What separates Habersham from the crowd as a private Christian school in Savannah? We take the long view. The virtues and habits instilled at Habersham don’t end with college acceptance. We are always thinking: Who will your child become? Read on to understand more of what this looks like as Humanities Chair, Brent Beaumont, encourages this year’s graduates with an inspiring word.
“Where have you been?” and “Where are you going?”. With these two questions begins Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus. On the surface these are simple questions you might ask a friend you have encountered while out for a walk. Something like this seems to be the context in which Socrates poses these questions, and he gets a very straightforward response from Phaedrus:
I’ve been with Lysias, Kephalos’ son, Socrates, and now I’m going for a walk outside the
city walls. I’ve been with him a long time, since dawn in fact. Now I’m headed for the
country, following the advice of our friend, Akoumenos, who says it’s more refreshing to
walk there than in our city’s covered colonnades.
But perhaps there is more going on here, for these two questions: “Where have you been?” and “Where are you going?” are also fundamental human questions, questions about who we are as individuals and as a people, how we got here, how we got to be the people we are, what our future holds for us, and what our purpose is. These are questions we often ask ourselves, especially on days like today when we gather to reflect and celebrate the end of something while also looking forward expectantly to the beginning of something new. And so, I would like to frame my words to you around these two questions.
“Where have you been?” I’ve been reading Homer’s Odyssey recently and the frequency with which this question is asked has struck me. Whether it is Telemachos arriving at the home of Nestor or Odysseus arriving at the court of the Phaikians, the arriving stranger is welcomed, offered food and drink, and then asked to tell who he is, where he comes from, and how he arrived at this place. It seems that knowing where a person came from is essential to knowing who that person is. The most famous answer to these questions in all of history is offered by Odysseus himself when he recounts for the Phaikians his many adventures and hardships after leaving Troy and sailing for home. This is the part of the Odyssey that we know the best—Odysseus tricking the cyclops, Circe turning Odysseus’ men into pigs, the visit to Hades, the song of the sirens, his eventual shipwreck after the eating of the sun god’s cattle. What for us is an adventurous tale serves for Odysseus as the beginning of his own remembering of who he truly is after seven years of isolation on the island of Calypso. Remembering, looking back, is thus key to knowing who we truly are, and it turns out that we need to remember and practice remembering far more often than we may realize.
So, let us remember together a bit about where you have been. For the past three to eight years, each of you has been a student at The Habersham School. During that time we have spent a lot of time together. You are all too accustomed to hearing me talk. In fact, you may be thinking, “What, this guy again?” Much of our time together has been spent reading great books and discussing great ideas. Whether you knew it or not, together we have been engaged in a sustained exercise in remembering. We have spent our time looking back to those who came before us so that we might better understand who we are as human beings living in this world. From Achilles you learned of the destructive power of human rage, from Augustine of the human heart that is restless until it finds its rest in God, from Huck Finn of our propensity to deny the humanity and dignity of others, even those who express that humanity and dignity better than we do, and from Raskolnikov you learned that despite our darkest sins we are never beyond redemption.
I want to call this learning that we did remembering because what we were studying was not something outside of ourselves, but instead our very selves, our own humanity, that which has been true about us not just since the day of our birth, but since the very beginning of time when God made man and woman in his image and they in turn rebelled against him. This image of God, expressed most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, is the true nature of your humanity, but this rebellion, this turning away from God and from your true humanity is with you and plagues you everyday. And so the remembering is twofold. On the one hand you must remember this rebellion and this fallibility lest you give in to pride, but on the other hand you must remember that which came before the rebellion, that which has been true about you since the beginning of time, that you are made in the image of God, that you are his beloved child.
To this end, we engaged in another way of remembering this year when each day I asked you the same series of questions and together we recited the same series of answers. Yes, Krista, I am talking about the catechism. For those of you who are not in the know, the catechism starts like this:
- Gentlemen, what are you?
I am a king, for I rule myself.
- Ladies, what are you?
I am a queen, for I rule myself.
- What does it mean to rule yourself?
I am free to do good. I am not the slave of my desires.
- Who has made you kings and queens?
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Every time we said these words we were speaking together true things about who we are and what has been done for us. We were remembering things which we tend to forget. There’s a reason Christ commanded his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.” We are a forgetful people, especially about the truest things. But it wasn’t just that we were speaking true things, but also that we were speaking them together, as a community. There are two key lessons here. First, the quest to remember who you truly are cannot be accomplished alone. Odysseus does not recover his true identity until he is back in the company of his family and household and has executed judgment on the haughty suitors. On his own he is a suffering, weathered, and broken man. But back home in the community of his family and his people he is the king, a husband, a father, a lord of men. We cannot remember who we truly are without the community of Christ which bears witness to us of who we truly are. The second lesson is that all communities function in such a way that they tell us who we are, whether they speak to that truly or not. What I mean by this is that all communities we participate in tell us what they value about us and that those things are who we really are or who we ought to be. The suitors in The Odyssey were a community that valued pride, arrogance, ungratefulness, and treachery. Those who joined their ranks took on this identity and in doing so brought about their own ruin and destruction. Soon you will find yourselves in new places with a plethora of new communities to join. The communities you choose to join will shape you so be wise, seek out communities that direct you toward the true things, that help you to remember who you truly are, kings and queens free to do good and led by the spirit of God.
“Where are you going?” In some ways this question is impossible to answer. We do not know the future and our feeble attempts to predict it are often laughable. Like, I didn’t think some of you would make it to this day. Just kidding…kind of. I can tell you what I plan to do say a week, or a month, or a year from now, but there are too many contingencies to say that these plans will certainly come to fruition. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has served only to put a deeper fog of uncertainty between us and the future. Mr. Manley will probably spend much of the summer pulling out what little hair he has left over the numerous questions surrounding restarting school in the fall. I truly hope you all get to go off to college campuses in the fall, but I’m not going to pretend to know for certain that this will happen.
In other ways, though, we can answer this question of “Where are you going?” In fact, we have been talking about it already. The mission of The Habersham School is to seek the restoration of the image of God in our students, but in no way is this restoration a goal which can be accomplished by age 18. The very thing that you need to remember is also the very thing that shapes your future, that sets the goal toward which your entire life is directed. This too we recited in the catechism, laying out the two paths available to us, one which takes us toward this goal of restoration and the other which takes us away from it.
- What is the bondage to decay?
The vices are pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, sloth.
- What does it mean to be human?
The virtues are faith, hope, love, wisdom, justice, courage, temperance.
In answering the question of “Where are you going?”, these two responses are the only real answers that matter. One leads to bondage and decay, the other to true freedom and to your true humanity.
Now I must say that the path of virtue is not easy. The recovery of our humanity is only possible through the grace of God, and often it seems that his grace comes slow. Odysseus had Athena at his side, but this did not mean that everything was put to rights in an instant. There was real work to be done and the same is true for you and me. The path of virtue is also not the path to fame and glory. If you are looking to boost your social media following, there are better ways I’m sure. You will have to make sacrifices, you will have to give up things that those not pursuing virtue will simply not understand, “for no one can serve two masters.” But, you may ask, “why should we seek virtue?” Well, I hope by now you are already reciting the words of St. James which we recited together so many times, that “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
I cannot tell you what the future holds for you. I will not tell you to chase your dreams. Rather I will tell you this, the path of virtue is the only path worth pursuing. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” “Where are you going?” This is a question that confronts us every moment of every day. As you face this question I hope you will also remember to consider the question “Where have you been?” The Scriptures tell us that we have been in a garden, made in God’s image, living in fellowship with him. At Habersham your teachers and coaches have sought in many ways to remind you of this truth about who you are. Breanna, we have told you that you are imaginative, considerate, and courageous. Nicholas, that you are skillful, ambitious, and faithful. Aidan: composed, affable, and honest. Ryder: joyful, respectful, and gracious. Kaylie: faithful, supportive, and steadfast. Jada: peaceful, friendly, and poised. Cierra: brave, vibrant, and full of perseverance. Ashley: caring, dedicated, and humble. Krista: strong, invested, and driven. Manasseh: full of perseverance, jovial, and skillful. Isabelle: driven, purposeful, and full of conviction. Ashlyn: attentive, considerate, and joyful. Sam: thoughtful, poised, and humble. We have told you these things because they are true of who you are as image bearers of God and of who you have shown yourselves to be. We have put these words on rocks and written them on report cards because these virtues are the true goal of your education. But alas, your education at Habersham has come to an end and so has our allotted time to remind you of who you are and to come alongside you in the cultivation of virtue. And so, as a good teacher I will leave you with two questions: “Where have you been?” “Where are you going?” Oh…and don’t forget to remember.