Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Weight of White People in the World





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I will tell a truth that is hard to tell: If it weren’t for Trinity School, or some kindred community into which I was inducted, I would not be thinking about Michael Brown, Jr.  His story would be a one of the dark drops of headlines that dissolved and disappeared into my clear consciousness as soon as the evening news faded away.  Big Mike’s story would be diluted by tales of Ebola, ISIS, and Russians in Eastern Ukraine, drowned out by the floods in Phoenix.
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Not so for my African American friends.  This story is their story.  Not that they are just like Mike, but that they find themselves irresistibly drawn into this story.  They are talking about it at their dinner tables the way I would be talking if my neighbor’s house had been burglarized or his wife assaulted.  “That could happen to me” and “That just ain’t right” are questions like scabs that we keep picking until they bleed.  

When the board at Trinity formed its permanent committee on diversity, we called it by the strangest of names, the Koinonia Committee.  I will confess to having doubted the wisdom of this appellation over the years--most people cannot pronounce it, few people can spell it, and anyone who tries to define it will get all tangled up in the lexical knot that the Greek word renders.  It has been translated variously as “fellowship,” “communion,” and “commonality,” and I often find myself trying to explain what it means and why we chose it to name our Diversity Committee.  Were we just trying to be cute or clever?


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But Michael Brown’s story reminds me why it was a stroke of brilliance (not mine) to name our work Koinonia.  At its root, the word means “sharing.”  In the Greek world, a koinonia was a partnership in which both sides had skin in the game.  


My black brothers and sisters have skin in the Michael Brown game, and therefore so do I.  And my skin is not just the skin of sympathy and compassion, it is the white skin that James Baldwin discovered after his bitter father died, “the weight of white people in the world.”  That weight is not a thing I can take full responsibility for, anymore than I can be (entirely) responsible for the number that appears on my digital bathroom scale.  But it is my weight, and wherever I go, there I am, every white pound of me.  Part of koinonia is being willing to learn how that weight feels to others.  

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Baldwin tells the story of how he hurled a mug of water at a waitress who said to him, “We don’t serve Negroes here.”  He tells it not so that he can hurl condemnations against this woman (who spoke with “a note of apology in her voice, and fear”) but to claim the truth that “my life, my real  life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart.”





Turns out that some of the things we share are toxic koinonia, the kind that knows no color bar.  


Which makes me glad, most of all, for another Koinonia: the share we all have in Christ, who bore the weight of the sins of the white people and of the black and the brown.  His story is our story: Christ died for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.  Not the weight of all the white racism or the weight of centuries of black anger can count against that Great Gift.  
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But the glory of that truth has not won out in my own heart yet, and they are rioting still in Ferguson.  And so, in the meantime, I am trying to listen.  And not only to my African American friends at Trinity, but also to those (of many ethnicities) in law enforcement--I was glad to see that Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned his brother in law enforcement in his recent op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  I am thankful for people like our Diversity Coordinator, Adrienne Davis, who is telling me what questions her son is asking and how she and her husband, as parents of two black sons and one black daughter, respond.






Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back To School!

We've welcomed forty new families to Trinity over the last two days.  It's a joy to have the energy and optimism of these fresh hearts and faces.  





I love seeing students greeting one another at the beginning of the year.  Back together again!


Mrs. Holland says hello to new students and to some that have grown a bit.


Remember the smell of new pencils freshly sharpened?


A firm welcome-back handshake from Zachary.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where Are the Students?




My Grandpuppy, Cooper, came by school last week looking for the students.  He was a bit disappointed.  I've told him to come back later this week or next and he will find all the students he could wish for.

You can see his quest here.

I'm with Cooper: Ready for them!

Here we go with Trinity's 20th.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Congratulations to our Graduates 2014





Today, May 30, 2014, the fifth class of Trinity graduates walked across the stage in the Gold Gym, in front of hundreds of family, friends, faculty, and guests. It was a good morning. Parents and faculty were all full with the joy of what these young people have become, and we were moved deeply by their parting and the thought of seeing them go. This was a strong class, and I am especially sad to see this group out the door. But it is time for them to go, and now we say goodbye.  
Below are my remarks to the graduates at their graduation ceremony.











Exiles
Class of 2014, today is the culmination of much hard work, ambition, devotion on your part.  It is also the culmination of much that has been given to you by many.  It is fitting today for us to honor you; it is also fitting that you honor those who have made this possible, especially your parents.  I believe you have something for them.  [Students rise to deliver letters.]
When you came to Trinity, we made a promise to you and your parents: That you would be known and that you would be loved.  We have known you, and from that knowledge has grown a real love for each of you.  We know what after-school jobs Jay and Matt have held; we know how Mary got hooked on robotics; we know how well Luke plays the trumpet, Alaina puts, Emily swims, Anna spikes, Carr drums, Olivia improvises, Rachel and Ainslie design; we know what Mark and Xavier built for their Capstone; we know what country Anna has visited with her father for several spring breaks; we know the play that Brie directed for her Capstone; we know what leadership Catherine developed as Senior Class President, what determination and resilience Eleanor proved, what independence of spirit Charlotte has shown, what grace and speed Harrison musters on the 110 hurdles. We know the book Elena wrote for her Junior Honors Humanity project and the self-portrait Elmer drew; we know who is most likely to be tardy (but we won’t say) and who is most likely to organize the spring formal (that would be Ella and Maddie); we know the golf tournament Evan pulled off in honor of his grandfather and the robotic arm Chris built; we know why Forrest shaved his head; we don’t know why Harper wears socks with rubber duckies but we know he does.  We know that Holly builds houses for Habitat, Jackson  dives into international affairs in Model UN.  That  John taught violin to Burmese refugee children, Madison revamped the Upper School Commons, and Mackenzie teaught Lisbeth to read at Forest View Elementary.  We know that Somer served quietly but selflessly on her spring break trip to the Dominican Republic and Catherine  taught South African children at Mukhanyo Christian Academy.  We know that  Sydney has flow, Spencer is cool on the foul line,  Zach is polite everywhere, that  Grant greets me by name whenever he sees me.
We know your names when we see you in the hall or in the grocery store.  We know that one of our Madisons is Madison and the other Maddie, that one of our Eleanors is Eleanor and the other Ella, that one of our Catherines is Catherine and the other is too, that one of our Annas was once Anna Kate but now is Anna, and the other has been Anna all along; that Chris is Tyrese, that Matt is Phoenix, and John Eveleigh is Jeveleigh  . . .
Names are important.  I am always embarrassed when I forget one of yours, or call you by your brother’s name--especially if you’re a girl.  The passage of Scripture we read this morning tells a tale about names, and I want to think with you about this passage before you go.  
Daniel and his three friends, like you, had good names, names they had grown up with, names given to them by their parents on the eighth day, when they were circumcised as Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah.  And these were their names when they were bar-mizvahed, when they became sons of the Torah and owned their faith for themselves.  Good Jewish names.  If they graduated, these were the names on their diplomas.  The names that would always be in their hearts.  The names that would always make them turn their heads if someone called from behind on the street, “Yo, Mishael!”
But in this chapter, and in the whole book of Daniel, we see that something happened to them and they changed their names.  They became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego.  
I believe that there is no better model for you as you graduate than these four young men.  (I know that there are no women in this story, and so we must use our imaginations.)  There are strong parallels for you all.
Daniel and his friends were young.  They were gifted and educated.  Nature and Nurture had conspired to make them strong candidates for the next stage of their lives.  They were, in the words of the Scripture, “noble.”  They were “skillful in wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, and learning.”   It was no accident that Ashpenaz chose these young men, just as it is no accident that your colleges have chosen you and that employers will hire you.  You have been well-prepared.  
But Daniel and his friends had some real challenges ahead of them, as do you.  They were about to embark on a further leg of education.  But they weren’t going to Jerusalem University or Zion College.  Those schools had been shut down, burned down, blown up.  They were going to Babylon.  They went to school as exiles, far from home, in a strange land.  By the waters of Babylon they hung up their book bags.  They were not on the home team anymore; home was far away.
You all are on your way to Babylon.  Some of you are going directly there, to a land of foreign gods and strange customs--like all-nighters, fraternity initiation, and hookups.  The faith that we have hoped to build into you here at Trinity will be, at best, allowed and, at worst, derided and marginalized.  In many of the schools you have chosen, robust Christian faith may seem to undermine the deep core values of the academy: academic freedom and radical individualism, for instance.  Some of you are taking a gap year, and you too will very soon discover that you are not at Trinity anymore.  
Some of you are going to Christian colleges, places that will feel much like Trinity.  But this is just another hostel for you on your journey toward Babylon, for you will hold jobs and marry and raise children in a foreign land.  
I think that the story of Daniel and his friends is perhaps a better story for you than it has been for any generation in recent memory.  If you are serious about following Christ beyond Trinity--I know that some of you are not, but my hope and prayer is that all of you will learn to be--if you want to follow Christ in the twenty-first century, you will have to learn to navigate as an exile.  And you could learn a thing or two from Daniel and his friends.  
First, they made Babylon their home.  It wasn’t their home, but they lived as if it were.  They settled in.  They didn’t create a ghetto for themselves.  The dove right in.  They studied Babylon’s literature and language.  They were wise to the goals of the king, and they did their dead level best to excel at that: becoming strong and physically impressive.  They even took Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego.  You might say that they out-Babyloned the Babylonians.  I wish that for you: that you will excel at the academy and in the workforce in many ways, so that its awards and honors and recognitions will be yours.  Some may say that you have sold out if you do this--I wonder what Daniel’s good Jewish mother would have thought about his taking the name “Belteshazzar,” which means “Prince of the God Bel”?  There is always that danger, but living in exile means living in one home that is not your home, settling in.
Settling in without settling.  And that is the second lesson from Daniel and his friends.  Though they worked for the king’s goals and pursued the curriculum set by a pagan culture, they resolved to keep their true north somewhere deep inside.  They crossed many lines, but there were lines they would not cross.  As servants of the King of Babylon, they were more importantly servants of the Most High God--you will remember the story of the fiery furnace and of the lions’ den, which are told in the chapters after this one.  I wonder what your fiery furnace will be.
Living as an exile means living in tension.  Paul called it living “as if not” in 1 Corinthians--he says that Christians who are married should live as if not, and that those who buy things should live as if they had nothing, etc.  I think today he would say that those who pursue a college degree should do so as if not.  Jesus prayed for us that we would be in the world but not of it.  In the passage that Mac read for us, Paul speaks of becoming all things to all men, for the sake of the Gospel.  This is what Daniel and his friends did.  They didn’t opt out; they didn’t sell out; they found a way to be Babylonian without compromising their fundamental Jewishness.  Your call is to find a way to be fully engaged in a secular world without compromising your loyalty to Jesus Christ.
The biblical word for this--and it is used right here in this passage--is wisdom.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that two of the most powerful stories about wisdom in all the Bible come from situations where believers were having to live in exile, in a foreign land, where they were called by God to excel in a culture foreign and even hostile to their God without selling out.  I am thinking of the stories of Daniel here in Babylon and of Joseph in Egypt.
How will you sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  I do not know, but I have great hopes for you.  We have prepared you well.  You have prepared yourselves well.  Only may you never forget Jerusalem, your first love.  May your tongues stick to the roof of your mouths, if you do not remember Christ your Lord, if you do not set Jerusalem above as your highest joy.  
When you return to us in a year or in ten, I am thinking that, like Daniel and his friends, you may have new names.  They may be strange names: Doctor, professor, judge, chief of staff, Head of School, CEO, CFO, sergeant, sociologist, activist, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, vegetarian, humanitarian, theologian.  They may be names with hashtags.  Married names or hyphenated names.  They might be tatooed on some part of your body.  They might be your blog name, your screen name, your pen name.  These are the kinds of names that may sound foreign to some of us, and they may scare us a bit.  But they are the kind of names people get when they dive in fully to engage the culture of the workplace and the academy.  But as you go, remember this:  The only name that really matters is the name of the Lord Christ.  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Keep that name in your heart and on your lips, no matter where you live, no matter what name they give you or you take for yourself.  It is the only name that is given under heaven by which we may be saved.  Don’t be ashamed of that Name.  If there is a fiery furnace for you or a lion’s den, let it be because of your loyalty to that Name.
So go on to Babylon and take that name and that confession with you.  Learn to sing the name of Jesus in a foreign land.  
And come back here often.  Whatever your name, we will always be glad to have known and loved you, and we will love you always, graduates of Trinity School.