THE SIN OF BEING ORDINARY
This message is a reproduction of a Baccalaureate address by William S. Banowsky on May 24, 1964 to graduating seniors of Lubbock High School and Abilene Christian College. I commend it to all graduating seniors today. He was the Minister of the Church of Christ in Lubbock Texas when he wrote this address. ----Lonnie Branam
A few years ago Harvard Univrsity celebrated its 300th anniversary and on that day the freshman class paraded down the streets of Cambridge wilth a banner. what do you suppose they had on it.? “Harvard University has waited 300 years for us.” I would like to say to you my young friends that the world has been waiting 2,000 years for you. And you have not only come in the fullness of time but in the nick of time. I know you must be weary of being told that you are living in the greatest age the world has ever known, but then you are, and you ought to be frequently reminded. If I could choose any period of history in which to live, I would choose to live now. Not because these are easy times, for they a re not. Our world is complex and confusing.This is an era of plenty and yet of poverty, of peace and yet of war, of strength without security, of advancement without progress. Charles Dickens opens his splendid novel , A TALE OF TWO CITIES, with a paragraph which, though intended for another day, geographical pictures our day. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; it was the age of reason; it was the age of foolishness; it was the spring of hope; it was the inter of despair. We had everything before us; we had nothing before us." This paradoxical language precisely describes your paradoxical lives. You are the third generation of the twentieth century. “Every generation,” said Thomas Macauley,“enjoys the use of a vast hoard bequeathed to by antiquity and transmits that hoard , augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future ages.” The enigmatic world you now live in was prepared for you by the dreams and the hard work and disappointments, the hard work and limitations , the successes and failures of your fathers and grandfathers. They have bequeathed to you the best of worlds, but in a real sense so real that I need not stress it, they have handed to you the worst of worlds. They have flooded your lives with a standard_of living that arouses the envy of history's princes and kings. They have put two chickens in every pot and two cars in every garage. More~than this, they_have made available to you the finest educational opportunities ever before known. They have forged on the anvil of human rights a great democracy, have preserved and protected the freedoms which now bless~ your lives. They have given you the ability to talk within minutes and to travel within hours to any spot on the globe. They have broken the sound barrier and the four-minute. They have harnessed the mighty power of the atom and shattered the prohibitive veil of outer space. Unfortunately, however, they have conquered about everything but themselves.
Last year 20,000 of your fathers and grandfathers committed suicide. In the hundreds of thousands of hospitals they have constructed, every other bed is occupied by a mental patient. Much of your forefathers' medical resource and manpower has gone into the manufacture of tons of tranquilizers and armies of aspirin tablets. They have marred the rnagnificence of your split-level houses with a domestic nightmare that sees
one home in four split by divorce. Each of the first two generations of this ntury_fought its great world war. The first was termed a “war to end all wars.” The second was ended only the annihilation of 230,000 Japanese. Your fathers have solved the
mystery of splitting the atom , but they have not learned the secret of uniting men's hearts. Like Dr. Frandenstein , they have created an atomic monster and now tremble in he shadow of that which tshey have made. Hence, as a graduation gift they have established for you a chrome civilization propped by a “paper peace” and separated from from nuclear holocaust only by a thin thread called The result is quite inevitable. As the prophet said: “The fathers have eaten_sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge”(Jeremiah 31:29). As a product of this kind of world, your are not only privileged to enjoy its glory, but your are compelled to share in its misery and terror. In fact, you obviously been called upon to shoulder a heavier burden of another day's grief than any generation yet born. You graduating seniors were born within months of the global trauma of Pearl Harbor. Your understanding of life was being formed in those first three or four years when the world groaned under the bloodiest war ever to descend upon mankind. You began kindergarten in the face of the scorching winds of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For you, the speed of jet propulsion is a woy of life. And before you is a future as vast and uncertain as the limitless space into which we probe. Though medical science grants you additional years to spend on earth, it does not tell you what to do with the extra time. While technological advancement enables you to travel with unbelievable speed, it does not concern itself with the purpose of your journey. It is therefore, not too surprising that while you have been given everything to live with, suicide now ranks as the second highest cause of death among American college students. _Last year, persons under 22 years of age were involved in more than half of all ârrests for serious crimes. While your generation is producing a quarter mullion illegitimate children each year, one marriage in six when the baby is already on the way. Standing as a mute symbol of your tense generation are fifty- thousand bearded bohemian beatniks worshiping the god of non-conformity on the eighth day of the week. And while you may resent the reminder, Lee Harvey Oswald is a product of your age. He wasn't born in Outér Mongolia. He was born in one of the sleepy, colorful little states of our own South. He had read the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital; but not until he was a grown boy of fiftéèn. He had first read Zanè Grey's adventures of the wild West and the King James version of the New Testament. He had, of course, lived for a time in Moscow. But he had first studied American history in the public school system of Fort Worth. He could speak Russian fluently, to be sure, but his Russian was flavored with a strong Southern accent. If he is a product of that worst side of our world, it is a world closer to us than we dare admit. It is into t kind of world, with jts good and it s bad, that you now come. What contribution are you planning to make? What ptace do you dream of filling. Among the papers of the late F. Scott Fitzgerald,the playwright was the plot for a play, which for his death ,he was unable to complete. The plot, went something like this. Five people, members of the same family who lived in widely separated parts of the world, inherited from a wealthy uncle a fabulously wealthy mansion, provided, the will stipulated, they would be able to live in it together. What an intriguing plot! Or is it rather an incisive commentary on our critical age. You have inherited a thrilling but threatening world and if you intend to live in it you must learn to live together. By the accident of birth you are privileged to come upon the stage at the most dramatic moment in the entire history of mankind. For reasons known only to God you have been born at the very apex of civilization. Think of the glorious opportunities before you that no previous generation has known. You are the descendants of the greatest democratic inheritance, and recipients the brightest academic enlightenment the world has ever known. ou have been given all of this, but something more. You have been exposed to the minds of Shakespeare Charlemagne. You have learned well the lessons of the Magna Charta and the industrial revolution. You have benefitted from the theory relativity and the Salk vaccine. You have been given all of this, but something more. You have learned by your fathers' example that “man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” You have seen the living wretchedness of a fat body but a lean soul. It this difference which places in your hands the hope of the world in the awesome fifty years that lie ahead. For to you is given the responsibility of establishing a spiritual foundation sturdy enough to sustain an atomic world.
It required the combination of two ingredients to successfully to hit the moon with a rocket. Quite obviously, there was needed a mighty thrust of power sufficient to lift and sustain the rocket. But equally necessary was a delicate mechanism for accurately controlling and directing the spaceship. Ours is a world of inconceivable power, but it is a power without sufficient control. Thrust without sufficient direction. We have already left the launching pad. Whether or not we will ever reach any certain destination will depend more than I can begin to cause you to see , on technicians like you, providentially called and spiritually prepared to provide the direction, the guidance, the control. Unfortunately, so few of your generation will concern themselves with the accumulated grief of another day. n fact, most of today's young people will, in time, unwittingly, but none the less certainly, cimpound the problem rather than assist with a solution. Because of the false assumptions of their fathers and grandfathers, many of today's young people are inheriting a spiritual vacuum, and being deprived of the: very capacity to believe in God.. In his book, A PREFACE T0 MORALS, Walter Lippman personally confessed the spirit of so characteristic of the times: “This is the first age, I think, in the history of mankind, when the circumstances of life have conspired with the intellectual habits of the time to render any fixed and authoritative belief incredible to large masses of men . . . . I do not mean that men have ceased to believe in God. I do mean that they no longer believe in Him simply and literally. I mean that they have refined and defined their ideas of him until they can no longer say that he exists as they would say that their neighbor exists.” Call it whatever you will, when men have lost the ability to believe in God simply and literally, they have lost the capacity to believe. This , then, is the father's greatest sin! This is the millstone which another age has dropped around your neck. In al their getting, they lost God and have challenged your right to find Him again!
Consider three monumental concepts, fostering unbelief, which have emerged in the last 100 years. These are Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, and Sigmund Freud's The Origins of Psychoanalysis. The point of commonality among these writings is that each sought to relegate God to the ash heaps of history and to enthrone man as the proper object of his own worship. Darwin sought to explain man's beginnings, Marx his environment, Freud his motivations, completely apart from the God of the Bible. While we may, ostrich like, bury our heads and imagine that these and other anti-Christian concepts have made little impression on our world, the facts are to the contrary. There are false assumptions which have influenced the thinking and attitudes of your generation beyond measure. We may not feel the day to day impact -of Communism, but it is an anti-God philosophy which controls the destinies of more than half the peoples of the globe. Even so, while we have ignored the problem of organaic evolution as an academic question for biology laboratories, its bony fingers have assumed a strangle-hold around the throat of America's institutions of higher leaning. In many ways psychological relativism, which denies the personal existence of God in any objective sense, has made the most subtle and devastating challenge to faith. Unlike Darwin and Marx, Freud did not aggressively attack; Christianity; he regarded as a psychological necessity for the immotionally immature He did not assault God; he merely apologized for Him. The sophisticated conclusions of Freud's disciplined mind have found their friendliest allies in the great universities of the land. Even within theological schools, biblical concepts of God have been renovated and accommodated to the empirical methods of modern science. Hence, while we have made great progress we have lost much precious ground. For after creating sufficient power to launch themselves into space, our ship of state has forfeited the very means of control. And those few of you who are prepared intellectually and spiritually must provide the guidance and direction.
While the charges of Darwin, Marx and Freud were being made at the intellectual level most of our fathers and grandfathers were to busy to notice, too busy following thé Brooklyn Dodgers and paying for the wall-to-wall carpet. As a result, though they refused to seriously challenge Darwin, Marx or Freud, they were unwittingly puppeting the vicious sins invited by their atheistic theories. For you see when the great minds of any civilization set the course, the amorphous mass, by refusing to alter or challenge that course , foregoes the right to avoid the acid fruits it inevitably produces. Though Christianity may be the flag under which we sail, these theories form the rudder which steers our course. We have been influenced more than we will admit! The very sins we commit are verification of the wretched impact these formulae have made upon our lives! Your fathers were oblivious to these prevailing winds of unbelief, but your age has reaped tshe whirlwinds of immorality, skepticism and cosmic fear. The most tragic consequence is that, haying completely lost heart in the realm of the Spiritual, good men have devoted the best of themselves to the cultivation of the material. What a waste that brilliant minds should be exclusively exhausted in constructing ribbons of highways and faster, sleeker cars to travel them. What a pity that acts of dedication and unselfishness , which might properly be channeled in God's direction, are sidetracked toward the advancement of secular and material ends. When Walter Lippman - lost his faith, he wrote: “When men could no longer be theists, the civilized ones became humanists.” How true! And, yet how tragic that the best of men's energies is spent in a “war on poverty, ” rather than than a “war on sin..” Jesus said, “The poor you always have with you, but me you do not have always.” It is at this point that you are desperately needed to present to mankind the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”(John 1:29).
The Sin of Being Ordinary
You have a precious faith in an hour when many are deprived of of the capacity to believe. What will you do with that faith? You dwell in the realm of the Spirit in an hour when most men are spiritually impoverished. In the words of the prophet, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14) A few years ago I paid 75c for an old book in a second-hand bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. I was attracted by its impelling title: The Sin of Being Ordinary. The author based his title on Dr. Moffatt's translation of I Corinthians 3:3, “Are not behaving like ordinary men?” This, I suppose, is my greatest fear for you. In an hour when the world waits and pleads for extraordinary power that you might be content to be ordinary. That you wil succumb to the temptation to join the materialism of this day.
“To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way
And the High Soul climbs the High Way,
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way and a Low,
nd every man decideth
The Way his soul shall go.”
You did not choose this time to be borm, but God chose you for just this time. You did not choose your talents , but God has given you great talents. And now you must choose whether you will double them or bury them. The greatest loss of all will be for you to bury them beneath an avalanche of things.. Let the word go forth from this time and place that the torch of spiritual leadership has been passed to a new generation of Americans. Born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a cold and bitter peace. Unwilling to witness nor allow the further unraveling of the spiritual fiber of upon which our civilization stands. The words of the Galilean are ao piercingly aimed at you: “For unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required., and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more”(Luke 12:48). Both men and God have committed into your hands the task of conquering the wilderness of the human heart. Fifty years from tonight, when with the providence of G&d you will be in life's twilight, your task will have been done. Think of the things to be done between now and then. What shall be said of you then? God be thanked who matched you with this hour. Yours now is the responsibility of conserving and enriching the heeritage of spiritual values you have received, that those who come after you may have better light to follow. “It is not fit that you should forsake the word of God to serve serve tabes”(Acts 6:2). Yours is the task of bringing the world the consciousness of a holy God. Jesus said, “And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required”(Luke 12:48).