A Potter's Perspective on Life, the Church, and Culture

This week our Children’s Director, Stephanie Lord, and I were thinking about when to have our “Backpack Blessing Sunday,” and it knocked me for a loop to realize that we are that close to school starting back. Although I have been enjoying the countdown to college football, I really feel for the school teachers whose summer break is about to end. With all they deal with, it’s been too short!

Colleges and universities will crank up and have their convocations soon, too. Students and faculty will gather to officially start their academic year. For 12 years I attended the summer convocation at Emory University where I taught two courses: “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” Teaching those courses was always a welcome rejuvenation of theological discourse and critical thinking about God.

Attending convocation always gave me a chance to think about an important word: Honesty. Needless to say, plagiarism is a rampant form of lying in academia. The internet and Wikipedia make it too easy to copy/steal someone else’s work. Honesty, therefore, is a good word for us to ponder before school starts, especially with the added political jockeying going on between Donald Trump and John McCain; i.e., “Who’s telling the truth?”

There’s a connection between honesty and academic convocations and it’s all in the hoods. The convocations that I have attended have exhibited a rainbow of different academic hoods. The various colors represented a person’s field of expertise via the outer velvet’s color, and the person’s alma mater was visually represented in the hood’s interior. My doctoral hood, for instance, has red velvet on the outside signifying theology and blue and gold inner trim denoting Emory’s school colors.

This practice goes back centuries. Hundreds of years ago people didn’t wear hats. They wore hoods, and they wore many different colored hoods. The color of a person’s hood signified their occupation. If you were a minister, you wore one color of hood. If you were a medical doctor, you wore another color of hood. You could tell, therefore, a person’s occupation by the color of hood they wore.

The problem with that, of course, was that some people tried to pass themselves off as somebody they weren’t. So, they wore a false hood. This is where we get the word “falsehood.” Today we think of a falsehood as something that isn’t true. It is any kind of dishonesty. A person’s honesty is of utmost importance. Lying erodes everything. Teachers promote intellectual honesty by requiring students to do their own work, or, when using information not new with them, to offer appropriate citation. If a pastor or anyone in any profession doesn’t do his or her own work, falsehood will undermine the whole of that person’s efforts. Without honesty, there isn’t much of a foundation for anything in a person’s life.

People can say wedding vows, but without honesty they don’t mean much, do they? Children can say that they love their parents, but love without honesty has little or no respect. People can say that they have done their best to put in quality time and effort at work, but the proof of their shoddy work ethic is quickly apparent if the end-product has problems. Falsehoods are found out! From the beginning of Christianity, the church stood for honesty even if it meant martyrdom. Early Christians could not say they believed in Jesus as Lord and kneel to Caesar as god, too. Honesty often means either-or rather than both-and! That’s a hard pill for our anything-goes society.

Honesty, therefore, requires a choice, a putting off of falsehood, a false hood. We get to choose every day which hood we’ll wear. Will we be honest, have integrity, or live a lie? A heart patient visited his cardiologist for his two-week follow-up appointment. He informed the doctor that he was having trouble with one of his medications. “Which one?” asked the doctor? “The patch,” the man replied, “The nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours, and I’ve run out of places to put it!” The doctor was flabbergasted. He had the patient quickly undress. The man had over fifty patches on his body! The patient didn’t understand that each time he put on a new patch, he was supposed to remove the old one.

Our new life in Christ requires taking off the old, and putting on the new. That takes honesty! Whether you’re headed back to school as a teacher, student, or administrator, or simply going about your daily life keeping score on the golf course or paying your bills, please take off your falsehoods and allow Christ to dress you in new clothing, in the truth! A life of honesty may be difficult, but it’s even more difficult to live a lie!

Academic Hood

 

This morning I am going to do the funeral for my last remaining aunt. It is an honor to eulogize such a wonderful person. Aunt Alva saw life through the lenses of grace and accountability. She was always warm and welcoming, and expressed her confidence in you through compliments. She dared you to be the best self that you could be. It strikes me that these two bookends of grace and expectation are desperately needed in the church today.

In our Christian tradition we know full well that we are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, but we also know that God doesn’t save us to leave us the way that God found us. We believe that becoming a Christian is not the telos end-all, but is rather a beginning of a transformed life. It almost sounds like an oxymoron, but God’s grace holds us accountable, better yet, inspires us, and empowers us to do better than we’ve ever done before.

As I eulogize my Aunt today, I almost feel as if I am eulogizing a whole generation of my family. Her dear husband, Uncle J.C., was a member of the “greatest generation” that won World War II. He survived the carnage on Iwo Jima in the Pacific, though it caused him nightmares for the rest of his life. Papa, Granny, Uncle Lee, Mama and Daddy, Uncle Homer, Aunt Florence, Frank, Carlee, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Ella Mae, Uncle Buck, Uncle Bruce, Gandaddy, Ganny, Papa Mac, MaMac, Nana, Pop, and more than I can name have “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”

But, I feel their presence crowding around this morning. It’s times like this that I treasure that part of the Apostles’ Creed that we so casually recite on most Sundays, “I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Those of us who believe in Jesus who are left alive are called the Church Militant because we still have inward and outer battles to fight. Those who have joined the great company in the cloud of witnesses above are known as the Church Triumphant.

This communion of saints, this mysterious intermingling confluence of influence is especially felt on days like today. I can picture in my mind’s eye a whole host of those who have gone before us. They are our cheerleaders and models to which we can measure ourselves, or they are like prize fighters who dare us to surpass their own feats of strength or failures of weakness. Either way, we have an opportunity to measure up and/or do better. Both serve a proper function, but it is the emotional tie to these particular saints that makes the call to excel so personal and real. These are people we knew, cared for, even loved, and we want to make them proud. We are their genetic and emotional progeny.

I don’t know for certain if these saints do any more than provide examples and educative fond memories for us. I do, however, know that the apocalyptic literature of the Book of Revelation (8:3-4) says that their prayers for us are still alive and active, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s saints, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” So, though I don’t believe that those in heaven can see anything bad that we do or that wouldn’t be heaven, I do, however, believe that somehow they can see the good we do. This inspires me to try to do all the good that I can. Whether real or imaginary or a weird mixture of apocalyptic history, poetry, and transcendent imagery, I want to sense that this whole host who have gone before us is praying for us.

Call me crazy but just think of the number of cheerleaders that we have! Each of us has had 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and if you extrapolate that out for 10 generations, it adds up to 1,024 parents that are rooting for us. If you take it out to 20 generations, the number is 1,048,576 parents, not counting aunts, uncles, and all the rest of the heavenly host! The epistle lectionary text for July 26 is from Ephesians 3:14-21. It is rich with what I’m feeling this morning, and describes the power of family prayer encompassing all generations. This is St. Paul’s prayer and their prayer for YOU:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

“Throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” Indeed, “Amen.” Be encouraged, therefore, and feel the unfettered wings of those set free from earth’s bonds. Feel the cool breeze of the prayers being sent your way today. They are real, actually more real now than they ever were on earth. I believe in the Communion of Saints!

slide-5-communion-of-saints

South Carolina Strong

My prayer today is that all the hoopla and hotheads will settle down so that we can do the real work of forging what our Constitution dares us to do: “Form a more perfect union.” My great-grandfather, Daniel Byrd McClendon, was a Confederate soldier who never owned a slave but suffered greatly in the Civil War. In a sense, it is fitting that it was July 9, 1864, 151 years ago today, that he was shot in the back of the head during the Battle of Monocacy outside of Frederick, Maryland. He was captured, treated for months in two different Union hospitals, and then imprisoned for the remainder of the war. He survived, just barely. The question for me in the aftermath of this day’s historic events is whether we will survive and move forward as a people. I think the answer is the same as it was for my great-grandfather 150 years ago: “Yes.”

I am so glad that on the anniversary of his valor, the people of South Carolina have exhibited grace when under fire once again. No matter your heritage or politics, this was the right thing to do. I can’t think of a better tribute to my great-grandfather and to each person of every race who has borne the brunt of hardship so that future generations will remember that freedom is never without a price. With tears in my eyes, this is a holy day of remembrance for slave and free, Americans all. There is no room for whooping and hollering with glee. This is too special for that, too sacred. This is not just Charleston Strong. This is South Carolina Strong. We will move forward.

Therefore, I have mixed emotions today with the painfully magnificent realization that 9 martyrs did not die in vain, while, at the same time, a flag that has taunted so many can still get its due in a museum. A flag is a symbol, and this banner has meant many things to many people, good and bad. We need to remember that, if we’re going to get along, we must do so in the way that Lincoln suggested near the end of the Civil War. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln said that the Union could be reborn, “With malice towards none…” We must heed his advice, therefore, bind up our common wounds and live life in genuine grace-filled community.

In 1913, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a throng of nearly 54,000 Union and Confederate veterans descended once again on the tiny hamlet in southern Pennsylvania. This time, the men of Pickett’s charge didn’t find themselves greeted by deadly blasts of cannon and grapeshot that decimated their ranks. Instead, as the Southern veterans let out their rebel yell, the Union soldiers left their positions behind the stone walls and met their former enemies on the slope below. They embraced with outstretched arms and old foes shed tears of relief and reunion. They had survived and so had their country.

The next day, July 4, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson described the healing of the nation’s wounds, and I’m sure the sight from the previous day moved him: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.

On this hallowed day in South Carolina history, may we not flaunt our winning or losing with either hubris or bitterness. Let’s do our ancestors and our recent dead proud by hugging each other, reaching across barriers of race and culture, and saying today that we will dedicate ourselves anew to a future that embraces an indigo blue and every other hue. Splendid valor will not be forgotten. This indeed is South Carolina Strong.

Gettysburg1913

The Fourth and Flags

The Fourth of July has a shady heritage in the South. It wasn’t until World War I that most people below the Mason-Dixon Line approved of Independence Day celebrations. The poverty and animosity caused by Reconstruction caused many Southerners to avoid our nation’s birthday. Reconstruction was a tumultuous time. South Carolina was under harsh military rule until 1877, twelve long years after the end of the Confederacy. It was a long military occupation that resulted in exacerbated resentment and retribution against people of color.

Perhaps this explains why Southerners remember “The War” so well. But there is a difference between history and heritage. History is something to learn from so that its evil may not be repeated and so its good might be perpetuated. Heritage is what we pass on to our descendants. I don’t want to pass on a history fraught with prejudice and poverty. I do want to pass on a heritage of front porches and smiling faces, family reunions and neighborliness. In these days of reflection since the Charleston Massacre, I want to make sure that my legacy, our legacy, reflects Christ more than country. Sometimes they are not synonymous.

Our flags should represent our values, our heritage. What happens, however, when flags, whether they be swastikas or rising suns, stars and bars, or even Old Glory, fail to represent our Christian heritage? What if there’s a difference between what we profess as Christians and what we profess as a nation? If history, by definition, is something to be learned from, and heritage is something to be passed on, we, therefore, need to be very careful about the flags to which we offer our allegiance.

I would be highly offended if swastikas still flew over Germany. That symbol invokes hatred and genocide. With that being said, I wonder what people think when they see an American flag? Surely to many it represents freedom and the sacrifice of America’s millions that gave of themselves so that democracy might defeat fascism in World War II. We are grateful for those whom Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation,” plus previous and subsequent generations who have protected our freedoms and honored our flag.

However, people who live in so-called “Banana Republics” think of Americans in a whole different light. To them our flag represents people who will sacrifice democracy and fairness if it will provide us with cheaper gas, clothing, or produce. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act) was passed to help us more than it was to help poor Third World residents. We want to pay 1950’s prices for things no matter how it affects people in poorer countries, and we have the gall to gripe about jobs being sent overseas as if it wasn’t our fault. No wonder poverty-stricken countries are more than eager to let our greed for pleasure consume their illegitimate drugs. In their minds it serves us right! Our flag, to them, stands for oppression. To them, we seem very hypocritical, especially in the way that we define “our vital national interests.”

To combat this perception I propose that we do two things. First, we need to be vigilant that our nation’s values be steadfast in fulfilling the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Second, we need to beware of ever confusing our faith with our flag. As a matter of historical fact, nations and their banners hardly ever represent Christianity. America perhaps has come closest. But that’s our opinion. Ask a Nicaraguan or Panamanian and the answer might be different. Let us make sure that our flag is a consistent international symbol of peace and hope. Then it will remain a worthy national one. God bless America, for we surely need it.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the man whose neighbor saw him come home every day from a hard day at work and stop in his yard before entering the house and would hold his hands out and run them up and down on the leaves of a certain tree. Then the man would go inside. One day the neighbor asked the man why he went up to that tree every day. The man told him about his anxieties and difficulties at work and about how much he loved his family. He didn’t want to take his troubles into his home and bother his family so he picked a tree that he called his “Trouble Tree” where he would leave his problems. He said it always amazed him how few troubles were on that tree the next morning. We all need a way to let go of our troubles.

My Dad had a particular way of dealing with his troubles. He had a way of saying, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” but it wasn’t in church-appropriate words. I have told Cindy for years that I want the saying on my tombstone. She has refused, of course, due to the quote’s edginess. I have suggested getting it translated into Hebrew, Greek, or Gaelic, but no dice. I can’t even let you know what it is, but, suffice it to say, it means, in essence, “Try not to worry.” I’ve thought a lot about Daddy in my post-Annual Conference processing and discernment. Our imminent celebration of Father’s Day has him on my mind, too.

The way that I have most heard his advice intoned during the last few days has come from an unlikely source, and one I’m pretty sure he would dislike: The Beatles. Driving around in my car since last week and listening to my favorite playlist, Paul McCartney’s song “Let It Be” has been my “go-to” song. I never really gave much thought to what the lyrics meant. Over the years I think I guessed that the words, “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be…,” was some reference to the Virgin Mary, and I thought that “Let it be” was a prayer-like phrase with a connotation of “que sera, sera,” i.e.; “whatever will be, will be.” The notion that whatever happens is going to happen as if God pre-planned disasters, shootings and calamities is malarkey. It doesn’t leave room for human choice and the sheer evil that occurs.

After really listening to the song in the context of some of my personal anxiety and discernment about the future, it hit me! This is my Dad’s saying in different words! “Let it be,” means “leave it alone,” not “let it happen.” Give it to God, walk away, don’t keep fretting and dwelling on the “what-if’s” of life. Let it be! It’s not about accepting things the way they are as if there’s no way to change things. It’s about not getting so worked up that you can’t think or hear straight.

Actually that’s what Paul McCartney says about the song’s origin. He was at a low point in his life, and was sensing that the Beatle’s weren’t going to make it much longer as a band. His childhood anchor was his mother who died when he was fourteen. When he wrote the song he was at the point that her face was beginning to fade from his memory and he desperately needed her, just like I still need my Dad.

So in the midst of despair, McCartney’s mother came to him, and her name was Mary. He described what happened, “So in this dream twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be.’ It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out. So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song: ‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me’… Mary was my mother’s name… ‘Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.’ It didn’t take long. I wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: ‘When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.’”

So, as I discern and we all try to figure out the senseless tragedies of life as in all the broken-hearted people in Charleston, SC, we leave alone that which we cannot know, and do something about what we do know to find or create solace, justice, and hope. We don’t just shut down and give into a tragic and fatalistic cosmic plan. My way of letting things be is to go to God in prayer, embrace solitude in tiny and large moments, and trust that God always is present.He doesn’t cause pain, but has entered our pain through the wounded Christ to redeem it. Therefore, instead of Mother Mary coming to me and whispering words of wisdom, it’s Jesus standing up on the storm-tossed boat and rebuking the wind and waves and saying, “Peace, be still!” I’ll wait for His answer and trust His tremendous love for all of God’s children. On this tumultuous ride that we call life, don’t work yourself into worse thinking and reactions: Let it be.

 

*Narcie got a great report! Thanks for your prayers; still a long haul and trusting Jesus and counting on you!

Have you ever had a day that has your antenna and ganglia hanging or sticking out all over the place and your sensory overload has you jacked up more than with 4 cups of coffee. Well, that’s this morning for me. I’m a little nervous, more than usual. I have a good friend and parishioner’s surgery shortly and am about to head to the hospital. Then I’m meeting with a family about a funeral then probably heading back to the hospital. Sunday’s sermon is on my mind. The text is about Jesus’ own family thinking he was nuts and I’m wondering how to preach that and make it relevant. I hate to admit it but as I was driving to the church a few minutes ago all these alliterating words jumped out at me as options to think about when it comes to family relationships: Restoration or Rejection; Respect or Rebellion; Redemption or Retaliation – what is it about preachers and our phonetic thinking? Anyway, at the stoplight I pulled out my pen and a business card and scribbled my thoughts down while holding the brake and clutch pedals down.

Two other big deals on my mind this morning are Narcie’s regular 3-month MRI about her brain tumor, and next week’s Annual Conference. We do well dealing with the anxiety about Narcie until a two-week window closes in and I begin to get antsy, ratchet up my praying and my out-of-sight-out-of mind attitude is replaced by front-and-center preoccupation. Vice President Biden’s son’s death this week has kicked things up a notch, and another amplifier about Narcie is that next week at our South Carolina United Methodist Annual Conference I’ll be the Memorial Service preacher.

Memorial Services are primarily in memory of the clergy who died since the last conference session. We show photos of the deceased, and their families, along with Annual Conference members, are gathered to have a funeral service. Sure, each of these individuals already had their own service, but this is one of the United Methodist things that we do. Since we are a connectional church and try to do everything together, we mourn together, too. Actually, Annual Conference becomes every clergyperson’s church. When we become clergy our membership is literally transferred from our home churches to the Annual Conference.

Next week we will remember many individuals who gave their hearts, lives, and families for the cause of Christ, and we will cry. Narcie and I usually sit together during this service and we have cried. She cried buckets, we both did, when Rev. Charlie Summey’s face went across the screen. He had the same cancer as she and had a better prognosis, but he’s dead. The reality hit us and it should everyone: There’s going to come a time when Narcie’s picture, mine, Josh’s, and even Cindy’s will be up there on that screen at an Annual Conference Memorial Service. Over half my family has the South Carolina Annual Conference as its church home, and there’s going to be a funeral someday.

Of course, my prayer for Narcie is that it’s a long time away but since she has her appointment this morning and I’m preaching that sermon next week, I can’t seem to shake this nexus of events. I covet your prayers that her report is good. Her situation is so important to the doctors that they call her in within an hour of the MRI to give her the news. It’s a big deal. Of course, Narcie’s attitude is typical Narcie: “I’m going to do my ministry, show no fear, and live until I die!” But my eyes are welling up as I write this. I want my “little girl” to live for decades more. God bless every parent who’s ever been through this, or lost a child. For years, I thought as a pastor that I had a clue and could help people through their losses. Maybe my ministry of presence helped, but until all this has happened with us, I didn’t know what this really feels like. Your life is forever changed. God bless every parent who carries this, and please heal every child; in Jesus’ name.

When I think of this day and the family dynamics with every situation I’ll face this morning I can promise you that I will choose Restoration over Rejection; Respect over Rebellion; Redemption over Retaliation – and today I am especially going to choose Rejoicing over Remorse, Resurrection over Regret. A life well-lived, however short or long, is a gift to treasure. Treasure the people around you today as the gifts that they are.

Me, Narcie, and Josh at Josh's Ordination

Commencement 2015

Commencement 2015

Dr. Tim McClendon

(Given at Mead Hall, Aiken, SC)

 

Perhaps you have heard the story of the pilot and his 3 passengers: a fifth grade Boy Scout, a priest, and a famous astrophysicist. The pilot frantically opens a door and yells to the others, “The plane is going down and we only have 3 parachutes. I have a family that needs me.” Then he grabs a parachute and jumps from the plane. The famous astrophysicist stands up and says, “I’m the smartest man in the world. It would be a shame for me to die. The world needs me!” He grabs and jumps. The priest says to the Boy Scout, “My son, there’s only one parachute left and I’ve lived a long good life. I don’t have a family, and I’m ready to meet my Maker.” The Boy Scout says, “Hold on, Father. Don’t say anymore. We’re both alright. The world’s smartest man just jumped out of the plane wearing my knapsack.”

Are you, are we smarter than a fifth grader? Do we have wisdom? The difference between wisdom and knowledge is evident in this story. Knowledge is the right information and wisdom is putting it to use. The scientist had knowledge but didn’t know how to use it. I know a lot of smart people today, successful people, affluent people, but they’re jumping out of airplanes wearing knapsacks filled with knowledge and stuff they don’t need instead of parachutes. What is needed in our “Information Age” is not more knowledge, but more wisdom.

My task on this Commencement Day is to help you, all of us, commence, aka begin to live with more wisdom. James 1:5-6 says that if we want more wisdom we should ask God and it will be given to us. Proverbs 4:6-9 tells us that if we value wisdom it will protect us, watch over us, exalt us, honor us, and even give us grace. The best source of wisdom and everything else is found in what Jesus said about Himself in John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

I could end there but counting on His wisdom I offer these tidbits on Commencement Day 2015. I share these 18 thoughts in no particular order. Take them or leave them.

  1. Up until now, especially with your senior year, you have been building a resume to get into the college of your choice and/or win a scholarship, too. Some of you have been building a resume for a different track after high school, but either way from here on, my advice is instead of building a resume, build relationships. Do your work, for sure, but if, from here on out in life, you focus on relationships you WILL get into grad school or a leg-up on the next step in your life!
  2. Don’t post anything on Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram that you don’t want a future girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, employer or mother-in-law to see. Social Media is permanent so be careful. Even if you set your Snapchat time limit at 1 second, it may last in someone’s brain file forever.
  3. Avoid “Selfies”! Our self-centered, self-obsessed narcissistic society is too full of itself. Don’t be one of those people who takes pictures of their meal, their clothes and God knows what else. The world has little use for name-dropping, pompous, full of yourselves, entitled people who have a preoccupation with appearance over substance. Remember that pride goes before a fall and the branch that hangs the lowest bears the most fruit. If a fraternity, sorority, or group of friends wants you to be or do something that isn’t you, they aren’t the friends that you need anyway.
  4. Avoid, at all costs, living a “plagiarized” life. Copying someone else’s work and claiming it as your own is stealing. Give credit where credit is due. Don’t depend on google, Wikipedia, or Wiki-how for your answers. If you cheat, you will be exposed as a poser in every area of life. Do your own work!
  5. Keep reading and continue to do independent research for the rest of your life. Make sure that your ideas and writing are original. Expand your vocabulary. Read for pleasure and fun. My suggestions would include J.R.R. Tolkien with the Moody Blues playing on your earbuds; anything by N.T. Wright, and the Bible, not necessarily in that order.
  6. Your biggest liability is your need to succeed and please people. It’s okay to fail if you learn from your mistakes and move on! If you make pleasing people your goal in life then you will be a slave to everyone else, and you will play second-fiddle to whomever you’re sucking up to.
  7. When caught in a dilemma, don’t try to force things, panic, and struggle. Instead, practice purposeful pausing. Walk away, take a break, do something unrelated to your problem and then come back to it. This gives you space and opportunity for an epiphany, a new insight. Call it “white space,” whatever – just do it and a new way forward will present itself. Trust me!
  8. Every successful person knows that life has foul lines just like a baseball field. Some things are in play and some things aren’t. Some things are out of bounds and plain wrong. They are off limits. I don’t care what the misbehavior is, even if it makes you supposedly happy, it won’t for long, so have standards and live up to them. It’s called “integrity,” from Old French in tegere which means “in touch,” that you have a core of beliefs upon which everything in your life connects or is in touch. In essence, everyone needs to have a core set of values about which we will not hedge, compromise or desert!
  9. Do your classwork or your necessary labor every day in spite of the adage that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If you work on your assignments or projects along and along, you’ll actually have more time to relax and play responsibly. Cramming doesn’t promote effective learning nor does procrastinating and waiting until the last minute foster quality work. My adage, “Get it done and have more fun!”
  10. Yes, you will have a laptop, IPhone, Smartphone, and/or a Tablet to use in life, but don’t forget to look up more than you look down. If you’re not careful you’ll run into a telephone pole, plus you may miss meeting the most important person of your life. Look up and listen to people before you forget what their voices sound like because there will come a time in your life when their voices will begin to fade. Look up and listen, and don’t text and drive so that your voice isn’t the first to fade through death!
  11. Think with your head and not with your hormones. Experimentation only belongs in the lab, but don’t do anything improper there either. Love and sex are very often two different things, so avoid the complication until you’re ready. There’s nothing casual about casual sex, and it will have permanent consequences. Watch out for users and abusers who want benefits without commitment.
  12. An observation: The music that you love right now in high school will be your favorite for the rest of your life. Maybe it’s the emotional connection to these wonderful years, but whatever the reason, just accept it and enjoy it. Let the music bring back all the good times, even the tumultuous ones. There’s something therapeutic about it. By the way, it doesn’t hurt to make new playlists for every age and stage of life, too, and, guess what, your future children will have their own playlists and they probably won’t sound like yours, but that’s okay. That’s life, c’est la vie!
  13. Internships are something that will help you decide your direction in life. If offered an apprenticeship and a mentor, go for it. You get paid for an opportunity to test drive a career, but remember a calling, a vocare, a “vocation,” like the word “voice,” is always better than a career. Callings will always make you happier than a career so listen for the Voice!
  14. Sure you hardly ever use cash or a checkbook and that’s great. Plastic is the way to go, but being pre-approved for a credit card doesn’t mean that you have to apply for it. And when you use your debit card for everything, be moneywise and make sure to check your balances often. Avoid student and personal debt like the plague and with all transactions keep your identity protected. There’s some pun in that because how you spend your money reveals a lot about your identity. What do your purchase habits say about yours?
  15. Avoid Platonic thought! The philosopher Plato taught that mind and matter were two separate things and that our minds are good and matter is evil. So what he promoted and is now our soup de jour in our everyday lives is that “If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter!” Other interpretations of this line of thinking say things like, “If it feels good, do it!” or “YOLO” – You only live once. What a crock – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or sex – there will be a payday someday. Therefore, don’t be foolish. You are not invincible. Accidents happen. Buy a life insurance policy and do not separate your thinking from your doing.
  16. Then there’s “Virtual Reality,” which is Platonic thought on steroids. This is the philosophical underpinning of our current worldview with its reliance on computers, virtual on-line relationships, video gaming. We must not forget that as much as we would like some of this to be real, it’s not. Fantasy leagues aren’t reality. Neuroses are something we all use to escape realities we don’t like, but we shouldn’t let “Game of Thrones,” “Trivia Crack,” “Candy Crush Saga” or whatever the latest virtual game is take over our lives to the point where our neuroses become the basis of a psychotic break from reality. When I say, “Get real!” – I mean it. Beware the temptation of living in a fake world with fake friends.
  17. Simple advice: Never buy a new car. Let someone else “eat” the depreciation. A new car loses 11% of its value the first day you drive it home. That’s $2,200 on a $20,000 car. Therefore, never make quick, “I just gotta have it,” knee-jerk decisions whether it’s about shopping, deciding on a major, or a job selection. You need to be adaptable and never “settle” for anything or anyone. Change is the only constant in life, so as much as you like the new this or that, remember it’s going to change. Get used to this fact and do your best to slow your decision-making down through reflection, meditation, and prayer. Never buy a new car!
  18. Remember everything does happen for a reason and you are the usual reason. Everybody wants to say it: “Everything happens for a reason,” and they’re right. Most people want to make God the reason but God loves us and the whole creation enough to give us free will, so don’t blame God for the crud in your life. If God caused the pain and calamities then God would be worse than a child-abuser, and God’s not. Both bad and good things happen mostly because of our choices, and the choices of others. Bad things also get added nudges from the general decay that’s in the world or from Evil. But, remember, YOU are the primary mover of the course of your life. God’s providence will help you and lead you, but it’s up to you to make the decision and do something about it. I guess what I’m saying is this, “Take responsibility.” It’s yours. In conclusion, as I have thought about this Graduation and Commencement I have recalled a favorite song from my senior year in high school. It’s the song “Tin Man,” by the band “America.” The line keeps going through my head: “But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t, didn’t already have…” That’s right. The Wizard of Oz didn’t give the Tin Man a heart. He already had one or why did he rust from his tears? The Lion didn’t need Oz to give him courage. He had already exhibited that he had courage. The Scarecrow certainly already had a brain. They already had what they needed before they met the Wizard in the Emerald City. So do we. Each of you already has what you need to reach the Emerald City, too. The yellow brick road awaits. Start walking!

Graduation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,945 other followers