From the Dean: Remarks from the Graduating Student Blessing

July 18, 2016

Each year, the School of Theology and Ministry celebrates its graduating students during an intimate gathering in the Chapel of St. Ignatius. The Graduate Student Blessing, planned and led by students of the school, joins students, family, friends, faculty, and staff to celebrate the unique community at the School of Theology of Ministry and acknowledge the hard work and accomplishments of the graduating class of 2016. In case you missed this year’s event, below are the words shared by Dr. Mark Markuly, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry.

 

 

Graduating Class of 2016, Dean’s Welcome

I wish to be with the broken people
the get in your face challenge me people
The sometimes hidden

sitting in a dark corner kinda people
The don't you love me
I wish you seen me sorta people
People just being real people
not having to have it all together people
Them doing their best to figure it out people
dancing and singing without the smooth moves people 

I don't care about the color of their skin
or what others think of as their sin
They don't need to be perfect to win
seeing and listening is where I'll begin …

We'll start
with our broken smiles
It's the best we've got
It might seem like so little
still I think it's a lot
Through life's struggles we've all fought
lessons needed learning
experienced not taught
real is real it couldn't be bought

Welcome to the graduation service of worship for the School of Theology and Ministry’s Class of 2016. My name is Mark Markuly, and the students planning this time of prayer and reflection asked me to participate in one of the displays of the interior journey they have conducted during their degree program. In these artifacts they are modeling the kind of education they are concluding, and the profound ways this education has changed them, and their view of the world.

Some of you may know that our school is concluding a four-year Faith and Family Homelessness Project. The project began by helping 14 congregations, the spiritual home of more than 18,000 people, develop plans to respond to the problem of homeless families. Over the course of those years, the project engaged all of the faith-based organizations in western Washington that are serving the homeless population. I don’t know of any schools in North America that have risked trying to make a social justice issue part for its educational commitment, and I must tell you it has been a messy and incomplete process figuring out how to do it, with few neat corners and no 90-degree angles. The “living art” project I just participated in, and the theme of homelessness against the backdrop of one of the world’s most affluent and educated cities, is a reminder of the messiness involved in the kind of education your loved ones are completing here at Seattle University, a sloppy process of new awareness, the disappointment of limitation, the thrill of growth and development, the making and deepening and tensing of relationships, the dramatic shifts in thinking, and often in values. They could only have negotiated this uneven terrain with your support and love. So, thank you for that care and attentiveness, and I’m sure the graduates would like to thank you personally for your role in getting them to this day.

The poem I began to read just a few seconds ago is called, “Broken People,” by British Columbia writer, Richard Lamoureaux. The poem is dedicated to the homeless, because Lamoureaux says, they “teach us the unvarnished truth about ourselves.” Some of the courses in a theological and ministerial curriculum have the overwhelming reading lists and written demands that are common to all graduate programs. But, other courses are focused on learning and close reading of our most perplexing text – our own heart and mind, identifying our real gifts and weaknesses, and learning how to lean into the overwhelming pain of the world using our own pain as a guide. Your loved ones have been involved in coursework in a school like this because on some level they are interested in learning the “unvarnished truth” about life, the world, and themselves. They have been drawn by something bigger and motivated by a force of love and service that is not easily understood in our moment in history and our immediate and consumer-oriented society. 

Students completing professional education programs are celebrating mastery of a new craft in many celebrations at this time of the year. Your loved ones are part of a highly selective group of graduates however, who were drawn to understanding the deepest mysteries of our human nature. They have been learning the craft of the soul or “soulcraft,” an ancient art and science for exploring the deepest parts of who we are as sentient, self-conscious beings, the parts of us that hunger to make sense of this world around us, and thirst to channel the precious few hours and minutes we have on this planet into an effective response to the ultimate needs of others. The writer Anne Lamott, once said that speaking this kind of truth from the soul administers a type of medicine, the medicinal message: “that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious (but most importantly) full of grace.” (https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott/posts/)

There is an old song in the musical “Man of La Mancha” that is called, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” The musical is based on Miguel de Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote, and the song tries to capture what motivates the heart of the impossible dreamer. The song observes that such a dreamer is “willingness to march into hell for a heavenly cause.” Many of our graduates are willing to do this; many of them have, in fact, already done so.

But, the great irony of such a march, students and practitioners of soulcraft eventually learn, is that they do not find the hell they thought in following their impossible dream. Instead, they find purpose, meaning, significance, truth, beauty, goodness, they find direction, they find themselves, they find God. They also learn to look beyond the appearance of things to deeper realities. Lamoureaux puts it this way in “Broken People”:

I love characters
people who are unique
I look under exteriors to gain a peek
strength of lions disguised in meek
unconcerned with fab or being chic
Worth listening to if allowed to speak
the stories they tell will make your eyes leak

Your loved ones are completing a professional education in soulcraft that has driven them deeper into our humanity, providing insight into life that you cannot find anywhere else. They have traveled to unimaginable and humbling places people in other crafts cannot find or reach in their courses of study. They have come to the same place as the writer of the poem, “Broken People:”

For in the end
we are all broken
stumbling and choking
Disguising hurt with our joking
victims of others and their poking … 

Each just a bit afraid and broken
all the while wishing
and wanting to be
A part of something
If only we choose to see
those on the fringes
are a part of the we …

Grammy winning jazz singer Gregory Porter, sometimes called the coolest person in jazz, cannot talk about his music without mentioning the role his mother had in inspiring him. His mother, Ruth, ran a business by day and preached in a storefront church in the evenings and on weekends. Ruth spent all her free time wrestling with soulcraft, and helping the poor and homeless. Porter has a haunting song called “Take me to the Alley,” that captures the image his Mom had of God, and image you may find with many of our graduates today:

Well, they guild their houses
in preparation for the King
and they line the sidewalks
with every sort of shiny thing
they will be surprised
when they hear him say 

Take me to the alley
take me to the afflicted ones
take me to the lonely ones that somehow
lost their ways
let them hear me say
I am your friend
come to my table
rest here in my garden
you will have a pardon

Your loved ones have taken a road far less travelled and now set off on a new adventure. They’ve learned to assess what is important in life, how to recognize real purpose, meaning, and opportunity by different measures. If they seem more odd to you after this education than they did before it started, this is why, and we apologize for any role we may have had in this transformation. You should know, however, that they have helped to make all of us on the faculty and staff a little more odd, too. You also need to know that people willing to take this kind of intellectual, emotional and spiritual journey have made all the difference in the history of the world. The practitioners of soulcraft are the glue that keeps us together through the times that try our souls, and most often the spark that ignites the imagination to get beyond the cul-de-sacs of contemporary time. So, let’s take a moment to thank our graduates for their courage and their perseverance in making this educational journey.

And, now, let’s pause for prayer and reflection, and mark this important moment of transition in their lives and ours.

~Mark Markuly, PhD