Sister Joan Chittister's Stanford Baccalaureate Address

Sister Joan and Bono, 2008. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.

Sister Joan blessing Sojo friend, Bono, at the '08 Women's Conference in California. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.

Editor's Note: Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Catholic sister, author and social justice stalwart, delivered the Baccalaureate address at Stanford University a few weeks ago. Below is the text of her address. 

Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: "There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two."

And Walter Lippmann said: "The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on."

But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?

There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.

As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: "We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 signaled back: "Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south."

Boat 1 signaled again: "I am an admiral in her majesty's navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 flashed back immediately: "And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south."

By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: "I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty's navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!"

And the second boat returned a signal that said: "And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse."

Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.

Losing Touch With Jesus

It’s such an easy thing to do,
To overshoot and lose touch with You;
Surrounded by everyday anxieties,
Add to them that you’re not too sensible to me,
And then you get me giving my all,
And then some,
Stretching and hoping,
Reaching and crying out for more of you
In my everyday moments.
I think that all simply misses the point.
You are present in my flesh and blood,
My soul but my pumping heart,
My thinking brain,
My biking legs and lifting arms.
I must believe you are more present
Than I know you to be....

Wild Goose 2012 Reflection

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook.

The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.

I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.

But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.

There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.

For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.

Former White Supremacist Sheds Hate, Embraces Christianity

RNS photo by Sean Proctor |

Chris Simpson after being baptized. RNS photo by Sean Proctor |

Two years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march.

Six months ago, he abandoned the white supremacy movement.

On April 15, he was baptized.

Five days later, Simpson sat in the waiting room of a skin and vein clinic, waiting to start the long and painful process of having his tattoos, most replete with Nazi or white pride iconography, removed.

"Hate will blind you to so many things. It will stop you from having so many things," Simpson said. "It consumes you."

Church No More: Part 2 — Church That Doesn't Steal Your Joy

The Collection. Via the band's Facebook page:

The Collection. Via the band's Facebook page:

I lost my joy. I suspect there are a few of you who feel the same way. Not that you aren't happy, but there is this deep place of celebratory joy which you once knew that really doesn't come around much anymore.

There was a time when I was a pretty joyful guy. Not “blind to the world's problems” kind of joyful, just “blessed to be blessed in the midst of this mess” kind of joyful. Lately though, I've found joy to be an increasingly difficult thing to come by.

The thing is, I have every reason to be joyful. I'm lucky enough to be married to an amazing woman – truly amazing. I couldn't be prouder of my kids who, in an age of “be different just like us” are very much their own kind of different simply because they aren't afraid of being themselves. My personal interests, like my blog, just keep getting better. I have some of the best friends in the world. Yet, I'm not the generally joyful person I once was.

It's a dull malaise that I just can't quite shake. I don't like it. Not one bit.

Recently though, I've been catching little glimpses of my joy making cameo appearances in the storyline of my life. I like it. A lot. 

The question is, why now? Why not back then?

From the Mountaintop: A Closing Liturgy from the Wild Goose Festival

Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Lisa Sharon Harper leads the closing liturgy at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

We have listened to many of the modern-day prophets of our times. They have pointed the way toward justice and restoration. We have prayed together and moved our bodies together and exercised the discipline of silence together in order to get a glimpse at God’s kind of justice. In more ways than one, we have had a mountaintop experience, but most of us don’t live on mountaintops. We live back down in the valleys, in cities and town, in the commotion of life and work and love.

And so, it is necessary that we take time while on the mountaintop to reflect on all that God has given us in this special place. To imagine the implications of these truths, these questions, these stories on how we will live our lives.

Colorado Springs and the Wrath of an Angry God

Colorado Springs really must have angered God.

I’m not sure what the city's residents have done, but He has to have a reason for burning up homes and possessions. One thing we know: God sends messages through natural disasters to certain groups who defy him and peddle evil. How else could we explain what’s happening?

Mark 4 tells us that Jesus controls the wind. And it is the wind, in large part, that has caused the fire to spread. Perhaps we should heed the warning of Jesus in Luke 13 and repent or else face the reality of perishing like them.

Is it possible that groups such as Compassion International and Bibles for the World have secretly condoned certain sins that will, in the end, keep people out of the kingdom of God? What message is God sending to groups like HCJB Global and Biblica?

This fire seems to be warning to them, and everyone to repent. They need to step up and reaffirm the Evangelical tradition. They must turn back from distorting whatever it is they have distorted about God’s character.

Does this sound ridiculous?

Health Care and Judgment Day (Part 2)

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government does hold the constitutional power to mandate that most American's purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. This power is maintained in Congress’s ability to levy taxes.

The justices also ruled that the federal government does hold the constitutional power to expand Medicaid, making more people eligible to receive the benefit, but, like the original Medicaid law of 1965, states can opt out of the expansion if they so choose.

What does this mean? And what does this mean for Jesus followers?

The Affordable Care Act: Without a Vision, the People Perish

Image by Konstantin Sutyagin / shutterstock.

Image by Konstantin Sutyagin / shutterstock.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. ~ Proverbs 29:18

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was remarkable in a number of ways. The vast majority of articles, blogs, and analyses focus on the political ramifications of the decision.

Is this a win for the Obama administration or fuel for the Romney campaign? Pundits have looked at nearly every political angle, from the upcoming presidential election to its effects on local politics.

While I appreciate the political analysis and the importance of political processes to the wellbeing of the United States, I believe that a majority of coverage has missed one of the most remarkable points of the ACA: It changes the vision of our national community.