"The choice is yours"
by dan brown
President Turner, Dr. Clapp, Esteemed Faculty, Parents & Friends, Honored Graduates —
Forty-five years ago, when I was just a bit older than most of you graduates are now, I was teaching in a small college in South Carolina.
It was my first full-time teaching job.
And it was in that period of time that the "God is Dead" movement swept across the United States.
Some who are old enough to remember those days will remember names such as Thomas J. J. Altizer, Paul van Buren, William Hamilton, and Gabriel Vahanian.
I was fortunate to be invited to a gathering of "young theologians" at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to discuss the "Death of God Movement" — all expenses paid.
The movement had captured the attention of most literate citizens of the United States and the University had sponsored the gathering to bring together young theologians from all over the country.
For the final day of the 5-day event, a committee from the group prepared a Death of God theology, a Death of God journal, and other particulars for an academic group.
When a vote was called, those who prepared the material lost by an overwhelming majority. We all went home and the movement died.
I might add that during the several years the "Death of God" movement was news, Time Magazine, for the first time in its history, printed a cover without a photograph that was a person on the cover.
Rather, the cover simply had three words in larger print — Is God Dead? (with the question mark).
The question of the death of God faded in my mind, and I suspect did so in the minds of most people.
About 15 or so years ago, I became very aware that the ministers at the church where I worship spoke often of Jesus, but seldom of God.
I began to keep a record of the times the word JESUS was used in worship and the times the word GOD was used in worship.
It did not take long for me to discern that in any worship service, the word JESUS was used 25 — 30 times while the word GOD was used 4 or 5 times.
Then one Sunday, it happened — it was Jesus 32, God 0.
I thought: Why am I here? I do not have to settle for this!
The "God is Dead" people have won!
Using Jesus had become a way to avoid the Death of God question.
It had crept up on us very quietly.
In truth, if this is going on in many churches, then God IS dead, or soon will be.
Maybe those guys were right back in the 60's.
But let me raise a question: Is God a viable concept in the 21st Century ???
Have you ever thought how old religion is?
Probably not, but GOD — the notion of a God — is as old as the human race.
I speak not of the 5th Avenue notion of a God ... but of the deity to whom one can turn and find solace.
In the 33rd chapter of Exodus, Moses is having a conversation with the Lord.
Moses says, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory."
The Lord agrees with this, but adds: "Behold, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live."
"There is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock and while my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock.
"You will see my backside, but my face shall not be seen."
Perhaps your GOD is too small (long pause)
But right now, in 2009, how viable is religion???
Questionable, isn't it.
Did you ever try to think about the Trinity? — Father, Son, & Holy Spirit?
A mystery; perhaps the most complex notion in the knowledge of the Western world. More complex than DNA or atomic structure.
How are we suppose to integrate that into our lives?
I do not know about the Jewish community or other deistic religions, but in the Western world (and I do not mean Arizona or Idaho) our religion has become more a law of behavior than a confession of faith.
The essence of both Christianity and Judaism is a release from guilt.
I am not telling you how to believe.
But every one of you have felt guilt, regardless of what you did or failed to do, ... and it is not pleasant.
But, if you have found that small thing that triggers the presence of the sacred, you have found a valuable experience.
However, I suspect that many of you, more likely, have lived in the world of "come on, get 'em in, we'll see that they are saved!" kind of religion.
You can see it on television, see it in real life, or find it on a tape. If you like that, you may have my share of it — as a gift. No charge!
Some of you — perhaps most of you — will soon marry.
Then you will be a young couple and you will have children.
And you will think – maybe we should get back into church — for the kids' sake.
My friends, if it is not good enough for you, the kids do not need it.
If you are trying to prepare them for weddings and funerals — forget it.
They will find their own way in that realm.
If you wish to give them the gift of inner peace that comes with knowing yourself and liking yourself, I suggest that you begin with your own self — see if you really do like yourself — and why — or why not.
I remember a student coming into my office in tears and saying to me, Dr. Brown, I don't like myself.
I said to her, I don't like you either.
She cried. Then we talked for an hour or so.
She turned out to be a pretty good person — and a good student.
I suggest that you meditate on LIFE — your life.
If not in a church or synagogue, then somewhere quiet.
Go to a wedding in a church or a synagogue.
Go to a park, climb a mountain, hide in the garage.
If you wish to find that grand experience that only a few have found — the experience of the Holy, the Sacred — and feel good about it, you must find it yourself.
You will not find it in an organized religion that lays out all your experiences for you, that assumes this is what you need — their latest pamphlet from the headquarters in such & such a city.
The grand experience of which I speak is not the kind to make you think you will save the world, but the kind that makes you aware that God is — PRESENCE ... and you — at that moment — are in that presence.
In that PRESENCE of the Holy, there is spiritual food to nourish even the worst reprobate.
You tough guys out there, do not think I am talking only to the women.
I am talking to you.
I have sat with tough guys before who cried like a child — because a girl swept them out of her life.
There are worse things to deal with.
Gentlemen, when you are fathers, you will know of what I speak.
The most important thing in your life will be your fatherhood to your young children.
And ladies, don't marry a man who is unwilling to share the most important things of life — your children's well being, your well being, his well being, the family's closeness.
I promise you that you can find everything you want if what you want is of value.
You will find what you seek ... in yourself.
That is where God is — or there is no God.
The HOLY, the Sacred, is in you.
It comes to you not with piety, but with truth — truth about yourself.
You can never upstage God.
So, set aside time
Embrace the PRESENCE ... the presence of the Holy.
God is not dead unless you choose for God to stay out of your life.
The Choice is Yours.