At its May 1999 Commencement Exercises, Grinnell College, my alma mater, granted me the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
The citation said that I had “discovered a way to integrate his professional life as an attorney with his spiritual life and his desire to ‘do good.’ In the midst of a prestigious legal career, [he] found ‘a reawakening of [his] spiritual life’ through tireless pro bono work on behalf of clients in need of political asylum in the United States. . . . A 1989 trip to El Salvador to learn more about conditions there was, for him, a ‘spiritual journey.’ Despite the horrendous suffering he witnessed, [he] found himself uplifted and transformed by the faith and hope of the Salvadoran people. . . . Of this work, he says, ‘it provides a deeper sense of satisfaction of really helping someone.'”
I responded with these words to the new graduates:
- Listen to your life. To your successes and joys. To your disappointments and pain. To the strangers you encounter on the road to your Jericho.
- As you listen and reflect, hopefully with the support of a community of faith, attempt to discern how God is present and active in your life. Then allow yourself to be nudged down paths that are consonant with God’s will for your life.
- Thirty-eight years ago when I was at my Grinnell commencement, I was convinced that all that mattered were intellect, rationality, logic, knowledge and hard work, all of which were challenged and enhanced by my being a member of this academic community. I had persuaded myself that religion and spirituality were antiquated superstitions of no use to a liberally educated, intelligent person.
- I eventually learned otherwise, but it took a long time.
- I pray that you are faster learners.
 See Post: My Christian Faith (April 6, 2011); Post: Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (April 6, 2011); Post: The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Older Brother (April 20, 2011); Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011); Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011); Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).
 These comments were inspired by my own life and by the words of Frederick Buechner, an author and Presbyterian pastor, in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation (1990): “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, small your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (See also George Connor, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (1992).) Recently I have encountered another book with the same theme by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (1999). (See Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum: Krista Tippett (July 26, 2011).)
3 thoughts on “Honorary Degree”
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Thanks for your positive comment. I am working on a major presentation about El Salvador at the University of Minnesota. Thus, I do not have as much time to blog, but I will carve off some sections for the blog.