CHRISTOPHER LUJAN: Good afternoon and welcome to Sage Chapel. My name's Christopher Lujan. I'm the associate dean of students, and the director of the LGBT Resource Center, And also a representative of the committee of colleagues who produce the annual Soup and Hope series. For those who may be joining us for the first time, the Soup and Hope committee has been work at work since October researching, inviting, and mentoring a roster of diverse and inspirational speakers.
The format will be the same as years in past. Soup is available by noon each time we gather and will be served throughout the entire event. You're welcome to bring your own bowls, or use of one of the disposable ones that we have in the back. Just to let you know, at the table over there on your right side, we're selling soup bowls and to-go thermoses.
At the conclusion of each reflection, you're free to approach the speaker to offer your own thanks for their message. More practically, there's an ADA-accessible restroom right here to your left. I want to take the time to think our soup servers in the back. We have Amanda Whitman, Patricio Gonzalez, Caryn Williams, and Victor Younger. Thank you for volunteering today.
Now I'm very happy to invite to the podium Greta Kenney, the associate dean of students and director of the Women's Resource Center, who will introduce today's Soup and Hope speaker.
GRETA KENNEY: Hi, everyone. So I was asked to take just a few moments to introduce my friend, Father Dan McMullin. He is very, very accomplished, and so I am going to try to highlight a few things that I really appreciate and admire about Dan in under two minutes. So I've known Dan for less than a year, actually, so I also am not likely going to be able to share much that many of you don't already know about how special and wonderful of a human being Dan is. I am, nonetheless, very honored to be able to introduce him.
So I joined Cornell in February of last year, and Dan was one of the people that stuck out to me. He really welcomed me with open arms. He has a warmth about him. If you know Dan, you know this. It's completely natural, it comes with ease, and it is entirely genuine. And it's this warmth about him that let me know, OK. I can do this. I'm at this new job. I did this big move. I can handle this challenge and this transition.
He took me to lunch. He answered all my questions. He gave me advice. But more than anything, it really is just like his energy, and his presence, and his warmth that's stuck out to me. Dan, if you don't know, is also whip smart and full of knowledge. He's my go-to proofreader, copy editor, and trivia pro.
If you don't already know this, you need Dan McMullin on your trivia team. He knows everything about everything. And I maybe, once or twice, have broken some trivia rules and phoned a friend, and Dan McMullin is that friend. I justified it, be like, I'm phoning a priest. He has access to the guy who forgives. It's OK.
One of the things, though, that I admire most about Dan is his unapologetic commitment to being himself. He is truly unapologetically himself. He is carving his own path with courage and grace every single day. It brings to mind the oft-quoted words from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
So cheers to you Dan, on this and your endless accomplishments. Please join me in welcoming our friend, father Dan McMullin.
DANIEL MCMULLIN: Thank you very much, Greta. I feel extraordinarily at home standing behind this pulpit because I have spent a majority of Sundays over the last 15 years climbing these three rather precarious stairs and preaching to a substantial crowd, frankly about this size, twice on a Sunday of Catholic students, and faculty, and staff, and even some of their non-Catholic friends.
So I know rather intimately the sound of that Aeolian-Skinner and the sound of this Vicedomini organ from 1746. I know which stained glass-- and there is only one-- that was designed by Louis Tiffany. I know which stained glass window was put in backwards when the building was put up. I might tell you where that is at some point.
I know the contents, or more correctly, the lack of contents of the sarcophagi in the memorial chapel. And I know where to find the plaque dedicated to EB White, which quotes Charlotte's Web instead of Elements of Style. I also know how unfriendly and uncompromising those pews can feel, especially during a dull sermon, so let me get right to the point of this afternoon's talk.
I am a religious man and a spiritual man. I am deeply committed to my Roman Catholic tradition because it's formed me and educated me, it has encouraged me and disappointed me, and it has nurtured and sustains me now for over 65 years. And while the most facile answer to the question of hope's origin could simply be the word God, I am certain that you would rather hear a few personal anecdotes about the experiences and the observations that have made me a hope-filled man. So let me begin with three rather difficult scenarios.
The first. In a very small south Minneapolis house that had two bedrooms and one bathroom lived my parents, my mother's mother, and by the time I was 10 years old, seven children, of whom I was, and still am, the eldest. Mom and dad were 31 and 33, respectively, when Kelly was born. Both worked outside the home-- mom as a bookkeeper and dad as a liquor salesman.
After work, neither liked to be alone. Even though the 10 of us who lived in that house created enough noise, and diversion, and confusion, there was seldom a weekend that passed without a Friday night gathering of extended family, or a Saturday night party of neighbors and business friends, or during the cold Minnesota winters, Sunday afternoons gathered around our small-screen television set to watch the Vikings.
Every gathering was large and loud, and within an hour of everyone's arrival, soaked in alcohol. My dad moved through an accelerated series of personas at these events, beginning as the gracious host, and quickly becoming the obnoxious head of household who snapped his fingers at me and my brothers when he or a guest needed another drink, or more food, or an ashtray.
And finally, and always, transforming into a cruel, belligerent loud mouth. Now, my brothers and I coped as best we could, laughing at his jokes, accommodating the guests, and when possible, avoiding my dad until he passed out on a couch or in his bed. The real test for me, however, came the next day. After his cup of morning coffee and either a Bloody Mary or beer, the verbal cruelty resumed.
It included name-calling, usually feminized and directed towards me. Some pretty demoralizing comments, too, about my over-interest in school, and the church, and my general lack of interest in sports. None of these were his dream of his firstborn. So on more than one occasion, my mother awakened my brothers and me from sleep and told us to help pack dad's things. He was leaving because he, quote, "couldn't stand the sight of us any longer," and was leaving us to the bad influence, I guess, of mom and grandma.
Of course, he always returned within days and it was never talked about. Hope seemed rather unlikely until college. So here's scenario two. I attended a university run by monks of the Order of St. Benedict. The monks lived an ordered life based on a rule written in the fifth century, which prescribed routines for daily prayer, for lifelong study, and for shared community life.
I joined the order during the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I loved the monastic life. I still do, but I was not prepared for the high-placed predators who manipulated young monks, like me, into believing that future graduate studies, and an appointment in the university, and a position in the monastery would be assured and even accelerated only through sexual favors and silence.
I was puzzled, sometimes anxious and confused, but too afraid for my future not to acquiesce. These were the same years that I was discovering and coming to terms with my own sexual identity. There was very little from my monastic formation or from my home life, for that matter, that offered a healthy, sane sense of who I could be as a gay man, and there weren't many places 50 years ago-- in the early 1970s-- to turn for help.
My monastic life came to a dramatic conclusion when I returned to the monastery with a doctorate in hand from the Eastman School here in Rochester and began teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses in music and theology. The large monastic estate was home, but I resided in the separate building which housed men preparing for ordination to the priesthood.
At the same time, I began talking to trusted colleagues and confreres about my earlier experiences and my own emerging identity, none of them easy conversations. But in a strange twist of fate, the very men who had manipulated my emotions and my body fired me from teaching in the graduate school. I was breaching more than a century of silence.
And the Abbott decreed that I return to live in the monastery building and that we would, quote, "never talk about this again, will we?" So hope seemed unlikely until I left the monastery permanently about a year later.
The final scenario. Four years after moving to central New York, and nine years after leaving the monastery, I was appointed pastor of a church in Rochester. I knew this would not be an easy assignment. The previous pastor had been there for 20 years and had developed extraordinary outreach ministries to men and women recently released from prison, to the sick and the dying in our neighborhood, and to a whole variety of marginalized communities. And most importantly, he was deeply loved.
Unfortunately, some of his unorthodox ways got to the attention of the bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II, who demanded his removal from that pastorate. As you can imagine, the transition created an explosion. My appointment as his successor, and the fireworks that ensued, were all documented by national and international news outlets. You can still find most of it online if you want to look, even though it's been 20 years.
I retell this story because my first year there was filled with some of the most shocking experiences of my life. Hate mail addressed to me began to arrive almost daily. My staff began boycotting Sunday mass. People regularly booed while I preached. And parishioners approached me to receive communion and would then receive the host, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ, hold it up so that I could see it while delivering prepared speeches of hatred and pain, and then tossing the host back into the plate.
Some months later, I even learned that there had been death threats against me and that plainclothed police had been placed in the crowded congregation each Sunday as a precaution, but unknown to me. Hope seemed unlikely here, as well.
Well, if I only wanted sympathy from you, I suppose I could stop right now and sit down.
But that's not why I'm here. You've come to hear one person's blueprint, I suspect, for hope. For me, hope is a conscious decision, a very deliberate choice. It is a resolution I make daily to find meaning where meaning seems elusive and joy where joy seems unlikely. And I learned this very early in my life.
Hope, as far as I understand it, is not just the result of professional therapy, or spiritual direction, or even my personal discipline of prayer, although these have been absolutely necessary practices for me for the last easily 50 years. They sustain my spiritual and my mental health. They restore my equilibrium, my gentle nature, and my surprising choice-- surprising even to me-- that I choose compassion rather than vindication.
Choosing hope minimized for me the impact of my dad's alcoholism. Choosing hope helped me recover my own sense of worth and self-possession, even after sexual manipulation and abuse. And choosing hope reminded me that I need not remain among people whose accusations, and intense anger, and bitter disappointment were not designed by me.
Three things paved the way for living a hope-filled life, three gifts that I continue to choose and which, for the sake of our conversation today, I'll call hope sources. The first is music. You cannot imagine what I felt when I realized that I could sing, and sing pretty well, and that others would actually seek me out to sing for them.
Music provided the beauty which was missing in my home. It established order when so much of what I had experienced was chaos. It gave me a new way of communicating that affected even my dad and stopped his histrionic cruelty, even if only for a few moments, when he'd attend, on rare occasion, a church service, or an opera, or recital in which I was the featured soloist.
[MUSIC PLAYING - WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, "MAGIC FLUTE"]
The music selections that you barely heard as you arrived in the chapel this morning and this afternoon are not recordings of me. One might be. Oh, somebody's playing Mozart. "Magic Flute." That's the overture. Should I have not said that? Anyway, beautiful music. That's one you should have on your list, Greta.
They're not recordings of me, but are recordings of work that I performed as a child and as a young man. Bach, and Fauré, and Vaughan Williams, and Purcell provided me with endless tunes, astonishing rhythms, and beautiful texts that actually shielded my heart from insult and disappointment.
Of all these composers, Schubert gave tunes and texts to my yearnings, especially in his youthful cycle, which is called [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], in which a young man befriends a river who travels with him, and listens to his questions about love, and even offers him consolation. Music like this convinced me that there was a future beyond the nasty name-calling and heartless recriminations.
It wasn't until I was 30 that I learned one of Schubert's most delicate songs. It's called [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. It's written as a Thanksgiving to music's gift of hope.
You, dear arts, music, in how many gray hours have you kindled my heart and raptured me into a better world? You lovely art, thank you for that. Thank you.
Hope source number two. The second hope source were two university colleagues, Pat and Priscilla, who knew that I was deeply disappointed by my monastic community and knew that I needed to be heard, and celebrated, and encouraged, and all without the ulterior motive of sexual favors.
These two women guided me through the aftermath of abuse to the joy of self-discovery and self-acceptance. For an entire year, until I was able to leave the monastery, they met me weekly for lunch in the university dining hall and simply asked me every week, over and over again, where will you use your gifts next year, and the year after, and the year after that? And how can we help you get there?
Their kindness rekindled my hope and prepared me for a musical and academic career beyond the monastery and beyond Minnesota.
And the third hope source. The third I only discovered after I turned 50. I discovered poetry. Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry, and Ted Kooser, and John O'Donohue, and Thomas Lynch, and Hafez and Rumi. Poetry was already there in the music of my youth, but it emerged most powerfully during my years as a pastor and since.
Poetry widened my appreciation and love for men and women, even as I met people who were unappreciative of my work, my ministry, and who, at least at first glance, seemed unloving and unlovable.
Now, I know you need to get back to your offices and classrooms, so let me end with one brief poem from the Persian mystic, Hafez, who reminds me that after all is said and done, my choice to be hopeful is ultimately grounded in the unshakeable belief that all people are good and all that is good emerges from God. So this is called "A Golden Compass."
"Forget every idea of right and wrong any classroom ever taught you. Because an empty heart, a tormented mind, unkindness, jealousy, and fear are always the testimony, you have been completely fooled. Turn your back on those who would imprison your wondrous spirit with deceit and lies.
"Come, join the honest company of the king's beggars, those gamblers, scoundrels, and divine clowns, and those astonishing fare courtesans who need divine love every night. Come join the courageous, who have no choice but to bet their entire world that indeed-- indeed-- God is real. I will lead you into the circle of the beloved's cunning thieves, those playful rogues, the ones you can trust for true guidance, who can aid you in this blessed calamity of life.
"Look at the perfect one at the circle center who spins and whirls like a golden compass beyond all that is rational to show this dear world that everything-- everything in existence does point to God."
So my friends, there it is. Choose hope. And thank you so much for listening.
All right, folks. Thank you so much for coming out. Thank you, Dan, for that amazing hour or 45 minutes. Another round of applause for our volunteers today.
Please make sure you join us on January 30 when our speaker will be Sue Min. Have a great day. Enjoy the rest your afternoon.
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While priesthood has remained constant, Daniel McMullin has been a Benedictine monk, a professional singer (mostly opera and oratorio), a parish priest, an associate professor of music and a university chaplain. In August, Dan was reappointed the priest-director of the Cornell Catholic Community, a role he had between 2005 and 2012. During the intervening years, 2012-2019, he was affiliated with the Office of the Dean of Students, doing interfaith work in Anabel Taylor Hall. In 2012 he also inherited the wonderful role of leading the Soup and Hope program which he relinquished when he returned to full-time work with the Catholic chaplaincy.
Dan's Jan. 16 talk, kicking off the 2020 Soup and Hope series, is about how he chooses to be hopeful in the face of life’s difficulties.