Commencement Address by Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.

May 28, 2021

James M. Lawson Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.

So be that life singularity, that life force, that energy of love and truth. May I then urge you to be a human being who is a citizen of the human race. Learn the power of life, the power of love, the power of what I call soul force.

Rev. James Lawson

I want to thank Soka University for inviting me to be a part of this commencement. I want to congratulate all of you who are graduates for this class of 2021, and wish you all power, and all creativity, and all strength as you move from this stage of your life to the next stage. I am deeply impressed by the fact that Soka University seeks to help each of the students who come here to become a global citizen, a human being who exploits human creativity and who then shapes their work around how they can help the creative human being to emerge through their work and play, through their families, and the various vocations that they adopt.

So again, congratulations to the university for its mission and the heartiest and best blessings on all of you who are of this class. A wonderful American literary man and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, has written, “To be what you are, and capable of becoming what you are becoming is the sole role of life. The sole purpose of life, each life becoming.”

Ernst Mayr, a very well-known biologist in the 20th century, in a speculative article, 60 years ago now, or more, talked about the flourishing Earth where some 50 billion species, living species, have endured across the lifetime of the Earth. He says that only one species has cultivated the intelligence to build civilizations and nations. I use that to remind myself and others.

Norman Cousins, one of my mentors who goes back to my high school days in the ’40s, said that each human being is a miracle of birth because the pregnancy and birth process means that each one of us have exceeded the 1 in 2 billion options to be birthed.

Jesus of Nazareth, my mentor for 75 or more years, said, “You are the salt of the Earth. You are the light of the world.”

So my first thesis is this: You are a life singularity. By that I mean, your life holds within your genes, and DNA, and all your cells, all of the potential that life offers us as human beings is sculptured in you, in me, in each of us. A life singularity. You are therefore a life force. The powers of life are there in each of us in singular and wonderful ways. Therefore, yes, you have the power and the life potential to become, and to become, and to become all the days of your life.

And it is to this that you are called. I urge you to discover the meaning of that life force that is in you, and exploit it because in exploiting it, you tap the most creative force of the universe, according to Mohandas K. Gandhi of India in the 20th century.

Far too many people do not exploit their life gift. In the presidential national elections last year, some 74 million people voted for an extremely incompetent human being. That scares me a good bit about the future of this country. Because in a democracy you cannot afford to elect people who are incompetent as human beings. Not using their life force in a fashion that gives nobility to their living and authenticity to their loving and to their work.

I invite you this commencement to commit your life to being a lover, a liver of life. Commit yourself to doing the central homework. That is your homework, the rest of your days, cultivating the heart, the soul, the mind, the capacity of life. Living out the meaning of what it is to see your neighbor as you see yourself. This piece of homework, you must do every day until eternity. This homework can move you into the areas of love, and life, and beyond your present imagination.

So be that life singularity, that life force, that energy of love and truth. May I then urge you to be a human being who is a citizen of the human race. Learn the power of life, the power of love, the power of what I call soul force. What Gandhi back in around 1806, 1906 rather, called nonviolence. It is the effort to see the energy of the universe applied in daily living. Soul force is an ancient power of the human race. Gandhi collected hundreds of stories in human history that portray the power of that work.

Perhaps the greatest enemy to the human race today is the enemy of exploiting power as domination, and control, and violence. Violence is what hatred of other human beings is about. Soul force is about using the power of love to see your own life transformed and see the lives of other people transformed.

Let your life be a life singularity, let your life be a channel of love that is unconditional, and then let your life work with other people wherever you move and live. And in small ways and large ways do the work of turning injustice into justice, turning the despising of human life into the compassion of all human life.

Let your work, your calling, your vocation, showing the millions of people around the world who call themselves activists and who know that we can have a better world, a world that in the next pandemic we will face it with greater knowledge, greater human in unity, greater application of the sciences and the technologies that we have to resist the threats to humankind.

Let your life with others create the world. We need the world more the truths of us seek. Finally, then I want to quote Nazim Hikmet, an Egyptian poet and literary person, now deceased, who some years ago in the 20th century was often in jails in Egypt because he wanted freedom and justice. He wanted a beloved community to emerge in Egypt. So he let his life be the continuous voice and a continuous witness for those visions.

He has what he calls his “Last Letter to my Son.” And it has this word that we can well consider today. “You can never have enough for the world, Memet, never enough. Don’t live in the world as if you were renting or only here for the summer, but act as if it is your father’s house. Believe in seeds, and Earth, and sea, but people above all. Love clouds, machines, and books, but people above all. Grieve for the withering branch, the dying star, and the hurt animal, but feel for people above all. Rejoice in all the Earth’s blessings, darkness and light, the four seasons, but people above all.”

We in the human family are moving towards a world we need and the world we want. Let your life be life singularity and that with all imagination and power contributes not only to the inward outward journey of your own being at levels of imagination you never understood, but let your life also enable the human race to retrieve its most noble visions of life.

May eternity watch over you as your journey continues.