Convocation: A Call to Freedom

Joshua Crane
August 22, 2017

Welcome, everyone, to the official start of the School year at The Stony Brook School. Welcome to convocation – a big word that basically means meeting together.  So now that we are all here, take a look around you – odds are you are going to see someone who looks very different than you do.  This is good and by design.  At Stony Brook we believe in a God who created and delights in color.   His arms are open wide and so are ours.   Stony Brook is the place where we have the chance to show the world how different people can not only tolerate each other but actually celebrate and enjoy each other as we work towards common goals.  It’s challenging at times but it’s worthwhile work.  Don’t be face blind, but seek to get to know as many people from different cultures that you can.  You may not develop deep friendships but my goodness, it is so much harder to hate a race of people when you actually know real people from that race or ethnicity.  We have set the table for you, now we encourage you to feast.

One of the things you are going to notice about your time at Stony Brook is that we are going to challenge you.  We are going to present ideas, ways of thinking, attitudes and values that are so different than what you hear in songs see in movies and on TV that it almost seems like we are leading a protest movement.  And maybe in some ways we are. Except you wont see us lining Chapman Parkway with signs, dressed in Guy Fawkes masks, throwing rocks and bottles and setting things on fire.  Instead, we will be here, engaging you in conversation in the classrooms, in the dining hall, or walking around campus, lovingly disagreeing with you when necessary. We will be driving you places you need to go, caring for you when you get sick, answering your late night emails and text messages, patiently instructing and guiding, calling you to account when you need it.  This is how we roll at The Stony Brook School.

Well today I want to talk about big words. But don’t fall asleep on me, because this may not be what you think.  Many of you are preparing for the SAT’s and you have had your share of big words.  In order to be successful on that test you need to know a lot of words that you don’t use everyday and may not ever use again.  Words like perspicacious, perfidiousness or parsimonious – words when you use them make people say, “dang you’re smart,” assuming of course that you used them correctly.  There are fairly precise definitions to these words and no one really debates their meaning. But what about these words: freedom, justice, peace, love.  If I put you on the spot right now and ask you to tell me to define these words, my guess is it would be a little tougher to do than the SAT words because at some level we all think we know what these words mean, but our definitions may be different.

So let’s take one of these big ones: freedom.  Let me ask you a question: Are you free?  You say, “What are you talking about; of course I am free. I live in a free country,” or “I really wanted to come here, and my parents made it happen.”   Those are answers that address a political status, and by that broad definition, at this moment you are all free.  But let me ask it a different way?  Do you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning because you have so much anxiety about what the day will hold that it is hard to move?  Do you care so much about what people think about you that you spend a ton of your time checking Facebook and Instragram to see how many likes you have?  Do you have some food habits that you wish you could break that you can’t?  Does some substance like a drug or alcohol or pornography have control over you?  Do you have some event in your past that makes you feel guilty and ashamed? Do you say I am only going to game for an hour and then stay up until 3:00 am and repeat the cycle over and over again?  Do you constantly look over your shoulder wondering if you are going to get caught for the things that you are doing?   Do you see that none of these questions have anything to do with your political status? Yes you are technically free to do any of these things, but don’t you notice a deep irony here?  The very things we do to express our freedom often get us stuck in chains that seem impossible for us to break.  There has to be a better way.

In the Bible, we meet a man named Jesus, and when we meet Him we find out He is no ordinary man because He does things like raising people from the dead, walking on water, taking five loaves and two fish and turning them into a feast for 5,000 people. And He said things, crazy things like “I am the way the truth and the life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the bread of life.”

On one occasion he was talking to a group of religious leaders who thought they had it all figured out – they were the power elite – they were oppressing people.  Surely, if anyone was free it would be them – they made the rules. And yet He starts the conversation with them by saying, “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free”.  And they sneer at him. “What do you mean? We are basically royalty. We have never been enslaved by anyone. What are you talking about?”  Jesus replies that “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”  There it is. Sin and slavery. Christ and Freedom. You are going to learn a lot at Stony Brook this year and certain themes are going to repeat themselves throughout your year. This is one of them.  Jesus wasn’t promising them freedom from political oppression. They were in power; they were the oppressors. He was offering them a different kind of freedom, a freedom that would set them free from themselves, from the dispositions, the attitudes the actions that made them oppressors in the first place.

At Stony Brook we are offering you a lot.  We are offering you an education that will prepare you for life and success in college and wherever you go after that.  That’s good; that’s why you are here.  But there is something more.  There is the chance to be free, to receive the kind of freedom that transcends your circumstances. Some of the happiest letters written by Jesus followers have been from jail cells.  This is the kind of freedom that enables you to wake up in the morning and say I am OK, the kind of freedom that gives the power to do good, to have a clean conscience, to actually love people.    This the good stuff.  We can’t give it to you but we know someone who can and it will be our privilege to introduce you to Him this year.

seanrileysbs

Sean A. Riley earned his Ph.D in philosophy from Baylor University in 2011. He has chaired the history department, taught English, Humanities, AP European History and two philosophy courses, coached football, tennis, and the Ethics Bowl team, and served as a dorm dad at The Stony Brook School on Long Island. He has also led summer travel courses to Greece, Turkey, and China. Prior to teaching at The Stony Brook School, he taught courses at Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Live Oak Classical School in Waco, Texas. Sean is the author of Recovering the Saints from Modern Moral Theory, available on Kindle. He lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Emily, and his four children, Aidan, Liam, Honora, and Quinn.

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