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Igniting Lives of Purpose: Mr. Baad's Homily for Middle and Upper School

On Thursday, August 27, Mr. Baad presented his opening homily to middle and upper school. The upper school service was led by vestry co-chair Sophia Sinacola '21. Please click the image below to watch the entire worship service. A transcript of Mr. Baad's homily can be found below.

Igniting Lives of Purpose

Good morning, everybody! I add my welcome to Chaplain Kennedy’s and send you best wishes for an exciting new year. I particularly want to recognize the new students and faculty to the middle (upper) school. Adjusting to a different community is always hard, and these circumstances make it more so. I hope soon you will feel like seasoned veterans, one of the gang. I was in your shoes just two years ago and remain grateful for how people reached out and made me feel welcome. That includes many of you here. 

Before I start the main part of my homily, I also want to acknowledge that many of us may be carrying the emotional weight of events that have occurred this week. We have witnessed another very troubling shooting of a Black American - Jacob Blake - by police, yet another reminder of racial injustice issues we are facing. We have seen one of our great midwestern towns, Kenosha, WI spin into violence. Some of you may have loved ones in the path of Hurricane Laura. And this all on top of the other challenges we are absorbing. We must continue to support and listen to each other. Perhaps my homily today may stir in you ways that can happen.

“Igniting Lives of Purpose” 

I hope by now that those of you who are returning veterans to ESD - you who are maybe in your second year or maybe you’ve been here since beginners - you have committed this phrase to memory. For our new friends, these words are the essence of why we believe ESD exists. It is our mission. Chaplain Kennedy referred to it in his homily yesterday, and today we will wonder even more deeply about its meaning. 

It is our aspiration to ignite a life of purpose in each of you during your time here. As we progress through this year and next, this phrase will act as a beacon as we continue to think about how ESD can be the best version of itself. Let’s wonder for a bit about what it really means.

Like the good group of wordsmiths that we are, when we pick apart the meaning of a phrase, the best place to start is with the verb - in this case, “ignite.” What does that word mean to you? Pause for a minute and imagine the picture that comes into your head. Maybe it’s the image I started with- the match strike. Ignition can beget fire. This fire is started by the friction created when two surfaces rub against each other. Maybe it’s the start of an engine. When I was your age, the United States was in the middle of the space race, our grand national effort to be the first country to put a person on the moon. I remember when an Apollo mission left the launch pad, you would hear a voice say “3,2,1, Ignition, Lift Off.” Our astronauts would be off on their glorious adventure. When you ignite, it propels you forward, to greater things, to greater heights. At ESD, our hope is that we ignite you in this same way. We light a spark that allows you, and in turn, collectively allows us to be our best.

OK, but let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s think for a minute (think, think, think) about how we ignite. Let’s return to our match analogy. To ignite fire with a match, I must create friction. I strike the match. Friction creates ignition. The wonderful thing about friction is that it is required in order to change directions, to move forward. Without it, you are stuck in inertia - plodding along at the same speed and in the same direction or maybe even motionless, endlessly, sometimes without purpose. Ahh, purpose … Igniting Lives of Purpose. We’ll get back to that.

The friction I want you to wonder about today is that which your teachers and coaches will apply to you this year. They will challenge you. They may ask you to do things you don’t want to do. They may ask you to think in ways you are not used to. That’s a good thing. It will create the friction that causes ignition. It will help you grow - propel you - your own Apollo mission lift-off of sorts. The most fun part of teaching is that the process can work both ways when in the hands of a thoughtful student. You can push each other, push the faculty, to think differently, too. That’s why we are here. 

As our reading said today:

“You shall not hate your brother or sister in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor.” 

God knows that we need to push each other, challenge each other. It is the only way we progress. He asks us to reason - to reason frankly and honestly. That is how we ignite. 

“Igniting Lives of Purpose”

So now, let’s wonder about purpose - igniting lives of purpose. If we are igniting you to head somewhere, we need to think about where you are headed. Now, this is not some suggestion that you should have your life all mapped out at your age - your college, your career, etc.. In fact, I would actively discourage that. However, beginning to think about how you will find purpose? - not too early for that.

Let’s return to today’s Old Testament reading from Leviticus and its last line:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You shall love your neighbor as yourself - one of God’s two great commandments also found in the Gospel of Matthew and a message that is common to the holy books in all religions. The common questions asked when analyzing this commandment are, “who is my neighbor?” And “what is love?”. For the first, I turn to spiritual writer Bob Goff who answers the question with the title of one of his books, “Everybody, Always.” Everybody is our neighbor, and we should always look for ways to express love to them.

But what is love?

The best definition - one you veterans have heard before - comes from Bishop Robert Barron: “To will good for another as other.” To love means you want to create good for the human family, even and maybe particularly when you do not get anything out of it.

Purpose starts with finding an activity that produces good for your neighbor, lightens their load, brings them joy.

One last perspective on purpose comes from David Brooks. In his book “The Road to Character,” he talks about people whom he encounters who have clearly found purpose. He says,

 “About once a month, I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people, and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”

When people find purpose, this is what it looks like, what it feels like. They are other-centered; they are light; they love the other.

“Igniting Lives of Purpose”

We set a high bar here with our mission. There is no time to waste. May God give all here the strength and wisdom to play the role he has given us in carrying it out.