For All Our Mothers


Bluffton University Commencement, May 8, 2016

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This is indeed a special day. I’d like to thank Bluffton faculty and commencement committee for the invitation. I’m so happy to celebrate with YOU, the illustrious class of 2016!

This is a day of celebration of all the hard work that you’ve done and what you’ve learned. This is the day that celebrates your perseverance through the ups and downs of the college or graduate work experience, your labor of learning. Whether you are a commuter students that had that up front parking…or a residential student who managed to keep your car from being hit by a foul ball for four years, you’ve made it to this finish line, and we rejoice and are glad in this day with you!

Today is a special day because it is Mother’s Day. To state the obvious, none of us would be here without our mothers. (Thanks Mom!). Our many mothers.  There is the female person that birthed you. And there are those people in your life who mother-ed you, raised you up. Some of them are here today.  You may have chosen mothers or mentors in your your neighborhood who encouraged you.  There may be grandmothers in your faith community who made it possible for you to attend Bluffton in the first place. So let’s give a round of applause for all our mothers!

Some of you may have a broken relationship, or a distant relationship with your mother. You may have lost your mother, or never met the woman who birthed you. This is a day where we celebrate your journey as well.  You have found ways that to mother yourself, we see and honor how you’ve built community, and how you continue to weave together the financial, emotional, and spiritual basis for your wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around you. We honor you too.

Regardless of the situation in relationship to the person or people you call your mother up until this point, we all have some mothers in common: God, the Earth, and Bluffton. And as you cherish and honor the people close to you, I invite you, class of 2016 to cherish and honor these mothers as well.

Jesus once described himself as a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings. The prophet Isaiah speaks of God as “cry[ing] out like a woman in labor” with gasps and pants as God brings forth new life into a community that was plagued with violence.  Later the prophet goes on to remind us that those who seek God will be comforted “As a mother comforts her child.”  The Bible does not shy away from female imagery to describe God, but most of current Christian tradition does not use it as much as we could. Many of you have taken religion classes and reclaimed some of the lost richness of the biblical texts, and delved into the mystery of a life of faith through attending chapel and other activities throughout your time at Bluffton. This has enriched and expanded your perspective. It has generated new questions. God our Mother is not afraid of your questions, your emotions, your doubts.  As you return to your homes or move to new places, share with your faith communities what you’ve learned, and what questions you wrestle with at this point in your life. Do not hold back in sharing your faith, that is sharing your deepest truths and values, with others.  Share as much as you are willing to listen deeply to others, in the spirit of Bluffton’s values of mutual discovery and respect. Those who are religious these days are being blamed for many of the globe’s political problems. Make Mother God proud and be a part of the healing instead of aggravating these conflicts. Do this by paying attention to whose voices are heard more than others, asking yourself whose voices are missing in a conversation, and who benefits by the outcome?  When I was here in January the Romans 12 challenge was just beginning.  That was beautiful, to see the wide range of students that participated in the combination of physical and spiritual strength-building.  That is exactly what you’ll need for your future as you seek peace and justice for all of God’s creation.

We live on a wonderful planet. Full of diverse ecosystems…And though it will be hard to shake the memory of what it was like to walk across campus when it’s freezing outside, some of our best memories relate to being outside and in contact with the natural world…some speculate that Maypole dancing, now a Bluffton tradition, has roots in a recognition of the sacredness and importance of trees on this planet.  Indeed, on Earth we need each other, not only humans, but without trees where would the oxygen come from? And how would the carbon dioxide be digested?  But the balance is out of whack, we know there is too much CO2 bouncing around in the atmosphere! So, what will your Masters or Bachelors do in a world that is rapidly deforesting? An Earth that is hot with rising oceans, and scarred by advertisements to get you to buy more plastic? How will you use your degree to respond?

This is Mother Earth. She is powerful, but she is not well.  Where are the accounting majors? Sports management? Social work? Psychology and Criminal Justice? Where are the organizational management folks? History and Exercise Science? Where are my Early Childhood education majors? Art? The collaborative MBAs? We are humans so most of our is focused on ourselves, but if we do not also expand our focus to understand this ecological moment, we must realize the potential that life on Earth will end as we know it.  (And I know you didn’t pay all this money for school to not have a chance to use it here.  I want a return on your investment). Therefore, you need to address pollution and poverty at the same time.  As Van Jones, the founder of GreenJobs would say, “we are in an era of mass extinction and mass incarceration. An era of ecological instability and economic inequality.” And we are looking to you, class of 2016 to address the dire conditions of your Mother, Earth. During your matriculation here, some of you have tried experiments in sustainable living, maybe you learned something about how to live simply during your cross-cultural experience. You’ve worked on building safe space for one another, for racial healing, for gender equality. Keep up the efforts you’ve begun, because we still do not have equal pay for equal work in this country or around the world. We are still producing exponential amounts of waste.  On practical and policy levels determine what is important to you in helping to nurture healthy and equitable life on this planet, put that at the center of your life and the rest of life will come into place around it.  We will be here to cheer you on as you applying your learning here out in the world.  We will hold you accountable to the pledge that your green ribbon symbolizes. Thank you for taking that stand!

Note: The green ribbons that some graduates wore indicated a commitment “to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve those aspects of any organization for which I work.”

Bluffton is birthing you into the world! Bluffton is your mother as well.  Universities are called your alma mater for a reason. Alma mater means nourishing/kind mother. And just as you would never forget to honor, support, help, and show up for the mothers in your life, give back to your university.  Honor what you’ve experienced here.  Your relationship to this place is changing today, just as your relationship with your mother changes throughout your life. This type of change is something you can embrace because Bluffton has prepared you. And if it hasn’t, come back and tell her.

Support Bluffton in creative ways such as returning to speak in classes in a few years as young alum.  Give back financially, so that others may have the special opportunity that you have.  Give every year, perhaps on Mother’s Day.  So when you get a card for the special person or people in your life, remember to send a contribution to your alma mater as well…Because here at Bluffton the show must go on, and it cannot do that without your support!

How beautiful it is that you are graduating on a day that was originally dedicated to peace.  A quick lesson in history…I knew you thought classes were done, but one little one yet: Mother’s Day in the US started in 1870s, when abolitionist Julia Ward Howe established a celebration to eradicate war. She said, “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” She continued, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.”  How perfect for you to graduate on this day, from a place whose early founders and early teachers turned swords into plowshares, from a place that has a Lion and Lamb center.

Today’s commercialized celebration of candy, flowers, gift certificates, bears little resemblance to Howe’s original idea. But let us rededicate ourselves to peace this day.  May you, the class of 2016 and your supporters, be so tender to classes of 2016 everywhere on the globe, that we will not use our education to bolster a society that will injure theirs.  Rather, commit your education to be a balm rather than a bomb, for all the mothers of the world. Mothers whose immense labor and creative work is often unrecognized, underpaid, and under-appreciated.

And some of you may be mothers in the future, you may be a parent, if you feel called to do so. Each of you today can mother; we will all birth ideas into being.  Craft the world that you want children to grow up in, not so much focused on things but on relationships of integrity. In this tender post-college time take care of yourself, your most important relationship.  We have a lot of athletes in the group. Keep up some kind of training routine. If you’ve been neglecting your body during college or grad school here, begin a training routine. In addition to minding what you eat, examine your cultural and spiritual diet.  If you are thinking about moving to a new community, search first for a spiritual community, then look for a place to live. Look for a place near to where you worship, prepare to inhabit there. In that way you’ll be making respectful choices related to Mother Earth, you’ll get to know the mothers of the neighborhood and their concerns, and be nourished by people of God, all in the same vicinity. Then bring your Mom to visit! I brought mine to visit today!

Like siblings from this mother Bluffton, stay connected to each other, so you can ask what someone else is doing in another sector. Stay connected to God, so you can ask what is yours to do in any given situation. Stay connected to the poor, to those without the opportunity to be here. Stay connected to a particular staff person or professor or administrator.

This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. When I was a little girl, my mother used to stand at the end of the hallway and sing that song to wake us up.  Usually I woke up near the beginning of the song and made my way slowly down the hall to her hug.  But on one particular morning I became alert and realized she was nearing the end of the song.  I panicked, believing that my whole world would be shattered if I didn’t arrive by the end of the song! I threw the covers off, jumped out of bed and in a full sprint headed down the hall. At full 4 year old speed I slammed right into her hug as she hit the last note.  Whew! I felt so much relief!

You have pushed through to the finish line, through many sleepy mornings, likely some panic, and you have arrived at the last note, bodyslamming into the finish line and the embrace of this community. Feel the relief. Rest!  Bluffton University class of 2016, you are charged to live for all our mothers!  I look forward to how our paths will cross in the future. Congratulations!

Commencement addresses from women still number much less than those given by men. Here are some examples of awesome speeches this year given by women!


About SEN

Born on United Nations Day, I am actively involved in the process of figuring out how we can live together well on this planet, given our similar and different truth claims. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

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