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pomp and circumstances

consider this commencement week. i attended two graduations this week, and were it not for a wide variety other activities this weekend i might have been at a third. i do not remember much about my high school graduation (1989), other than my parents and i immediately took off for austin that night to register for summer school at the university of texas. fours years later (1993) i graduated from college, not from u.t. but sam houston state university in huntsville. the guest speaker that day was james baker, secretary of state under the first president bush. i don't remember what he said, but it was cool to have someone important at my graduation (besides my family, of course).

the next time i walked across the stage was when i graduated from perkins school of theology at smu, 1999. for whatever reason (probably because my bride also graduated that day) i attended the university-wide commencement ceremony in the morning, in addition to the seminary-only service at highland park church that afternoon. the speaker at the smu graduation was governor george w. bush. i don't remember what he said either, but i do recall someone yelling, "mr. president!" from the arena and getting lots of laughs.

when i (hopefully) graduate from wesley seminary next may with my doctorate, i wonder who will be there? someone associated with the bush family, whose name begins with a b, obviously. possibilities from mr. bush's current cabinet include (from left): roy bernardi, secy. of housing and urban development (hud) sam bodman, secy. of energy, and bill bolton, chief of staff.

back to this week: tuesday night was james' graduation from kindergarten. the cafeteria at rucker elementary was packed solid full of proud parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends. each kid had a paper hat on as they walked across the stage. aside from the cuteness factor, which, i admit was huge, exactly what is the point here? is james' life so different now that he is a 1st grader? has this tradition always been around, or is it a new thing? i don't remember graduating from kindergarten, although my memory of childhood is sketchy. i know when i look at my wall there is no certificate hanging there.

and ditto for wednesday night's festivities: graduation from pump, our preschool. don't get me wrong-- i love pump-- it's a great ministry and the kids are wonderful. but is going on to kindergarten such a huge step? is it worthy of donning blue caps and gowns and playing pomp and circumstance to a packed house in the sanctuary? a rumor spread through the office like wildfire that one family was bringing 17 family members to the graduation. ummm.. overkill? i am glad for the service, because it gives me an opportunity as the pastor to thank parents for their kids who are so dear to us, and i relish the time to speak with pride about our church's obvious love for kids. as a parent and pastor it is huge. but after the four year olds graduate from preschool and the five year olds graduate from kindergarten, what next?

i did not attend prosper high's graduation ceremony last night because we hosted a lockin at the church and i was there until 3:00 a.m. the one comment i did hear was how great it was that the service was only an hour long. it makes me wonder why we do these things? as a pastor i understand the importance of ritual: in worship, at weddings, especially at funerals. we need to participate in collective ceremony to realize God's presence and activity in our lives: that's why, for example, baptisms should always be public.

it's great at the end of high school or college to throw one's cap into the air and say, "i'm outta here!!!" but children would not understand that. they're just beginning their school experience-- why celebrate the end of one year when twelve more lie ahead? maybe with kids what we are celebrating is not "graduation" as much as future possibilities. on the stage at rucker was a banner that read, "class of 2020." the principal introduced the kids as "the class of 2020." there's a great chance-- probably near 100%-- that some of these kids may not make it to high school graduation. they may drop out. something tragic could happen. but for that one moment at the end of kindergarten they were all on the same path towards 2020 and a boring and forgetful ceremony full of cliches like "today is called 'commencement' because it is a beginning, not an ending." every parent could think, "someday my kid will be president, an astronaut, a pastor, a teacher...", [insert whatever path you think is good for your kid].

possibility. potential. or as the framed scripture my sister julie gave me when i graduated from seminary says, "for i know the plans i have for you, says the Lord... plans to give you a future and a hope" (jeremiah 29:11). to ella, ryan, james, brooke, bobby, taylor and the many others who walked across stages in prosper and around the country this week: welcome to your future! God's blessings to you!


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