2022 Charge to the Graduates: Imagine Again


for those of you who began your time here in the fall of 2019, you have been through it—not just in the classroom—but in the events that surrounded our lives

that academic year began with a dispute between the subcontractors that built the new wing of our building

all that light and air and space and invitation to explore the ineffable—complete with a tree of life standing in running water (when it’s working)

all that—and a whole lot of wrong

it was a difficult time within the student body and the rest of the school, but the university worked hard to make it right and ultimately, justice was done

but the summer before we began the school year was no cakewalk either as it was a troubling summer like the several summers before it

in 2019, wildfires were burning across the globe— in the u.s., greenland, siberia, the canary islands, the amazon rainforest

and although we did have the strange case of our federal government wanting to buy greenland as a distraction from the fact that in august alone, we had mass shootings in

a historic district in dayton, oh

a walmart in el paso, tx,

the gilroy garlic festival near san francisco, ca

a brooklyn block party

a walmart in southhaven, ms

it just seemed like this blatant disregard for the lives of others found new ways to terrorize our peace and rattle our hope and challenge our will to be active peacemakers and lovers of people

and then spring of 2020 hit

with devastating, destructive tornados one week

and the shutdown of our worlds due to covid-19 the next

and the front edges of a pandemic that had no idea would last as long as it has cast us into the new world, for most of us, of online learning





and for many of us, losing loved ones

and through it all, you stayed

and as the next two years unfolded, you began to find ways to build community in the midst of physical restrictions and health concerns

you found ways to do the best you could do with your coursework, your field education sites, your interpersonal relationships, with your families and communities, with isolation

and you have made it to this point

as the old black woman who helped raise me would say about such a set of circumstances: ummmph…ummmph…ummmph


the diplomas you will receive say more about academic achievement. they are also testament that we all have been through some things and there is good reason to celebrate this day

but in the midst of the well-deserved celebration you have, are, and will be having about well-earned degrees

i want you to stop at some point and be still

and as i said at your opening convocation, i want you to imagine

imagine what being a graduate from the school of the prophets will mean for you

is this a basepoint, some point, no point, or challenge for how you will go about doing the work your soul must have

imagine if you and i had no mooring from which we look out on the world and see possibilities along with the realities

imagine if we stepped into hope and love and peace and justice and the spirit each day and lived our lives large and small

and we live them by trying to make the world around us just a bit more humane, a bit more caring, a bit more like a place for all

instead of a castle for a few surrounded by moats of indifference and snapping turtles of hatred and despair

where we mistake violence for passion

indolence for leisure, and

recklessness for freedom[1]

imagine taking a deeper look to see if you are settling for the world as it is right now or who you are in these moments or believe that that our sightlines are the only lines that matter in this expansive and wondrous creation

imagine, looking to the future by working as hard as you can in your now—whenever and wherever that now is

and trying to shape your now into a foundation for a future that celebrates the great diversity of what God sent spinning into the cosmos that brings us to our current times and invites us into the beyond

imagine, ya’ll, what it takes within yourselves to live into that great hope for this world

where you live at home with others

where you cherish creation

where you create rather than destroy

where you love rather than despise

where you share rather than hoard

where you celebrate rather than sending out wailing cries of despair until your throats become raw and bleeding

and you do not do these things alone

it not only takes a village, but it also takes the will to hold that village together and to continue to build it throughout your lifetime

as you will find that there will be many villages and not just one

and that can sound like a daunting work order, but i tend think of it as gracious and holy opportunity

as you work with others and listen to others, remember that you do not have the corner on the market of righteousness or always know the right thing to do or say

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.[2]

you are remarkable people, theologically fabulous—and these are wonderful things to behold for those of us who have had the honor of being your teachers and co-learners

but this is not enough

no, i encourage you to be exceptional witnesses to the power of love, justice, and hope in a world that needs soulful faith acting in the everyday

as you move from experience

to story

to discipleship

to testimony

to faith

and then we begin again and again

care for others

take care of yourselves

stay in touch

we will always keep the light on for you.


[1] A redaction from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (New York: Vintage Books, 1970, 1998), 111.
[2] Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot (New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1995), 41. Paraphrase of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s interpretative translation of Rabbi Tarfon’s works on the Pirke Avot 2:20. The text is commentary on Micah 6:8.