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Commencement Address

I was asked by your esteemed interim president, my friend, Luder Whitlock, to stand-in for our President today. That seemed an impossibly tall order. When I told my sons, they laughed and said I suppose you are sort of a Bush-heavy as opposed to Bush-lite. My young daughter half facetiously asked if this meant I was a number two. The one thing I always liked best about graduations but rarely experienced is the short speeches. Does anyone really appreciate some so-called expert droning on and on under the heat of the mid-day sun when all you really want to do is celebrate with your families. So, I promise to be short and stay focused.

To be honest, there are only two commencements I even faintly remember; my own, in 1974, where Senator Mark Hatfield gave a confession or actually lamentation about being between a rock and a hard place in the political culture of Washington, DC; and, some 25 years later in 2002 when my oldest son, graduated from Yale. Governor Pataki of New York, whose son Teddy was in the class, offered a moving ten minute charge on courage after 9/11!

Last year at Stanford University, Apple Computer, CEO, Steve Jobs gave a short graduation address that become instantly famous and circulated widely on the internet. He told three deeply personal stories and concluded: You need to connect the dots, by staying young and staying foolish. I recommend his hip speech to you but do not think its recommendations nearly sage enough.

In a similar vein, I have three stories for you this morning but first and foremost, I want to congratulate YOU, the graduates, on a job well done. Equally important, we all should say a loud and pronounced THANK YOU to your parents, grandparents, friends and families who have provided and prayed for you in this attainment. Max Dupree, the wise, Christian CEO of the Fortune 500 furniture company, Herman Miller, who was also a college and seminary president I should add, in his book, Leadership Jazz, said: ‘Pointing the way and saying thank you is the first and last word of true leadership.” Remember that good advice. Being nice, polite and grateful is no more difficult than the opposite. In fact, doing so pays large rewards. God told us to have a joyful heart: how do you get one? It starts with praise and thanksgiving, goes through forgiveness and leads directly to servant leadership: cause and effect.

Here are my three short stories for your guidance. The first one took place in Europe nearly five hundred years ago; it involved our ancestors in the Protestant Reformation. Both Luther and Calvin used the word vocation or calling from Berufung in German with reference to someone calling or addressing one, vocally. The one who called was the living God. Their view was different than the prevailing medieval sense of a restricted calling of a person to leave their work and enter a monastic way of life or holy office. The Reformers held that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection from the dead was a total victory that included the salvation of both life and nature. Natural work was already sanctified, made holy, and did not require prior or additional sanctification dispensed by a church or through sacraments. Since then, everywhere human beings stand and live Coram Deo, directly before the face of the living God who summons them to serve Him and their neighbors by doing what they do: as farmers, craftsmen, kings, housewives or merchants. Daily work itself became a vocation; it needed no further spiritual dimension.

Tie this to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. It is critical for understanding of role of the Christian –you graduates — in the world. The question I put to you is this: does this sovereignty relate to soteriology as well as your individual salvation? Or has God’s sovereignty been slowly shoved to the margins and effectively privatized? If linked to creation it has wide implication. The biblical phrase, "Christ is Lord of All" means more than lordship of narrow individual behavior or for one hour on Sunday morning in a church pew. The phrase has a cultural mandate also impelling action in society and in the economy. The possibilities are manifold, all with an option to serve God or to bend to another manmade idol. Faithful stewardship is careful administration of what has been entrusted to you by someone else who is higher than yourself. In Aristotle the "oeconomia" which translates as stewardship did not have to do with some separate category of ethics that can or cannot be related to real life decisions. It had to do with the whole character of the actor. We have removed this normative element.

The question of this story of old for you gathered here is simply: what is your calling? Listen … even now for the quiet voice of Him who made and sustains you. And then pick up your nets and have the courage to follow Him wherever it takes you. If you need encouragement I suggest you read N.T. Wright’s new book, Simply Christian. He supplies a focused view of the meaning of Easter:” When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty rose with him. Something happened in and through Jesus, as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined forever. God’s future has arrived in the present.”

While you may think you have finished your education today or that you now posses a terminal degree, I have to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. You see the global economy that we compete in and the very nature of free enterprise and competition mean that you all will have to become what I call, “perpetual learners”. Because the minute you stop learning, you die. I do not want to leave you with an impression that this is just mad activity, memorizing more facts or cramming for more tests as cogs caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern life as we know it. Josef Pieper once wrote an elegant work that suggested that leisure is nothing less than “an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world. “He demonstrated that leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture and he observed,” in our bourgeois Western world total labor has too often vanquished leisure. Unless you regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless you substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture, its collected wisdom – and ourselves.” So graduates, continue to set time apart for thinking, for praying and for re-creation. Be perpetual learners!

My second story began a number of years ago on a beautiful and balmy, tranquil spring day as we flew into the Bahamas and went through the gates of the private Lyford Cay Club. My heart raced as I was about to encounter the world’s greatest investor for the first time. I was not there, as so many before me had trekked, to gain some useful perspective on the market or to discover which global companies to invest in. My conversation was even more profound. Over time, I was privileged to have many conversations with him and to embark on a friendship that turned into a challenge.

Sir John Templeton was a humble, yet penetrating soul. His gaze was truly like that of a sage, of a person both entirely other-worldly and so infused with spiritual information that he exuded, well—joy. He enjoined me in a direct yet simple challenge: to demonstrate how enterprises and the entrepreneurs who started them are guided by a spiritual force rooted in faith. I took up his challenge and with his generous support and my own endowment, founded the Spiritual Enterprise Institute.

What challenges you? What do you want to be remembered for when all is said and done? Do not fall prey to the temptations of material life, of work as toil or living without a purpose. Make yours a purpose-driven life. Make a difference not just for yourself but for a Kingdom that lasts for eternity. It may not make you popular, rich or famous—that was never promised. As C.S. Lewis put it in his tale of Narnia, captured now in film, “He doesn’t like being tied down—of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He often drops in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Aslan is not like a tame lion.” Aided by that wise and magnificent lion, the children lead Narnia into a spectacular climactic battle to be free of the wicked witch’s glacial powers forever!

You have achieved a personal milepost today but, my friends rarely do you achieve results entirely from your own effort. You, like I, will or have been blessed in this life with loving parents, a helpful spouse, many friends, wonderful children and a community of persons, a network of colleagues and supporters, a free country, the list goes on and on — all who have both believed and invested in you. For this, be eternally grateful and fully acknowledge that no person is an island nor are they formed of their own being. We are works in progress and God has designed meaning in it all. He is working those purposes out throughout the ages, even here and now. Be willing to play your part in His story.

Neither is a life entirely one’s own product. Rather it is shaped by the tides of the times and one’s own background, experiences, and mentors. Having been reared in an observant home and raised in the cradle of Reformed faith, I was never outside of belief. My intellectual pedigree, interdisciplinary training and a life of real world work led me to undertake the tasks I have been given. As an academic, who early on became a “recovering academic”, I was perhaps fortunate to leave the ivory tower to join the blood, sweat and tears of the active life. Wherever I have been involved, in politics, investment banking then diplomacy, and for nearly the last two decades as a strategist in the corporate world, I have tried, often failed, and tried again, to be a Christian. From Davos to Aspen I have had the good fortune to interact with and to come to know senior business people, keen on inventing the future. I have come to know them and their companies, intimately and to advise them while peering into their souls. What have you been challenged to do? When they read your obituary sixty or seventy years hence: what will your lasting contribution be?

My final act; I grew up singing old and new hymns. The songs I most recall, include the likes of Hide it under a Bushel, No, Jesus Loves Me, and Deep and Wide. For me, faith was and remains the ultimate purpose for living and serving. Each summer my family would travel from the heat and humidity of the inner city to vacation at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains, on what is literally, Lake Pleasant. The image still reverberates in my over-educated mind especially on sleepless nights. It was as cool, calm and refreshing a place as is a heavenly breeze. That is because it likely was. It was a religiously inspired but nondenominational setting. They called us gospel volunteers—as if we were free and roving ambassadors for Christ. I guess I still am. I recall my last summer there, then as a counselor. Every Sunday morning at chapel, set high on a hill overlooking that ever pleasant lake, we would march in carrying about a hundred different flags. They were from nearly every country around the globe — from America to Zimbabwe. As they paraded forward to the stage the orchestra would play and the ebullient choir would sing in the loudest and most melodious voices I have ever heard, Crown Him with Many Crowns… Thy praise and glory shall not fail for all eternity.

My prayer for you as graduates today is that you too will have your Lake Pleasant, as a reservoir of strength; and that you will remember this special place of higher education, the character and friendships formed here, so that you can give all the Glory to God. Because in the end, life is a calling, and taking on your challenge is a nothing more than a long doxology; from Him all blessings flow and to Him they shall return.

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