Week Seven Letter From the President

President Michael Hill

Dear fellow Chautauquans,

Welcome to the seventh week of our 146th Assembly. I have been waiting for this week for more than a year. The broader concept of grace has been on my mind for some time now, and to explore the week with one of my favorite journalists and storytellers, the incomparable Krista Tippett, is a true joy.

This week, we look at “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts.” Be it emotional, physical or spiritual, grace takes many forms. It exists in the way we treat one another, the way in which we move through the world and the way in which we use our gifts, our grace, to lift up others. Grace, as defined by religious terms, is the means by which we receive an unearned gift, one we’re not worthy of. Beyond religion, what does grace look like in the secular world? When is grace difficult? In talking across differences? In compromise? In the face of adversity? We’ll look at the moments in which grace is most needed. How can we go out into the world, actively moving with more grace throughout our own lives? 

The mission of Chautauqua Institution is to explore the best in human values. I think this week is simply a perfect fit for that mission statement, and I couldn’t be happier that Krista will be our guide for the conversation each morning. Almost a year ago, as this week’s theme was percolating in our heads, I attended a major commemoration of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Krista was there interviewing Derek Black, a former heir apparent of the white nationalist movement, and Matthew Stevenson, one of the only Orthodox Jews on their shared college campus. When Derek’s family history and ideology were revealed, Matthew invited him to a Shabbat dinner. It would transform them both forever — you really must check out this story — and it clicked for me that Krista was the perfect one to bring stories of grace to our morning platform. I’m deeply excited to have her here (in case you couldn’t tell!).

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we’ll look at the same theme. There are many ways of defining or explaining the idea of grace. Grace is thought to be something we receive, something we give, something we are and something we do. This week, we will hear stories from four traditions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Humanism — exploring how each tradition perceives, interprets and lives grace.

And if that isn’t enough grace for you, we’ve invited the Gracefully project to spend the week with us podcasting, capturing stories and engaging with our community. Gracefully is the brainchild of Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman and a dear friend of mine, Brian Wesolowski, who serves as a senior officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Gracefully explores the very notion of grace and uncovers where it is embodied in our everyday life, both online and off. The project is looking at ways that thoughtful design, technology and personal choices can promote community and enhance civil engagement. Its ultimate goal is to humanize technology and empower everyone to live more gracefully in the digital age. Sarah is also the author of The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life. Stay tuned for ways you can engage with the group.

One more personal note this week. Sarah Ruhl joins us as our featured Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author with her book Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship. I first met Sarah when I worked at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., when we were staging her incredible theatrical work Passion Play. It remains one of the most riveting pieces of theater I’ve ever seen in my life. Sarah is an incredible playwright, author and a MacArthur Genius Award-winner. I’m so thrilled to welcome her to Chautauqua. 

You may have sensed by now that I’m beyond excited about this week. While our mission calls us to tackle some really difficult topics, it also calls us to celebrate the enrichment of life. What a blessing to move from comedy last week, to a week devoted to grace. I invite us all to spend these coming days exploring the topic of grace in its many manifestations, recognizing fully that spending a week at Chautauqua may be the purest manifestation of the word. Welcome to Week Seven.

Michael E. Hill

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Michael E. Hill

The author Michael E. Hill