"it's morphing time " by dr. kenneth clapp
"It's morphing time." My authoritative sources, i.e., students who frequent the Lilly Center Coffeehouse tell me that members of this graduating class were at the right age to have been great fans of the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, that group of otherwise normal adolescents who could be transformed into martial arts heroes when there was a need to use their powers to bring about justice. For those of us who were not 6 to 10 years of age in 1990, this television series originated in Japan, was very low budget, was poorly dubbed into English but had tremendous appeal to children and today the concept of morphing has made its way into our culture. Some of you heard Professor Caddell reference morphing in her address to the Alpha Chi group this afternoon.
President Knott, colleagues on the faculty, my dear friends and members of the Class of 2008, family members and friends of these graduates ... many of you no doubt are wandering why I am standing here tonight and after that introduction, you may be even more dumbfounded. The simple answer to this is that no one has been rude enough to block the steps to this pulpit. But the real reason is that you, the members of the Class of 2008 have come to be very special to me. We have shared many times and experiences and it is my prayer that you will not feel cheated by the fact that this service provides one more opportunity. Although I will be doing most of the talking( no great news flash in that), it is my hope and prayer that as we join in reflecting and thinking together this may truly be a shared experience and that it can mean as much to each of you as it does to me to share together on this occasion.
Some of us got to know one another canoeing down the New River. For others it was in the chilling waters of the Johns River on that August freshman retreat. Our service tonight was opened with Eric Finland calling us to worship with the blowing of the shofar in keeping with the tradition of the Jewish faith. Eric bunked right across from me on that retreat. Some of you know that I sometimes find it hard to remember what time a class is supposed to end so you may find it hard to believe that I vividly remember the questions that Eric asked as we prepared for bed that first night of the retreat. And, I remember announcing that we would dispense with the learning of the alma mater because we had no one on the retreat who could accompany us on the piano for the singing of it. To this, Eric responded, "if you have got the music, I will play it". Dr. Sang and I looked at one another and silently thought, 'yeah, right ... accomplished pianists struggle with that tune, fat chance that some freshman is going to be able to play it." But many of you will remember, Eric sat down and played it and played it well. Talk about courage. Over the past four years, it has been my pleasure to watch Eric morph from a rather naïve, uncertain but very talented young man into a confident, reasoned and even more talented young man. We have shared struggles, wrestled with the decision of whether or not to transfer to another institution, battled disillusionment and talked faith, all of which has been a part of that morphing process.
I could share similar recollections of experiences between myself and many of you, but I suspect that you will be relieved to hear that you will be spared the possible embarrassment to you and the length it would add to this service.
Based upon what some of us saw on those retreats, we prayed for change. Our prayers have been answered. You have morphed. You are different today from when you arrived. Most of the differences I applaud. There are other changes about which I am not too enthusiastic. Many of you have grown in your confidence, in self-assurance, in your independence. You have developed critical thinking skills which will serve you well but I implore you to avoid the cynicism and pessimism that sometimes accompany that new found ability. Many of you have found direction for your lives ... vocationally, spiritually, socially ... but if you are honest you know that to be an ongoing process. Many of you have become more astute regarding the needs and problems of the world. But sometimes I see indifference and insensitivity and a hardness that diminishes one.
Although I applaud the good things that have been a part of your college experience, that is not what I want us to concentrate on tonight. I am here to challenge you to think about what is to come. (Wouldn't you know it ... hardly giving you time to celebrate one accomplishment until we are pushing you to ponder the next steps in your lives.) YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE BUT YOU ARE NOT YET WHAT YOU CAN BE. You are not fully there yet. As much progress as you have made these last few years, some are still struggling with who you are and what you are to do with your lives. A couple of months ago there was a large group of students packed into a cabin in the mountains for a spiritual growth retreat. The students had divided into small discussion groups and I was in the kitchen. From my station where I was busily cutting cantaloupe and honeydew and dicing onions in preparation for the next morning's breakfast, I overheard Jon Rhodes say, "I KNOW I HAVE CHANGED SINCE I ARRIVED AS A FRESHMAN AND I AM SURE I WILL BE A DIFFERENT PERSON 10 YEARS FROM NOW THAN THE PERSON I AM TONIGHT. I DON'T KNOW HOW I WILL BE DIFFERENT BUT I AM CONFIDENT I WILL CONTINUE TO CHANGE."
He is right. Unlike the Power Rangers who were transformed for special moments or projects only to return to a static existence, you will continue to morph or evolve into something new and different. Not knowing just how you will change does not mean you cannot determine that change. I want to argue that you can have some control over what you become—this does not have to a capricious, out of control process that is imposed upon you. And I will argue that just as you have had persons helping you morph into something more and better during the college experience, there is a source of help available to you as you go forward and seek to realize your goals and dreams. These college years have provided a foundation. You must build on that foundation or you will remain incomplete.
Allow me to set the stage with a story. It is the story, greatly abridged version, of Moses, you know, the dude who got us all in a legalistic way by delivering the 10 Commandments. There is a lot more to know about Moses. In many ways Moses' life reflects a morphing process akin to what many of you are wrestling with. The timing of Moses' birth was not too good given that the ruler had decreed that all the males born at that time should be put to death. Moses' mother was not willing to give up her son easily and hid him among the bulrushes of a swampy area. He is discovered by the Pharaoh's daughter and from his miniature house boat he is taken to be a part of the household of the royal family where he will receive the best education and a 'good life'. One would think we have just seen a good ending to a bad beginning but Moses found he could not be content with this life of privilege and ease. Moses was where you are now. He now had to use what he had and get it together in terms of who he was. He recognized that he was called to be something more ... he just had to figure out what that something more was to be. Part of what he knew he had to do was stand up for his people. He had a passion for justice. But this led him to act rashly when he saw a worker being beaten. Out of rage for the injustice he was witnessing, he struck and killed the man who was beating the other man. At first he thought he could get away with this but then he realized he had been seen doing this and he fled and went into exile. Thus Moses went from being born an Israelite to becoming an Egyptian prince to being a Midianite sheep herder. One day as he was watching the sheep Moses noticed a bush that was on fire. But there was something different about this bush. It was on fire ... it was burning, but it was not consumed by the fire. The fire burned but the bush continued to be there just as if nothing had happened. Now Moses did what I suspect any of us would do if we saw such a sight. He stood and looked at it and while he was trying to figure out what was happening (or not happening) here, God spoke to Moses and told Moses he was to go back to Egypt and lead the people from the slavery and oppression they were experiencing there. God had a special role ... mission ... in mind for Moses, but first Moses had to be open to learning what that was to be. From this listening to God calling him and responding Moses goes on to lead the Israelites out of bondage into the promised land, to receive the 10 Commandments and to have a major impact upon the course of history.
So what could that story of Moses possibly have to do with any of you? Are there any Moseses among us tonight? I think all of us are like Moses in that we are searching to know and to be all that we are supposed to be. Indeed there may be in this group of graduates one or more persons who will do tremendous things that will shape the course of history. Whether or not you will be a high profile shaper and mover or whether it will be your role to work behind the scenes and make contributions that when joined with the contributions are others, make the difference, everyone of you has the potential to do something significant with your lives. You have two options. YOU CAN BE CONTENT TO JUST LET LIFE HAPPEN OR YOU CAN MAKE LIFE HAPPEN.
Some of you will identify with the cartoon adage, "I yam what I yam. I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." Revisit those words. They were said with a kind of regret ... as if to say, "I don't like what I am ... I certainly am not satisfied with what I am, but this is what I am and I can't be anything else, anything better."
Popeye might be resigned to there being nothing better for his life, but many of you have demonstrated over the past 4 or 5 years that you can become something more ... that the morphing process can impact your lives in positive and worthwhile ways. You have begun the transformation process. What is necessary to complete it?
The answer to this in part is found in the true meaning of the term 'morphing'.
It can be traced back to a Greek word morphoo that was important to the New Testament of the Bible. It was used to describe the inward formation of the real self. Paul used the Greek terms derived from this basic word to describe the way that people are transformed through Christ, to describe the process by which we take on a new nature that has us wanting to do those things that will contribute to a better world, that will have us seeking to live the teachings of Christ.
In order for us to become the persons we are supposed to be we have to be transformed from the limited and minimal persons that we allow ourselves to be. You are evidence of that transformative power at work in this place. That word 'morphing' serves as a root for another term that we use, 'metamorphosis'. The ugly caterpillar that is limited to crawling is transformed into a beautiful butterfly which soars through the sky. You often tell me about the ways you have been transformed during your years at college but that process can continue. The first step is to recognize the possibility.
I encourage you to get in touch with the fact that this transformation is something we want and we need. We hold out hope for something better for our lives. We hope to step into that wardrobe and end up in Narnia. We hope for a kind of transformation that will turn us from the frogs that we are into the princes we long to be, from the ugly ducklings into swans. Respond to that yearning to be transformed into something more and better. That is the starting point. And be quick to recognize that just as God has created you with this yearning God will make it possible for you to realize these hopes.1
The second step is to take control of your life so as to make it happen. Now, you may counter that life is a big thing and we cannot control so much in life. Things happen that seem to be out of our control ... and indeed often are. But we have the opportunity exert much control over what we become just by the way we approach life, the attitude we allow to guide our life.
At dinner last night, Shane Timmons told me about his experience as a substitute teacher during the past month. He told me about all the problems that teachers face today. He could have concluded by saying, "I hate what I have gotten myself into by deciding to teach" but instead he said "I am loving it because I think I can make a difference." We have to take the situation, see the possibilities, recognize the reasons for hope and set out to make that difference.
Mortimer Adler, a man who did not have the benefit of a college education himself but who became a great educator and philosopher tells about meeting a man who was an alcoholic, destitute. As they talked Adler said to him, 'you look too smart to let your life be controlled by alcohol'. To this the man responded that if he (Adler) only knew what he had experienced he would understand how this had happened. He explained that his mother had died at a young age, he had been taken from the home of his abusive father and later separated from his brother and lived a very hard life. Much to the surprise of the alcoholic Adler responded that he could understand because that mirrored almost exactly his own experience. After more conversation, both were surprised to discover that they were indeed biological brothers. The difference was that the one brother had allowed circumstances of life to dictate what would happen to him and the other had chosen not to be a victim of his misfortune but to make the most out of what God had given him. Again, you have been given options. You can allow yourselves to be controlled by situations and circumstances or you can take control of the situation and make life something more. God has promised us that God will not put anything on us that He will not give us the strength to endure. If you choose, the morphing process of the past 4 or 5 years which now puts you in company with only about 1/3 of the people of this country can be combined with a continuation of this process to assure the transformation into a person who can know success and greatness.
Bottom line is that every moment is an opportunity to learn from God. Every moment presents an opportunity for us to become something more, to take another step on the journey to being what we are intended to be. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote took the experience of Moses and concluded:
EARTH'S CRAMMED WITH HEAVEN,
AND EVERY COMMON BUSH AFIRE WITH GOD,
BUT ONLY HE WHO SEES TAKES OFF HIS SHOES.
THE REST SIT ROUND IT AND PLUCK BLACKBERRIES.
Will we follow Moses' lead and listen for God to direct us and then accept the direction and act upon that direction?
The third suggestion that I offer for the morphing process is that you not limit your horizons.
Sherlock Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip and in the middle of the night Sherlock Holmes wakes Watson and asks him to look at the stars and to tell him what he sees. Watson says, "I see millions of stars, many of which resemble our sun, which most likely have their own planets which most likely means they have life forms like us. So I deduce there is life on other planets. And Sherlock says, "no, you idiot, someone's stolen our tent." Hopefully your college education has equipped you to recognize the obvious and to keep things in perspective, reacting as needed. However, we need to appreciate Watson's ability to imagine the possibilities and we need to open ourselves to the possibilities and not be timid to pursue those possibilities.
Now, I can imagine that some of you are thinking, 'you really have not told us anything new or that we did not already know. While all of that is good and well, what I really need to know is how to make this happen." Well, let me conclude with some suggestions for how you can accept the challenge that I have put forth and can make it happen ... make it be the real thing ... not just some nice words and thoughts.
Think back to the story of Moses. What had to happen in order for Moses to get it right? He had to enter into relationship with God and let God direct him and support him. God had been there taking care of Moses all along, available to Moses, but Moses had to recognize the need for God and to be willing to enter into relationship with God. The same is true for you and me. When we open ourselves to that relationship with God, we open ourselves to God's working in us to bring about transformation. The goal is for us to recognize who it is that God wants us to be, for only then will we fully become what we are intended to be. Soren Kierkegaard, one of the greatest thinkers of all time worked out an entire scheme for life but concluded, 'now, with God's help, I shall become myself.' He was saying that only with the help of God could he really become the person he was intended to be, to find that satisfaction and meaning he was seeking in life.
If we are serious about being in relationship with God that will lead us to relationship with others, relationships predicated upon love. Society seeks to convince us that we are as we accumulate, but more accurately, we are as we relate. So I implore you to work at building relationships predicated upon love. This no doubt will come as a surprise to faculty members but for years students have referred to me as 'the machine'. Now I think that has been intended to be a compliment predicated upon my workout regimen and the way that I rarely let anything break my stride. I hear that term with mixed emotions. Machines get sand in the gears and become worthless or rust and become dilapidated. The dilapidated part possibly becomes more applicable with each passing day. But most significantly machines do not have hearts and cannot love ... and I hope that I am capable of loving in the manner that God has instructed us to love.
Work at building relationships founded upon love.
Become a person of faith. This will enable you to put it all together, to be able to love, to see the value and worth of yourself. Society has taught us that we are somehow entitled. I would encourage you to think not in terms of entitlement but instead understand that as the creations of God we have been created with worth and that makes us capable of loving and being loved, capable of forgiving and being forgiven.
Then I implore you to use the education of these college years and before to be true to that passage from Ephesians that was read by Tara. The writer of Ephesians cautions us that there is much evil in the world and that evil leads to tremendous temptations. Thus it is incumbent upon us to use our knowledge to recognize what is right, what is good, to dedicate ourselves to seeking the good and doing the right.
The great writer C.S. Lewis helps us put into perspective what is at stake here in reminding us that what we become has the capacity to have everlasting impact, that the promise of eternal life makes what we are have an immortal dimension. What we do lives on. He contends that we can become immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
There is a lot at stake but the hope of transformation, of becoming something more than you are right now, of realizing your goal of a meaningful life, one where you contribute to making the world a better place where in Frederick Buechner's terms, 'your great gladness meets with the world's great need', that hope does not have to be a pipe dream ... it can be a reality. Jesus Christ announced that the kingdom of God has come near. Thus we are not limited by this fallen world.
I challenge you to open yourselves to the morphing process that will bring about a transformation that will make you everlasting splendors. After we sing a closing hymn you are going to recess from this chapel, the place where many of you had your first significant encounter with Catawba College some four or five years ago, a place that in the intervening time has been the site of celebration, of sharing and of worshipping together. As you leave members of the faculty are going to pass the flame to you. This is representative of the ways we have attempted to share with you during your stay here ... sharing knowledge, sharing experience, sharing a love that we have come to hold for you. Your presence here has made our lives richer and we thank you for that. Although you will physically extinguish the flame of these candles at the conclusion of the Marshal's Walk, we ask that you not let this flame go out. When you seek to build upon what you have learned here ... when you are true to giving back to others through the living of your lives, when you allow your faith to grow and become the basis for life, when you work at becoming the people you are capable of being and that you are called to be, you will keep that light burning and you will approach knowing that joy that should mark our highest experience. You will become an everlasting splendor as opposed to being an eternal horror and you will bring to this world the kind of healing and presence that bring near the Kingdom of God.
1 I am indebted to John Ortberg, author of THE LIFE YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED and other books for ideas in this paragraph and some other places in this message.