I gave the blessing before the meal

At my school we have a nice event once each semester for students who are (or have recently) turned 21. I was asked to give the blessing by our campus director of the center for religious and spiritual life. He knows I am an atheist, and wanted that element of diversity in this event. I was a bit nervous when the time came close, and almost wimped out. I am glad I didn't, and was congratulated by a couple colleagues afterwards. Here is the text of my "blessing:"

Turning 21 Dinner
Pre meal blessing

Closing the gap between the “is” and the “ought”

The theme of my blessing is “closing the gap between the “is” and the “ought”.” But first let me give some context.

Blessings are traditionally given from the faith tradition of the person giving the blessing. In my case that tradition is –to come out in a public setting for the first
time- atheism. Although I was raised Catholic, the seed, shall we say, found no purchase.

To quote from President Obama’s inauguration speech,

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus --and non-believers. “

I am one of those non-believers. I will use a 1781 quote from Thomas Paine, one of our Founding Fathers, to describe my “religion:”

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good."
(Thomas Paine 'Rights of Man' 1781)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

I consider working for global justice my calling, and I invite you to share with me a moment to reflect on the massive gap between the “is” and the “ought” in the world today; I am sure that you need no listing of the injustices faced around the world. As Elon students and global citizens, I am sure that you are well aware of the extreme poverty and horrible suffering generated by inequality, racism and endemic misogyny in all corners of the globe.

So, as we share the rest of this joyous occasion with each other, let’s all pause to think about how we might respond to Kenneth Burke’s words in this short poem entitled Dialectician’s Prayer.

May we compete with one another
To speak of Thy Creation with more justice –
Cooperating in this competition
Until our naming
Gives voice correctly,
And how things are
And how we say things are
Are one.

May we all continue the struggle to create a more just world and to do all in our power to close the gap between the “is” and the “ought.”

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