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Monday, May 22, 2006
Graduation Day (reflections)

Graduation Day has come and gone again for us here at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. It's always a "contrast in studies" for me. I mean, on the one hand, there's all the academic gowned status-oriented regalia. Who has what degree and what is it and where is it from and where is or isn't that in relation to everywhere else and what kind of honors were or were not attached to that degree and on and on we could go with the never ending "order of march."

Ok. Ok. So I'm at the end of the processional parade you say. That's why I'm ranting. I hope not. I've got my share of degrees and honors. One of the curious oddities of the commencement program was that my name and title were listed followed by the letters "J.D." for juris doctorate. For crying out loud-- what's that got to do with anything? I have an MDiv, a Masters of Divinity, from this very institution which has far more to do with being the Vice President for Community Life and the Dean of the Chapel than my Law Degree ?#@$.

So what's this growing blog post really about? Thanks for asking. Check this out: I over heard someone, an apparent guest, make this comment to another following the ceremony, "it felt a lot like the University of Florida." Shouldn't a Christian seminary be different?

A Seminary, a place preparing men and women for service in God's Kingdom, should be distinctive, and this distinctive should be abundantly apparent in the chief ritual that culminates our work each year. Every year, this thing gets on me, so this time I will blog it out. WE ARE A SEMINARY. Shouldn't that imply more than just different songs and an extra prayer or two? We represent the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, the God, (a.k.a. Jesus), puts ALL status aside, is born into poverty and lives in obscurity. Then he has the audacity to actually take that off and put on a towel and wash the feet of his own followers. His apparent final appearance was in a "line-up" between convicted criminals, nailed to a cross in utter shame and humiliation. His command: "Follow me!" What would a commencement ceremony really look like in that tradition????

Though our commencement parade is led by someone carrying the cross, somehow I don't think this is what he meant.

So it has become my practice each year during graduation to compose a poem as I sit there sweating underneath the robe and regalia for two to three hours. You can read last year's poem entitled "Perpetual Underclass" here.

I call this year's poem

Commencement ?

Regalia'd Parade
Humility or Pride
A lover's quarrel in
the unlikely marriage of
Academy and Church. . . .
So why not wear burlap
and limp
from wounds
of Apostolic battle
crying out,
"Kingdom Come!

Comment: As I sat there in the ceremony I couldn't help but remember stories of Saints who literally limped from their martyr-like wounds as they made their journeys to the Apostolic Councils of the first few centuries of the Church. Interestingly, at these gatherings they hammered out in excruciating ways the doctrines which form the substance of our teaching today.


posted by John David Walt | at 5/22/2006 12:51:00 PM



Anonymous jp said...

JD, couldn't you have just called in sick for commencement...save you some stress!
J.D. is a higher degree than MDiv so thus more important to be listed, right?!
We do so love to parade around in our robes, don't we?! It's like grown-up dress-up time. What's the history on why commencement exercises are what they are? Did the Saxons celebrate this way in regard to the summer equinox or something?
Lovely poem...again.

2:40 PM EDT  
Blogger ap said...

intending to be here everyday, i begin with a comment! :)

the graduation is somewhat parallel to the ordination in my thinking. i like to recall the practice of early church where those seeking ordination often pledged to do so together for accountability--that they would not run. the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, after reluctantly being ordained a presbyter, seem quite appropriate: "I have been overcome; I confess my defeat."

the graduation, celebration as it is, is also the bestowal of a weighty mantle. the completion of the requirements for a well-trained minister is an accomplishment, not for its own sake, but for the future. perhaps a ceremony that looks forward to the trials would accomplish the reflection and disposition needed.

3:03 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

ap-- ed. that's every day. ;-) you da man. i'm all for graduation services--- i just think a seminary graduation service should be qualitatively different-- distinct-- not mimicking the graduation services of the world. you got a blog??

and thanks jp-- for the quick input. graduation attendance, like annual conference, is not optional. ;-) re: jd being higher than mdiv--- what's "higher" mean? wouldn't an MDiv be higher in a seminary context than say a PhD in animal husbandry???

did you see my suggested name for your blog inthe comments section a few blogs ago?

3:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Omar said...

I guess your position won't fully let you say want you want. Personally, I don't think there is anything better than a well placed F-bomb, but that is why you are respected and have a job... and I am in New York City doing nothing for week.

I also find it interesting that back in September when I went all nuts about the opening convocation, saying much of the same things you did (but from a student perspective), I was told by you and Shawn that I should not really go there and to "take the higher road" (after I said I wanted to blog about it).

So this seals the deal. I have flirted with it long enough, but from now on there are no limmits to what I am going to say on my blog. SOMEONE needs to say some of this... consequences be DAMNED!


8:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Michel said...


The thing I most looked forward to at my graduation was the crucifer leading the way into the auditorium. You know that the crucifer has always been my favorite thing in every processional. I love processions... they are incarnatinal and dramatic, elegant and beautiful. Whenever I am in a procession I feel like I'm dancing... I feel free and unafraid as though I am not walking forward but upwards, on a stairway towards God. However, they forgot to have a crucifer lead the procession at my graduation... kind of telling huh?

10:31 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

commencement questions. . . . . . who is John Deere. . . . . . . and does he have tenure????

11:09 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

omar-- calm down. #@%^ was a figure of speech--- not profanity-- a figure of speech. i have no memory of the conversation you reference here. my honesty is no license for others. i do think there must be room for this kind of edgy mildly, prophetically critical commentary. but remember-- Confucious says, "Truth without kindness is rudeness." besides-- this sounds like misplaced grief over the loss of your couch. ;-)

michaelangelo-- that graduation will forever stand out in my memory for the very reason you name. alarms were going off all over the place. :-(

anonymous-- i know who you are. put down the weapon and come out with your hands up. ;-0

11:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous michele francesca said...

"A lover's quarrel in the unlikely marriage of Academy and Church..." I love that - that's a very creative way of putting it. I see where you're coming from.

I also went back to the poem you wrote last year, and it still affected me! It's real. :-)

4:24 AM EDT  
Blogger + Alan said...

Aah, brave man you are good Father. Here's my take: if a seminary did as you suggest, from your heart, it would likely lose it's accreditation. Now, I'm not dogging on Asbury or any place in particular, but systemically, I we perhaps see too much value in the academic degrees we confer and receive, in themselves. If a sending out from a seminary had no such connection, would we value it as much? In many arenas, sadly, I don't think so. Anyway, just dropping in and puttin' a couple of cents in the offering. :) Pax vobiscum.

9:29 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

is that alan of alancreech.com?? man! i'm a blog celeb now. . . . . say. . . . . how did i get booted from your links list? ;-)

10:19 AM EDT  
Blogger gmw said...

hey JD,

You got me thinking as usual and as a result, I have a haiku for you:

Humility or
Hubris marking our event
Sending out servants?

10:28 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

love it guy--- haiku-- my favorite form. ;-) great commencement ? response. thx jd

11:44 AM EDT  
Blogger gmw said...

Thanks JD. Yes, a week or two after confessing to be more of a prose guy than a poet, I'm writing poetry--here and on my blog. You'd think I'd grown accustom to the taste of my own words by now...

2:07 PM EDT  
Anonymous JP said...

Wahooo JD! You clearly touched a hot one on this one...13 comments....most ever! Yes, even in a seminary context PhD trumps MDiv...perhaps it shouldn't, but there it is...rock paper scissors.
Yes, it should be distinctive, as in different from non seminary graduations...perhaps the grads could kneel some point and be prayed over by the professors, staff, and others...sort of like a commissioning, but more a sending forth...the robes would of course get a bit dusty, but no worries...
I will look a few blogs back and find your suggestion....

3:50 PM EDT  
Blogger corey said...

a pastor we met here in the Philippines said, "a lot of the bible is written in poetry...God loves poetry."
simply put
love the poems

5:21 AM EDT  
Blogger Michel said...

I just preached about the poetry of the bible a few weeks ago...

11:21 AM EDT  
Blogger DGH said...

I have fought this battle over and over.... I remember reading a magazine artilce abot how in the post-modern world he feels like he is dodging all these labels that people are trying to put on him. I feel like that every day... I spend most of my time in conversation with others and so many people love to put te label,"Pastor", soon to be in 2 weeks "Elder in Full connection", etc...and then every now and then I get a compliment from a "normal person" (i.e. non-Christian) that says to a friend..."D*%n, (just a figure of speach of course, heh heh...and besides I never expect a normal person to speak like a Christian) I had no idea that he was a pastor. He walked right past me and I just knew that he was not the guy you told me about." It is funny that if this guy knew me that he would see a person that desperatly loves Christ evne more than his wife or life, but it is still a label...even if it is a lack of one. (Ok I know that I am thinking out loud here...but you can keep reading or stop this is just my mind going here.) OK, I desire to be inthe world, but not of it...and in the label talk where does this fit in? I could care less that I have a M.Div. or that i desire to get a D.Min. I am not in it fr the title or the stripes on my robe... I just want t feed my passion for following Christ! I could care less if I am a Elder in Full connection....I am Christian first and foremost, and it is that label that I desire to live more than a bumper sticker or robe. Tiffany looks at me crazy when I tell her that I do not want to wear a stole after I am ordained Elder in Full connecttion... I want to wear a towel. I want to remember and remind everyone else that I am a servant of God and others, and if I have to start a foot washing business then so be it. God, Idesire to live for you....not just live the motions, but to live and die for you! My passion is one sided lopped for you! Help us to see past our lies and t live into your creation of relationship with you and others, and you in others! I praise you over all things especialy myself, and I pray that your church ad do and be the same! Take us in your arms and keep pushing us on this trining bike of life, so that some day we too can live lives that die to self each day, and some day when you take off those training wheels for us....may we push past our walls, tear muscle, and breath your life giving breath int this world...and die knowing that ever push of the petal was painful passion for you and your creation!

OK thanks for letting me prayer type and get that out of my fingers for a few seconds. Sorry it just happend to be here that it came out. Sorry for the typos etc... Good thing God see past them. Thank you!

12:05 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

I do not want to wear a stole. . . . . . I want to wear a towel. VERY NICE dg-- thanks for the reflection and prayer here. always welcome.

2:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Michel said...

Both the stole and the towel denote the same Christ-Centered servanthood... I thought I taught you better than that... Yeesh...

11:38 AM EDT  

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