Editors note: The following post is the transcript of a commencement address presented by our friends – and semi-regular CiRCE contributor – Kate Deddens and her husband, Ted. It’s lengthy, but worth the read. Enjoy.
It may seem out of the ordinary for two people to share a commencement charge. It may in fact seem a rare occurrence. There is a tradition, however, reaching farther back into history than the modern-day commencement addresses to which we are accustomed. In fact, it stretches back beyond the concept of “schools” as we think of them today, let alone “high” schools and “graduation ceremonies.” This ancient tradition is that of the family, stewarded and governed by parents. From the dawn of creation, the family has been the nurturing ground for the generations. The home and the family have been the primary environment in which the values of flourishing civilizations have been passed down from parents to children, then to grandchildren, and forward into time to this moment—this afternoon, here and now, in the midst of the 21st century.
Although the world no doubt is a different place than it was when Adam and Eve looked upon it, one thing has persevered, sometimes strong and at other times under stress, but nonetheless the essential component of society: the family and home; the place where not only useful practical skills are taught, but where community is cultivated and important beliefs, values, and cultural heritage are upheld and absorbed—where children are equipped to lead fruitful lives so that they may guide their own families into their futures. This is, in fact, what an education is all about.
The Hebrews have a word for education describing the passing of a cultural heritage through the generations. They call it chinuch. As we understand it, chinuch means something along the lines of training for life in the ways of Torah living. We see this clearly expressed in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:7, when God’s people are instructed about teaching the Lord’s precepts to their sons and daughters: “…thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.” The ancient Greeks also had a word, something like chinuch, for an education: they called it paideia. Paideia was about “instilling core values, enunciating standards, and setting moral precepts” (Simmons, Climbing Parnassus, 40). For Christians, this conveys the understanding that the purpose of an education is not simply to get a job for financial security, but has at its heart the desire to raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), so that when that child grows old he or she will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
The primary source of this education is the family. Therefore we have chosen to speak to you together, as husband and wife. We believe it is fitting that, at a homeschooling graduation, we jointly mark this day by representing a tradition of education through the family governed by parents. So, while this dual charge to the Class of 2015 seems rare, it is really quite ordinary in the grand scope of education down through the centuries. We are parents, like countless before us—like so many of you here—carrying out the responsibilities of equipping our children through a paideia: a home instruction and guidance of our families in the Christian faith and cultural heritage.
Now, begin a journey with us into the vastness of the universe. Science asserts that our sun is one of some 200 billion stars—perhaps more—in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. And according to data observed through the Hubble telescope, astronomers estimate there are probably over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Contemplate that for a moment. Can you really envision it? Probably not. None of us can. The vastness of it is beyond comprehension. The Creator of it is even farther beyond us. As we read in Job (9:8-10):
He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
Now focus on the earth in the midst of this vastness of God’s Creation, and each of us as a speck on this world. How small is each one of us. How very ordinary…
But…that would be looking at things the wrong way. Let’s look at this again, and see how very extraordinary, how rare, the creation is. It appears to be the sole place where life abounds, with such remarkably delicate balances producing the possibility for existence. For example: the earth is exactly the right distance from the sun for the surface temperature required to sustain life; the earth’s tilt on its axis as it travels around the sun generates the seasons and changes in the weather, producing arable soil. In fact, we’ve heard that the tilt of the earth on its axis is precisely right for us to be able to see into outer space in the first place, allowing us to perceive the vastness of the universe and to appreciate our own uniqueness within it; and the atmosphere of the earth has the perfect combination of gasses required to support life. With just this broad overview, we see what a rarity the earth is. Now combine this with the calculation that some scientists have made that the odds of life randomly arising, even in these perfectly suited conditions, are less than 1 chance in 10 to the 40,000th power. 10 to the 40,000th power is a 1 with 40,000 zeros after it! We can’t begin to comprehend its magnitude. This not only confirms the rarity of our planet, but points us directly to a Creator who intentionally fashioned it.
If you think about the earth and the life upon it in this way, don’t even the ordinary things we normally take for granted—such as the sun rising every day, the new buds on the trees each spring, the teeming animal life, and the conception of children everywhere—suddenly come into a new, sharper perspective? Doesn’t it become clear that the earth, amid all the enormity of an unfathomable Creation, is set apart: unique, special, unusual, uncommon, and rare? In fact, if we think about it, it isn’t “normal” at all. It isn’t normal for the sun to rise “just perfectly so,” for flowers to exist let alone bloom with such predictability and beauty, for animals to fill the earth and overflow in the seas, or for children to be born at all. It is extraordinary. It is rare. The sun’s rising each day is a miracle to be celebrate each day.
Focus for a moment on children. Think of a single child. Picture a young girl who delightedly picks the dandelions from her lawn and then proudly gives them to her mother. That child recognizes instinctively that even the lowest, commonest – and if you will excuse the twisting of our English language, the “ordinariest”—of weeds, is in reality truly incredible. With joy, this young heart harvests a treasure and gives it to her beloved mother as a token of the very particular and wonderful love she feels just precisely for her mom.
Now consider this child. She too is utterly unique. There has never been another like her nor will there ever be another exactly like her. Each child—among the billions of living people in the world—is rare. So rare, in fact, that he or she is also a precious treasure. As the earth is set apart among the billions of stars, each child is set apart among the billions of other immortal souls.
Please hear this: each of you is pricelessly rare.
You too have been set apart…not only in the vastness of creation, not only among the billions of the world’s population, but in the form of your education. You have been home educated in an ancient tradition …a type of paideia… and you have reached a great milestone in your lives—the point at which you mark your “graduation” from the family which has nurtured you and the beginning of your adult lives. So we exhort you to go forward and be rare: continue to be set apart!
But how, you might ask, can you do that? Simple: be ordinary.
Let us explain. Return to the idea of how the earth is so unique and set apart. Notice how it is in so many ways so ordinary—seemingly unremarkable, boringly predictable, so regular in its forms and patterns that we routinely make important plans based upon the regularity of its rhythms. We plan for events; we plant gardens; we look forward to anticipated milestones like graduations. Graduates, be rare, and be ordinary, by following the example that the Creator has set: see how well structured and regulated the creation is, how filled with thousands of liturgical repetitious patterns like the seasons and the tides. It is so regular that when something irregular occurs, such as an earthquake or a volcanic explosion, aren’t we taken aback? We are shocked. So accustomed are we to the ordinary rhythms of the Creation that when they are broken, we are nonplussed and bewildered.
In your lives seek the steady guidelines that Scripture gives for living: reject randomness and inconsistencies for order, structure, patterns, regularity, integrity and honesty. Be steadfast. Reject the secular world’s definition of rarity, which is usually to be showy and ostentatious; ever-changing; seeking to create something out of nothing; refusing to acknowledge the validity of the patterns of the past; rebelling by setting up an idolatry of innovation which misunderstands innovation itself. Innovation is never making something out of nothing. Innovation always rests upon what has come before; as King Solomon tells us, “That which has been is that which will be. And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). So although life can be regenerated, improved, and sanctified through God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, we have no power to genuinely reinvent ourselves…or anything else, for that matter.
Don’t believe the world’s argument that in order to be extraordinary you must be “different just for the sake of being different,” famous, rich, and powerful…and that if you are not those things, you are perhaps unworthy of any notice, and will have no influence on those around you and the society in which you live. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, realize that true, genuine excellence follows God’s example: look to God’s creation everywhere around us. The heavens—and the rhythms and patterns of the earth within them—declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Seek to emulate the truths they teach us.
How can your lives follow the patterns God has revealed in His Creation and in His Word? In all that you do, embrace ordinary, grounded, and regular patterns of worship; work and rest; family and children; learning and teaching; servant leadership and compassion; fellowship and community. In whatever you do, in whatever vocation to you which are called, make sure to do the ordinary things which so many who have come before you have done and which are in fact quite special, indeed rare: fear your God; love your neighbors; fulfill your responsibilities; let your “yea be yea and your nay be nay” (Matthew 5:37).
Look to God’s Word, where His guidance and admonitions to us are clear: love the Lord and His precepts with all your strength, heart, mind, and soul and cherish the life He creates (Luke 10:27); praise Him; steward yourselves, your families, and His creation wisely; follow His commandments. Remember Hebrews 12:1 and 2 in which we are admonished: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
A favorite poem of ours that expresses this is Rudyard Kipling’s IF. Bear in mind as we read part of it that although the speaker addresses his son, this could as well be addressed to a daughter; and as all truths are, it is of course applicable to all human beings, whether male or female, made Imago Dei; it is possible, even, to think of this as a poem from God to any one of us. Listen to the admonitions of Scripture that run through it:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Therefore, graduates, as you seek to understand what vocations the Lord is calling you to fulfill, live out rare and ordinary lives which cause people around you to ask why you are the way you are, for them to ask you about the reason for the hope that is within you and shines out from you.
Be a light in a dark world—not through fame or fortune, prestige or power (even if you should achieve those things, which you indeed may!)—but through the rarity that reveals itself predictably and steadfastly every day in every aspect of your lives…just as surely as the sun daily rises and sets.
Above all, look to the example of the most rare and ordinary: Jesus Christ. The Incarnation. God, the most unfathomable and remarkable, became the most ordinary of beings—a little baby, born into the commonest of environments: a stable in a small, ordinary, inconsequential town called Bethlehem to an ordinary, seemingly inconsequential couple, Mary and Joseph. And yet, as we have seen, the commonest of the environments in and of itself—our planet earth – is a rare place indeed for any baby to come into the world, let alone the Son of God.
It is only through Christ that anyone becomes new, through the fusion of the ordinary and the rare: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The very synthesis of ordinary and rare was incarnated for you, He lived for you, He died for you, and He was raised for you. He invites you to follow Him, to emulate Him, to be like Him.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Class of 2015, we congratulate you on your achievements, celebrating this day as graduates of each of your home schools, and we admonish and encourage you: continue to be set apart! Live for the ordinary. Live for the rare. Live for Christ.