Thursday, June 10, 2010

Graduation Speeches

I'll warn you: this one will not set well with some, so you have a delete button for a reason.

Graduation season is about over. I didn't attend any of those ceremonies this year. Sent a couple of out-of-town gifts, but was mercifully spared the exercises. I did, however, read the predictable stories in at least a couple of papers about kids who were making what they considered to be bold stands by including prayer or some overtly Christian statements in their public school commencement speeches. The issues which bring these stories before us are far more complicated than most people realize and cannot be dissected in sound bytes or easy formulas. The whole concept of taking God out of school and public life makes little sense to me since omnipresence continues to be one of the primary attributes of God. I think that what people usually mean when they use that kind of language is that their particular understanding of God is the one that matters. If I remember the various graduation exercises I've attended accurately, paying attention to anything but the name we're waiting to hear called doesn't happen much. If we're band or choir supporters, we might be interested in their contributions to the festivities, but most of the speeches and comments are usually pretty un-memorable. I've never figured out, then, why it's such a big deal to include references to God or Jesus in a speech not many are paying attention to anyway. Doesn't that happen often enough in church? I doubt that very many can look back on a graduation speech and say, "There. That's when I first became a believer!"
So I wonder when all of us who talk a lot about our faith, preachers and non-preachers alike, will think about how effective our speech might be if we talked less about Jesus and talked more like him. What might a faithful student embarking on a new phase of life have to say to peers and community if that student talked from the perspective of one whose life had been transformed from following the culture in which he had been nurtured to responding to God's call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God? What might that student and others of us have to say if we focused less on what we can't do or say and more on what God is empowering us to do and say by making us new creation.
I suspect that next year's graduation stories in the press will have another story or two about students who think they're effective witnesses by being controversial. I can't think ahead to anyone graduating who will expect me to attend commencement. On most of the fifty-two Sundays between now and then, though, I will be in the pulpit, where there's not a lot of control over what I can and can't say. I think I'll try to talk more like Jesus than about him on those Sundays. I'll let you know how it works out.

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