The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon

Willimon, William H.

Westminster John Knox, 2010

p. 246

In 2006 Willimon preached the Baccalaureate Sermon at Birmingham-Southern College, a Methodist School. He noted that one study after another showed that students in 2006 were some of the most politically apathetic since the 60s, and unfailingly polite and deferential to their elders—people of Willimon’s own generation. Willimon counseled them to start disrespecting the status quo. In his day, Thoreau (in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience) said a truly great education ought to cultivate among the young less respect for the law and more respect for the right. Claiming that respect for the law tends to go hand in hand with injustice, Thoreau said that a good education is one that teaches us to respect the good that is always higher than conventional, received standards of what is good. Perhaps that’s what a higher education should be about—the glorification of the good that is higher than the present arrangements coupled with a disglorification of where we happen to be right now.”

“Take, therefore, as your motto as you go forth, that which the hip-hop subculture rendered into a verb, the word ‘disrespect.’ Or as it is often abbreviated ‘to dis.’ The New Oxford Dictionary says that ‘dissing’ specifically means ‘failing to show sufficient terror in the face of intimidation.’ That’s what I’m pleading. Idealism, vision, hope, these are all noble virtues. But maybe for your generation, at this time and place, the engine that will drive you into a better future is disrespect, malcontentment, disease with the inherited world. . . . I’m thinking that maybe the blessings that you have inherited have become a kind of curse, lulling you into a false contentment with things present when you ought to be just dying to get out there and do better than [those of my generation] have.”