Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Sunday May 27, 2012
I felt honored and a bit nervous to have been asked to speak at one of these ecumenical Sunday services of the Dartmouth Christian Chaplaincy. I became even more nervous when I read the homilies that had come before me in this series on “courage.” Like Grace Johnson, I started from the point of view that I didn’t know anything about courage and was not myself particularly drawn to the idea of courage. When I read her remarks, she helped me warm up to the idea of speaking about courage through her connection of courage to trust and faith. I was similarly very moved by Michelle Domingue’s comments about the courage to love and the portrait of Mother Henriette DeLille he shared with us. I found myself continuing to shake my head in agreement as I continued on to read Kurt Nelson’s remarks on courage and ambiguity. All these great speakers left me in the position of not being sure I had something worthwhile to add to this exploration. With exemplary Christian charity, Kurt urged me to speak from experience and to widen the topic’s scope if I felt I wanted to. This opened up the deep desire in me to share with you something of the extended thinking I have been doing about mortality. Once I got on this track it felt like the appropriate one, even more so when I realized that Dartmouth and in specific Rollins Chapel have been the backdrop for some of my most difficult encounters with mortality. However, I get ahead of myself. Let’s go back to Peter.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Rollins Chapel, 5/20/12
Matthew 14:22-32, Matthew 16:24-25, Acts 4:13
I am finding courage to be rather scary to talk about. When Kurt first asked if I might be interested in speaking in the chapel series on courage, my first thought was, “Courage?! I don’t know anything about courage -- I don’t actually think about courage that much -- it’s not a virtue I’ve found particularly captivating in the past, like love and truth and beauty -- and I definitely don’t feel like a particularly courageous person. What on earth could I say about courage?” But I decided to think about it a bit, and thinking about Jesus and the stories about him seemed like a good place to start, and as I looked through the gospels I began to notice that people seemed to do a lot of courageous things when they crossed paths with Jesus. And yet it seemed to me that something more than courage was the key to their brave actions. What do you suppose it was?
Think about it a moment as we look at a few of the stories. The one we just read is a big one, as getting out of a boat in the middle of a very windy lake clearly requires a great deal of courage. There’s also the woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years – she crept up behind Jesus in a crowd and touched His cloak and was healed. That was an audacious thing to do, and she trembled with fear as she fell at His feet to confess what she’d done. But she had the courage to do it. Then there’s the disciple Matthew, another good example. He was sitting at his tax collector’s booth and Jesus saw him and said “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed him. What courage that must have taken, to get up from his livelihood – walk away from the familiar – and go after Jesus.
Undeniably these people had courage. But do you know what the “something more” is that I think gave rise to their courage?
Monday, May 14, 2012
St. John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
2 Timothy 1:7
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Back in 2000, Vanessa Williams starred in a film, entitled The Courage to Love. I actually hadn’t watched the movie until last year when conducting research on the woman she portrayed in the film—the Venerable Mother Henriette DeLille. The film provided a general overview of DeLille’s life, making known her piety, devotion to God, but most of all her courage to love all people, regardless of their status—as enslaved or free, of African or European descent, man, woman, American or French.
There’s a lesson to be learned from this saintly woman’s life. Her commitment to the teachings of Christ, virtually summarized in the passage from St. John 13, enabled her to radically love despite the ridicule, the humiliation, and the antagonism she encountered from others. DeLille knew that her salvation was bound up in that of others, so she dedicated her life to loving others, and thereby she shared her experiences with Christ.
Before committing her life to the service of others, DeLille penned a prayer she created in her journal, in 1836. It read, “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I wish to live and die for God.”
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Rollins Chapel, 5.6.12
Romans 14: 1-8
Courage is something of a second-rate virtue,
if you think about it.
It’s not like love.
Not like beauty.
Which are all rooted entirely in the good.
But there’s no courage without fear.
No courage without the possibility of failure.
No courage without the possibility of
bad things being true,
Courage necessitates a shadow side.
It is, as I said,
second rate. And ambiguous
as virtues go.
And there are, of course,
many ways around it.
Three in particular come to mind:
We can simply deny the good,
and succumb to the idea of nothing,
or of nothing mattering.
We can go the way of Nietzsche,
and simply try to get what we can,
while we can,
for little else matters.
And thus make courage unnecessary.
On the other end of the spectrum,
we can, and do, try to deny the negative.
We can pursue adamantly,
ideas like security,
And we can distract ourselves to the extreme.