May God deny you peace

A charge delivered June 5 to the 2013 graduating class at Iliff School of Theology.

By Miguel De La Torre

“¡Dios no os de paz y si gloria!” I begin my charge to the class of 2013 by quoting one of my intellectual mentors, the great early 20th century philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno. For those of you who have not yet mastered the celestial language of the angels, allow me to translate his words: “May God deny you peace so that God can give you glory!”

Usually at these events, someone is supposed to provide lofty platitudes about how if your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it. The rhetorical speech of how you can change the world is what is expected. The charge to the one giving the charge all too often is to ensure that you leave charged-up and full of hope.

Unfortunately, those who know me best know that I believe the consequences of neoliberalism’s successes provide us with a hopeless future where the vast majority of humanity will continue to sink into deeper stomach-wrenching disenfranchisement. So you shouldn’t be surprised that I begin my charge wishing that God denies you peace.

While the future seems hopeless for the wretched of the earth, middle-class privilege provides a path that leads some to a life of peace, a wide and easy road to traverse. Anyone can graduate and pursue a life of peace. It’s easy and alluring -- a life of tranquility, relaxation and even boredom now and then.

The world is full of mediocrity and complacency, with too many Peters following the wrong principle so as to avoid becoming involved. I say, however, may God deny you peace, for the struggle for justice is tedious, complex, difficult and stressful.

I will argue that peace is for the intellectually and spiritually lazy, or even cowardly, who dream of earthly comforts, who fear taking risks, who dare not seize a liberative stand least it offends, who are more concerned with popularity rather than ushering in justice and who sacrifice the prophetic voice on the altar of political correctness. Peace is for those who seek a lukewarm way of life.

Do not forget why you pursued a theological education in the first place. It was surely not for the riches -- although charlatans at many mega-churches do exist. Remember that many of you endured theological training so as to speak a prophetic word. Do not deceive yourselves my sisters and brothers -- do not believe for a second that the prophetic and the peaceful can reside in the same house. May God deny you that rose-colored peace.

Have you forgotten the prophets? They were thrown into wells, cut in half, ridiculed, slandered, exiled, tortured and murdered. Prophets do not know earthly peace, and it is easier and takes less effort for the rest of us to watch, stand back or just accept what is happening to them, rather than deal with the reality and complexity of injustice.

Trials and tribulations await all who chose to be prophetic, so please don’t be naïve about this calling. It is easy to accept, and takes less effort to fall for the delusion that those in power together with those who are repressed by that same power, will pat you on the back and says “thanks.”

However, in spite of these occupational hazards, I implore you, do not graduate today in order to seek to live a life in peace, thinking profound and abstract thoughts which are void of praxis. Don’t just think -- do. Don’t just contemplate -- coordinate. Don’t just meditate -- agitate! Don’t simply attempt to signify liberation, but also become the instrument by which liberation is achieved.

Anyone can be hired by an institution to run what others have built. Anyone can keep the status quo. Anyone can pass by a sick, hungry and thirsty person, thinking that “someone else” will tackle the system that creates marginalization. But I dare you to deny yourself comfort and instead build your own house with a foundation that is rooted in the everyday experience of the oppressed.

Yes, I’m aware that the consequences of neoliberalism will force many of you to seek employment at institutions that are already established through protectionist ways with structural rot. But do not let this be an excuse to remain silent. Do not sell your soul for a paycheck.

In whatever post you find yourself, fight the good fight so that the captives yearning for salvation may find their liberation. Do not live to work, but work to live a life that shouts the Good News of liberation from the mountaintop.

Don’t just dream of justice -- do the work. Use all you have learned to bring forth the messianic reign of the Divine -- even if you fail in the process. To fight for justice so as to become popular, to struggle for liberation because you hope for success, to satisfy the dispossessed so as to gain an extra ruby in your heavenly crown, is the same as laying your hand upon the plow and looking back. Don’t bother.

We fight for liberation because the poor have no other option. To stand in solidarity with today’s crucified people, in the hopelessness of Holy Saturday, means that we, too, have no other option but to persevere in the struggle.

The charge I am giving you is a life with little rest and even less peace. In fact, I dare you to attempt the absurdity of this charge, for as Unamuno also reminds us, “Only the one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.”

So let us celebrate today the commencement of the impossible. Let us dare to deny ourselves peace so that we can get to the difficult, complex, hopeless and even absurd work that opts for the stony road instead of the garden path.  

And here is the paradoxical truth: in order to achieve the peace that surpasses all understanding, we must first crucify our earthly, comfortable, selfish, complacent and individualistic understanding of what peace is.

In all that you say, and in all that you do from this day forth, let justice roll down like living waters and righteousness flow like an everlasting stream. And let the people say: Ashé.         

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