The conversation between Christ and his disciples described in the Gospel this past Sunday is a conversation worth having with those who raise us, nurture us, mentor us, befriend us and help us along our life journey.
Because along with what families, friends, teachers and mentors invest in us come expectations. Expectations that are sometimes articulated, sometimes left unspoken, often misunderstood but also sometimes fulfilled in extraordinary, life-affirming ways. Christ’s conversation with his disciples about who people said He was, about who the disciples said He was, led Him to this expectation: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
This post is dedicated to two very different individuals, one who has just passed away, another who continues to help others understand how they can live up to the expectations that come simply with being alive and being part of the human family. Both asked themselves: “Who am I?” And the answers led them to look at the world with new clarity and help others to do the same.
Ray Anderson was Chairman and CEO of the world’s largest carpet company, when he read The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Thieves and plunderers: that was how the book characterized businesspeople like himself.
His response? A radical overhaul of his company and his own outlook to become a passionate advocate for green business practices.
As a “recovering plunderer” Anderson challenged others to rethink their perspectives. Reminding them that they are all part of the “continuum of humanity” he asked them to consider whether at the end of their lives they would have “either helped or hurt that continuum and the earth that sustains all life. . . .Which will it be?”
Wes Moore was a young, high achieving student headed to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. At the same time that he was taking steps towards a productive career he heard about another Wes Moore around his age, living a few blocks away, raised by a single mother, arrested for his part in the killing of a police officer in the middle of a botched armed robbery. His response: to reach out a few years later and get to know the man who shared his name but would never know the freedom and choices he enjoyed. And he would turn that story into an invitation to young people to ask: “Who do they say I am?” And in turn, “Who do I say I am?”
Like Anderson, Moore presents the young people he talks to with a straight-forward challenge: do you know how to make good decisions, the kind that will lead to useful lives? He speaks frequently of wanting to “be useful” to those around him and to those who worked so hard to make his life possible. In a recent NPR interview, Moore recalls a scene in the book when he asks the other Wes: “So do you think that we’re products of our environment?’ We were talking about Baltimore. He said … ‘You know, I think we’re products of our expectations.”
Those expectations, if we stop long enough to think about them, have the power to frame how we make our way through the world, how we leave it and who we touch with our lives.