Most readers of this blog know that I am retiring at the end of this semester. I was invited to give a farewell address of encouragement to my faculty colleagues at Whitworth University which I gave on May 11. Here it is for your enjoyment.
50 years ago, this month, I was a freshman at Ohio University. The war in Viet Nam was escalating and protests were happening all over the country. Then on May 4, 1970 four middle class Kent State University students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. Violent protests erupted including at my campus. To respond to the protests, our university administration shortened the spring quarter and sent all the students home six weeks early.
For the next fifty years, I have always had at least one foot in the world of higher education. Studying, teaching, ministry and ahhh… yes, grading exams and term papers. Five decades later my formal academic career is coming to an end. This week I will probably be grading my last tests and papers. I am again experiencing several weeks of disrupted classes…this time due to the coronavirus.
My dad would frequently say, “Too old, too soon, too wise, too late!”
I have become older, but have I grown up? I have added years, but have I added wisdom? I have become more senior, but have I become more mature? In the letter to the Ephesians 4:15, Paul gives us an exhortation on how we can grow up into maturity and not just grow older. This verse is usually translated as “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up to maturity in Christ”. In order to be more faithful to the original Greek, we must take the noun “truth” and change it into a verb. Something like “truthing along in love, we will grow up to maturity in Christ.”
I would like to limit my reflections to three aspects of truthing along in love
- Speaking the truth
- Seeking the truth
- Living into the truth
- The phrase “speaking the truth in love” is an important component. We need to speak truth into each other’s lives. Why? Because we are finite and because we are fallen. We all have blind spots and we need others to enable us to see life more clearly. Because we are fallen and sin permeates all areas of our lives, speaking truth to each other brings healing to our world.
We have one of the best jobs in the world. We get paid to speak truth to our students. We do not primarily teach history, nor literature, nor science, nor Spanish, nor even our beloved Core 350. No, we teach students! History, Science, Spanish and Core 350 are tools of our trade to help shape our students into more mature men and women. To speak academic truth into our students’ lives is relatively easy but to show how this information can and should produce character, wisdom, courage, the making of good choices, a more accurate self-understanding, the building of healthy relationships is harder, but it is just as vital. Let us carefully, cautiously, and humbly speak truth into each other.
- A second component is seeking the truth. It is equally important but much less common. We must be more than “open to the truth”. We need to actively seek it out. Many public officials and executives do not seek the truth. They surround themselves with Yes Men and Yes Women: people who will tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. How much further down the road would I be now if I had sought out truth and invited more mentors, colleagues, family members and students to pour truth (as well as they understood it) into my life? Some of us have been fortunate to have experienced a good mentor, discipler, spiritual director who poured tough love into our lives.
I am going to ask you to do something. Over the next weeks and months, I ask that you give a standing invitation to a couple of colleagues to speak tough love truth into your life. Something like ¨Friend, I invite you to speak truth into my heart. Where you see something good, reaffirm it. When you see me going astray, lead me back to the right path¨. Begin with a couple of close friends, but then extend the invitation to those who you frequently disagree with. If we actively seek out truth, we can make Whitworth better.
- Living the truth is quite scarce today, from the White House, down through our institutions and in our homes. Why is that? From our earliest days we learn how to lie, to embellish the truth, to make our information look better and that of others to look not so good.
- As children we learn that lying saves us from getting punished…in the short run.
- Commercials on television tell us that product A is better than product B even when it isn’t.
- On our curriculum vitas, we highlight what makes us look good and we omit that which does not.
- In our promotion of Whitworth, we emphasize the positive, but do we do not usually mention our warts.
- If we run for public office (as I did), we are encouraged to select our facts, to speak half-truths, to give misleading answers in order to get more votes.
- Why is living the truth important? Because people´s lives are at stake. Let´s take Covid-19 as an example. Dr. Fauci has repeatedly warned that if we do not obey told us by public health experts, we will witness thousands of needless deaths.
There is a more eternal reason. During my fifty years in higher education (both secular and Christian), most of the people that I have met (faculty, staff, students, parents) have been attracted to Jesus, but very disappointed and disillusioned by Christians. Our students too quickly become jaded…not primarily by our failures, but by our failure to admit our faults. When we do not admit our mistakes, we turn our holy faith into a Pharisaical farce. We become spiritually proud…and our students learn to imitate that pride and others turn away from the faith. Therefore, let us be quick to confess our sins to each other so that we may be healed.
Sisters and brothers of Whitworth, let us speak the truth, seek the truth, and live the truth so that we may better know the One who is the Truth and who will set us free!