I decided to make it a theme night for the food: Italian and Greek, which go together well. I wasn't going to make Scouse. So I slaved over a hot stove all afternoon and cleaned the house somewhat. My son observed from his sick bed, or couch rather. He's had the tummy bug again. Anyway, all thought of stomach cramps disappeared when the footie started. My daughter sang and annoyed all of us. My son warned me not go "Oh no, oh no, OH NOOOO!!" Which I had to do when AC Milan scored the second goal. My friend's son turned to him as he cracked open his third beer and said, "I thought you said you weren't going to drink tonight." Ah, these children just don't get it, do they? One simply must drink when watching sport on TV.
But it was tears at bedtime unfortunately. My son was absolutely gutted when his team lost. Watching Stevie G. cry just made his tears fall all the faster. This is when a boy needs his father. Unfortunately, my son was the only male in the room who supports Liverpool. I rubbed his back and made motherly noises. But I knew he didn't want to hear "It's only a game," or "They'll do better next time." When my husband gets home tonight they can dissect the game together.
The food was good. The fizz was good. I even made a Pizz (Pimms and ginger ale with fizz on top, recipe courtesy of Mind the Gap). The Everton fans at our house weren't too obnoxious. And yes, the ref was a German.
"My young friends, you are not leaving here in ordinary times. The ancient Greeks had a word for a moment like this. They called it “kairos.” Euripedes describes kairos as the moment when “the one who seizes the helm of fate, forces fortune.” As I was coming here to Dallas today to ask what you are going to do to make the most of your life, I thought: Please God, let me be looking in the face of some young man or woman who is going to transcend the normal arc of life, who is going one day to break through, inspire us, challenge us, and call forth from us the greatness of spirit that in our best moments have fired the world’s imagination. You know the spirit of which I speak. Memorable ideas sprang from it: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”…“created equal”… “government of, by, and for the people”…“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”…“I have a dream.” Those were transformational epochs in American politics, brought forth by the founding patriots who won our independence, by Lincoln and his Lieutenants who saved the Union, by Franklin Roosevelt who saved capitalism and democracy, and by Martin Luther King, martyred in the struggle for equal rights. These moments would have been lost if left to transactional politics—the traditional politics of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” But moral leadership transcended the realities at hand and changed the course of our history.
Never have we been more in need of transformational leadership.
America’s a great promise but it’s a broken promise.
It’s not right that we are entering the fifth year of a war started on a suspicion. Whatever your party or politics, my young friends, America can’t sustain a war begun under false pretenses because it is simply immoral to ask people to go on dying for the wrong reasons. We cannot win a war when our leaders don’t have the will or courage to ask everyone to sacrifice, and place the burden on a few hundred thousand Americans from the working class led by a relative handful of professional officers. As is often said—America’s not fighting the war; the American military is fighting the war, everyone else is at the mall. Our leaders are not even asking us to pay for it. They’re borrowing the money and passing the IOU’s to you and your kids.
America needs fixing. Our system of government is badly broken.
You are leaving here as our basic constitutional principles are under assault—the rule of law, an independent press, independent courts, the separation of church and state, and the social contract itself. I am sure you learned about the social contract here at SMU. It’s right there in the Constitution—in the Preamble: “We, the People”—that radical, magnificent, democratic, inspired and exhilarating idea that we are in this together, one for all and all for one.
I believe this to be the heart of democracy. I know it to be a profoundly religious truth. Over in East Texas where I grew up, my father’s greatest honor, as he saw it, was to serve as a deacon in the Central Baptist Church. In those days we Baptists were, in matters of faith, sovereign individualists: the priesthood of the believer, soul freedom, “Just you and me, Lord.” But time and again, as my dad prayed the Lord’s Prayer, I realized that it was never in the first person singular. It was always: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We’re all in this together; one person’s hunger is another’s duty.
Let me see if I can say it a different way. A moment ago, when the reunion class of 1957 stood up to be recognized, I was taken back half a century to my first year at the University of Texas. In my mind’s eye I saw Gilbert McAlister—“Dr. Mac”—pacing back and forth in his introductory class to anthropology. He had spent his years as a graduate student among the Apache Indians on the plains of Texas. He said he learned from them the meaning of reciprocity. In the Apache tongue, he told us, the word for grandfather was the same as the word for grandson. Generations were linked together by mutual obligation. Through the years, he went on; we human beings have advanced more from collaboration than competition. For all the chest-thumping about rugged individuals and self-made men, it was the imperative and ethic of cooperation that forged America. Laissez-faire—“Leave me alone”—didn’t work. We had to move from the philosophy of “Live and let live” to “Live and help live.” You see, civilization is not a natural act. Civilization is a veneer of civility stretched across primal human appetites. Like democracy, civilization has to be willed, practiced, and constantly repaired, or society becomes a war of all against all.
Think it over: On one side of this city of Dallas people pay $69 for a margarita and on the other side of town the homeless scrounge for scraps in garbage cans. What would be the civilized response to such a disparity?
Think it over: In 1960 the gap in wealth between the top 20 percent of our country and the bottom 20 percent was 30 fold. Now it is 75 fold. Stock prices and productivity are up, and CEO salaries are soaring, but ordinary workers aren’t sharing in the profits they helped generate. Their incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. More Americans live in poverty—37 million, including 12 million children. Twelve million children! Despite extraordinary wealth at the top, America’s last among the highly developed countries in each of seven measures of inequality. Our GDP outperforms every country in the world except Luxembourg. But among industrialized nations we are at the bottom in functional literacy and dead last in combating poverty. Meanwhile, regular Americans are working longer and harder than workers in any other industrial nation, but it’s harder and harder for them to figure out how to make ends meet…how to send the kids to college…and how to hold on securely in their old age. If we’re all in this together, what’s a civilized response to these disparities?
America’s a broken promise. America needs fixing.
So I look out on your graduating class and pray some one or more of you will take it on. I know something about the DNA in this institution—the history that created this unique university. Although most of you are not Methodists, you can be proud of the Methodist in SMU. At the time of the American Revolution only a few hundred people identified with Methodism. By the Civil War it was the largest church in the country with one in three church members calling Methodism their faith community. No institution has done more to shape America’s moral imagination. If America is going to be fixed, I believe someone with this DNA will be needed to do it. It’s possible. So as you leave today, take with you Rilke’s counsel “to assume our existence as broadly as we can, in any way we can. Everything, even the unheard of, must be possible in this life. The only courage demanded of us is courage for the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.”
Some of the elders among you will remember that Martin Luther King made a powerful speech here at SMU in 1966. It’s been said—this part of the story may be apocryphal—that when he was asked why he chose SMU instead of one of the all-black colleges, Dr. King replied: “Because if John Wesley were around he’d be standing right here with me.” Martin Luther King said at SMU: “…The challenge in the days ahead is to work passionately and unrelentingly…to make justice a reality for all people.” One of your own graduates—the Reverend Michael Waters—got it right a few years ago when he was a student here: “Martin Luther King became the symbol not only of the civil rights movement but of America itself: A symbol of a land of freedom where people of all races, creeds, and nationalities could live together as a Beloved Community.”
Not as an empire. Or a superpower. Not a place where the strong take what they can and the weak what they must. But a Beloved Community. It’s the core of civilization, the crux of democracy, and a profound religious truth.
But don’t go searching for the Beloved Community on a map. It’s not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds—our hearts and minds—or not at all.
I pray I am looking into the face of someone who will lead us toward it.
Good luck to each and every one of you."