Albert C. Outler - "So What Have You Done for Me Lately?" (December 10, 1967)
|The maxim that comes from the mouth of Jesus.
|See obviously took it seriously.
|This notion that a mans life
|may be measured by his response to his opportunities.
|It sounds dreadfully moralistic,
|but who will deny that Jesus understood it as integral to an
|authentic style of life?
|And who will deny that it was one of
|the ordering principles of those forebears
|whom we rejoice to honor here today?
|And yet it strikes a discord in our modern years.
|And this is itself a clue to the climate of our generation.
|These are the days of the now generation.
|There is a soft drink that makes a pitch about it's
|and there's a new university further up east
|that advertises itself as the now university.
|The past goes unremembered
|and the future is dreaded.
|Change is the only constant in the relentless flux of
|continuing social revolution.
|Mutations come so fast that we cannot assimilate them.
|And so slow that the discontented go unsatisfied.
|Ours is an age that mingles idealism and outrage.
|When disintegrating value systems pose dangers
|as dire as the specter of disintegrating atoms.
|No, this has been given trenchant commentary by Eric Hoffer,
|our wonderful modern Montaigne.
|It's his thesis in the tempo of our times that the presence
|of a global population of juveniles,
|is irreverent term for young folks,
|spells trouble for everybody.
|No country is a good country to its juveniles.
|Even in normal times,
|every society is in the grip of a crisis when a new
|generation passes from boyhood to manhood,
|but ours are not normal times.
|Our social chemistry has gone awry,
|no matter what ingredients are placed in the retort,
|the end product is more often than not explosive.
|The chief trait,
|which characterizes the temper of odd times is impatience.
|Tomorrow has now become a dirty word.
|The future is now and hope has turned into desire.
|The adolescent cannot see why he should wait to become a man
|before he has a say in the ordering of domestic and foreign
|He is panting to act as a pathfinder in the van of mankind.
|Rudeness has become a substitute for power,
|for fate and for achievement.
|Now one of the obvious side effects of such a mood
|is that in it
|the past is readily dismissed by common consent as more of
|an incubus than a blessing.
|The past is prologue.
|So runs the motto on the portal of the national archives,
|with a bow to Shakespeare's Tempest.
|But most of my young friends feel strongly that their
|prologue was a flawed affair,
|which they would rather shed than celebrate.
|God knows, they say the world we have had
|forced it on us, is a plus perfect mess,
|or stronger words to the same effect.
|It is so grimly unsatisfactory that many are trying
|to opt out of it.
|Others turn to destructive protest, fiercely self-righteous.
|There are those who really do believe that
|they can grasp the sorry scheme of things entire,
|shatter it to bits and then remold it nearer to their
|And so they turn away from the past in conscientious,
|They know that they are as of a legacy once called great,
|but they scorn to be beholden to it.
|They liked the wheeler dealer in the old ways
|who came in to foreclose on an old family friend.
|The victims plea for mercy was the recital of what he had
|done for his tormentor in times past.
|Given him his first job, introduced him to his wife,
|bailed him out of bankruptcy, et cetera, et cetera.
|And at the end of this recital,
|the entrepreneur brushed it all aside
|with the scornful question
|"so what have you done for me lately?"
|But then can Founders Day mean in such a climate when it is
|also true that our founders did -
|that what our founders did for us
|is so plainly insufficient that we have to keep on
|building and rebuilding and developing and redeveloping.
|When the financial goal of your fifth decade program is
|nearly thrice the sum of your original endowment.
|What word it is that from, from this particular past,
|that remains worthy of hearing in the present for the
|Well, this much at least,
|that we are as responsible for the making the
|utmost of our unmerited gifts,
|as our founders did with theirs.
|This may sound trite,
|but to accept it,
|to affirm it then to express it in effective living would be
|the purest honor in our power to offer to their memory
|today or any day.
|I am as willing as Anthony was
|to bury the past and not to praise it,
|but not without a word of testimony to its achievements
|and that present import.
|As a merited member of
|more successive now generations than I care to remember,
|I claimed the right to call attention to those convictions
|and passions that fueled and guided our forefathers,
|not merely in their praise,
|but in solemn testimony that their best convictions and
|passions are still urgently relevant for us
|here and now.
|The founders I knew or knew about didn't spend a lot
|of time looking back either,
|only enough to gain and keep perspective.
|And what they would ask of us is that we review the past for
|its insights and that we plot the future with hopeful plans
|for real action.
|In such a testimony my first point is
|that history has a striking way of confounding
|contemporary judgments, as to who the real swingers and
|the real squares really are.
|When Frederick Martin has spoken of
|the current nouveau avant.
|The group of frenzied people
|failing in their struggle to keep up with
|modernity, to stay in,
|to make pace with what's happening.
|Naturally and up,
|this is more than flesh and blood can manage.
|Hence the desperate recourse to drugs and hurt behavior
|in lieu of self-reliance.
|And then there was the pathetic story in The Times,
|two weeks ago of how ex-professor Timothy Leery has now
|become the ex-guru of the league for spiritual discovery.
|I have no qualms with the leagues message, that you are free
|to do your own thing,
|but it is always fair to ask if a given thing is a real
|doing or a disastrous self deception.
|And it comes to mind that the now bedraggled motto tune in,
|turn on, drop out, is a close paraphrase of the alibi of the
|unprofitable servant in our parable.
|I took your money, I wrapped it in a sock
|and I left it while I went about my tripping.
|See, here it is.
|Now for all their faults and shortcomings,
|our founders saw life with clearer eyes than this.
|They were for the most part compulsive types
|who were enchanted by goals and dreams
|that seemed unreal to most of their contemporaries.
|They sometimes drove themselves and others to tasks that we
|might wish had been conceived in different terms.
|Now they weren't non-conformists but have a different style
|than nowadays when nonconformity has to run in packs
|and wear uniforms in order to sustain itself.
|It is not that they were heroes or saints,
|nor that they ever saw the fullness
|of their dreams come true.
|The men who led the light from the Union Institute to
|Trinity College to Duke University were constantly engaged
|in an unequal struggle between need and resources.
|With inadequate support
|in a climate where the correlation of eruditio
|was suspect by the Pius.
|As indeed it still is.
|Though now for the quite opposite reason by the non Pius.
|But I came to Duke in 1938,
|it could still be said that the buildings were more imposing
|than the academic community that dwelt therein.
|And yet it was that first century, and most
|especially its last two decades,
|that created the exciting and demanding future
|that lies before you now.
|You are as not only to a great tradition of great
|philanthropy, but of a lifestyle,
|a gospel of opportunity and duty,
|that is still more relevant
|and valid than most of its alternatives.
|It's jist was this.
|That the enduring significance
|of a mans life
|lies in what he does with his abundance,
|whatever that abundance may be.
|It is I take it a truism that human culture in all its
|higher reaches is the product of the use or abuse
|of surplus accumulations
|in any given population and a surplus of food.
|Well, the invention of creative intelligence, et cetera,
|When the bulk of human energy is absorbed
|in the prime necessities of self-maintenance
|and there's only a meager margin left
|for being really and fully human.
|On the other hand,
|when there is ample food and shelter and fun and games,
|but no passion to surpass,
|society stagnates, all calcifies.
|It is with surpluses.
|And the concern for their creative use
|that the agony of culture begins,
|and it is an agony.
|For with the same surplus
|the haves can oppress the have-nots or the wise
|and the good can create those values
|that mark civilization all from savagery.
|What a man does with what he does not really need
|for mere survival
|defines his true humanity and writes his real epitaph.
|In amassing and managing one of the great American fortunes,
|the dukes and their associates were conspicuous both for
|their energy and enterprise.
|And yet also for their humane concern
|and their effective generosity.
|There are not many comparable cases to match the results
|they achieve in American education
|and in their contributions to church and society.
|And they were children of their ages and their clay feet
|were boldly exposed,
|but they were creative men,
|visionaries, architects, builders.
|They were disciplined men desiring to be judged by results
|and not merely by good intentions.
|They were men of character and a code,
|self accepted, self-administered, self-assessed.
|Their kind has been truly analyzed by Leon Harris
|in his superb recent biography of a kindred soul
|in the same tribe, Godfrey Lowell Cabot.
|He, Godfrey Cabot, and this could be said
|of all the founders that I knew, was a hero,
|not in the Greek sense,
|but in the only sense in which we have heroes left.
|A man who performs over and above his duty
|by normal standards, who marches to his own drums
|and is willing to take risks in doing so.
|Who is dedicated in the literal sense of self placement
|without stint, not driven through a position,
|but self given and whose life is ordered by such presently
|on fashionable words, as duty, probity,
|integrity and character.
|But surplus money, even in quantity
|and without strings cannot build a university without yet
|another surplus fruitfully managed.
|Too many of us have forgotten or never knew that the Greek
|original for our word scholar, 'scholae',
|means leisure time
|or by extension
|a man with time to think and the disposition to do so.
|And your predecessors here,
|the faculty and students, had far less leisure
|than they needed or than would now be thought minimal
|for academic excellence.
|My first teaching load was now twice
|what would be normal usage.
|Moreover, our amassed capital from the leisure of other men,
|which being interpreted is the library,
|was still comparatively meager, even in my time.
|The status of eggheads in the environing
|society of this region was only barely respectable
|and their influence in practical affairs was negligible.
|And yet it was these men and women
|who rooted the scholarly tradition here,
|who cultivated the arts and sciences of critical inquiry and
|taught others to do so who blazed a trail that has not yet
|been followed to its end.
|And so the story goes of men who wrote well with their
|abundances and who have earned the right to ask us
|how well we are doing, or proposed to do
|It is here that the salute to our founders
|becomes a challenge to ourselves to
|to self examination and self dedication.
|Well, there never was a generation
|so immersed in abundance as our own.
|There is indeed a sort of surf it off it on the abundance of
|As the flower children are trying to tell us
|in their garish ways.
|And as all the prophets prophesied,
|there will be more leisure and more gadgets
|and more affluence.
|There will be more people with more time
|and at least the technical means to manage larger surpluses
|more creatively than ever before, since Eden.
|And yet we already know,
|and the knowledge strikes panic in our hearts,
|that our equivalent of the achievements
|and contributions of our forebears
|will demand of us a discipline and dedication of
|heart and mind and will that we are loathed to impose upon
|ourselves and that cannot be imposed upon us by others.
|It is closed to us
|to replicate the feats
|and the failures of the founders.
|It is open to us to receive their legacy.
|Gratefully to renew it's imperative of noblesse oblige.
|In our time and our circumstances
|to stretch out our vision of now
|to include our duty to the future,
|to make the most of change
|and not merely to endure it's happening.
|There is the challenge of poverty in an affluent society.
|There is the challenge of human equality and harmony
|in a race conscious society.
|There is the challenge of license and violence
|in a free and ordered society.
|There is the anguished hope of peace in a war torn world
|haunted by the terrors of
|alternate incineration or irradiation.
|And most of all,
|there is the challenge of being truly human ourselves,
|of finding the wisdom and the will
|to distinguish license from liberty.
|Outrage from moral indignation,
|tantrums from significant witness and real results.
|It will not do to plead the enormity
|of the issues before us.
|By any fair comparison, our forebears underwent
|as much as ever we must face.
|And if they bequeathed us the world in agony
|let us be well, lest we ensure that the agony
|will never end or end in some
|final flash of meaningless destruction.
|They were men who hated to lose on their investments.
|We are their chief investments and they would happily
|forego all our eulogies of them
|in exchange for our catching
|and keeping their spirit and their faith.
|And thus, we come at last to the heart of the matter.
|The vision of the good society is fatally blurred
|by men who suppose that it is no more than a human task,
|a human achievement.
|The secular city is finally unfit for human habitation
|without the reconciling for forces of love
|and hope and faith.
|The parable of the talents makes sense
|only in the context of the kingdom of God.
|The righteous rule of God in the hearts and lives
|of men and women.
|Humanity will never experience the fruition of
|its hopes and expectations,
|apart from the acknowledged Lordship of Jesus Christ,
|the man who makes our manhood actual and real through God's
|sovereign love, incarnate in Him.
|It was no mere whim of Mr Dukes
|that placed this chapel in the center of the campus,
|and it has been no accident that its influence in this
|community, both symbolic and actual
|has made an enormous difference in
|the life of this university and of this region.
|Which can be measured merely by imagining
|how it would be here now,
|if there had been no such symbol of religio here,
|to match the omnipresent tokens of eruditio,
|here and elsewhere.
|And so Founders Day is a day for remembrance,
|for reverence, for gratitude,
|for renewed perspective.
|It is also a day of resolution and dedication.
|It is rather for us, the living, and all that.
|This then is no mere ritual episode,
|no mere routine ceremonial.
|For on our response to what is here remembered
|hangs the sincerity of our faith
|and the verity of our confession,
|that we shall hear presently
|in the hallelujah chorus.
|That the Lord God omnipotent does indeed
|reign and shall reign
|forever and ever.
|Let us pray.
|Almighty God who has given us a goodly heritage beyond our
|deserving and has set us to tasks and
|goals beyond our powers of full achievement.
|Forgive us, our failures of nerve, hope and vision.
|Strengthen our hearts and wills to make the most of our
|futures in faith and love.
|And so enable us to honor the memory and the purposes of
|those we gratefully name,
|our founders in this place.
|May the best in the past inspire us
|and may the good in the present
|give us courage and may the future beckon us
|and to yet more useful life and work,
|through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
|The peace of God which passes all understanding,
|keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God
|and of His son, Jesus Christ, our Lord,
|and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son,
|and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.
|(music and choir stop)
The preservation of the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections and the Duke Digital Repository programs are supported in part by the Lowell and Eileen Aptman Digital Preservation Fund