“Above All, Remember Your Creator”
First Published: July 2, 2002
A few weeks ago, I saw this excellent article by Bill Smith, the Senior Minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. It was written for graduates, and since many of ours are preparing to head off to school now, it is perhaps still timely.
“This is the time of year for graduation speeches. I have had the privilege of speaking to two graduating high school classes at Trinity Christian High School in Pittsburgh. I won't be giving a speech this year but I've been thinking about some things I might say if I were giving one. I might say:
1. Learn your manners now, if your mother did not teach them to you. Manners are not about stuffiness but about consideration and courtesy. We don't need our manners in every situation, but we should always have them available at our disposal. Be sure you know your table manners. Know how to address an envelope. Know how to behave at a funeral or wedding or job interview, or church. Know how to treat those older than you and those of the opposite sex. Manners will never hurt you, and they'll often help.
2. Learn how to dress. We are going through a time of increased informality in dress. I learned from a Tom Wolfe chapter that much of the "dress down" trend among adults began in the Silicon Valley where those highly intelligent and creative people saw no need for the conventions that characterized east coast businesses. But a part of growing up is knowing that certain types of dress appropriate for some occasions and places are not for others. Again, if your Mom and Dad did not teach you these things, learn them now. Know when to wear jeans or shorts, and when to wear casual sportswear, and when to wear "business casual," and when nothing less than a suit or dress will do. As with manners, dressing properly is a way of showing respect for other people, for occasions, and even for ourselves and our jobs.
Christians should have a concern not just for propriety but for modesty. By modesty I do not mean dressing in a manner deliberately out of style or prudish. Men can dress immodestly when they dress in an attention getting or shocking or extravagant ways. Women must be concerned for modesty in the sense of not dressing in sexually provocative ways. Some do this knowing full well what they are doing while others are naive. Here's a hint for young women: Ask your father and/or brother if what you wear would give him a problem if it were worn by another girl or woman.
3. Learn to write and speak the English language. As with manners and dress, you may violate the rules at times, but you should know at least that you are and better also why you are. When I use the word "ain't" and my spell check tells me that it is not correct, I already know that and I have decided that I want to use that word in that place for some affect. Continue to grow your vocabulary, not to show off, but to do a better job of making your point by using the best word. Get down the rules of standard grammar and punctuation. By all means, use the spell and grammar check, or, of all things, a dictionary or thesaurus (even in book form). And, yes, read books! Real books with covers and pages. Reading will not only help you with language, it will grow your mind and enlarge your world. Language is about communicating what is in one mind to other minds - clearly, accurately, as concisely as possible, and in as interesting a manner as one can. Language is at least as important as math.
4. Have confidence in the Western tradition. You will hear some "scholars" scoff at the relevance of the "old, dead, white guys" - at the things they thought and taught. You will hear about "new paradigms" of observing, thinking, and learning. Some will tell you that there is gender-specific or racial-specific "truth." Some will insist that multi-culturalism means more than understanding, appreciating and critiquing all cultures. They will insist that we must treat all cultures as equal and that we must jettison the whole concept of objective truth that we can seek and recognize when we find it.
But the Western tradition at its best is about studying and thinking and communicating in the confidence that "there is truth out there" to be discovered and passed on. It is about respecting (though not without criticism) the learning of the best and highest intellectual tradition. It is about thinking rationally and logically.
As Christians we know that the Western tradition has been influenced by the Christian faith (and that for good) more than any other cultural tradition. And Christianity is about a God who really is there, revealing Himself and communicating with us in the Bible in language we can understand. In the end all truth is God's truth for when we know the truth we know reality, to the extent possible for us as finite and now sinful creatures, as God does.
5. Above all else, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." Trust, love, and serve God, and develop habits of so doing. Do it now, not later. It will not be easier later when you have "had your fun and done your thing" and are now old. It will be incredibly more difficult. The only life worth living, the only life with deep joy, and only life you can look back on with some sense of satisfaction when you come to die, is a life lived with God and for God. Go to church, worship, read your Bible. pray, get and keep Christian friends. Marry a Christian. Bring up children for God. Find something worthwhile to do with your life and do it with all your heart for God. Know that nothing is so good as God's smile and nothing so bad as God's frown. If you have not entrusted your life to Christ as your Savior from sin and the Lord of your life, do it now, without delay. Nobody is ready to live until he's ready to die and nobody is ready to die until he has been reconciled to God in Christ.
Thanks for giving a few minutes of time to your Pastor, who, believe it or not, once too was young.