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June 22, 2021 | Thomas Postema
This is the talk that Head of School Tom Postema gave at the Baccalaureate Celebration with the graduates and parents on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Mr. Postema retires on June 30, 2021.
The Latin language has a very descriptive way of characterizing years. For example, a year could be described like this:
Annus Horribilis (A year of disaster or a horrible year)
or another year might be referred to as:
Annus Mirabilis (Year of wonders or miracles)
What about this past year? Do we land somewhere on this spectrum?
Indeed, the past year has been horribilis in many ways. In addition to the horrific loss of life–I can’t even imagine 600,000 people in the US who have died of COVID and the nearly 4,000,000 around the world–there have been smaller losses at school: Gathering together for celebrations, collaborating in person across grade levels, face-to-face meetings with children, parents joining with worship in the mornings, the litany could go on. We’ve missed these things and so much more.
But it’s also been a year of wonders, mirabilis: there have been graces that abound–we have been healthy for the most part. This has not been a lost year for students. Learning has taken place and has been amazing. New skills have been learned. Music on Zoom. Lots of video editing skills by teachers and students. If I asked each of you almost-graduates, “What did you learn in school this year, dear young friend of mine?” What would you say?
Watching your final exhibitions this week, I was blown away by your creativity and insight.
It will take a while to sort out what we have learned in the past year. The most immediate for me is that people are amazingly resilient. You have made it through an historical event that is still happening. Students have learned in new ways using new techniques. You have done good work, solid work, deep work. I’m so impressed. Teachers have been outstanding examples of resilience. And parents have adapted to new schedules and sharing of learning at home.
As you may know, I am a hopeful person. I look for good in every situation and person. I think God calls us to hope. This is not a denial of horrible things–the oppression and racism and injustice that runs rampant in the world. But alongside these things are hopeful elements of social change, antiracist signs that are emerging, the justice that we seek as a community. The declaration by President Biden that today, Juneteenth, is a federal holiday.
We’ve learned a lot this year. I hope that you will carry with you a sense of wonder–Mirabilis–about the others in your class and about God’s world around you.
The apostle Paul has a lot to say about how to approach a life of contrasts. He certainly had horrible experiences in his life (imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, trial, different kinds of pandemics) as well as many experiences that inspired awe. Yet St. Paul starts most of his letters with benediction, a good saying, and thanks and encouragement, even the letters that are written from prison.
Here’s one from Galations: Grace to you and peace from God our parent and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
One theologian that I read recently contends that St. Paul’s message can be summarized in one sentence: the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. I think that’s pretty good advice. That’s what the Mustard Seed community is all about.
I can’t help but think that this message of faith expressing itself in love has been the goal toward which the Bible has been pointing all along. Jesus said that having faith like a child means having a flexible and humble faith, always curious and inquisitive. Faith like a mustard seed means that the faith isn’t measured by its hefty belief content–there’s not much room there–but by its amazing growth capacity. There’s the gift that we have in this time, a gift that will last through this time and well into the future.
Blessings as you move into that future.
I met a preacher once who used to preach at Riverside Church. It’s up near Columbia University in NYC. His name was William Sloane Coffin. He wrote a benediction, parts of which I think you will recognize. This benediction is for all of us. Let’s pray.
May God bless you and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big for something good;
grace to remember that the world is too dangerous
for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
So, may God take your minds and think through them;
may God take your lips and speak through them;
may God take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen.