^They look like they are just having a bit too much fun icing those cupcakes^
It has been quite some time. Life has been a bit crazy (as usual) this past semester as I took all four of my comprehensive exams in order to graduate from grad school. I also of course bopped around the country (and took a quick jaunt down to the southern hemisphere) traveling, hiking, back country skiing (that was a new experience…), and doing some service work. So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy- thus no posting here. I graduated from grad school a few days ago and I’m going to be renewing my efforts to post here on this blog because I love writing and it’s an outlet that I want to get back into.
In order to ease back in to posting, I’m going to begin with some material I have already written so as to not intimidate myself too much with the prospect of writing new posts. I’ve been wanting to write a post or two about Pope Francis’ new exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate– because it has blown my freaking mind and has been one of the singularly greatest gifts in my life of the past year. Instead, I will post here below my commencement speech from my graduation last week, because it is rooted in some ideas from this exhortation.
So, here is the script, which I surprisingly did a better job sticking too than I thought I would, only deviating a few times here and there- which is a big deal for me… (note- I deleted the boring introduction where I had to list every type of rank and class and shape and size of person there, because I hate that stuff and I figured I would spare you of the banal formalities as well)
In true theological grad-student geek fashion, I would like to begin my address by quoting from the most recent magisterial teaching of the Church, Pope Francis’ exhortation: Gaudete et Exultate. The Pope writes: “Doctrine, or better, our understanding and expression of it, ‘is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries… The questions of our people, their suffering, their struggles, their dreams, their trials and their worries, all possess an interpretational value that we cannot ignore if we want to take the principle of the incarnation seriously. Their wondering helps us to wonder, their questions question us.’”
I ultimately decided to go to graduate school because after teaching theology for 3 years on the Northshore at St. Paul’s and fielding so many fascinating and insightful questions from my students, I had a plethora of questions myself. I went into my teaching career with a very “closed system” mentality, as Pope Francis put it, thinking that I had it all figured out and that my theological knowledge was impenetrable and unassailable. That didn’t last very long. My seemingly impenetrable fortress of certainty was quickly detonated by the piercing and relentlessly raw and honest questions of my students. High school boys have a gift for shooting it straight- and by the grace of God I was able to embrace that gift and not reject it. Their wondering helped me to wonder, their questions questioned me. After several years of said detonation, I decided I wanted to go back to school to explore these questions more in depth- and I could not have chosen a better place than NDS.
NDS gave my thinking a level of nuance it had previously lacked. In a particular way, it is the professors here at NDS that I would like to thank for this. Here I encountered professors who were genuinely interested in a theological dialogue with their students, not just a closed-system monologue. This dismantled and dismembered my previous worldviews which were far too narrow and limiting and opened up for me new worlds I never knew existed- worlds that I could think in and play in and explore, worlds charged with the Divine, brimming over with newness and life and endless adventure and potential. It was here that I encountered professors who gave me the freedom to ask questions without judgment or suspicion, and who even joined me in asking them. That was the real game changer for me. A professor who is willing to accompany their students even to the darkest places of their own doubts and suspicions of the faith. That sounds familiar to me, that sounds a lot like God. And that is a God that I want to believe in and I want to follow. You, faculty, have show me, shown us, this God, because you have followed the call of Pope Francis to “take the principle of the incarnation seriously.”
To quote again from Pope Francis, “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us.” You, faculty, have shown me that God is to be found in all facets of life, yes in Gothic cathedrals and moments of quiet prayer, but everywhere else also, from bars to music festivals to board rooms to insects and everywhere in between. All because again, you take the principle of the Incarnation seriously.
Yet the greatest gift of all that NDS has given me, is my ultimate measuring stick for every theological doctrine I learn, which is “What does this have to do with my everyday life and the lives of those around me? How does this or that doctrine speak not just to theologians, but to electricians and lawyers, musicians and artists, baristas and bartenders, the disabled and disenfranchised, the home-bound, plumbers and prostitutes, pastry chefs and Pepsi Co executives? What does this have to do with their lives? and what does this have to do with how I treat them? If I know every article of the Summa yet do not have the patience to explain any of them to a non-religious minded person, I am a noisy going, a clanging cymbal. If I memorize all of the Beatitudes in classical Greek yet fail to love my brother in ways that are uncomfortable to love, I have nothing. The academic environment and community here at NDS have instilled this way of thinking and living and breathing in me- a way “takes the principle of the Incarnation seriously.”
To my fellow graduates, let us go forth and give what has been given to us, let us allow God to encounter us everywhere and in everyone, let us walk with those on the fringes, those in the darkness of their own questions and doubts. Let us allow their questions to question us. And as we go out to the fringes, may we find ourselves there as well, being humble enough to acknowledge the darkness of our own questions and doubts and fears, and face them unafraid, knowing we too have a God who takes the Incarnation seriously, a God who walks with each of us, personally, as we all make this journey together into new horizons and new worlds. And, as we remember that God always surprised us, let us also remember that sometimes he calls us to be that surprise to others, surprising them with the newness of who He is, letting them know that perhaps He isn’t who they think He is, perhaps He is something much better. Thank you.
*editor’s note: I decided to go with a picture of the pastry chefs, because, well…*