Living a Vibrant Life
David G. Hallman
Convocation Address on Reception of an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree
from Victoria University in the University of Toronto
at the Victoria University Convocation/Emmanuel College Graduation
May 15, 2014
I deeply appreciate this recognition from Victoria University and I thank those responsible for it.
Jesus said, “I come that you might have life in all its abundance.”
If I had been an editor working with the writer of John’s Gospel, I might have suggested a few options for this line, such as, “I come that you might live life vibrantly, or exuberantly, or passionately.” In any case, that’s how I interpret John 10:10 – we’re being offered the opportunity, the gift, to live vibrantly.
For me, living a vibrant life has five dimensions:
Firstly, the vibrant life is expressed through engagement with community:
I had the great privilege to work for over thirty years within The United Church of Canada and the World Council of Churches—communities of faith that care about justice, about human rights, about the Earth.
- As communities of faith, we spearheaded the Nestle Boycott to protest the unethical marketing practices of multinational companies that were promoting their infant formula in developing countries in ways that threatened the health and lives of babies;
- As communities of faith, we fought for human rights and equality for all persons in church and society through initiatives that were at times controversial but ultimately transformative;
- As communities of faith, we sounded the alarm on human-induced climate change seeing it as an ecological justice issue internationally and inter-generationally. We worked from local to global levels to reduce the causes and to support those most vulnerable to the impacts.
I invite you graduates and all of us to give thanks for the vibrant communities through which we can contribute to making our world a better place.
Secondly, vibrancy challenges us to live openly:
From early in life, I self-identified as gay and decided that I would try to live openly and honestly as a gay man.
In August 1976, I met my partner Bill. We fell in love and lived together for thirty-three years. Two weeks after we had first met, I took Bill as my date to a summer barbecue for United Church staff and their spouses. Our initial trepidation was quickly dispelled by the warm welcome from my colleagues.
And in 1993 after struggling to come to terms with a positive diagnosis from my doctor, I ultimately concluded that it was best for me to be open and honest about being a person-living-with-HIV.
I invite you graduates and all of us to reflect on the challenges and the opportunities for living openly and honestly as our authentic selves.
Thirdly, I’ve come to realize that living vibrantly requires confronting death:
Over a few short years, I accompanied in their final days of life my mother and father, Bill’s parents, Rick my younger brother who committed suicide, and Bill who died two weeks after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
I struggle with this cavalcade of losses and I’m grateful for communities of support. These experiences of death are affecting how I view issues of life such as the continuum of sociability and solitude, the role of memory, the Möbius strip of joy and despair, and the complexity of end-of-life options.
We all lose loved ones. I invite you graduates and all of us to ask ourselves how our experiences of death are impacting our perceptions of life.
Fourthly, the vibrant life is one of artistic expression:
The primary tool for me has been writing—books on ecological theology, the memoir “August Farewell” about Bill’s death and our life together, a novel “Searching for Gilead,” and my current writing project, a collection of short stories. The process of transforming ideas and images into words invigorates my mind and my spirit.
Music in many forms has also been a source of enrichment – be it through the lyric songs of Gordon Lightfoot, the riveting concerts of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, or the iconic vocals of Judy, Barbra, and Cher.
I invite you graduates and all of us to celebrate how the arts feed our souls.
Fifthly, and finally, I understand the vibrant life as living as a fully embodied spirit:
For me, this means trying to live life to the fullest—emotionally, intellectually, physically, sexually, and spiritually. It means pushing the limits; challenging ourselves, our institutions, our world; falling down and getting back up; crying and laughing; praying and singing.
I invite you graduates and all of us to rejoice in this creation that so vibrantly fuses body and spirit.
In our communities, in our openness, in our grief and pain, in our artistic expressions, in our embodied spirits, let us remember this assurance, that however vibrant or fractured our lives may be, we are not alone, we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.
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Citation for David Grant Hallman for a Doctor of Divinity Degree
Victoria University, May 15, 2014
Delivered by Rev. Joan Wyatt
Chancellor Cecil, Chancellor Wilson, Principal Toulouse, Chairman Huyer
Members of the graduating class, Honoured guests, David Grant Hallman.
David Hallman grew up in Waterloo, Ontario and studied community psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University where he received an M.A. He also studied arts and culture at L’Université Paris-Sorbonne. David is the author of five works of non-fiction, all in the field of ethics and more recently, a memoir and a novel. He is recognized for his scholarly work as an environmental ethicist both through his work in the United Church of Canada (UCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). It is my privilege to name some of the many accomplishments that resulted from David’s passionate commitment to issues of justice over an almost forty year career.
David began his career in the United Church in 1976 in a social justice portfolio with a focus on the needs and rights of disabled persons. This position quickly expanded to include the rights of children, criminal justice, French-English relations, and the AIDS crisis. In the spring of 1976, at the request of the United Church Department of Church in Society, he produced a submission to the Ontario Human Rights Commission arguing that the Human Rights Code should include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — in accommodation, employment and services. David’s own courage to be “out of the closet” about his experiences as a gay man contributed to the dialogue in the Church about sexual orientation and the development of further policy and advocacy on human rights issues including equal marriage as well as empowering others to draw on his pastoral skills as they struggled with their own issues of sexual identity.
In the 1980s David’s responsibilities shifted to preparing resources and coordinating advocacy on environmental issues for the UCC. In 1988 he was seconded to the Climate Change Program of the World Council of Churches in Geneva to co-ordinate advocacy on global environmental issues with the United Nations. During this time his commitment and passion for the health, wellbeing and future viability of creation, coupled with his gifts for writing, research, public speaking and advocacy, helped to raise awareness in religious communities around the globe about the critical issues affecting environmental degradation. David published and offered leadership on many such issues, including climate change, acid rain, uranium mining, nuclear energy, toxic waste and the depletion of the ozone layer.
Since retirement and the death of his beloved partner William Conklin in 2009, David has turned his attention to the arts and to writing. Fearing that he might forget “the excruciating, intimate, heart-wrenching, spiritual, god-awful 16 days between diagnosis and death that were, at times, punctured by Bill’s uproarious sense of humour,” David wrote nonstop for six weeks. Originally intended only for his own reflection, August Farewell, a memoir of passion, love and loss was published to critical acclaim in 2011. In the fall of 2011 David’s first novel, Searching for Gilead, was released. When asked what gave inspiration for the novel David said:
Though writing August Farewell was cathartic, I still had — still do have — issues with which I’m struggling in my head and in my heart. So I decided to try and grapple with them through a work of fiction. That’s where the title comes from. I made a list of those issues, and they spelled out GILEAD: God and religion in general, injustice in the world, love and relationships, environmental crises, the arts, and death.
Like August Farewell, Searching for Gilead tells a love story that addresses significant human issues, including same-sex relationships.
When asked “what it is like now to experience unabated climate change when so much of your life was devoted to help avoid it?” David said, “I am suspended in a kind of existential grief, a grief that I have chosen to explore through differing layers of loss, through the arts.”
Continuing this exploration, David is currently working on a collection of interrelated short stories and, consistent with a life time of research, he is currently “slaking his thirst” on “the good writing of others.” An avid social media aficionado, you can check out David’s reading experiences on his blog, follow him on Twitter, enjoy his “this day in history” entries on Facebook, and explore his website at http://DavidGHallman.com. Consistent with a lifelong commitment to action, not just words, David currently co-chairs the Maestro’s Club Ambassadors, a team of volunteers that work to build long-term donor relationships for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He also continues his role as a lay leader at Saint Luke’s United Church, Toronto, a vibrant, intercultural family of faith.
David Grant Hallman has exercised a ministry that integrates his personhood, his considerable intellect, his passion for justice, and his questions of what it means to be human. He not only has contributed significant ministry leadership in Canada and in our world, but also has modelled how to continue the journey in new ways, still pursuing significant questions and passions, still contributing and publishing and inviting others into the search for Gilead.
With great delight, Chancellor Cecil, I now present to you, David Grant Hallman and I request that you confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
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Honorary Doctor of Sacred Letters degrees were bestowed at this same Convocation on respected English literature scholar Dr. Alexandra Ferguson Johnston and Canadian folksinging legend Gordon M. Lightfoot.
The three of us are pictured below from left to right: myself, Alexandra Johnston and Gordon Lightfoot.