Friday, June 16, 2017

Unspoken Graduation Address

You have now reached an important turning point in your life. In one way or another, you are on the cusp of vast changes, entering into a world where nothing will be quite the same as it has been. There will be new dangers, new challenges, new blessings and, most importantly, new opportunities to serve and glorify God--because that is what you are going to do with your life, one way or another, whether you like it or not, and the sooner you realize and choose this, the better it will be for all of us.

Addressing you now, I will not tell you what you nearly always hear when we adults talk to you about the future. (Yes, I am an adult, even if I don't look or act like one.) I will not tell you that this is the greatest time to be alive and you should be grateful to have such wonderful opportunities. Nor will I tell you that this is the worst time to be alive and that you might as well give up hope and live in self-pity for having been born when you were.

I will not tell you either thing for two good reasons. The first reason is that neither is true--or, at any rate, if one of them is true, we have no way of knowing about it. If you pick some aspect of life, you can probably compare across time and see either progress or regress. So the modern day has better pluming and worse poetry than they had two hundred years ago. But in order to know what time period was the best or the worst, you would have to know everything about every time period and know how to weight every aspect and fact properly. Who is sufficient for such things? If such an evaluation could be made by anyone (and I am rather doubtful), it could only be made by God, and if He has made it, He has neglected to share it with us. And second reason I will not begin by such comments is because they don't have any value. What if we proved that of all the time periods of man, yours did happen to be the worst? What on earth are you supposed to do about it? There is no point in trying to evaluate time periods any more than evaluating universes--it's not as if you're given a choice about what time period or universe you live in. If time travel is perfected, perhaps you will have the duty to go over all eras with a fine tooth comb and chose the best in which to live--but in the meantime, you'll have to take what you get. Gandalf comments to Frodo that many people live in times when they face battles they would rather not face. “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

You were born into this time period, in this place, and will face life here and now--meaning you will face unique challenges, problems, temptations, pleasures, privileges, and (especially) surprises. One of the greatest privileges you have is to go out and tell men the good news that they are sinners. That may  not seem like a privilege, but it is--because next to “saint,” “sinner” is the highest name you can give a man. The modern world has denied to man the right to do wrong and to do right. We have trapped man into a web of societal pressures and biological programming. It is your privilege to tell people that they are more than machines, more than patients, more than animals. They are men and women, bearers of the image of God, with the terrible gift of choice. To be a sinner is a high calling. Patients can be sedated, machines can be tweaked, animals can be trained--but sinners are the only creature in all worlds who may be forgiven. Only prodigals can go home.

But though you have a great privilege to speak to men, never forget that God has called you to be His servant--not His Universal-Problem-Solver. It is no part of your task in live to solve and fix everything you see. Which is just as well. Because you can't. And if you try, you will simply create more problems which you will then have to try to solve. Which obviously will not end well for anyone. It is a delicate balance--you must both be concerned for the world without becoming obsessive--you must seek for the world's salvation without trying to save it yourself. We adults have not told you how to maintain this balance, because we haven't figured out yet. But when we do, we'll let you know--unless you find out first, in which case you can tell us.

Another skill you must learn (which we have not taught) is respect. We have unfortunately spread the idea that respect must be earned. That is a lie. I will not go so far as to say that respect is given never earned, but I will say it must be given before it is earned. A man cannot pay off his debts if you won't accept his money. You must give some respect to a man, before he even has the opportunity of earning it. And there will be times when there are people who cannot earn your respect--and so you must give it freely. This may sound like a paradox and so it is. But you had better stop expecting the world to make sense in the ordinary, prosaic meaning of sense. You might as well expect to find an isosceles triangle running around on its own or a vast sea of fuchsia not attached to anything.

And that brings me to my final point. Never let your disappointment with the real cause you to lose faith in the ideal. The real will never live up to the ideal. If it did, no one would bother with the ideal in the first place. If the world was a complete and simply just place, no one would ever have sworn loyalty to the idea of justice. Some day, justice shall run down the mountains like rain and the real and ideal will be merged. Until that day, it is only to be expected that what ought to be is going to be vastly different from what is.  That is why you have been called to seek for the ideal here in the real. The fact that there are enemies does not prove that victory of hopeless or pointless--it only proves that there will be a battle.

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