ourselves. Some of the most grotesque evils in history have come of self-enthronement.There are few things more troubling in our world than those absolutely sure they got it right. Only the misinformed would think that the Islamic faith authorized the events of September 11th. Tolerance is at the center of that faith tradition. What created those terrorist activities was men who took history into their own hands and never doubted their mission. And some distorted God concepts authorized that evil. But there is nothing like a lofty sense of Transcendence to remind you who you are.
It will not surprise many of you that I am comfortable and at home with God language. It is not only my profession as a theologian but my personal faith as well. The sense of something Transcendent is one place my vulnerability takes me — and it helps prevent the temptation to play God. A sense of a Transcendent One draws me into the intolerable contradictions and holds me responsible for crafting a response. And my sense of a God who relentlessly includes me provides the impulse to resist exclusion.
Many of you share that belief, albeit from different traditions. But there are others for whom the language of faith is an obstacle compounded by institutions that represent it. I understand and respect your reluctance. But I want to share some words I first read as a Denison student when I was unsettled religiously. They were written by Paul Tillich who later was to become my teacher. He was talking about those moments in our lives when a ray of light suddenly parts the darkness, when some relief or reward happens and we have no right to expect, when we are surprised by joy in a relationship and feel utterly at ease, when we have hurt someone and they are able to dismiss it, when we feel disgusted with ourselves and another refuses to hold it against us — then there is a moment some call "grace." "Sometimes at that moment a ray of light breaks in, and it is as if a voice is saying, "You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name, perhaps you will find it later... Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." And I did.
My young friends, I have spoken about matters closest to my heart but the thoughts were formed by the words of a Hebrew Prophet. Here they are in one translation:
"What is required of us is this?"
"To do justice" — live in such a way that you reduce the intolerable contradictions.
"To love mercy" — diminish the hate in the world by adjusting your identity to embrace differences.
"To walk humbly with God" — search for what is really Ultimate and name it when you can.
That is a really good life. And I hope you have one!