A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Memorable Graduation Ceremony

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

I think it started with the hurricane warnings,

I think when you are graduating from high school,
the last thing you want to hear in that day's forecast is the word, hurricane.

June 5, 1975.
My graduation day from high school.

It didn't just rain that day.
It poured.

The graduation exercises were moved indoors,
to a tiny auditorium that seated just over 600 people.
Each student was limited to 3 tickets.

This was well before most schools were air conditioned.
With high humidity and tropical temperatures,
the auditorium was about to become a human sweatbox.

Because the conditons were so cramped,
the high school band did not play.
Instead, they used an electronic organ to play the ceremonial music.

This organ was from the 50's and produced a sound
somewhere between  Funeral Dirge and March of the Circus Clowns
I remember entering the room on the processional
as the heat and humidity punched me in the face.
Nothing says comfort like tropical humidity
and graduation gowns.

I think I spotted my parents but I'm not sure
because everyone pretty much looks the same
when soaked in perspiration
and plastered with the dire looks of de-hydration.

I ended up in the front row of seats on the stage.
I was told it was because I was in the honor society,
but it was oddly curious that everone in the "honor society"
were also the shortest people in the class.

It was obviously better than being in the back row on elevated band risers,
as one of the tall "dis-honorable"person's chairs slipped off the back of the riser.

 One paramedic and 15 minutes later
we were back into the succession of cliche filled speeches
that were meant to inspire me and us.

As perspiration poured down my face,
This is what I remember being told,
(followed by the responses I thought in my head)

"I'll look back on these years as the best years of my life"
( "Are you kidding me?" )

"I am to follow my dreams."
( "And try to live on air, because I sure am not going to make any money doing that" )

"I am the future"
( "Well,  duh......")

" Webster's defines graduation  as........."
( "I don't recall the definition including hurricanes, intolerable heat, and gross humidity" )

"We worked hard to get here."
( "I'm not so sure that's true of all the rebels sitting in the back row,
including the one who was now on the way to the hospital" )

"I've made lifelong friendships during these last 13 years."
( "In five years, it will be down to Christmas cards. In ten years, nothing.  Guaranteed" )

And the most outrageous cliche of the evening.........
"This is a bright filled day, filled with hope and promise."
( "Uh, have you been outside today? " )

The speeches concluded with a smattering of  "As we go forths"
and "standing on the thresholds of tomorrow"

And that's when the power went out.

Thank the Lord that the 1950's emergency generator came on to rescue us.
It provided illumination equivalent to that of 4 flashlights.

The principal distributed fake diplomas to us,
because they were using the real diplomas as ransom
in order that we would return our caps and  gowns.
(Who wants 105 sweat filled caps and gowns anyway?)

Keeping with the spirit of the evening,
the principal ran out of fake diplomas at #98.
(Really, no one in administration knew that there were 105 of us???)

Because we were under the cloak of darkness,
and because we wanted graduates #98-105 to matriculate,
the entire front row of honor society students,
willingly threw their fake diplomas back at the principal.
(If we  learned anything in those 13 years, we certainly learned generosity)

By the end of the ceremony, the principal,
who looked completely defeated and exasperated,
realized that the "March of the Clowns" electronic organ
would not work without electricity.

He turned to me and said,
"Since our senior who was voted most musical of the class
is sitting in the front row,
I'll ask him to recess the class out by leading us in the school song."

(and I thought I was in the front row because I was honorable, or short.........)

Well news flash,
Mr. Most Musical of the Class of '75
could not recall how the school song started.

My high school education continued to be the gift that kept on giving.
I learned that night,
that when asked, in public, to lead a song that you don't remember,
just wait. Clear your throat, and wait some more.

Inevitably  someone will come to your rescue.
That someone was one of the dis-honorable students in the back row,
who unabashedly broke forth into Queen's classic
"We will, we will rock you."

And so the class of 1975 walked into their bright-filled  future
which was in reality, a congested, undersized, and dark  school hallway.
I never found my parents that night.
But as the back row of talled people predicted,
the class of 1975 rocked all night.

I remember everything about that evening 39 years ago,
because nothing went as planned.

Our lives are filled with the unexpected.
Things that throw us off guard,
 Things that throw us off-balance.
Things that knock us back.

Things that will eventually cause us to grow,
if we let them.

JOSHUA certainly didn't expect
Rahab, the prostitute to become a key figure
in conquering Jericho.  (Joshua 2)

JONAH didn't expect to find a classroom for repentance
in the belly of a whale. (Jonah 1)

HOSEA could never have imagined that
God would ask him to marry the harlot, Gomer,
as a prophetic act describing God's unending love
 towards an unfaithful people.  (Hoseah1)

The MARYS had no idea that the tomb would be empty
because the Lord could not be held down by death. (Matthew 28)

Life is filled with the unexpected
It is those things that we tend to remember.
It is those things that move us to grow stronger in the faith.

I didn't learn much from the cliche filled speeches that night.
But I did learn at graduation,
that life isn't predictable.

And that it is because, not inspite of life's surprises,
that I can fully become who I need to be in Christ.

Wait, Oh is the first word to my high school song.
Can I have a re-do Mr. Principal ???

Consider it all joy, my friends, when you encounter various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And let endurance have its perfect result,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing..
                                                         James 1: 2-3

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