On November 9, the day after the election, our ISM Colloquium series turned to student presentations, where pairs of students (one divinity and one music student) present a project they have worked on together for nearly a year. I am sharing below remarks I offered at the outset of this first session, as both a heartfelt reflection on our current circumstances and a window into our weekly work.
In light of this week’s events, we echo the inspiring words from President Peter Salovey written to the university.
In light of the holiday today, we honor all veterans for their sacrifice and service, and hold them in our prayers.
And as we approach the holiday season, we join you in a time of soul-searching over the issues that divide us, as well as in thanksgiving for those things that unite us.
Remarks to the ISM students and faculty
This week’s historic election and the months of campaigning leading up to it have been complex and trying for many, and all of us here are feeling a range of emotions from hope and expectation to fear and anger.
At the moment, my thoughts are focused not so much on the results of the election, but rather the deep division this has revealed. Such disharmony all too easily oversimplifies our challenges and polarizes our rhetoric. We become winners and losers and reduce ourselves into the kinds of binaries that plague our discourse: strong and weak, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian, red states and blue states, black and white, gay and straight, male and female. And in our case, sometimes even Music students and Divinity students!
Such labels easily become straightjackets that we pass on to one another. We don these characterizations only to discover how de-forming the fit actually is. I fall prey to this in my own life when I find myself talking only to those who basically agree with me, as opposed to the 50% of Americans who seem to think very differently.
Nonetheless, I am hopeful. I believe in the value of reexamining our priorities and positions that this election will inevitably encourage. Even more, I am hopeful because I get to be with you good people every week; because we all get to work in the arts; because we share the common quest of a deeper understanding of the sacred. As artists and scholars of the sacred, our work is to smudge these pat classifications, to blur divisions, to challenge preconceptions and stereotypes. We have a vocation to complexify, to give voice to, to make manifest, to inspire, to remind, and simply to point people to the sheer beauty of the world.
You are one of the most earnest and talented classes we have ever had at this Institute. I continue to be inspired by the work you do in your fields, and I know we all will be enriched by the joint work you bring here. Working across lines of difference is difficult, but it is one of the best ways to re-form ourselves, and I admire you for taking up this challenge. Do this work gently – with grace. Let’s not put so much pressure on this experience that we lose track of the joy of it. Ultimately, our work is not only about fixing something that’s broken. It is not about getting it right. It is about working together.