Saturday, May 27, 2017

Odem High School 2017 Commencement Speech

Superintendent Gonzales, Principal Walker, Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Parents, family members, friends, and the graduating class of 2017, it is an honor to be with you here tonight. And I mean that with all sincerity. I’m not just up here giving the prerequisite greetings.  I am truly honored to give this address tonight because such honors are usually given to people who have climbed the corporate ladder and excelled in their fields. Such honors are usually given to folks who have managed to obtain some measure of status and fame. Such honors are usually given to folks who have a list of accomplishments at least a third of a page long. And I have none of that. I’m just an ordinary guy.

(I actually forgot this particular paragraph in the oral presentation) How ordinary am I? Well, to begin with, I live in a town that is even smaller than Odem--if you can believe that. Yes the town I live in doesn’t even qualify for a Dairy Queen--that’s how small it is. And I do not serve some sort of growing, mega-church. I have a medium sized, rural congregation that is stable to declining. I have a wonderful wife and three kids, but none of them are famous or making major headlines even in the local papers. I haven’t climbed the ranks of pastorhood in the larger church that I serve in. I’ve managed to write three books, but they are all self-published and are about as far from a best selling list that you can be. In fact, I am so ordinary that I don’t even have a viral blog post or video to my credit.

And if you would have told me 25 years ago as I walked across this field that I would be this ordinary, I would have said something to you that was quite unbecoming as a pastor. I might have even thrown in a rude finger gesture in for good measure because the last thing that I believed that I would be was ordinary. I believed I would bring some type of change to the world. I believed I would excel. It might not be in the corporate world, but I was sure that even in the church, I could become wealthy and famous. And I wanted that. Don’t be surprised.  Even us pastors sometimes get our priorities out of whack.

And I worked toward that end game. I worked toward trying to make my congregations grow and thrive. I jumped through my educational hoops graduating valedictorian of  my high school class; getting a 4.0 in college; and getting my master's degree.  I began work in a church, and of course success is measured by growth.  Therefore, I read every book on growing a church that I could.  I learned all the techniques, and I worked to try and get people to follow those techniques.  I threw myself into my job trying to make people help me attain my goals.  And what did it get me? Burned out. Tired. Frustrated. You know, I found out really quick that a lot of the time, people just don't do what you tell them to do.  It’s somewhat akin to herding cats. You get really tired, and the cats don’t cooperate.

And so I found myself looking in the mirror at quite an ordinary person whose life was not turning out the way he had envisioned. Have any of you ever been there?  Have you ever looked at your life and said, "Well, that didn't exactly turn out like I planned?"  If you have, you know it doesn’t feel good, and sometimes you need a time of healing.

That's exactly what I did, and during that time, my family and I traveled up to see my grandfather who was 94 years old at the time. Grandpa had been a pastor like me during his working years, and I sought some wisdom from him. I asked him, “Grandpa, did you ever burn out?”  Now, when you ask someone over 90 years old a question like that, don't expect a short answer.  Folks at that stage in life like to talk and remember, and that's exactly what my grandfather did.  He didn't give me a "yes" or "no" answer.  Grandpa started talking about his life and career. He started talking about all the congregations that he had served. After about half an hour he stopped, and he spoke a sentence that has forever changed me, the way I work, and the way I view the world. Grandpa looked at me and said, “I didn’t accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on very good terms.”

Now, I’ve got to stop here just a moment and offer up a disclaimer of sorts. I’m about to get a little preachy. I’m not going to apologize for it. Farmers have to farm. Administrators have to administrate. Teachers have to teach, and preachers have to preach. It’s just what we
do.

But, let me say that what I am about to say does not reflect the views or values of Odem-Edroy Independent School district, its administrators, its faculty, its employees or anyone else. The following views are my views and mine alone.  They are not meant to offend but are simply me telling my story.  That should prevent any lawsuits from the ALCU or the freedom from religion folks.

Now, back to the story. When grandpa said those words, “I didn’t accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on very good terms,” at one and the same time those words hit me like a ton of bricks and brought healing to the depths of my soul. For I knew right after he uttered those words that I was living my life in that first clause. I was seeking; I was wanting; I yearned for accomplishing much in the eyes of the world. I wanted the world to notice me and think that I was important.

But as a Christian, that’s actually quite the wrong attitude to have. As a Christian I knew that what should be most important was my relationship with the Lord. What should have been most important was realizing that the Lord and I were on good terms and that I had done nothing to get on those good terms. In reality, it was the Lord who made that relationship between Him and I straight. He redeemed me. He loved me. He bought me with a great price; therefore, I should be living my life for Him instead of trying to get accolades in the world.  Grandpa’s words re-centered my heart and brought me to a very different place.

Now, my goal with telling you this story is not to convert you to Christianity.  My goal is to try and convince you to look at the world with different eyes--to become comfortable with the notion that in all reality the vast majority of us will simply be ordinary people living ordinary lives with ordinary jobs. You don’t need to become a Christian to understand this. In fact, if you will play along with me for the next few minutes, I will show you that the world’s eyes are fickle. The world’s eyes focus on the wrong things.  This is the time to show how extraordinary it is to be ordinary.

I would like for you to do a thought experiment with me. Pretend for a moment that all professional sports have suddenly disappeared. There’s no more NFL, NBA, Major league baseball, hockey or MMA. All of that is gone. How is the world affected? Are there major disruptions in how the world works? You know the answer to that question. You know the answer is no. Now, shift your thinking once again. Pretend that there are no longer any
television stars or movie stars. Pretend there is no longer any television or movie studios. How is the world affected? Are there major disruptions in how the world works? Again, the answer is no--aside from the fact that we might have a baby boom--the answer is still no. One more shift.  Pretend that all of the politicians, lobbyists, and bureaucrats in Washington D.C. suddenly disappear. I thought I might get at least a round of applause for that one. What would happen? More than a few of us probably believe that things would improve tremendously. Now, think about this for a moment: the folks I have just highlighted are the folks who dominate what happens in society. They are the ones who grab the headlines; the ones we look up to; the ones we aspire to become like. And the actual impact they have is…

Now, let's do a major shift in thinking.  Let's pretend that those who collect garbage suddenly disappear. What would happen in a matter of weeks? Do you think you would notice? Pretend that all of a sudden all the farmers and ranchers suddenly disappeared--the ones who produce the food that we eat. What would happen in a matter of weeks? Do you think the world would be disrupted? Pretend that all of a sudden all the folks who stay at home and care for children or those who work in daycare suddenly vanish. What kind of impact would that have? What would happen if all the teachers vanished--you know, those who are charged with passing down the collected wisdom and knowledge of generations? What would happen in a matter of months? Do you think anyone would notice? What would happen if all the truck drivers were suddenly gone--you know, the ones who bring the goods to our stores? In a matter of weeks, do you think folks might get upset if there were empty grocery store shelves, no gasoline, and no materials to build? What would happen if there were no longer any EMT’s, doctors, or nurses? Would we feel it then? What about police officers and firemen? I could go on with more, but do you see it yet? Do you understand it yet? None of these folks make headlines. None of these folks is seen as important in the eyes of the world. None of these folks rate according to those in the highest of places. And yet, without them, the world would be affected in a tremendously negative way. It is the ordinary people in life who make the world work. It is the ordinary people in life that keep
society from falling apart.

Now, what does all of this mean? Graduates, you are walking across the stage tonight. Some of you are heading to college. Some of you are going to work. Some of you are going into the armed forces.  Some of you have no clue what you are going to do. But the vast odds are...mind you, just playing the odds...the vast majority of you are going to end up just like me. You are going to end up just like those people sitting out there in the stands.  You are going to end up ordinary.  Now, please know, I am not saying that you shouldn’t chase your dreams. By all means, go after them. Have fun chasing them. I wouldn't be the person that I am today without having chased mine.  And honestly, I hope that you fulfill them. But if you don’t and one day you find yourself looking in the mirror at an ordinary person: at a stay at home mom, at a trash collector, at a police officer, at a truck driver, at an engineer, even a pastor who the world ignores, stand tall. Stand proud. You are actually making that world that ignores you work.  Be proud and realize that you are extraordinarily ordinary.   Thank you.  God bless you, and God bless the class of 2017!!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Definitely the most awesome thing I've read in quite a while. Standing O from me! --Jodie

Anonymous said...

Standing O from me too! words of wisdom.

Michelle Thompson said...

The first will be last and the last will be first! Well said!

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you may call yourself ordinary but you're speech was exceptional. Great job young man. Chuck Smith - class of '67