On June 25, 2016, we celebrated The Seattle School’s 18th Commencement ceremony at Seattle’s historic town hall. It was a day that was at once festive and solemn as our entire community gathered to honor the hard work of the graduating students in our Master of Divinity, MA in Theology & Culture, and MA in Counseling Psychology programs. Here, we share the commencement charge delivered by Dr. Keith Anderson, President of The Seattle School, as he challenged graduates to continue their learning in a way that renews and deepens the peace of the world.
Well, we’re almost there. We’re in the final moments of what started back in February. At The Seattle School, we call it (S)ending. It is an ending—a conclusion. But it is also, in the truest sense, a sending for the sake of the mission.
When you think of a charge to graduates you typically think of the final (S)ending out—an apostolic charge from this community to those sent in the name of Jesus. Go, proclaim, teach, and live. The charge to graduates that I wish to bring is both prayer and proclamation. It acknowledges that we alone don’t really send you; you go as you are called by the One who precedes us all into tomorrow.
So God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, would you go with these our graduates into a singular future you have in your heart for each of them? Would you go with them into the constantly changing milieu of our world and move them to deeper faith and not to the sarcasm, cynicism, and anger that pervades our social discourse? Would you be the one to charge them to remain alert and attentive as people who listen for your living voice? As your people moved from the settled faith and place of Jerusalem to an epoch of homelessness in exile, your people did not abandon faith, give in to despair, settle for the religions of the dominant culture, or retreat into escape from the battleground of courageous faith.
You are the God of revelation: would you show them the way to live as people of text? Graduates, I call you to continue to be enscripted by text. May what began here in coursework, study groups, and personal wrestling continue in a hermeneutic that is lifelong. I call you to never be too far removed from the living word of God—to study biblical text, to trust it, to engage it, to ponder what it means, even as you continue to learn what it means to listen to the living voice of God in your future. I call you to be led by text, to have confidence that we are not orphans in this world but have been given an identity in a text that is Torah for our lives. In a culture where many are without text, I call you to be scribes, students whose text is not thin or merely human or merely personal but is big enough, nuanced, dense, and rich because it is a portal to the holy presence of God at the very center.
Graduates, I pray that God will continue to pour out God’s Spirit, presence, voice, and power upon each of you and that you, animated by the Spirit, will become uncomfortable because you will be empowered to stand with those who suffer and cry out in loud lament. Because you will be able asked to engage battle for the sake of peace, suffer loss that others will gain.
That you, animated by the Spirit, will be a people of ferocious faith who live with conviction and take the risk of activism.
That you will be people who bring a third way of respect and discourse into the polarized context of June 2016.
That you will find yourselves to be people whose lives of faithfulness to gospel creates unfettered imagination for grace, mercy, peace, hope, and redemption, all in concrete, specific, small ways in your homes, neighborhoods, clinics, studios, churches, work stations, corporate offices, and, of course, coffee shops.
Finally, our God, would you walk with these our graduates as people not only of text and soul but of culture? We do not live as human persons apart from cultural contexts, and our cultures are many. Graduates, you know you leave a thick and sometimes parochial culture called The Seattle School. You may even miss our in-house language, which is understandable only to a few. I call on you to both treasure your learning and to be skeptics of it as well. You are not done. Your convictions will continue to take form, and your decisions will declare your convictions to those around you. And you will decide each day to say yes and to say no, to sit back or sit down or stand up and step forward.
The prophet Jeremiah said to his people, “But seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you and pray on its behalf, for in its shalom, you will find your shalom.” So, graduates, I call you to be people who live shalom, embody shalom, and bring shalom to the culture in which you are called to serve. I call on you to be people empowered with eyes to see and ears to hear a call not to withdraw but to engage at your own altar in the world. You are charged to be salt, agents of transformation and redemption. You are called to be light in the shadows and darkness, pain and trauma of our world.
I believe Anne Lamott got it right. She talked about the redemptive role played by a lighthouse. She said so very simply: “Lighthouses don’t go running around all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” As you will—grounded where you are in time and place.
You see, I ask as strongly as I can that you remember one thing: you are people of privilege now—every one of you—for you join less than 2% of the population of the entire earth, because you have graduate education and there are precious few of us on the face of the earth. That is privilege, but more deeply it is responsibility. You don’t get to hoard your wealth without doing harm to others. As people in culture, as people who make culture and engage it, you are a steward of your learning—always for the sake of others.
Because Yahweh will walk with you through presence and voice, and yes, silence and mystery:
May your lives become practices of doxology
May your future be shaped by new narratives of Jesus
And may your lives become living texts co-written with the living God.
So, you’re not done. But you are now graduates whom we love and celebrate with hearts bursting with pride and joy. You came to a semi-monastic experience marked by chimes of nine, noon, and three, Anamchara, and Sacred Space. You leave as those sent out in the name of Jesus and, always, for the sake of the kingdom of God. So, I say to you one final time, go in peace to love and serve the Lord. AMEN.