Archive for July, 2010

July 27, 2010

30 Year Retrospective


I attended by 30th high school reunion this past weekend. I had occasion to find a draft of the speech I gave graduation night. I had to laugh at it in many places. But there are truths in there as well. Funny thing is, I don't remember knowing these things much of my life. I guess I knew them, forgot them, and had to rediscover some of them. I found the draft written on four pages of yellowed notebook paper, in PEN. It also had rehearsal timings on it. I was a night owl even then. It's marked 11:07:00 to 11:13:45 pm. I have vivid memories of typing the final speech onto little index cards. Oh the good old days!

Here is the speech from May 29, 1980. (It was a draft, so I've not corrected it.)

School officials and guests, fellow graduate candidates, and our honored parents and guests,

Tonight is the night that we, the Class of 1980, emerge from the cocoon of American public education. In the fall of 1968, each of use was fitted with the mold of a good contributing citizen. That mold was awkward with power and heavy with responsibility. But now, 12 years later, we have grown to fit those molds, and, in fact, each of us has carved into the sides of those mold a mark, a distinguishing characteristic, that we must and will live with the rest of our lives.

The fact that tonight we graduate tells us that something is finished. Tonight, both the State of Texas and the Borger ISD believe that they have taught us well. But what have they taught us? They believe that we, their students, their children, are ready to live in this world independently, on our own, totally self-sustaining if need be.

What makes both these proud bodies, who have provided our education, think that we are ready? Surely it is not because we know that "man" is a noun and "run" is a verb. Is it because we know 'Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14…92?' Or because we know that 4 X 5 is 20? No. It is because of something much more than all of these.

Facts did not make or break our education. True, someday we will need all these facts. They may even be vital, but these are not the main goals of our education. Our education has, from the very start, sought after two main goals.

The first is to teach us to be with people, to need people. As Plato put it, "Trees and fields tell me nothing; men are my teachers." We, as a class, are unmatched in our feel for one another. We have learned that to be alone, to be lonely, is often unbearable. We know that we need each other to love, to hate, to laugh and to cry, to work and to relax, and sometimes even just to think. We've learned this and it has become a part of us; we will keep on needing people for the rest of our lives. We have been taught well.

The other thing, the other objective of our education, is to teach us to study. No, not to memorize facts, but to gather our own facts and (so to speak) to write our own textbooks. Throughout school we have been told "to think about it," or "to look at it again," or even "to analyze the situation carefully." Al these boil down to just one thing: in order to survive we must constantly collect facts, look at those fact together, and then make a choice.

Since high school is over for you, and especially if you've decided to go immediately into the business world, you may be thinking that there is no more doing assigned homework, no more reading the books, and no more taking the tests. Well, if you are, you're wrong.

School is over; that part of life is past, but with each finishing, there springs up a new beginning. It is time to start applying study to our own real lives.

When you go down to buy that new car, do you just pick from a distance the prettiest one. No, you look at the car from a distance, you look at it from inside, you look at the options, you look at the gas mileage, you look at the price. You look at all the facts and then you chose.

The same thing has to apply to our lives. George Moore, a turn of the century writer, noted that "The difficulty in life is the choice." I think he should have said that "Life is the choice." To decide on a career or a college requires study and a choice. When you move to a new house, a new city, a new state, you study and then choose. To marry, to find a husband or wife, requires careful study and choice. To live, to just keep going, demands that you look around and decide. To be one's own self… that requires the most study and the greatest choice. Even if you make the wrong choice, if you learned the facts first, it will be easy to change.

Please, as we leave tonight, probably never to be 204 graduates strong ever again, remember that your life is your choice to make, but that you have got to know the facts. And you have got to know yourself first.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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July 13, 2010

Bible Study Tension


Street Youth Ministry has an intern. That intern has led Bible study as a concluding event of his study with me to better prepare his as a pastoral candidate to help lead the church to work with homeless young people. I am very proud of my student!

The group dynamic changes every day in Bible study. Watching the intern explore the dynamic present one particular day reminded me of my first days of starting the Bible study, more than a year ago. He had something planned, and it totally flopped with this group. They just didn’t ever give it a chance. That happens some days to me, too. So he returned to the SYM default plan: read the next Bible chapter and explore it inductively in group discussion.

They read aloud the first paragraph of Matthew 23. Then one of the youth began to try to explain the passage. He was well versed in inductive Bible study, Jewish culture of the first century, and really took off. The youth was eloquent and intelligent but also very preachy. Nobody else joined in the conversation, and it was hard to “reel in” the speaker. After a bit, the intern began to express one of the rules that SYM uses: “We just look at what the Bible says. We don’t say what’s right or wrong. That way it’s safe for everyone–Christians, atheists, people of other faith, people of no faith.” That restarted the discussion. This this groundrules reinforced, they began discussing how the church leaders in Jesus’ (and Matthew’s) time were putting big burdens to be perfect on people, putting on big airs, and being very imperfect themselves. And they began discussing their own experiences of the church leaders today: “You’ll let me come here as long as I’m good, but when I need help, you tell me to get out. When I fall down or fall apart, you walk past me. When I admit my faults–and they are some big ones, you shun me.” Tough perceptions from a street youth with poverty, mental health, and other issues.

The intern asked, “Do you find the church to be burdensome or a blessing?” Stories immediately poured out about failed encounters with Christians and the church, but nobody answered the question. The intern pressed harder: “Is your experience of the church overall a burden or a blessing?” The tone changed and they shared insights: “You have to live for God. You have to submit to the path God sets for you. It’s easy to live in fear, and it’s much harder to live in peace and love. My experience of the church is a blessing.”

The tension of where their answers started and where they ended caught me by surprise. But later I realized that this tension captures a truth. We are all sinners. Reformed theology tells us that we are rotten to the core. We don’t deserve God’s grace, but God loves us anyway. But, as Christians, when we come together to form the church, we are the body of Christ. The very same individuals who sin every day form the perfect body of Christ at the same time. This is the source of the tension in the street youths’ statements. They experience terrible things from us, but they can also simultaneously see the church as a source of blessing. I believe they experience the church honestly as both a burden of the sinners and a blessing of the body of Christ.

The Bible study ended with prayer. Prayer requests from the youth included one for more tolerance, more love, more family connection between people who aren’t blood related. “Like at Thanksgiving. When Uncle Roland and Uncle Tito, who hate each other, manage to get along for the day. Pray for that.”

Jesus bore the burden. Let us take care not to put burdens on our brothers and sisters. Let us live in love, loving God with all our being and loving one another as Jesus loves us. Amen.

“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”
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