I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Bethel Theological Seminary this Saturday, June 2. The theme is “Courage for the Journey,” on which I built the call for moral courage. Moral courage necessitates caring and compassion, and seeing and speaking if we are actually willing to embody courage as a social virtue. Here are some snippets from the address:
“Wherever you go, the Lord will be with you. You will need strength and courage, but because ministry is about serving other and representing the love and justice of God in the world, you won’t need ‘just any kind of courage.’ You will need moral courage, the kind of courage that has in view the well-being of others.”
“Courage is something we do. We are courageous on behalf of others. Others need you to be courageous. Their lives may depend on it. Our inaction has moral consequences for others. Therefore, we must act, we must start somewhere to respond when others are harmed, and evil is justified.”
“Caring and compassion require that you see yourselves in solidarity with others…This requires relational proximity. You need to be near to others, not at a distance. Caring and compassion require that we draw near to people, minimizing the distance between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Compassion is developed and learned through paying attention to what is going on in the world, and by interceding with God and with others in our faith communities for those harmed and oppressed.”
“There is much going on in the world that is difficult to see. Legacies are painful to own. We will always be tempted to avert our eyes. We may be wrongly obstinate in our refusals to see. But see we must if we are to be persons of moral courage. As caring and compassion draws us to see the needs of others, an inevitable step for moral courage will require you to see and speak out in the face of risks, dangers, threats, and unpopularity.”
And from an exemplar of moral courage, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., be ye encouraged:
“Courage, the determination not to be overwhelmed by any object, however frightful, enables us to stand up to any fear. Many of our fears are not mere snakes under the carpet. Trouble is a reality in this strange medley of life, dangers lurk within the circumference of every action, accidents do occur, bad health is an ever-threatening possibility, and death is a stark, grim and inevitable fact of human experience. Evil and pain in this conundrum of life are close to each of us, and we do both ourselves and our neighbors a great disservice when we attempt to prove that there is nothing in this world of which we should be frightened. These forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage which is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life’s ambiguities. This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.” (From “Antidotes to Fear” in Strength to Love, pg. 121).
“Will you be leaders who are willing to care and have compassion, who are willing to see and speak? We need you to do this. Your churches need you to do this. Your communities need you to do this. Our global world needs you to do this. And more importantly, God needs you to do this.”