April 20, 2018
It’s a Friday. Late morning. I’m writing from my study at Revelation Memorial Chapel. I’m sipping black coffee, working on a sermon that I can’t figure out for our final chapel! Arvo Part’s “Alina” is playing in the background, and putting me in a reflective repose as I watch my students from the window practicing what I call “fake studies”.
“Fake Studies” takes place outside where young adult scholars, and some soon to be alumni, sit on blankets, or hang in hammocks, or lean against a tree in the grass with laptops and books cracked open and are pretending to be studying. Fake studies is the practice of prolonged procrastination enabled by people watching people who have not seen the sun in five months. Rather than studying, what they are really doing is saying – “Oh, who’s that?” Fake studies, I’m convinced, is responsible for most of the ill-fated romances of the last week of school!
By the time you’ve received this letter, Despondent U will be in our final finals. I don’t know about you but I’m ready! READY! I’m ready for the wide open country of summer. I’m ready for a new set of rhythms. I’m ready to sit in the sun and read a thick book and feel warm. I’m ready for shorts. I’m ready for leafy trees and shade and green grass. Oh, my friend… I am ready!
But if I am honest, my anticipation of summer is also a cocktail with a dash of bitters. Maybe it’s why I’m playing Arvo Part – as his music curates a wistful soul. Soon Despondent U will be packing up – students stuffing clothes into suitcases and suitcases into cars that need oil changes; soon appliances and couches and chairs will be jig-sawed into the back of pick-ups and minivans, and as this happens, I tend to get a little sad. It’s hard to see students leave. Especially the seniors. I will miss seeing their faces in chapel – people like Andrew, and Lauren, and Lindsey, and Anthony, and Melissa, and Sara. This constellation of students will never be here again – and we will miss them. I truly will!
Yesterday I was talking with Caroline, at Life’s Hard Café, where the motto is “Life’s hard…have a cup of coffee!” We sat down to catch up, but also to say good-bye. Caroline is a senior who’s on her way to grad school in Physical Therapy and I asked her how she wanted to spend her final days on campus? She said, “I want to spend as much time as I can with my friends… before they are all scattered…before we are all gone.” That seems right to me. These friends we make in college, some are more like family by now and it is right to want to spend as much time together as possible. One of the things I told Caroline is that if it hurts to say good-bye, then it means you did something right.
I’m wistful to see them go, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still READY. I lay no claim to the prophetic gift, but I sense I’m not alone. My whole campus feels pent-up! Anticipation is in the air. Our collective readiness may have something to do with the weather! I don’t know what it has been like in Michigan, but here in upstate Washington, we have had a grizzly and protracted winter. Wearing a parka in April is not what the good Lord intended! This year it felt like spring was a player to be named later! But now in our final days, the cold snapped, and the Koselig things (like gloves, scarves, hats) have been put away in a little storage bin, and we can walk outside and it doesn’t hurt, and the spring clothes are now on display, and our skin, for the first time in months, is exposed to the light. And so now everyone seems to have a little pep in the step – a little light in the eye – and we are quicker to smile, and to laugh, and to not find fault, because finally – finally spring is here!
I love the energy of late spring. I love the birds’ morning song and end of the year activities; I love the early dawns and the last performances; I love the focus of preparing for the final finals, seeing students celebrated at honors convocations, and seeing a senior class dressed in the regalia for baccalaureate and commencements services. On a college campus, spring has a sense of completion that gives me a sense of joy that feels contagious.
Maybe the spirit on campus is buoyed up because it’s D-Day. D-Day is a campus tradition at Despondent U. This is a day set aside where the entire college is encouraged to enjoy a festive mood – classes are canceled or skipped, friends are hanging out, and games are had. The highlight of D-Day is “Capture the Squirrel”. This is where the senior class all gathers in Viking Square and they have one hour to find and capture the mythic Albino Squirrel with their bare hands. Tradition has it that the one who captures the albino squirrel is said to be guaranteed a long life, a happy marriage, and the legacy of free tuition for future generations of their family! But, in the 162 year history of Despondent U, however, no one person has ever captured the mythic squirrel! But there’s always today.
It’s a fun day. But I am also praying our spirit of fun doesn’t turn sideways. Amidst the frolic and the ballyhoo, D-Day has some other traditions. Officially, D-day stands for Despondent Day – but unofficially it has also become known as “drinking daze”! Alcohol can be a good. It can make the heart glad. Jesus’ first miracle was water to wine, after all. But alcohol can be abused! As well as other drugs. And when it is abused, people get hurt. Often, really hurt. I want my students to have fun today, but how do I tell them to be safe – and even more than safe – how do I encourage them to be wise? How do we call them to have the courage to make decisions not only for themselves, but for their friends, and for their community? Sometimes it just takes one brave person to say no – to stop a terrible moment! I want to tell Jack… stand in the gap for your friend today. I want to tell Lisa… be wise. I want to tell my students… I want to shout it from high atop the thing…. “You are your brother’s keeper…You are your sister’s safety net…” How do I do that without sounding shrill or judgmental? Maybe it’s just telling them, and knowing that leadership is about doing the right thing and not worrying about what others think! I am praying that D-Day will be filled with joy and laughter, and I pray it will be filled with leaders who will encourage each other to do the right thing and pursue a higher standard!
Speaking of standards, as I said at the start of this letter, I’ve been trying to work on my final chapel! I got stuck, so I started writing you, hoping some insight might be stirred and quickened. I’ve been trying to think about what to say? It’s difficult to know what the final message should be! What word do you want to leave your students with for a final chapel?
Endings matter. A good ending can point us in the right direction! So, for inspiration, I went to the very end of the Bible. Do you know how the Bible ends? It’s Revelation 22:21,
“The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”
I think this is it. This is the whole hope of the Bible summarized in one verse: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”
This is what God wants to give us! And this is what I hope everyone – every student, staff, or faculty, administrator, or coach takes with them as they go: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! This is the ending that opens life to a new beginning!
It is a new beginning because to know the grace of Jesus Christ is to know and experience the very love of God. This is real freedom. It is to know the forgiveness of all sins. This is the freedom from shame and regret. This is the freedom I want students to take with them into their real lived lives. Yes, go! Go into the world, but go with Jesus and his grace! To know the grace of Jesus Christ is to experience one’s heart on fire. It is to be healed from all the bad theology, corrupted cultural scripts, and demented and demonic voices that say that you are not worthy, you are not good enough, you are not enough! The grace of Jesus Christ assures us that God says “– you are my beloved – you are beautiful – you are enough and I will never ever let you go! Not ever.” The Grace of Jesus Christ is God’s eternal “yes” to all of our “no”s.
I love Jesus. His grace poured out is what overwhelms the world and turns the most embittered cynic into a saint. Jesus’ grace offered in freedom invites those who are lost to discover that in him, they are now found. The grace of Jesus is water in the desert and an eternal feast for all who are hungry. It is the abundance for those who want more for their life! The grace of Jesus is the compass that God gives the saints to navigate this one wild and wonderful life! This compass of Jesus’ grace is what I hope every student takes with them as they launch into the season of long light.
And so as we end the year, my honest heartfelt hope is that each on my campus will launch into the summer – and their life – knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe that is what I’ll preach at the end? That in Christ they are saints, and as saints the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be them wherever they go, now and forever! Maybe that would be an ending that opens up a new life beginning?
I’m grateful for you my friend and I hope you are well and living into the deep mystery and grace of God. Give Kristen my best and kiss the kids from Aunt Karis. That’s all from Despondent U! Enjoy the final days of school! Keep loving your people, your place, and above all, the Word. Walk this world of many gifts and be grateful!