In Memoriam, Dr. Kevin J. Eames
On the morning of Thursday, June 6, 2019, Dr. Kevin J. Eames, professor of psychology at Covenant College, died following complications from his recent open-heart surgery.
Prof. Eames was a member of Covenant’s faculty since 2003, serving as both the director of institutional effectiveness and as professor of psychology. "Kevin was a dear friend, an insightful colleague, and a man of God. His quick wit and compassionate demeanor brought joy and purpose to his office, his classroom, and the meetings he attended," said Jeff Hall, vice president of academic affairs.
Prof. Eames had been in the cardiac intensive care unit since undergoing open-heart surgery on Tuesday, May 21, during which time the Covenant community prayed earnestly. In his announcement to the Covenant community, President J. Derek Halvorson said, “Dr. Eames was cherished by students, faculty, and staff alike for his outstanding teaching, his facility with assessment, his unwavering commitment to the college's mission, his courageous and thoughtful engagement with challenging topics, his constant good cheer, and his faithful friendship and support.” Despite an impressive academic career and countless valuable contributions to the College, he will be most remembered as a loving husband, devoted father, thoughtful son and sibling, and loyal friend.
Former student John-Michael Forman ’10 captured Dr. Eames’ character well; “Since I met him as a sophomore at Covenant, I’ve never wanted more to be near a person and absorb the grace that they radiated. His gentleness and humility, born of intense suffering throughout his life, characterized everything that he did. In that regard, he was an extremely unusual individual: exactly the kind that I want to be when I’m old and the darkness of this world has weathered me.”
Prof. Eames was 58 years old and is survived by his wife, Lisa, and his two daughters, Hillary ’15 and Hannah ’21. He was preceded in death by his father, James Eames, and his son, Daniel on May 30, 2013. Though we grapple with grief at the loss of a beloved colleague and friend, the Covenant community rejoices that Prof. Eames is now united with his Savior, that he suffers no more, and that he has been reunited with his son.
Prof. Eames was selected by the graduating class of 2019 to deliver the commencement address on May 4, 2019.
Full transcript of the 2019 commencement address:
Thank you President Halvorson, esteemed colleagues, members of the board, families, and friends and, most importantly, the class of 2019. I greet you and thank you for this opportunity. Speeches at graduation ceremonies tend to have the distinction of being instantly forgettable since the real event is each of you walking across the stage and getting your diploma accompanied by applause and the occasional airhorn. So before I lose your attention, let me offer you my congratulations. I'm sure you are happy and relieved and are looking forward to a good night's sleep.
You have every reason to celebrate and I am delighted to be able to celebrate with you. I'm deeply honored to be your commencement speaker and I've been praying about this opportunity since I received the invitation early this semester. I don't want to squander it on graduation cliches, though I might be tempted to mention a few, I won't. Since this marks a significant passage in your life, it's only natural that you would be looking forward to the future.
A popular 80's song echoed this sentiment with the title “The Future's So Bright I have to Wear Shades,” and frankly the music video was a lot better than the song itself. The future we anticipate, however, is, in reality, an illusory thing, a willow-the-wisp that appears as a ghostly light but keeps receding as we approach. It is reminiscent of the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby,” where Fitzgerald writes that Gatsby believed in “the green light, the future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then but that's no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further and then one fine morning.”
Fitzgerald understood how the stories we tell ourselves about the future inspire us to strive toward tomorrow's elusive goal, sacrificing the blessing that is today. Before I continue, I want to apologize to my colleagues in the English department. I've already mentioned F. Scott Fitzgerald without proper critical analysis and I must give you fair warning that I will be relying a lot on C.S. lewis. I have found that C.S. Lewis is a remarkable psychologist who has valuable insights about human nature that are more perceptive than Freud with his Oedipal complex and Skinner with his rats.
In Lewis's classic the “Screwtape Letters,” there is a chapter devoted to the topic of temporal matters. Screwtape encourages the novice tempter, Wormwood, to focus the human's mind on the future to encourage either foolish confidence or oppressive fear, both of which are unfounded because the future is unknown and it is the least real thing with which we have to contend. A foolish confidence in the future is often the consequence of a sense of privilege that distorts our perception of our own successes. We believe we are the captains of our fate, lulling us into a complacency that tempts us to neglect our daily dependence on the Lord who gives us our daily bread. Our gratitude for our daily blessings is perfunctory. Unlike our brothers and sisters in other places whose daily bread comes unpredictably. Their gratitude is heartfelt. Because of our confidence, we tend to devote little attention to the spiritual battles that are fought in our midst, forgetting that our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
In spite of our espoused faith, the secular age in which we live tempts us to combine foolish confidence with fragilized belief. Such confidence is no different from the foolish man who builds his house on the sand. “And the rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and slammed against the house and it fell, and great was its fall.” This can happen when the illusory confidence we place in tomorrow that we've mistaken for our faith shipwrecks on the rocks of serious illness, an untimely death, or chronic relentless disappointment. This foolish confidence is very different from the future and hope that God promises to Judah in Jeremiah 29:11. This was God's promise to the exiles in Babylon and it looks forward to their return to their land. There is a difference between the words of God's prophet and the future we imagined in our minds.
Fearing the future is like being afraid of monsters in your closet. You can imagine all kinds of terrifying scenarios that keep you awake, waiting for something hairy and fangy to get you. But in the end the fears you conjure dissipate with the morning leaving you only with a rotten night's sleep. Our fears may be limited to our own future where we wonder whether we'll find a spouse or a successful career, or they broaden to accompany the economy or terrorism. So often, not always, but often, the objects of our fears reside in our imagination and nowhere else. Living angst-ridden and haunted by the future can compel us to take matters into our own hands, ready to break god's commands in the present if, by doing so, we can bring about some utopian goal or avert some dystopian disaster. The danger is that we give the future our hearts and place our treasures there. We can be perpetually in pursuit of the Rainbows end, forgetting to be honest, kind, or contented now. The gifts we are given in the present we use to fuel the heap of the altar of the future.
C.S. Lewis makes an important distinction between the future and eternity. While our lives are moving inevitably and inescapably toward eternity, the future exists only in our minds and, ultimately, what happens may or may not resemble what we had imagined. Our lives, as many of you know, can change in an instant. It's not the future, but eternity, that God has set in our hearts. As the author of Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “and it is for eternity that we are destined.”
By contrast, Lewis writes that the future is the least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time. “For the past,” he writes, “is frozen and no longer flows and the present is all lit up with eternal rays.” Lewis contends that God wants us to attend to two things: eternity itself and the present. Either meditating on our eternal union with, or separation from, himself. Or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure. This emphasis impresses upon us the sanctity of the present moment.
For the conscientious among you, you may be concerned that such an emphasis on the present with its lack of proper planning apparently for the future it's too reminiscent of the ant and the grasshopper in Aesop's fable. Lewis suggests that God wants us to think of the future so much as is necessary for today, planning the acts of justice or charity that will probably be our duty tomorrow. The duty of planning tomorrow's work is today's duty. Though it's material is borrowed from the present, the duty, like all duties, is in the present.
When I was 5 years old (this shouldn't surprise you I was adorable) I was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. When I was 15 and frankly much less adorable, a newspaper reporter did an interview with me about being a diabetic. Her story began with the following line. “At 15 years old, Kevin Eames has already lived over half his life.” Fortunately, as you can see, this reporter was terrible at prognosticating. I am 58 now well past the 30-year mark that she predicted and at 15 I didn't really have the maturity to navigate this existential crisis. I didn't even know I was supposed to have an existential crisis. Besides, my doctor at the time used very colorful language to describe what was wrong with the article, calling it a piece of sensationalism. Imagine though how you would change if you were told that you had a limited amount of time to live. How would it change your values and your priorities? Suddenly both the present and eternity would come sharply into focus. Suddenly you become profoundly aware of the sanctity of the present moment.
A Pharisee asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus said “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, this is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole law of the prophet. Love of God and our neighbor occur in the present. It is where we encounter no ordinary people, no mere mortals. As Lewis writes in “The Weight of Glory,” it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. It is a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption, such as you now meet, if at all, only in your nightmare.
All-day long we are to some degree helping each other to one or another of these destinations. By living in the present, we realize our behavior is less about the future and more about living in the light of eternity. Our daily interactions in the drive-through and with baristas take on greater significance when we realize they are immortal beings. As such, each encounter is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, to seek their welfare first, to forget our own need to be heard or seen. In fact, our lives consist of the accumulation of the individual decisions we make on a moment-by-moment basis. It's those decisions upon which the direction of our lives often turn and so they require as much sanctified attention as we give to our future plans.
Now it may be easy to live in the present when we're healthy, prosperous and fulfilled in our relationships but how do we remain faithful when the present moment is filled with uncertainty or pain. We echo David, who cried “how long O Lord will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Such times of trial will come upon all of us, not once, but often in our lives. This should come as no surprise. When we find ourselves surprised by suffering, we suffer twice.
In a first-world culture where we encounter so little hardship or deprivation, we are tempted to see such pains as aberrations, even as psychological disorders requiring diagnosis and treatment. Yet we are fallen people, living in a fallen world, and our finitude and sinfulness manifest themselves in suffering.
It is during such times that the 17th-century theologian Jean-Pierre de Caussads calls us to abandon ourselves to the will of God. He tells us to find contentment in the present moment, to adore the divine will in the midst of all things we must do and even in what we must suffer. It may be during such times of suffering that we feel God has removed himself from us. Returning to the Screwtape Letters, the human in the book experiences a crisis of faith but remains faithful. So Screwtape writes “be not deceived Wormwood. We are never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do God's will, looks around upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. This is the same conclusion that David came to at the end of Psalm 13 when he writes “But I have trusted your loving-kindness. My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
So, at this transitional moment in your life, as you look ahead, you will see two very different things. Usually, the things we see in the near distance are clearer than the things that are further away, but not today. The future you think you see is actually mist and fog. Eternity, however, seems to be on the distant horizon but is, in fact, right before you, illuminating all that you do in the present-day.
It is the present-day where we are called to love one another, build up one another, accept one another, bear one another's burdens, and show kindness to one another. When you think about your life, what should bring you the greatest satisfaction is not the number of Instagram followers that you have or the material possessions you've accumulated, but the people that you've authentically loved and the relationships in which you have invested, and those who have invested in you.
As you leave the auditorium today, remember that those that you encounter are all immortal, eternal creatures with whom you will either share everlasting splendor or who will be separated forever from the one for whom they were made. Remember this moment, this very moment, with its applause, elation, and airhorns is radiant with the light of eternity. Amen.