Sunday, May 03, 2009

graduation speech

I graduated with my MDiv yesterday from Mars Hill Graduate School. It was a full and rich day, spent with friends and family, culminating in a huge party, a veritable feast. I had the honor of being nominated by my peers and faculty to speak on behalf of my class. This is what I said...

"Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything."

My son Sylas is nearly four and has no inhibitions in regards to the questions in him. They arise from his depths and spurt out onto the canvas of the world, voracious in their flow, begging only for an authentic response of any kind. I expect that as he journeys towards adolescence, the questions will move deeper into his body and he will become less free to speak them as self-awareness and cynicism set in. The world that awaits him is one that deems the inquiry less than its answer, the one who inquires less than the one who answers. The curious soul begs: "Where is it safe to ask all the questions I have? Is it ok to not be ok with the answers I have been given? Is there room for me in this process of discovery?"

It was the questions that brought Ruth and I to Seattle, 5 years ago, to this little graduate school tucked away in a nearly un-marked business complex in Bothell (The first question was- "where is it?"). They were questions about God, church, identity and community. We sought answers, for I had been told that the process of maturation was oriented towards the end of questions and the having of answers. Standing here, upon graduation, I can say that I know something more of God and have caught glimpses of who I am to be in creation. But it is not in that I have answers that I feel ready to graduate, but in that I now know the value of a good question, am learning how to ask better questions and have begun to learn how to live with unanswered questions.

The first month of my first semester, we became pregnant with our first child. We now celebrate the birth of our third. My MDiv studies have had the gift of being augmented by the intertexts of 3 children. If there is anything that children invite one to, it is the particularities of life- into the living of everything. And the point is to live everything. Will we hear the invitation to risk (which is ultimately the invitation into creativity)? How will we live into the questions when the making of mistakes has been so stigmatized that we are terrified of being wrong?

It is when this fear of being wrong has moved so deeply into my body that I become paralyzed by pride and settle for answers and ways of being in relationship that leave my heart out of the conversation. Mars Hill Graduate School has been a space where I have learned to step back into the sort of dialogue where I can hear and be heard, where together, we can experience the fullness of life and transformation. Here, I have learned alongside my peers and professors how to creatively risk in inquiry and to play with those questions whose answers I am not yet able to live.

One thing I have learned about the nature of questions- When I parent and I am lazy or disengaged, I offer answers that abruptly end my son's voracious stream of questions to relieve myself of this seeming burden. When I am present to his questions, I am learning to offer answers that increase his curiosity for the world, leading to deeper and more playful questions. As a theologian and an artist I have become hungry for the answers that expand my curiosity for the Other, that lead me to the articulation of more meaningful questions and a more consistent presence to dialogue. These, I am convinced, increase my capacity to worship God and participate in his Kingdom.

I am grateful for my brilliant peers and patient professors who have invited me to learn in this way. So, to us, the graduates: May the creative Spirit of God continue to lead us into the questions we are uniquely called to ask and struggle with in this life. May we never be so proud that we become resistant to transformation. May we hold all answers loosely until we are able to actually live them- and in doing so, might we bless the world.


[photo by Joshua Longbrake]


pedro said...

Beautifully eloquent, friend. I am so very proud of what you have accomplished. Reading these words, I marvel at how far you have traveled and at how much you have grown these last five years. Grown as a man, as a father, as a husband, as an artist, and as an inquisitive seeker.

I wish I could be there to celebrate with you and your family, but we will have plenty to celebrate when you're out here. Only four weeks. I can't wait.

pedro said...

p.s., Is there any way I could get a recording of the speech? I would love to hear these words from your own mouth.

stacy pietsch said...

so glad you posted this bc i was going to email and ask for a copy. loved it and thankyou.

goodmorningsarajevo said...

What a beautiful exit, Phil.

I am excited and hopeful about whatever this segment of life holds for you. As a new father of THREE (EXCLAMATION POINT) BOYS, a graduate, an artist, adoring husband.

You have so much to offer the world as a friend. Father. Spouse. Teacher.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it... not only a part, but a deep piece of your story because of last week. You invited me into something holy, wonderful, terrifying. It was an honor to be with you in those intimate moments of Ezra's arrival. I can't thank you or Ruthie enough for every second of those days.

I love you. Ruthie. Ezra. Silas. Judah.

You are a gift to me in Seattle and I don't know that it would be home here without you.

Congrats on graduating. On your new baby. I celebrate you today. And will continue to.

Lian said...

Great speech Phil. That you were asked to speak on everyone's behalf says a lot about your visible quality.

Congratulations on finally finishing. Must be a bitter-sweet load off your shoulders.

And Congratulations on Ezra's arrival.

You guys, for some reason the HOly SPirit only knows, you guys are constantly in my thoughts.