Monday, April 30, 2007

“Feeding the Wolves”

Keynote address by Rev. Joy Carroll Wallis at 109th Goshen College Commencement


Thank you, Dr. Brenneman, for your very kind words and for inviting me to deliver the commencement address here at Goshen College. It is an honor for me to be a small part of this wonderful occasion of your graduation and I want to congratulate each of you. Goshen puts an emphasis on the integrity of mind, body and soul and so I know you have worked hard, played hard and served hard. Now you are ready to be let loose on the world.

I looked at Goshen’s Mission and Core Values statement and I see that the goal here is for you to develop “Christ centered lives and lives of passionate learning.” You’re working on becoming “servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens.” Wow! When Goshen College students graduate, I think the world has good reason to be hopeful! And today is a day for celebration, because you understand especially well when Marion Wright Edelman of The Children’s Defense Fund, says things like, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and the world better than you found it.”

My hope today is to equip you with a warning and commission that might be helpful as you set out on this journey, as you begin the next chapter of your lives. So I want to tell you a story.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, fear, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other one is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about this for few minutes and then he looked up at his grandfather and asked: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed. The one you feed.”

You see, just because you are all set with this fabulous educational and spiritual experience here at Goshen, it doesn’t mean it’s easy or plain sailing from here on in. Most people assume that if we can get this life thing and how to live it figured out in our heads that we’re fine. At college, we often believe we can think our way into a new way of living, but that’s actually not the way it works. In reality, it’s more likely that we will live our way into a new way of thinking. And that’s the challenge before all of us. It’s all about the choices and the decisions that we make — making the right choices, feeding the right wolves and it’s something we will all wrestle with for the rest of our lives, even on a daily basis.

There’s a battle going on out there in the world and inside the best of us. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he talks of his own struggles. He says, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Jesus even struggled with the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. You’ll recall the first temptation — to turn stones into bread — was the temptation to the quick fix, the easy way out — the temptation for security. The second was to use his life calling as a personal career opportunity, to grasp power, and the third was to the spectacular. The devil put Jesus on the pinnacle and asked him to jump off. They may echo some of the temptations at the heart of your struggle and Jesus was on the verge of these temptations. Jesus quotes Hebrew Scriptures at the devil. He brings God’s moral clarity causing the devil to back off. He makes a choice. He chooses God.

We will be tempted in ways that will surprise us. Many Christians today don’t believe in “The Devil” as such, they see evil as being within each human being, a character flaw, part of our nature. Other Christians look at terrible personal events in their lives and historic occurrences such as the Holocaust and are convinced that something is “out there.” Others talk of the “principalities and powers” of darkness that can take hold of our culture and our structures of society. Now whether this “something” is within individuals or organized at a higher level or as I believe, “both/and,” we had better take evil seriously.

It’s a titanic struggle between the wolves within each of us, the wolves in our communities you are going to be settling in and the wolves warring in our world.

I was one of the first women, as Jim mentioned, to be ordained into the priesthood of the Church of England. Women were not allowed to be priests until as recently as 1994 — and they are still not allowed to be bishops. That was a struggle with the principalities and powers, even in the church! I was a spokesperson for the ordination of women and was elected to the General Synod, the governing body of the church. On Nov 11th in 1992 the historic debate and vote took place and I was privileged to have a vote in both chambers. We had to achieve a two-thirds majority in each house (Bishops, Clergy and Laity). It passed easily in the house of Bishops and Clergy, but in the House of Laity, we only got the two-thirds by one vote. If one person had voted the other way, we would have had to wait another 10 years before women were we allowed to be priests in the Church of England. It was a nail-biting day. We had been “common law priests” and the church had finally decided to make honest women of us!

In the challenges and choices that you face in the future which wolf will you feed is the question I want you to ask yourself.

Which wolf will you feed when you choose where to live or how to choose your community of faith? Which wolf will you feed when you decide what your vocation and work will be or when and how you decide whether or how to raise a family? Which wolf will you feed when you choose your friends and your relationships?

Remember the old Cherokee’s story. Use it as a checklist because we need to take care when we make decisions about our lifestyle and decisions about our vocation and calling because the temptations are always there. It’s tempting to climb the ladder of success, making money and building security because the good wolf needs you to listen to your calling.

 Don’t just ask the question, “Does this career path bring me job satisfaction?” Ask, “Does it bring meaning?” and the Christian question is “Does it contribute to the building of God’s kingdom?” Don’t just go where you are directed or invited. Don’t just do something because you can, but try and make the connections between your talents and gifts and your deepest values and beliefs. Go where your moral compass leads you.

Remember, your vocation — and this I’ve stolen from my husband — is where the gifts God has given you meet the needs of the world. So as a lawyer, will you fight for the underprivileged? Will you defend the undefended? As a doctor or a nurse, will you serve the needs of those who are not taken care of and work for medical health care reform? As a teacher, will you teach kids that no one else wants to teach — in the systems that nobody wants to be in?

When it comes to feeding the wolf you can look for yourselves and think about your particular areas of vulnerability, but there’s one tasty morsel that the evil wolf loves more than anything else and that is fear.

It’s so easy to become crippled by fear. My sister in law once asked, very recently, a room full of women to stand up if they were involved in, or close to someone battling with cancer. Every single woman in the room stood up. So many of us are afraid of cancer. I admit it: I am afraid of cancer, and I have to work hard not to feed that wolf.

And after the terrible shooting at Virginia Tech, I’m afraid to send my kids to college. When Luke says, “Mom I never want to go to college I want to live with you forever…” I want to say, “OK honey, that’s just fine; you don’t have to go anywhere,” but I cannot feed that wolf. We all have a human need for security and we fear anything that threatens it.

Fear: it’s become the foundation for American foreign policy. We are directly and constantly encouraged to be afraid. Afraid of attack, afraid of immigration, afraid of pandemic diseases, afraid of poverty, and it makes us want to build walls.  

But as James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, once said, “There are no walls.” What he meant was that building walls cannot protect us from all the critical forces and threats of the world from environmental degradation, pandemic disease, random violence and threats of terrorism

And Micah, the prophet, reminds us that we will never have peace or security — ploughshares and pruning hooks — we will not reduce violence and war until more people have their own vines and fig trees. There is no peace without justice, and our security is deeply connected to the security of others

Jesus says “Perfect love casts out fear.” That’s what we feed love and courage. The answer to fear is not fearlessness. It’s not not being afraid; it’s courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the resistance to it.

When my 8 year old was 3, the planes struck the Twin Towers in New York. He used to watch Mr. Rogers. I’m sure many of you watched Mr. Rogers, too. He used to say, “In a crisis, always look for the helpers.” The firefighters and other rescue workers, the helpers, quickly became my son’s heroes. But that advice works, in a crisis, or even in daily life, always look for courage.

In the midst of the Virginia Tech massacre, there were those who acted to protect others. Professor Liviu Librescu, who had survived the Holocaust, died saving his students. There was the teacher and students who barricaded the doors against the killer. Students pushed each other into closets and applied tourniquets to stop the bleeding.

And after the horrible shootings at the Amish school in Pennsylvania, there were the parents that lost their children who reached out in forgiveness to the perpetrators and their families.

After the terrible but successful struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa, it was a Christian leader named Desmond Tutu who showed the courage to lead a nation in forgiveness.

And in countless situations of violence, fear and conflict, it is very often people like the Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams who are the ones to show both courage and hope.

Always look for the courage to counter the fear. Which wolf will we feed? Feed the courage, starve the fear. Let’s strive to be the ones who choose courage over fear.

And don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Finally, I don’t want you to be overwhelmed by the future. Dare to dream big things and don’t be afraid to take risks. And I want to leave your today with something from Nelson Mandela. In his inaugural speech, he said,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are we not to be?
“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking, so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
“And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear; our presence automatically liberates others.”

May God bless each one of you today. And I want to give you my hearty congratulations. Amen.

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