Flights of Faith

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Guest Post: Matt Croasmun's Words on Graduation

Commencement is a dizzying time, especially for those who have been intentionally pursuing things not in Yale's core testimony of these bright college years. Since I graduated a couple years ago, I've sensed the need for some reflection. Here are some thoughts from my friend, Matt Croasmun, who spoke at my church's senior night.

Welcome to commencement week—to senior week. I've been through my fair share of senior weeks over the last 13 years… as a student, as a campus minister, as a graduating Div student, as a TA, as a local pastor, so…

Welcome to senior week. Welcome and beware. This time next week, you will have graduated from college. In many cases, you will be unemployed. but no matter.You will be Yale graduates. And during this tremendous transition, you will get a lot of advice. Put on that mortarboard and it's like putting on a big "give me advice" sign on your forehead.

And, surprisingly, you'll also have a bunch of people this week tell you who you are. People will tell you you're world leaders. They'll tell you you have boundless opportunities, endless earning potential, limitless social and intellectual resources from your time here at Yale.They'll tell you that you can change the world and make a name for yourself along the way.

In the midst of all this, I have just one concern: My concern is that they're all thinking too small. My concern is that you'll buy what they're selling and, in the process, sell yourselves short.

We like to say around ECV that we want to lead revolutionary lives of action and call others to lead these kinds of lives. "Revolutionary lives of action"… I think that's what God's invited us to pursue. And what God has for you is so much bigger than what even the most idealistic commencement address this week will pitch you on.

Why do I say that? First of all, it has everything to do with what an awesome, terrifying thing it is to be a human being… To be a human is to be made in God's image and whatever else that might mean, the thing clearest from the biblical text itself is that being made in the image of God means exercising dominion over the entire created order. (look it up in Genesis 1:26; it's there) To be a human means sharing in God's fruitful, creative, abundant, loving care of the creation. It means to exercise the kind of authority that sees life spring up in its wake. In light of Jesus, being human means participating in the renewal of the cosmos. (You can begin to see why "world change" is actually too small a motto…)

What's that practically look like? It looks like creating culture, rather than just consuming it. It looks like aggressively—some might say recklessly—investing what God's given you in the things God is doing in the world: in peace, justice, and mercy. It looks like a life of courage. It is the adventure of a lifetime, begun the day we wake up and realize we've been created kings and queens—created to, as Romans 5 says, "reign in life"—we're appointed by God to exercise nurturing authority on the earth and we have work to do—work that will bring fruitfulness to God's people everywhere—and here I certainly mean "God's people" in the broadest sense: all people, everywhere.

So far what I've said probably sounds a lot like what you might here anywhere, just amplified a bit and dressed up in theological language. Really, what I've given you is the "life of action" part of "revolutionary lives of action" What's the revolution? Revolution is about turning things on their head. Revolution is about the first being last, the last being first… Revolutionary lives of action, revolutionary lives of God-given authority leverage the authority of the Creator of the universe for the good of those society would otherwise leave behind.

In a society slowly dying of consumer passivity, living life intentionally, engaging in a life of action is revolutionary in itself. But more revolutionary still is this: Living intentionally, working creatively, passionately, excellently—exercising leadership and broad influence—doing all those things and doing them for the sake of the poor—dare I say, for the unimportant—producing world-class work for a God-honoring goal that might to some seem unimpressive. That's revolutionary.

Note that this is not about a career path. This is not about a call to the nonprofit world. A revolutionary life of action could just as well take you to the venture capitalists as to the humanitarian foundations. I'm not sure we always do the best job of making that point—a call to follow Jesus isn't necessarily one that has to be followed outside the market.

We planted a church in New Haven; that has been great; wouldn't trade it for the world. But I've been thinking recently… New Haven needs jobs. Now that God's established ECV—and seeing so many other God-honoring churches in this city—what I really want for our city is a growing movement of double-bottom-line entrepreneurs: folks good at leveraging the muscle of the market for the good of the poor, the outcast, the disenfranchised. Folks willing to do business here intentionally even though there's a better deal elsewhere—because they love the city. That would be revolutionary life. As revolutionary as any NGO, any nonprofit you might found.

Two other quick thoughts, since I have you captive here, on how to live your revolutionary life of action:

First, value relationships (God does).

Back when I was about to graduate from Yale, a guy came by and laid out a paradigm shift for us about how to think about major life decisions. He said that usually people value jobs as the most rare, most precious thing, because, ostensibly, they're so hard to find. So, typically, folks pursue a job first and jobs are in places, places have people, and some of those people might become your friends.

But, he suggested that that whole model is based on a false premise, because, in his experience, jobs are not actually the most precious, most rare commodity in life; relationships are. So, he said what if instead we started the other way around and said, since relationships are the most important, we start with the relationships God's inviting us into, and then those people are in places and places have jobs. That would turn things upside-down, wouldn't it? Hannah and I did that almost 10 years ago now, deciding to live life with some friends and to do that here in New Haven and that's made all the difference: abundant life in relationship is the way to go.

Now, that's not to say that if you're on your way to some new place with new people, you've fundamentally missed the boat; not at all. Maybe this call to relationship is a call to relationships that you've yet to build.

Regardless, wherever, with whomever, let me suggest this to you: Invest in people. Value your relationships over all else that clamors for your attention. God, after all, is the God of relationship in a relational universe. Relationships is, in the language of C.S. Lewis, the deeper magic of the cosmos.

So, it will go well for you if you invest in people… But most significant is to do so because it's the call of God on your life: Seek Him first… Follow Jesus. Put your hope in Him more than in good ideas, more than in people, more than in "community," more than in religion, more than in the Bible—though any number of those will help you in following Jesus.

Follow Jesus, who is our Way and be ready for the dissolution of great plans. Jesus says, "I am the Way." not "I am the Destination." The destination is precisely what can remain unknown because we have Jesus. So, if you don't know where we're headed—take heart—and if you think you've got a good idea—get ready—in some significant sense, the destination of our lives is hidden from us. We know God's plans are good, to prosper us and not to harm us. But where, when, and how God's goodness comes into our lives is not ours to know. All we can know for sure is, wherever we're headed, Jesus is the Way.

So, look, whatever else you hear in this next week about where you're headed or who you are, focus on this: God has called you to a revolutionary life of action, a life spent in pursuit of Jesus on behalf of the world—the people—God so loves.

Oh, and drop me a line now and then along the way; I'm excited to see what God's going to do.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Barbershop of Love

a couple of days ago, i was talking to my friends.

wouldn't it be weird if we just stopped thinking about what God wants us to do with our degrees all the time, and we became barbers and just loved people through cutting hair, talking to them, and building God's church?

there was a weighty silence.

we realized how much more loving and intentional we would be and how much time we waste in this constant game of "what does God want us to do?!" that is predicated on our privilege and our performance.

while we're all still in the game of "discerning God's will for our lives," i think it was an important moment for all of us, for me.

i want to love like it's the present. i don't want "the future" to be my lord. it doesn't love me. heck, it isn't even here and it's not even guaranteed. I want God to be my God. He is present with me. I've heard of his deeds in the past, and I'm trusting in his presence for the future. help me yield to you.

make this process one of growing in obedience, not wasted time.

Monday, May 03, 2010

it's gotta change

i feel there's a trend for those who acknowledge a god today, especially young ones, not to locate God in people, places, or things. a location that would lead to loving service and obedience. scripture speaks of a vision where we are the bondservants of Jesus, we are the stewards of our resources, called to specific cities or towns, and a place where we call our friends brothers and sisters despite their treatment of us. that's not what i see when i survey the landscape. instead of asking God where to locate Him, we tend to pop theologize it and say God is everywhere and then we just go as we please. this is no Gospel. it's confusion and our passions sway our path. individual choice, again, is our idol and we worship at its altar. and we constantly justify that worship as something else. it's a step on a path, i need it for that, i can still find god here. of course, it's all those things. after one chooses that path. we don't have to though; we're not forced. there is something more. where is our discipline? where is our request to be set apart? where is the Spirit. God, help me. God, help us. we need you.