About the Speaker:
dr. kenneth clapp '70
"There Is Life after Catawba"
Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, John 4:1-14
President Lewis, Chairwoman Ball, Mr. Peterson, colleagues on the faculty and most especially graduating seniors, it is good to have this opportunity to share with you this evening. Mr. Peterson, thank you so much for that very gracious and thoughtful introduction. Joe, I appreciate the fact that you did not say something to the effect, 'can't imagine why he is the speaker, but here he is ... we wanted to get the Pope but he declined . Next we checked with Coach Gant but he thought he might need to mow the baseball field tonight. Dr. Fuller was concerned that she might not be able to write a poem that would be long enough to fill the allotted time. Dr. Bitzer said he would do it but we would have to televise it. So you are stuck with me. And I am stuck with the task of trying to say something new, worthwhile and of interest to a group who during your Catawba years has had at least 218 opportunities to hear me wax eloquent and expound profusely, not that most of you have seized very many of these wonderful opportunities. Because each of you is so special to me I want what I say to provide enlightenment for what is ahead ... but if there is any hope of that happening, I need help. So, one more time, let us pray: God of grace and God of love, You make possible all things. Use me now that Your love and Your will may be made clearer in the minds and hearts of these dear souls who You love and we love, and for whom You want the very best and we share that hope and desire. Amen
When my nephew was 8, he participated in a soccer camp on campus one summer and in the dining hall one day I was seated at a table not too far from where he was eating with his new soccer camp friends. I overheard him say, "See that man over there ... that's my uncle." One of the friends responded, "What is he doing here?" My nephew: "He works here." The friend, "What does he do?" My nephew: "I don't know but I think they pay him to talk." Well, I often have replayed that dialogue and been thankful that 'what I say' is not the basis of my salary. I am afraid that most of you would consider me grossly over compensated ... maybe you do regardless of the basis.
I am thankful that my nephew did not answer the question of what I do here by saying, "I think they pay him to answer questions." Many of you probably know me as the one who is always asking the questions.
Many of us first got to know one another on the Lilly Center Freshman Retreats. As I recall most of you were so preoccupied checking out the people of the opposite sex that I really don't expect that you will remember but you may recall I was asking questions then ... just for fun, does anyone remember any of those questions? "What will you do with your one wild, wonderful life?" Any of you closer to answering that question?
What was that other question that was asked that someone just recalled? "What do you want out of life?" And does anyone remember any of the answers to that question? Forget about the retreat ... how do you answer that question tonight? If you could have anything in life, what would you seek to have? Let me tell you how you answered the question four or five years ago. The same way several of you answered it this week when I did an informal survey of members of this graduating class. The big H ... happiness.
In the gospel lesson that Matthew read Jesus said to the woman who had come to draw water, "I can give you living water and you will never be thirsty again." Can you imagine what these words meant to this woman who all her life had had to spend a significant part of everyday making the long trek to the well and drawing water from the well in order not to be continuously thirsty? I think we use the term happiness to describe a quality of life that we desire and regard as very important.. Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE and LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS argues that every human being wants to make a difference with his or her life and that every person desires to be known as a good person. I think those desires constitute in all of us something akin to that thirsting that Jesus was telling the woman he could satisfy. When you say the most important thing in your life is to be happy, your answer is a kind of code language for this thirsting. You want to live a life that will somehow matter. You want to do more than just march through life filling space and going through the motions. But what must you do to experience this? Maybe you are thinking, "I was told that if I would go to college and get a good education, prepare myself for a good job, you would find this elusive elixir. And perhaps some of you are thinking, 'here I am about to graduate, the job is in sight even if not quite in place ... goodness knows I have consumed gallons of beverages these last few years, but I am just as thirsty as I was before I started college."
So, what is the problem? When the woman at the well asked this same kind of question of Jesus, he essentially told her she had been looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing. Jesus went on to tell the woman what she needed to do ... and I will argue that the answer that Jesus gave the woman is the answer for you and me as well. Before you tune me out by saying, "I am not interested in any of that religious lingo, let's look at how this can apply to our lives.
It is kind of hard for a Yalie to say this, but in my opinion one of today's most brilliant minds belongs to a professor in the Harvard School of Business by the name of Clayton Christianson. Christianson recently wrote a book that is not at all what you might expect a top flight business school professor to write. The title of the book is HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? This author is suggesting that if happiness is your goal, you better first know what you value and you must let those values determine how you will live your lives. Christiansen talks about how the strategies we implement often are geared at immediate achievement or pleasure or things that are contradictory to the values of family and meaningful relationships that we claim to hold.
As beings with finite minds, we feel a need to aggregate things ... bigger is better and we place importance upon hierarchy ... if I am at a higher position in my job than you are in yours, I am some way better, I have achieved more. But will this approach bring us happiness?
So, what is it that you need to do in order to quench this thirsting ... to realize this sense of happiness ... for your lives to be spared the pitfalls and agonies that we fear? Some have expressed fear of the next steps in your journey of life. I want to assure you that there is life after Catawba. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Catawba grads representative of classes from 2012 to 1943, yes some graduated before even I was born. What I repeatedly witnessed was Catawba grads who are happy, fulfilled and joyful. So what do we learn from them? What do you members of the Class of 2013 want to share in common with these alumni?
First, be sure you know what it is you are seeking? When you say that what you want most is to be happy, what are you saying? What does that mean? Will you know it when you have it?
It has been noted that happiness does not come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. (Frederick Koenig) Spencer Preston stood in my kitchen last night and we talked about the pain he has experienced with due to some of the events in his life, but he said, 'you know, I have been blessed' ... he was recognizing that in spite of what he has experienced, there still is happiness and good. He has learned what we all need to learn which is that HAPPINESS CANNOT BE TRAVELED TO, OWNED, EARNED, WORN OR CONSUMED. HAPPINESS IS THE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE OF LIVNG EVERY MINUTE WITH LOVE, GRACE AND GRATITUDE. Looked at in this way as opposed to thinking of happiness as being physically pleasured, or engaged in perpetual fun, the never ending party, we begin to see happiness in the way that Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues thought of it when they considered it to be an inalienable right ... one that only could be realized by people of virtue. The Buddha advocated the suppression of all human desires including happiness and the Greek Stoics believed it impossible for the common man to experience happiness but Jesus Christ preached that because all human beings are created and loved by God, God wants us to be happy and Jesus gave us 8 keys, 8 formulas for finding that happiness. In the third medallion from the bottom in the center lancelet of the stained glass window over the altar we have depicted Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount and there the people heard these Beatitudes.
Relax, I am not going to elaborate on all 8 of them, but I do want to lift up a couple of the Beatitudes and suggest how they can help you to find life after Catawba. Jesus said, "You want to be happy? Become humble ... or become poor in spirit ... for then you shall have it all ... you shall have the kingdom of heaven." Jesus said, "You want to be happy? Become meek ... then you shall inherit the earth." To have earth and heaven ... what more could you possibly want? Seek righteousness ... seek to be that good person. But what does this mean for life after Catawba ... for vocation and career? How can being meek and humble possibly quench your thirsting and bring happiness to your life? Both of these Beatitudes suggest the way we need to look at who we are. The world suggests that happiness comes to us when we aggregate as much as we can by putting all the emphasis upon ourselves ... when we make decisions only out of personal interest and what will get us to the highest point in the hierarchy. Is it all about me ... or am I committed to understanding and seeking to do what God calls and instructs me to do? I don't know whether this will be a part of Governor McCrory's comments tomorrow but he recently made this very point when he pointed out what he considers to be too much narcissism on the part of people in the business world ... or putting too much emphasis on one's self and not enough concern for the good of others.
Most of us who go into ministry spend some time volunteering as chaplains in hospitals. This at best can be a difficult task. You deal a lot with crisis situations and you often find yourself at the hospital late at night when hospitals can be very lonely places. It was such a time, a little after midnight when the call was received with the request to report to the critical care floor. The nurse informs you that the patient is in the process of dying.. You go to the bedside and grasp the hand of the person who has a myriad array of tubes and monitors attached and although there is no response, you offer a prayer for comfort. Weary, feeling utter helplessness and questioning your own worth in this situation you walk out of the room only to be encountered by the somewhat insolent nurse who just shakes her head and says curtly, "wrong patient ... it is the patient in the other bed that is dying." Feelings of ineptitude now are waging battle with the feelings of inadequacy and feelings of anger at God for putting you in this situation but you return, this time to the right bed and take the hand of the person in the bed. Again there is no response but there is an aura of distress and a countenance of uneasiness or fear. Silently prefacing the prayer you are about to offer with your own prayer for God's help that you might get this right, you begin to pray ... and you realize that something has changed. You look at the machine that is monitoring the patient's vital signs and where there had been wild gyrations is now calm indicating that the patient has stabilized and you realize that the distress that had been there when you entered the room has been replaced with peace and there even is a faint smile on the patient's face. And then it becomes clear to you. The person who is in the process of transitioning from this life to the next life cannot speak, can do nothing to acknowledge your presence other than the faintest squeeze of your hand, but the person is hearing your prayers and those prayers have brought a sense of comfort and peace for this transition journey. God has used you to bring comfort, to ease this transition, to calm the fears of this dying person who otherwise would have had to make this journey alone. You become both painfully and joyfully aware of the way that God has put you in this place and enabled you to make a difference in this world ... and out of this difficult situation that appeared to hold only discouragement and failure and inadequacy there comes a sense of joy and the true happiness that could never be experienced without a willingness to become meek and humble, to surrender that human desire and tendency that most of us have to be in control, to be the most important character in the cast, to have the world evolve around 'me' and my wishes and wants. I share that because there will be times of discouragement and heartache but if you seek to live by those Beatitudes, from the depths of these times will come joy.
Now before you dismiss that illustration thinking 'what does that have to do with me and my career in business or as a teacher or as an athletic trainer', let me tell you it is the same for you. When your concern for persons who are on the lower end of the pay scale causes you to make a business decision that you believe to be the right thing to do but that you know will mean lower profits for your company, when you have worked for years to get elected to public office and you make the decision to support an unpopular cause because you believe it is the right thing to do but you know it may cost your reelection, when you make the decision not to let the star player go back onto the field following an injury because you know it could result in permanent damage although you also recognize that it probably will mean that your team will lose the championship game ... any time you respond in a way that puts the welfare of others above what appears to be in your own best interest because you are committed to knowing and sharing God's love ... you set yourself up to know the higher happiness that comes to those who walk humbly with God, who show meekness and who love and allow themselves to be loved.
In the words of your classmate Dustin Shelton whose composition was sang earlier in the service, "It's time for me to make a choice ... time to find my voice. The future is unbounded but I must believe and it is time for me to take wing." Take wing by giving God that place of greatest importance in your lives and allowing God to direct you and call the shots. Believe in these formulas for happiness and let them inform your means of taking wing. Instead of losing power or somehow becoming less in the process, be prepared to experience that greatest sense of happiness and joy for which you thirst. That happiness will be realized in new depths of friendship and new bonds of appreciation. When you put God first, your vocation and your work will take on new purpose and satisfaction and life itself will be characterized by a new richness.
(move to floor of nave and continue)
I have to tell you that this night each year, that is the night of Baccalaureate is probably the most difficult night of the year for me. I am terrible at saying goodbyes and knowing that these relationships that have come to mean so much to me over the past few years are not going to be the same is really tough for me. Now I am acutely aware that rather than mourning this conclusion, some of you may be celebrating it and thinking, 'at last, we no longer will have the old goat on our backs, chiding us to shape up, to be something more, to stand strong against some of the temptations. I won't name any names but I want Alex, Ashley, Carson, Christian, Hannah, Michael, Rachel, Payton and Liz and to know that the kicks and beratings have been in the spirit of love and caring and in an attempt to get you to live in such a way that you can measure your life and know the satisfaction from a well measured life. Come Sunday you may be out of our physical reach but I assure you these faculty members seated to your left and myself will still care about you, will still be here to support you, will be rooting for you. And I will be praying that you will realize in your lives that goodness and joy that so many other graduates of this institution have experienced. To that end I pray that you will open your hearts to understanding that such joy comes when we avail ourselves to the grace and the love that God offers and seeks to give us. Blessings be upon you and Godspeed!