Chains, or Why it Sucks to not Do Your Homework
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
February 19, 2015
at Gibson Memorial Chapel
Blue Ridge School, St. George Virginia
Psalm 86: 1-11
Colossians 3: 12-14
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
If you have ever read any of my sermons, or have paid attention any of the times I have spoken here before, you may have noticed, and I have done so for years, that I begin all of my sermons with that prayer, the one I just spoke. In my faith tradition it is a called a prayer for illumination, and is used at the beginning of a sermon, like an invocation in an epic, asking beyond myself, in my case to the Holy Spirit, for spiritual guidance to fuse with what I am saying to allow us, you the hearers and I the speaker to be moved and inspired to be bigger, and better, more, and beyond what we think we are, somehow more than ourselves, so that we can begin to fulfill the glorious potential of our actual being, that the truth exists outside of us and we are aspiring to get to it. Informing that prayer then is the belief that each one of us, both you and I, and all people everywhere, have within us, often living beyond even our own knowledge of ourselves, a potential that transcends our conceived limits, a greatness to which we each may aspire if we could just free ourselves from chains that exist, holding us back. In other words, I believe that all people are inherently wonderful, with a potential for beauty and greatness that transcends our own imagination and conception of who we are, but that for many reasons we fail to live up to that greatness, and in many instances fail to even see the possibility of that greatness in ourselves and in each other. So each time I speak I say that prayer in remembrance of that truth, paying homage to it, reminding everyone involved that there is actually more to us than we are conscious of, hoping in some way that this can begin the process of removing some of those chains, seeking to set us free, you and I.
I must admit that what I am saying today is completely based in my belief in that truth, and that honestly I see my entire existence as a teacher and as a pastor, and as a father, and a friend, and a mentor, and a son, and a human being all stemming from that one same belief. It is what I do, and what gives me meaning, just believing that people have untapped greatness within them. Imagine having a lens like that for seeing the world, and having a unified mission like that about you at all times. In many ways it is quite fulfilling to be connected and unified in purpose like that, to be motivated by a belief that ties together everything you do, and every aspect of who you are. It fills me with the energy and drive to do my jobs, all of them, and for me as fragmented as my life could be, pulled in a thousand different directions, pulled between two simultaneous careers, a wife and two kids, with one more kid on the way, having that connected mission makes what could seem impossible - that I actually get any of it done - somehow I do and it does, it happens week to week, year to year, and day to day, somehow it all works. But the flipside is also true and is that such unified mission and purpose and belief is fragile because it all hangs in the balance of just one thing, one belief, everything is connected to that one idea, and that is quite a commitment because if that one belief were to fall, if just a little bit of doubt were to enter in, where would it leave me? From where would my purpose come, my energy, my drive. . . Such is the risk of faith, such is the risk of being all in on something and building your life on a single principle. . . and it is a real risk, and to ignore the fact of the risk is frightfully naive and disrespecting of the all importance of it, the very realness of it, but like most things worthwhile, it is not easy nor is it meant to be easy.
So having said that I want to get to the point. . . I decided to entitle this talk, "Chains" because I want to talk about the things that tend to hold us down, and keep us from being free enough to strive for that true potential, but my original working title was, "Why it sucks to not do your homework, to not shave, and to whine about getting walkabouts." As I said I believe in our untapped potential as people, and therefore I see you all as young men, exemplars of that infinite potential, and that our job as teachers here, according to the mission of the school, is to get you to reach, to reach beyond yourself, your perceived limitations, the chains that have been built in and around you, already in your young lives, by your experiences, by your families, by your friends, by this society, by thousands of years of human history, and by the choices you have already made to date, it is all the summation of exactly what it is you see when you look in the mirror each day. . . our job, as teachers and mentors, is to get you to see beyond that, into that realm of the infinite beyond the visual, that is called potential, or as I called it a minute ago, that beautiful greatness you are born into as a human being. To get you to see that, to reach for that, to aspire to that, we have to see it ourselves. We have to believe it, to believe in you, to see beyond what you see, and to work each minute of each day to show you the greatness you have beyond this moment's actual into the potential of the next moment, and the next. And that is hard to do. It is hard to do because each of us, each of your teachers is also battling against and trying to see beyond our own chains that exist from our own experience, society, and expectations, too. It is a quixotic idealistic dream that we all represent as teachers here. . . and one the world likes to build up in appearance, in image, because it makes us feel good to say we aspire to such ideals in life, but the world really thinks that deep down it is all a joke, exactly that a dream, a means to the end of keeping the system afloat. . . education after-all in reality is not about realization of self, but is just about college and the job market and fitting square pegs into round holes by sanding off the edges that society doesn't want and that the system can't use. So you see introduced into the world of idealism is the ever threatening cynical view because to be honest the cynic has grown fearful of what glorious damage for good that realized self could create.
So why does it suck when you don't do your homework, and you don't shave, and you whine about walkabouts. . . honestly because that stuff doesn't matter enough for us to have spend such time on it. We want to be beyond that. We want to live in that idealistic world where the cynics have to shut up because that untapped potential is busting out all over the place and just cannot be ignored. We want to live in a world where we can talk about ideas that matter, where we can teach you things that really have meaning, where we can bring out of you the ideas that you can offer the world, that no one else can because those are the only ideas that truly matter, and what education truly needs to be about.
We want to release the you from those chains, but we can't do it, and it doesn't happen when we are begging that homework gets done, having to find new artificial punishments and requirements and policies and programs, and meetings, and conferences, and progress reports, just to get you to do your work. We want to get to the point where we get to pull out your ideas because like I said, that is what the world needs, but how often do we give you that assignment where you get to think, and you get to opine, and you get to put yourself into it, and we get nothing. We get the BS, the excuses, and the I don't know it's too hard. . . because you refuse to invest enough of yourself to risk an answer of your own, thinking that what you have inside just doesn't measure up. Bull! But every time that happens that cynical voice starts to get louder, the one that says, nahh they can't do it anyway, don't challenge them, just pass them through, give them more multiple choice and true false, leave the critical thinking to the smart kids at other schools. Bull!
We want to teach you real character, about virtue and goodness, about real definitions of manhood, and citizenship, and responsibility, and love, and ethics, but instead we have to spend time talking about shirt-tails, and peach fuzz, and whether or not you have a belt on, or socks. . . showing up on time, making your appointments. . . we give a Baron award for not having write ups, we give pins, we even call it character because, it's a hoop y'all can get through. But it's not character and it's not virtue because it deals with minimums, check off boxes, and I want more, I look out at this student body and I want more, I see more, I expect more, and I want you all to be more. I want be more myself. But again that cynical voice says, ahh what if they fail? What about that boy who just can't do it? Can't do what? Get up in the morning. . . I get that I struggle with that, too. . . I say where is that kid's strength? Let's build there because there is untapped potential, greatness, let's find it. Let's look beyond the mundane. We can do that here!
I hear you guys complaining all the time about the structure and the rules and babying and you guys are butting up against the glass ceiling with your mouths, but your actions show how much you love your chains, because they are safe. There is no risk involved. There is something there holding you back that you can blame for not grasping each moment. The bravado, yeah I could do it, but you know why bother, they wouldn't let me anyway. . . I could be great, if I worked, but this school it holds me back. I will tell you right now that if you got inspired by that real inner fire towards greatness, we'd see it, we'd get fired up by it, too, and we would work together to raise you up beyond your wildest imaginings of what you could accomplish. We would be your partners in your success. Oh my God, I would jump out the room with excitement. We'd see it and be like, yeah there it is that kid gets it, and we'd fight for every freedom, every privilege, every hope and dream imaginable for you.
Some of us do that now, or at least try to. We try to advocate for your freedom, for your ownership, but its hard man. It's hard because so often when the opportunity for doing more, for showing up, for taking over comes along, you guys go back into your shells, and just like that paper you chose not to engage with and put yourself in, you do it half assed. And man does that hurt. It hurts because it proves once again that the world just might be right, and that freedom, and responsibility, and independence, and character, are all just empty dreams, that we are just random clumps of dust, and none of it matters anyway, might as well just stoke the fire, and keep the system running, perpetuating itself for as long as our luck holds up, hey it doesn't matter any way, we'll just keep printing money.
Some may believe that, but I don't and I won't, I don't get paid enough money to sell out like that, no my motivation has to come from believing. . . so I'll have faith in you, and I hope, everyday, that one of you, or more, or truly that all of you, will start to believe too, and become partners with us, partners with me, in your education, in your life, and your potential that knows only the bounds that you allow yourself to accept.
Let us pray,
Father God, help us to see beyond ourselves to the truth that you see, help us to keep the faith in our potential, to extend the grace that we need, that though we forgive, that though we give grace, that though we believe in 70x70 chances, that we never lower standards, but continue to reach for more, for just as you live in the infinite. . . you made us with infinite possibilities, help us to come into the true self awareness of our amazing potential. Help us to partner with each other to remove the chains of fear, doubt, and cynicism that would hold us back. Fill us with a fire of love, knowing ourselves completely, and then freely offering that beautiful totality to a world in desperate need to believe again. In humility we pray. Amen.