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Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian addresses Haigazian Graduates at the Baccalaureate Service 2007
How to Successfully Ruin Your Life

By: Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian
Haigazian University Baccalaureate Service
Sunday, 24 June 2007 - First Armenian Evangelical Church, Beirut

I had planned on speaking about how to successfully run your life, but due to a typographical error, I am going to have to talk on how to successfully ruin your life. Oh well. I hope you in the graduating class won't mind this change in topic, and will get something out of it anyway.
Since "success" is a subjective term, and depends on what standards you decide to follow, I am pretty sure that "success" can serve us as well as any standard in order to think about not just how to run your life, but also how to ruin your life. As long as your intent is to ruin it, you might as well be a success at it, right?
There are several areas of your life you can ruin, and if we put our heads together we can come up with effective ways to ruin each area, including personal health and well-being, family and friends, country and society, and environment and world. There are some general principles as well, which apply to the greater work of ruining things, but I'm sure as nearly-graduated seniors you can make these essential connections yourself. So, here we go.
First of all, ruining your personal life will take some concerted effort on your part. You must, of course, put yourself and your every desire at the top of your priority list each day. Whenever anyone questions your actions, or if you even begin to have pangs of conscience, make use of phrases such as, "I deserve this." Don't worry that you may, in fact, not deserve it, or that indulging yourself might lead to bad consequences; after all, your goal is to ruin your life.
You can also effectively ruin your health in a variety of ways. One of the well-known ways is to say "yes" to your sexual appetites, which not only leaves you open to nasty diseases, it has the added benefit of keeping you perpetually immature. Tobacco and drug abuse also help you quickly get to the point of ruin.
Now here's a tricky one. Have you heard the phrase, "Live as if there's no tomorrow"? Well there's a positive as well as a negative way to approach this idea, and you want to be careful to work towards the negative side. Make sure to avoid doing unselfish and caring things; maintain a "me-first" attitude, and you'll be well on the way to your goal.
This leads us to the area of family and friends. You have to find the right approach to be able to take advantage of others, whether they are your relatives, co-workers, Haigazian classmates, or anyone else. You will notice that people will begin to mistrust you, and be on their guard whenever they are around you. No problem; this is what you are after. If you can manage it, make sure to spend as much as you can, especially others' money. If you get in the habit of saving money, you'll just end up spending it to care for others in need, so it's best to get rid of it right away by using it on yourself, and thus avoid those responsibilities.
These same principles apply to ruining society. As much as possible, avoid being accountable to anyone for the way you talk, drive, or behave. You can help spread this attitude by not caring what political leaders do. Make sure not to question anything anyone in authority says or does; just accept it. If you must question, only question the words of those on "the other" side.
Also, in your efforts to ruin things, use up as many natural resources as possible, and if anyone questions you, try one of these phrases: "So-and-so runs an illegal cement factory in the mountains, why don't you go after him?" or "People have been doing this for a long time before you or I got here, "or" Do you really think what I do is going to change anything?" Be creative. And whatever you use or abuse, don't worry about it; let your children and grandchildren worry about it! Let them take care of any moral, political or environmental problems you might have created. It worked for the previous generation, didn't it?
Above all, remember that you can always bring in God and religion to justify whatever you are doing. It doesn't matter what religion is written in your ID card, or even if you are a non-believer, invoking God's name is the best way to shut people up.
Now if you do these things, you'll quickly see success in your efforts to ruin not just your own life, but the life of this country and the world. And it might even spread to other, as-yet-undiscovered worlds!
* * *
So what do you think? Should Haigazian University's Class of 2007 of have the distinction of being experts at ruining their lives, ruining their society, ruining Lebanon? Unfortunately, it is quite easy to do so, even without my providing the "wonderful" details and directives you just heard. Lots of people are experts in this.
Now allow me, if you will, to present a different side of "successfully ruining your life". Only this time I want to examine the word "ruin". Listen to a couple of examples of people who "ruined" or "wasted" their lives, and note the common thread.
* * *
A baker in Tyre, during the last few days of last summer's Israeli war on Lebanon toiled to keep his bakery running while his flour supplies were running out due to the Israeli blockade. The baker, Fawad as-Skayki, was able to keep his oven going because it was the old, wood-burning style. He told an interviewer that he is tired of staying up all night, he is tired of his work, which he inherited from his father and grandfather, and that he wants his children to get educated and find some other kind of work. People tried to convince him to leave early in the war. But his wife, clearly proud of her husband, said, "He refused (to leave). He has to keep working so the people here don't starve." [Daily Star, Aug. 14, 2006]
* * *
Issam Sidawi, park ranger at the Palm Islands Nature Reserve, used to go to those islands to fish until he was told how using the islands for picnics and fishing hurts the natural environment there. So he became a proud and protective supervisor of this natural jewel in the north of Lebanon. Among other species, the endangered loggerhead turtles use Palm Islands as their nesting ground, to lay their eggs in the sand, where they hatch in late July to early August. Two days after the Jiyyeh power station was bombed last summer, creating a oil slick that would damage the entire Lebanese coast, this ranger and his supervisor quickly mobilized a handful of workers to clean the beach so that the turtle hatchlings would safely reach the sea. They spent the Palm Island Commission's small budget to pay the workers, who spent five days cleaning the beach, finishing on August 6. Just two days later, the eggs hatched, the turtles emerged, and crawled into the sea. And shortly after that, the polluting slick returned and deposited crude oil back on that same sand. [Daily Star, Nov. 14, 2006]
* * *
One more story. A 14-year-old boy from the Sudan sits in a second-grade class in Dekwaneh, struggling to decipher the English letters in front of him, while his much younger classmates are having fun working on word puzzles in English. His teacher, Lala Arabian, helps this child of migrants, who had never been to school in his life, to at least gain some basic reading and social skills. Eighty percent of the students at this school have no official papers, and it is not accredited by the Ministry of Education, but Arabian and Charles Nasrallah, the school's co-founders, are still determined to help these children of domestic workers, refugees, asylum-seekers and others to not fall through the cracks of Lebanese society. Arabian says, "very few of these children will stay in Lebanon, but our aim is to make sure that they do not lose their time here - so that wherever they go... they won't have to start from scratch." [Daily Star, Nov. 2, 2006]
* * *
"What a waste," you might say. "Will any of these little efforts make a difference? Will they be able to really change anything?" Wouldn't it be nice if one small effort resulted in massive changes in the world we inhabit? Wouldn't it be nice if such stories softened peoples' hearts and made them more caring, more just, more... nice? But we know how things really are, and so we avoid such fruitless" and "ruinous" and "wasteful" activity. We look out for ourselves and our families, and shrug our shoulders about the rest.
Thinking of others is very difficult and very costly. It will attract criticism from friend and foe. Thoughts of discouragement and hopelessness will nag you from within. You will not make the list of "Up and Coming Leaders". You all know the story of the man who cared for the poor and the sick, who traveled from village to village teaching right from wrong, challenging people to think for themselves, who challenged them to know God as "Father". Yes, the name of "Jesus" should come to mind right about now (or else I'll send you back to re-take your religion requirement!).
Now, this man Jesus, whom practically all of us highly respect, whom some of us worship, did not just confront the selfishness that we so carefully cultivate in our lives, but he also paid a price for taking on all of that stuff called human sin. Such a giving, serving, outward-looking person, and look where it got him: killed, hanging on a cross at the age of 33... age 33... ...I''ll give you a few moments to do the math..."33 minus my age, hmmm... that would give me... hmmm... only that many years left?" He successfully ruined his life, and at a fairly young age, too.
However, if you stretch your view beyond the 33 earthly years of his life, and look at the impact his life has had on the world, you get quite a different picture. And no matter what you think of Jesus, or even whether you believe in him, that shift of perspective helps us to see "ruin" and "success" in a different way. The effect that you and I have on our world is becomes a different issue, because you don't measure it by how you can change things right now. You begin to look at making lasting changes over the long term.
As a matter of fact, Jesus' words from Mark's Gospel, which you heard a little while ago, then start to make much more sense. When Jesus talked about his rejection, crucifixion and resurrection, Peter couldn't accept this, because it spelled ruin or failure in the short-term. Peter had to expand his view, to see things from... let's say a higher perspective, shall we? Jesus helped him shift his perspective by giving him a nice, strong rebuke, "Get behind me, Satan!" When was the last time a friend said that to you?
Jesus' words about denying yourself and taking up your cross, or losing your life in service to him rather than seeking to save it all for yourself, or gaining the whole world at the price of losing your soul begin to take on a clearer meaning when you take a few steps back from yourself. It's like planting and caring for a cedar tree on one of Lebanon's barren mountains, mountains that used to be covered with cedar forests. You're not planting that tree so you can go up there next year and have a barbeque underneath it; it's for your grandchildren and their grandchildren.
Maybe this is a good place for me to stop. I do take Jesus and his words very seriously. I do want to ''see the kingdom of God come with power.'' And I want to do that the right way - even if it means being considered a failure in the eyes of the world. I want to think of my (as yet unconceived) grandchildren as I live my life. I want to spend my energy not entertaining myself, but doing something that matters - to the Lord and to the world he loves.
And I wish for each of you the same - to live a "successfully ruined" life, by the grace of God.
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