Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
As a teacher, I’ve heard my share of commencement speakers. I wish I could say I remember most of them, but I don’t. We come to graduation ceremonies to celebrate a right of passage, and for the majority in the audience, it’s to watch a loved one cross the stage, shake hands with a dignitary, and receive a diploma. The speeches just delay the anticipated end. But those speeches do have the power to plant a seed, a final moment of instruction for the soon-to-be graduates. Whether they know it or not, that seed will find soil in their hearts. For many it lies dormant, never to take root. But when the speaker is someone respected or someone we admire, the soil is tender and ready to encourage growth. That’s why I’m concerned about the current speeches encouraging our graduates to be angry. Is that the best advice you can give? Is that how we should lead as teachers, parents, politicians, musicians, and religious leaders?
What has anger brought us in the recent days? How does anger bring healing? Evelyn Waugh wisely noted in 1939, “Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity.” Is that what we want? Every conceivable atrocity? What about justice? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the danger of injustice, as noted above. Does that mean I’m not angered over what’s happened in our country (and the world) over the last few weeks? By no means! Of course I’m angry, but I choose love, because I know the fruit of anger is death. You should read William Blake’s A Poison Tree if you doubt me. Love heals, and what we need to tell our graduates (and the world) right now is CHOOSE LOVE. Not the sham we see on display, but true AGAPE love.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a Greek word that describes the type of love we all long for in our hearts, but rarely receive or give. As defined by Dick Mills, B.A., D.D., “Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good of the other person, no matter what he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion.” Only the devil himself would refuse this love!
So let this be my commencement address to the class of 2020 and all who live in a time such as this. We’re all commencing. Be angry, yet do not sin (Psalm 4:4). Go forth in love.
Commencing – Vincent H. Anastasi
How to avoid the ubiquitous platitudes,
the sycophant soliloquies,
the right heart wrongly expressed,
tagged and whored:
a single voice
seeking mob amplification
like the bubble reputation
in the cannon’s mouth?
To feel is human,
to recoil in horror at injustice,
but indiscriminate outrage,
that dehumanizing force,
spawning injustices in justice’s name,
with truth, liberty, or justice,
demanding the appeasing knee of fear,
rejoicing in destruction,
manifestations that nothing matters
despite the blazoned call.
True life has never been
black and white,
and every police car pyre,
every storefront rape,
every drop of blood
reminds us of civilization’s vulnerability,
and, like it or not,
we are our brother’s keeper,
each bearers of divine light,
not barbarism’s mercenary
nor hatred’s hounded slave
gesticulating before the Lord of the Flies.
Sharpen our blunt rage
into holy indignation;
transform our wanton destruction
into prophetic creation;
sever the strings
that puppet-like have us bound
to webs of darkness;
remove oppression’s heavy yoke
that our light might radiate ebullience!
Let us rebuild
the deserted ruins of our cities
and be known as restorers of homes,
turning from evil’s proffered cup
to drink deep in reverent fear