the world.

St. Paul, C.S. Lewis, and Wendell Berry each share something valuable with us. They call us to see the essential role of humility, and they challenge us not simply to see Thanksgiving as a date on a calendar, but as the reverent condition within which we should live our lives.

Earlier in my remarks this morning, I said, “Too often recently we have forgotten ourselves and lost sight of each other. We have been so focused on what divides us that we have missed what ties us together.” Imagine a world where humility and thanksgiving are central. In that world we could say, “We acknowledge we are each part of God’s creation, so we recognize the value of each other. Thus what divides us never overtakes our commitment to what ties us together.”

I, for one, would like to live in such a place, and it is my hope, and my humble prayer for this Thanksgiving that, beginning in this place, we can make it so.

Amen.

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A note on the selection from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: As I was looking for a reading that would work with my thoughts about humility, I read a message to the University of the South: Sewanee Community (my alma mater) from both its Vice Chancellor and its student leadership. Paul’s letter arrived in my mailbox at the perfect moment. I have copied the message below:

TO THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY

As citizens, we have been dismayed by events following last week’s election results. As members of the University community, which ever strives to be a place where brothers and sisters dwell together in unity, we recognize that, although we may be at some remove from what is taking place, we are inevitably affected by it. At such a time as this, it is more important than ever for us not simply to state the words of our University motto but to live and to model those words, so that everyone at this University knows that the values we share, and for which this University stands, will not in any way be compromised.

St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”

In this spirit, and as University leaders, we commit ourselves to living out this admonition. And we urge all members of this community – faculty, staff, students – to consider how you might do the same. Let us make a special effort to greet one another as we pass on campus; to sit with someone we don’t know in McClurg; to engage in the hard task of learning by broadening the limited reach of our own individual understanding and discussing our differences with civility; and thus to make this place, at least, one where liberty and wholesome restraint are kept in balance and the dignity of every human being continues to be respected.

Ecce Quam Bonum,

John M. McCardell, Jr., Vice-Chancellor and President

David Harkins, President, Student Government Association

Mark McAlister, Chair, Honor Council

Molly Payne-Hardin, President, St. Luke’s Community

Sarah Tillman Reeves, President, Order of Gownsmen