Sermon for Encaenia 2019

How can this be?

What? It’s all over? “How can this be?” you might ask like Nicodemus in the lesson Nick read. High School no more?! IB no more?! “Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back, no more no more no more no more”! Really? It’s all over and I have to go? Hooray! Or perhaps not! Do I have to leave? Can’t I come back?

“How can this be?” your parents, too, might be asking? My dear little one is graduating from High School?! It seems it was only “yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away”. Now it’s all over? Well enough of the old geezer tunes from the remote past with apologies to Ray Charles and the Beatles. But you get the point. There is a question. “How can this be?”

Nicodemus’ question to Jesus conveys a sense of wonder as well as perplexity that belongs to the special qualities of this day. Today you step up and step out no longer as students but shortly as graduates and alumni of King’s-Edgehill School. As such today is an ending and a beginning, a looking back and a looking ahead but as well a looking inward.

This service is called Encaenia, which is a Greek word – ‘Oh no, not another Rev kind of word. You mean I have to think in the morning? Isn’t it all over?’! Well, duh! No. Encaenia refers to a renewal of purpose and identity. Originally an annual dedication of holy places, it has become associated with “the annual commemoration of founders and benefactors at Oxford University in June” (O.E.D) and, by extension, to academic institutions derived from the medieval universities of Oxford and Cambridge throughout the English speaking world; such as King’s-Edgehill. Encaenia recalls us to our beginnings, to the foundational principles and ideals belonging to the life of the School and to the nature of education. Endings and beginnings, as it were.

Those things are embodied in the Edgehill motto, fideliter, meaning ‘faithfulness’, as married to the motto of King’s, Deo Legi, Regi, Gregi, which means ‘for God, for the Law, for the King, and for the People’. Such things signify an approach to education that connects learning and living, a turning of our hearts and minds to the things that belong to service and sacrifice, to things worth doing and worth doing well, especially academically speaking, but with the intention of seeking the good of the human community. These mottos express an enlightenment sensibility about an education that contributes to lives of service whether in church, law, government or social, economic, and domestic life wherever you are and wherever you go in the world. It has very much to do with the education of the whole person within a community of persons.

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Reflections for King’s-Edgehill School Cadet Church Parade, 2019

Church Parade Reflections 2019
Christ Church (Anglican), Windsor, Nova Scotia
May 14th, 2019
“But you, have you built well?”

I. “But you, have you built well?”

“But you, have you built well, that you now sit helpless in a ruined house?” T.S. Eliot’s question in ‘Choruses from “The Rock”’ reminds us that, one hundred years ago, the world was in ruins following the devastations and horrors of the First World War. His poem, The Waste Land, reflects on a world that is “a heap of broken images,” itself a scriptural reference about the wilderness which we create in contrast to the garden of creation that we heard about in the first lesson from Genesis read by Julia.

“You know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.”

It is a picture of desolation and despair. The only hope, he suggests, is found in “the shadow of this red rock.” “Come in under the shadow of this red rock.” The reference is to Holy Scripture, to the words which speak to our souls in all times and places, words which awaken us to comfort and consolation, and to thoughtful action. Only so might we learn from the ruins of our own making. Only so might there be a building anew.

“I will show you something different,” Eliot says, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” It is at once disquieting and yet comforting. It recalls us to creation in which God breathes his spirit into the dust of our humanity and ‘Adam’ became a living being. Fear is not only about the things which frighten us; it is also about the awe and wonder of God, the Creator and maker of all things.

“But you, have you built well?”

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Sermon for Encaenia 2018

How readest thou?

How do you read? What, reading? You mean, like books? I thought that was all over and done with, you might be thinking, as in Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit song “School’s Out”:

School’s out for summer
School’s out for ever
School’s been blown to pieces…

This was long before such things as the shootings in Columbine, Colorado, and its sad and continuing legacy right up to Parkland, Florida, and more. The song includes the old familiar jingle of uncertain provenance:

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks!

And concludes:

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all!

Well, you will not be coming back here in the Fall, for you are done.

“Accomplished and concluded so far as in us lies,” as an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer at the end of Mass puts it. Finished. IB done! High School’s over! Or, at least, almost. In just a few hours, you will step up and step out no longer simply as students but as having made the grade. You shall be, quite literally, graduates and alumni of King’s-Edgehill School. Today you are the pride of the School and of your families and friends. You made it! “You shall go out in joy,” as Isaiah puts it, in the passage which Arturo read, and even “the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” All wonderful metaphors that belong, well, to our reading.

So does this day really mean that you are all over and done with reading? I hope not. Because what we have so often talked about is reading as living, about thinking as a way of being. As a 13th century tutor at Oxford advises: “study as if you were to live for ever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.” My hope is that you will always be students, that is to say, those who are always eager to learn.

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Reflections for King’s-Edgehill School Cadet Church Parade, 2018

Reflections: Cadet Church Parade. May 2018
‘Teach us to care and not to care’

I. Teach us to care and not to care

Icons are images that belong to the understanding. They point us to ideas and ways of thinking that shape our ways of doing and being.

The dominant and central icon in the School Chapel is the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. The dominant and central icon in the Chapel at the University of King’s College in Halifax, our sister institution, is an image of the boy Christ as Teacher among the Doctors of the Law. The dominant and central icon here at Christ Church is the image of Christ Crucified. These three images are interrelated and speak to the culture and life of the School.

They contribute to another icon, the images of Christ Pantocrator that are present and visible in the Chapel and here at Christ Church. Pantocrator means the ruler of all, a biblical and philosophical reference to God as the intellectual and spiritual principle of all reality. “God is the king of all creation” as the Psalmist proclaims. In the Christian understanding that is concentrated in the figure of Christ and powerfully so in the icon of Christ Pantocrator. A central aspect of the spiritual imagination of the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy, icons are increasingly found in the churches of western Christianity as well. They help us to think about our life and our world as gathered to God.

As such these icons challenge the ways in which we use and abuse one another and our world through a kind of instrumental or technocratic reason, a reasoning which is about power and action but without regard to an ethical understanding. This is the “new barbarism,” as the French philosopher, Michel Henry terms it, a certain type of knowledge which is destructive of culture and humanity. These icons recall us to the transcendent principle of our knowing and our being that redeems all our doings and all our actions.

As the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor has noted, the question for our contemporary world is less about the  idea of what it is that is right to do and more about what it is that is good to be. This focuses upon a sense of ourselves in relation to the world and to one another that is not simply about using the world and one another which so often leads to abuse and destruction such as the last hundred years have shown in the devastations of war and the degradations of nature.

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Sermon for Encaenia 2017

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground”

What he wrote in the dust of the ground we do not know. We only know what he said which in turn was written down. They are some of the most powerful words of compassion and forgiveness ever written in the dust of our humanity. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”. What has been written in the dust of your humanity during your time here at King’s-Edgehill?

The last day of the term, the last day of the school year, and for you, the last day of High School. Hooray! “O Frabjous Day, Callooh, Callay,” I hear you say. Finally, and, at last, I hear your parents quietly mutter while clutching their wallets and worrying about their stockmarket portfolios! In every sense, today marks a milestone, a sense of accomplishment, a kind of ending. Alleluias everywhere! Today you are the pride of the School, of your parents and grandparents, of relatives and friends, and of cultures and communities from all over the world. On this special day with so many of you who have come from far and near to celebrate, our school is even more a microcosm of the world than usual. A special day that requires a special designation. Hence Encaenia.

Encaenia is the traditional name for this service, just as the event which follows is properly known as Commencement, both terms conveying a sense of beginnings, it seems. Endings and beginnings recall us to the principles which belong to identity and purpose, to the true character of institutions and to our lives within them.

Encaenia is a Greek word that refers to a sense of renewal of purpose and identity, specifically, to a dedication service. Its origins lie in the annual dedications of holy places but has become associated with “the annual commemoration of founders and benefactors at Oxford University in June” (O.E.D) and by extension to the academic institutions derived from the medieval universities of Oxford and Cambridge throughout the English speaking world, even such places as King’s-Edgehill School here in Windsor. We are recalled to founding principles and ideals that remind us that we are part of something greater than ourselves without which we are less than ourselves.

Ah, merely a tradition then? No. If merely a tradition then nothing worthy of consideration let alone commitment. A living tradition is another thing and one which requires a certain mindfulness. Otherwise, we become quite literally traditors, traitors, those who betray what has been passed on to them by passing it over, that is to say, throwing it away as worth nothing. Living traditions are about our faithfulness to what has been passed on and to which we hold ourselves accountable. It is about letting them live out in us. Seeds are planted. Words are written in the dust of our being. And such is the real dignity of our humanity.

The crisis of our contemporary institutions is whether we will live from the animating principles that belong to their foundations or succumb to our technocratic obsessions that so dominate our minds and our lives and reduce everything to utility. All means and no ends. The challenge is to recover the primacy of the ethical and the intellectual.

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