My effort to engage our community in reflection about meaning and purpose shifted to the students this month with my September 4th chapel homily at Midway. I used Ephesians 2:10 as my scriptural inspiration:
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I also wove Inside Out, Pixar’s summer blockbuster, through my message. What follows is an extended excerpt from my message.
“I saw a fantastic movie this summer; a Pixar picture called Inside Out. Anybody see it?
If you didn’t, it’s the story of Riley, a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Minnesota girl. Her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions are co-stars in this movie. We get to see inside Riley as Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event.
Inside Out offers so many themes I’d love to explore with you, but I’ve settled on a couple observations for today specific to this scene and connected to the start of the school year.
The first observation is the simplest: your school year will be filled with the emotions which starred in the movie – and likely some others.
You will experience joy in growing friendships and new successes;
You will confront fear as you meet challenges – perhaps from being a new student here or trying out for a team or a play for the first time;
You will be disgusted – perhaps by something a classmate does, or your own performance in a game or concert, or by the food in the Commons;
You will be angry – at a teacher for a grade or a constructive criticism he or she makes, perhaps, or a friend for a poorly timed comment;
And, yes, you will be sad. We are a community built on relationships. Relationships are complicated and don’t always go as we would hope. Our feelings will be hurt. We may feel lonely or left out. Other times, we will fall short of goals and our best intentions and as a result will feel blue.
If you remember from the movie, Joy draws a circle around sadness trying to limit her impact on Riley that first day of school. As it turns out, (no spoiler alert necessary!), sadness plays a most important role in helping Riley confront the challenge of moving to San Francisco.
For you this school year, the question is not whether you will feel a range of emotions, but how you will manage them.
Must all your days be filled with joy for you to consider them good days? If so, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Can you channel anger at yourself or others positively to reach a better outcome, or does anger linger with you and make achieving a positive resolution impossible?
Do you allow your sadness to set you back for days, or can you find the fortitude we talk about in our ParishLEADS framework to make tomorrow a better day?
Manage the emotions that you experience this year rather than trying to avoid them or limit their impact. Recognize that each emotion has a purpose and a role to play as you become your best self.
Purpose: This theme from movie represents my second and final thought as the year begins.
In the film, each emotion had a job to do. Each emotion had a purpose.
What is your purpose?
In our reading today, Paul teaches the Ephesians, some of the earliest Christians, that they are God’s handiwork and that God has prepared work for them to do as Christians, living into His teachings and modeling them for others. He suggests, even, that the work each person was born to do has been prepared for them in advance.
This raises and interesting question for you to ponder. You are God’s handiwork. What do you think he will call you to do one day? How might you impact the world for better one day? What gifts, abilities, and talents do you have that could do some good in this world?
These are big questions. Certainly too big for today and perhaps too big for this year. But we can start here at least.
What is the purpose of you attending school? Why are you here at Parish and what do you plan to do on purpose to make this year a meaningful one for you?
If I asked you to choose what your purpose is in coming to school from the following multiple choice options, I wonder what the answer would be:
A. Get good grades to make my parents happy
B. Get good grades so I get into the college of my choice and then the job of my dreams!
C. I have no purpose in being here; my parents will not let me stay home and play video games all day
D. To be with friends
E. To play sports/be on stage/sing and dance…
While you might choose from several of these options, and all of them have some legitimacy, I fear sometimes that this might be the likely response:
Just like Joy drew a circle around sadness to try and limit her impact, I think this answer draws too close a circle around you and separates you from a higher purpose for your work at Parish.
If you see school as just something to survive; if they only “good parts” of school are the subjects you like, or recess, or PE; if school’s purpose is simply about checking assignments completed and grades received, I’d ask you to reflect more deeply.
In fact, I will commit much of my homily time this year talking about your purpose and our purpose as a school.
In so doing, I would propose one more answer for my multiple choice question:
When you think of your time at Parish as having this larger purpose, you erase the circle and open yourself to a whole new set of possibilities:
We will pick up here when I am with you next.
For now, remember. Indeed, you are here for a purpose beyond surviving until May when summer begins. You are God’s handiwork. He has made you – uniquely and particularly – for a reason. He will call you to impact this world in some way. You are at Parish to begin discovering just how you will change the world, so do commit to doing school with a purpose.”