Roanoke College 2017 Commencement Address by Bishop James F. Mauney

//Roanoke College 2017 Commencement Address by Bishop James F. Mauney

There was a warehouse that was losing all kinds of inventory and they didn’t know what to do. The owner decided that they ought to hire a guard who’d been doing this work for about 25 years. This guard seemed to have a great insight about what they should do, and he proposed that they build a fence around the warehouse, with one gate in and one gate out, and he would monitor people going in and out.

At five o’clock as all the employees began to leave he watched very carefully, and one of the employees coming out had a wheelbarrow and inside it had a beautiful blue box with a big blue bow. The guard asked, “Wait a minute, what do you have in that box?”

“Just sawdust,” replied the employee, and the guard demanded that he open up the box to see for himself. They opened up the box and sure enough, there in the middle of it there was nothing but sawdust, so the guard let him go on.

The next day the employee comes and this time the wheelbarrow’s got an orange box with a big orange bow, and the guard said “Woah, what do you have in that box?” and again the employee told him that he was carrying out sawdust. So the guard opened up the box, took his baton and smashed down everywhere, finding nothing else inside he let the employee go.

On the third day, the employee came out with a yellow box with a great big yellow bow. The guard again asks, “What’s in the box? Open up that box.”  this time he puts his hands down in the sawdust, reaching everywhere he could think of going, and he couldn’t find anything again.

This goes on for two weeks. And finally, the guard says to the employee with the wheelbarrow carrying boxes, “I give up. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years. I know there is something that’s not right about this. If you’ll just tell me I won’t get you in trouble.”

The employee said, “I’m stealing wheelbarrows.”

Now that story only works if you find yourself fixated on the box and totally missing the presence and value of the wheelbarrow. I’ve seen lots of beautiful boxes over the last 29 years with my office on this campus. 

But the life of a liberal arts college is to open your eyes to what undergirds, carries, what is deeper than the box that currently has all your attention. Cause what if the box you’re fixated on, really is nothing but holding dust in the long run?

Oh, I’ve seen little shavers, big studs, I see lots of the latest nails. I’ve seen all the trappings that make for a most beautiful box. But I wonder about the wheelbarrow in the lives of each of you. I wonder if you even see it.

Who carries you? Who bears you up? I pray you have someone or something in whom you place your whole life.

This college was created with the church acting as a wheelbarrow, speaking of a God in relationship with this world and with us because to God we matter, who holds us accountable to God and to our neighbor, to whom we must give an answer. This Lutheran college has a church that still in this 500th year points to the wheelbarrow of a crucified and risen Jesus the Christ to whom we in confidence entrust all our loved ones and possessions into his care. In the same way, Jesus taught a story about how a mustard seed becomes the largest bush and the birds willingly built their nests and place their nest eggs in his branches, just so a liberal arts college asks its students to consider where they are placing the boxes of their lives.

Lutherans confess the wheelbarrow of a God that comes down to do what we hate to do, to go after those who have severed their relationship and do whatever necessary to restore the relationship because it is that important to God. What do you do with a God who comes after you, who hunts you down with love, and undergirds your life and calls you to do the same with the least among you?

Liberal arts teach that it is not only about the boxes but about the wheelbarrow. Liberal arts helps us to think more deeply not only about the trappings of boxes of sawdust that matter a lot but also about the importance of a foundation that undergirds all our boxes. Do we have our lives resting in a greater vision?

Graduation is a great time for young boxes, freshly robed in maroon and black, with ribbons and even tassels to consider who bore them up, carried them to this time.  It’s a great day to ask their parents about the wheelbarrow to their life, who or what carries them, what truth bears them up? Let that question be your entrée for your meal’s discussion. 

After all, that is what we sing about in our alma mater of our college. Seems to me that first, we sing about the boxes in the second stanza, “learning to live and loving as we’re learning”, then comes the wheelbarrow, “seeking the truths for which our hearts are yearning.” Sounds to me a lot like Augustine, “our hearts are restless, O Lord, till they find their rest in you.”

Doesn’t it seem to you that the third line is the wheelbarrow to the first two lines? That learning to live and loving to learn comes from a heart that has found the truth that undergirds the singer’s heart that there is a joy, an integrity, a character that undergirds them. I’ll tell you that hiring managers are longing to see that in outstanding boxes they are interviewing for a job!

And Seeking the truth for which our hearts are yearning!

See, not a relative truth, that’s not alternative fact truth, truth for which you will bet it all on willing to go down with that truth you hold as your foundation, your raft in this ocean of mortality, your compass in this world, your wheelbarrow where you load in all your boxes. It is why we at Roanoke College want to talk about the whole person, the Intellectual, ethical, personal, and spiritual. We want a whole person in liberal arts, not a person with holes. So to every box, your eyes are fixated on, what is the wheelbarrow that undergirds it?

In 2001, I shadowed the Sr chaplain who was a Lutheran navy chaplain, on the aircraft carrier the George Washington. Out in the Gulf Stream, we were there for four days. The chaplain delivered dozens of Red Cross messages of joy and tragedy, the chaplain just stopped and spoke with sailors and officers all over the 18 decks. The same powerful message was spoken to every sailor on that aircraft carrier, regardless of the decks they were on, regardless of the rank, regardless of their circumstances, chaplain always said, “You matter, you matter to this ship, you matter to each other,  you matter to God, you matter to me.”

You got a wheelbarrow that speaks such love to you?

Do you know the poem, “Late Fragment,” by Raymond Carver?

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

The best thing that man stealing wheelbarrows did for that guard was he opened his eyes. Who opened your eyes these past four years at Roanoke?

In the ninth chapter of John, the people ask the blind man who now finally sees, “who opened your eyes? Who opened your eyes now from what you were blind to when you began here at Roanoke College?

Sydney Harris wrote, “most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times, few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester.  The whole purpose of education, Harris writes,  is to turn mirrors into windows.”

St Augustine wrote, “I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.”

So who opened your eyes?  Who should you be sure to thank today, to hunt down until you find them among all the tables and chairs, and personally thank them for all the times they honored and respected you because they talked with you, walked with you, showed you mattered to them, by their interest, their presence, their time, their words, their prayers, their letters of recommendation?

Elizabeth Coleman wrote, “The only thing that should make leaving college bearable is the hope against hope that you are taking the best part of it with you.”  Who are the best part of this college you now take with you? Who opened your eyes? Are you ready to be a window and not a mirror? Ready to open eyes and ready to tell your neighbor they matter?

Cause George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch, “People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.” Have you got a wheelbarrow that just doesn’t love you but that loves your neighbor?

Just like that aircraft carrier and its 18 decks, liberal arts reveal, there are real decks within our society, there are decks to our world, there are decks within our own life. This is a time for us to be brave. Brave on behalf of our neighbors.

According to Peter Coy, writing in Bloomberg BusinessWeek February 8, 2017, “the gap between blacks and whites in income is big but nowhere near as big as the gap in wealth the median white household has $13 in net wealth for every one dollar in net wealth of the median black household. For whites versus Latinos, the gap was only a bit smaller, $10 versus one dollar.” We have got decks in our society. So shall we mirror what we see or open windows?

According to Daniel Kurt writing in Investopedia July 20, 2016,  if you want to know if you are in the top 1% of the world, you need to be earning $32,400 a year. In the United States, a family of four will cross the poverty line when they have a net income of $36,000. We have got decks in this world.

I was the firstborn son of the family. One day my mother gave me a 1 pound bag of M&Ms that I was to share with my younger brother and younger sister. Well, now I was in management! And I can tell you right away there were going to be decks in my way of distribution. Now I was a steward of the mysteries of M&Ms. Now I was certainly the one who should be well compensated for this position of power and oversight. And so, I distributed the M&Ms according to size, weight, age, and responsibility level of the person receiving M&Ms. It never dawned on me that my younger siblings would actually turn to the, shall we say wheelbarrow of the family, my mother. With their paltry amount of M&Ms, and with their opened hands they would say to her: “Here! Here! Look how few M&Ms we received from amongst so many distributed!”  Never did I anticipate the level of wrath that I saw in my mother’s eyes as she turned to me. My loving mother of grace had suddenly become a very wrath-filled mother upset by the lack of sharing that had happened among all her children.

That day I learned that it certainly makes a very big difference if you know there is truly someone to whom you are accountable for the lives of all your sisters and brothers in this world and the decks you create or sustain. It may be like having our eyes opened that underneath the boxes we found so wonderful in our station in life that there was truly a wheelbarrow all along to whom we are accountable.

This is what a liberal arts college does. It eagerly showcases wheelbarrows and invites boxes of sawdust to see how they fit within them, to try them out. And Lutheran higher education will roll out the wheelbarrow of the gospel of Jesus Christ and let it stand among all the wheelbarrows of time, even as it unashamedly places a cross at the highest point of the campus revealing the generations that have supported this college desiring an education for its students that is deeper than just boxes.

So have you got a wheelbarrow you’re gonna load up with all your boxes this afternoon?

Do you want a starter for your next job or position or grad school interview that reflects your wheelbarrow? Start with this, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”

One of the hardest grading institutions in the country, bar none, with all of its integrity is handing you today its diploma, its sign of our blessing and our confidence in you upon your future. If it were up to me, I’d bless your minds, your hearts, your mouths, your hands and your feet as you walked across the stage.

We spent four years doing our best to open your eyes to way more than boxes of sawdust.  We did our best to showcase wheelbarrows for your life. If you are leaving this college now with just such a wheelbarrow into which you are now going to place every box you value for your life, well then, even adding up all the tuition, room, and board, I tell you right now, what you got?  It’s a steal.

By | 2017-07-28T09:37:08+00:00 May 11th, 2017|News|Comments Off on Roanoke College 2017 Commencement Address by Bishop James F. Mauney

About the Author:

Emily Pilat is the Director of Communications for the Virginia Synod. She is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington where she earned her BA in in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and a minor in Digital Studies. If you have an announcement, upcoming event, or news story idea you would like to share, get in touch with Emily via email [email protected] or by phone (540) 389-1000