In our Commencement Communion service this morning at Union Theological Seminary, I bid these ivory towers farewell with these words (loosely exegeted from Ephesians 6:18-24):
“Life is combat.” These are not my words. In fact, I know these words by Walter Wink were far from my mind when I first sat in Room 207 for orientation three years ago. I didn’t think that answering my call into God’s service had anything to do with combat. Sitting in Room 207, like so many of you, I was concerned about poverty, sexism, racism and homophobia. Like you, I came to Union to make our world better.
Life certainly wasn’t combat for me. And, thankfully, Walter Wink didn’t stop with this sentence. He continues, “ours is neither a perfect nor a perfectible world; it is a theater of perpetual conflict which the prize goes to the strong.” If life is the “theatre of perpetual conflict,” then I think we as graduates of Union Theological Seminary, do indeed have a fighting chance.
If our combat is theater, let’s set the stage and put on our costumes. On this end of Broadway, we like to get dressed up. If you don’t believe me, just ask Brian Cave. Whether singing Carmina Burana or swinging from the rafters at the Pub on Mardi Gras, we like to get dressed up.
Three years ago, I remember that I had very carefully chosen my costume for my debut in Room 207. It was the first time I had adorned the armor of God. And even though I carefully planned and selected my attire, I only remember that the shoes for my feet were flip-flops. Flip-flops have probably been my favorite choice for the shoes on my feet in these three years. Whether I was rolling out of bed for an 8 am Preaching and Worship class or dashing to noon chapel in order to earn my perfect attendance award, I was in flip-flops.
However, I don’t think that flip-flops are really a good choice for armor. In fact, I’m not sure that they are a good choice for the theater. During these three years, we have each played with our choice in costumes. Some of us may never have referred to our dressing up as the “wiles of the devil” as in this letter to the Ephesians. And even as we leave here, we might never want to say that.
But, these are wiles that we are very familiar with. These wiles have dominated our conversations in caucus meetings, classroom discussions or even in conversations in the shelter of the Sukkah in the wee hours of the morning after wine night. The wiles of empire. These wiles have gathered us together here. These wiles have inspired us to march down Madison Avenue protesting war under the Social Action banner. These wiles provoked Angela Escueta and I to terrify the incoming second years with a civil disobedience training in preparation for the Republican National Convention. While I clearly provided some leadership for the Social Action Caucus, we were each motivated by these wiles. So, what did you wear?
What did you wear when you first donned the armor of God? Did you read Scripture in chapel in a t-shirt that proclaimed “Value your Vagina. Vote.”? Or one that announced “Christian in Action”? What did you wear when you first struggled against the cosmic powers of this present darkness?
And what will you wear as you leave? What will your armor of truth, righteousness and peace look like?
As I go from here, I will wear this place as my armor. I will adorn the prophetic words of Delores Williams and James Cone. I will wear the loving embrace of Wyn Wright who reminded me again and again of why I continue with all of this. I will get all dolled up in the courage that Janet Walton continues to give me to believe in the power of art in our worship. I will show off the confidence that Barbara Lundblad gave me to preach. I will wrap myself in the Word that Hal Taussig challenged me to reclaim, even if Revelation is still a mystery to me. I will sail off wearing the quiet sarcasm and wisdom of Troy Messenger. I will I wrap myself in the self-care practice of 7th floor of Hastings sharing marathon upon marathon of Law and Order episodes. I will get decked out in the loving community of women who are proud to announce from the pulpit, “Value your Vagina.”
I will wear the breastplate of this community. I will wear the belt of each of you. And I will go out into the “theatre of perpetual conflict” wearing fantastic shoes on my feet, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace because Walter Wink was right. The prize will go to the strong. The prize will go to the strong because each of you will be in every one of my steps.