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A Christmas Story of Our Best Selves

December 8, 2011

Note: The following remarks were given preceding a Wednesday Night Chapel Service led by participants in this year’s Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

In this season of Christmas, we look for a light of hope and transformation to appear in the darkness, a darkness that symbolizes our human fears, frailty and weakness.  We are by our nature small, prone to assertions of selfishness, egotism, greed and violence; we are wired to believe that we are so important, so compelling, so central to the workings of a large and complex and incomprehensible world.

We live in darkness until we master the art, discipline and practice of empathy, generosity, graciousness and love.  We live in darkness until we see the power of faith, the power of education, and the power of human connection to awaken us from blind and rigid self-assertion, a belief in the supremacy of self that feeds intolerance, division and discord.

It might be particularly refreshing and inspiring to say that we live in and contribute to a diverse school and a diverse world because we want so much to experience and share the enlightenment, revelation and peace of connection and reconciliation with the human family.  It might be inspiring to create, quite intentionally, schools and colleges that help us defeat the forces of egotism, consumption and self-regard and move humanity on a path to equality, justice, reconciliation and peace.

This is the work of St. Andrew’s—this is the work of diversity:  it is living, talking, listening, imagining, believing, suffering, laughing, crying and reacting to the long and tired history of human blindness, ignorance and rigidity.  It is having the courage, humility and realism to say over and over that we do not see, know, understand and control anything in our world except our own narrow perspective.  It is work associated with a deep commitment to reading, to scholarship, to methodologies that expand and broaden our horizons.

But it is also work that calls us to move from the academic realm to the world of suffering, conflict, violence and despair.  It is the work of community service programs that break down barriers that divide us; it is the work of the arts that express the diverse and brilliant manifestations of our human desire to find meaning, connection and coherence.  It is work that calls upon America to live up to its highest ideals as a land of freedom and opportunity.  It is work that means more than avoiding and swallowing and repressing hateful words, slogans and philosophies.  It is rather an active expression of connection, of unity, of compassion and of affirmation.  It means leaving old, tired, discarded beliefs and creeds and doctrines and words behind.  It means thinking and acting counter-culturally about our world, our nation, our school, our family and ourselves.  It’s about freedom—it’s about ripping away the masks Junot Diaz described—masks of fear and restraint that overwhelm and exhaust us.

We celebrate Jesus’ birth in the Christian tradition as the triumph of simplicity, love and connection in a world of darkness and confusion.  You know the story—it is one of obscure poverty, grace and divinity all at once.  This was a baby, a man, a Savior who served the poor, the invisible, the abused, the scorned and the sinner.  His radical doctrine of hospitality, compassion and love inspired his followers and outraged those who had a stake in the world of darkness, presumption and power.

His words to us are clear:  we need to stop defending our positions and acknowledge our human capacity for growth, development, reconciliation and love.

Can we suspend our belief in our own privileged perspective and commit now, once and for all, to listen, to study the lives of all people so gloriously different than ourselves and honor and validate and affirm the wide spectrum of our diverse world and school?

Can we discard the mask of certainty and presumption and honor someone and something other and larger than ourselves?

It is the story of Christmas.  Listen.

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