It was a perfect California day. The wind blowing off the Pacific was light and crisp. The air around me was tainted with the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine. And the sun and clouds frolicked together in the bright blue sky. As I walked across campus in my robe, the blue and orange tassel hanging from my mortarboard hat tickled my cheek. It too seemed to be in a playful and giddy mood. There was great joy all around me. At least, that’s how I remember it.
This was my last day at California State University. I was about to march towards the promise of wealth and success. By the time they got around to announcing the School of Communications the sun had set, the wind kicked up, and a wicked chill filled the air. There was something in me growing colder too. Having spent the better half of the afternoon sitting in a hard metal chair, I began looking at all my classmates with a searing eye. I kept wondering to myself, “Who will I stab in the back to get ahead in my career?”
Yes, this was not my most Christ-like moment. But it was 1991. We were still in a recession. It was a dog-eat-dog world. And they were wearing Milk Bone underwear. I am sure I was not alone in my thoughts. Eventually I would move on to spend the next two decades tasting life as both the predator and the prey.
As June is upon us, and kids are graduating from preschool, high school, and college, I look back on those moments of accomplishment. I am also reminded of the vow I used to make to myself after each degree I earned. “May I never step foot on a school campus ever again.” But God eventually sent my life in a different direction.
Twenty years later. The morning’s marine layer was clearing away, revealing the beautiful blue sky. The warm Santa Ana winds were blowing in every direction. And there was a particular nervous excitement in the air. At least that is how I remember my first day back in school.
Along with men and women from around the world, I entered the First Congregational Church of Pasadena, located next door to the seminary. We had gathered for a special orientation worship service. Once again, I found myself sitting among my peers and professors. We sat there, together as one body, listening intently to the words that were being spoken to us. There was one word in particular that kept calling out to me: ‘deconstructed.’ Apparently everything I had brought with me would be put through a process of reconstruction. Especially the way I would come to see the world and those around me.
Sitting there, singing hymns and praying together, I realized I no longer saw competitors, but instead brothers and sisters. Equals, all gathered for one purpose and one purpose only. To help the world come to know the love of God. No longer was I a predator or the prey. Instead I was broken and blessed like everyone else. God’s grace, forgiveness and mercy sees us as equals, because God cares for us all equally. Therefore we are all called to love one another equally.
Paul writes, “Accept one another just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). Whatever stage of life we are graduating from or towards, let us never lose sight of such unity.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”