At SPU there’s a baccalaureate service the night before commencement for all the graduating seniors and their friends and family. Along with a very intentional liturgy of songs, scripture readings, and prayer that’s constructed months in advance, it’s tradition for the Baccalaureate Committee to select two graduating seniors to give reflections on their college experience and relate it to the theme of the service. The theme of this year’s service was ‘renewal’ and I was deeply honored to be chosen as one of the student reflection speakers. What follows is the transcript of my speech. Mind you, I had to speak in front of about 1500 people! A major milestone in my life.
Seattle Pacific University Baccalaureate Homily
June 13, 2014
Well hello. My name’s Nolan Kurtz. For the last four years I’ve been studying Christian theology here at SPU and I’m finally done! I chose to major in Christian theology after being pre-med for one whole day. Theology is one of those fields of study that makes your friends and family and probably your dentist ask you why in the world you picked theology instead of science or business. For our purposes tonight I’m not going to directly answer that question, but I am going to give a brief reflection of my time here at Seattle Pacific and how I feel God has shaped me through it all.
I don’t know about all of you, but looking back I’d say SPU has caused me to confront a great deal of my weaknesses and insecurities, and that’s something I’m truly thankful for.
I remember coming to SPU and wanting nothing more than to make friends. In high school and middle school I didn’t find many lasting friendships and really longed for Christian friends. Freshman year here, I found just that and it was wonderful. The only downside is that I was having DTR’s all the time. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t, and you’re one of the lucky ones.
Then sophomore year I joined group staff as the drummer. group is the Wednesday night worship service that meets in Upper Gwinn. I was the shy guy behind the drums that had dreadlocks covering his face. I was so afraid to be in front of other people. I remember getting so nervous to even read a small Bible passage in front of the congregation. I was even the last one to share my life story on staff because I was so afraid to share my story with other people. But that community was such a blessing for me because it forced me outside of my comfort zone and something profound starting happening to me that year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning to enter into a new phase of my faith. I began to question my own theology and Christian faith a lot, which is ironically what motivated me to apply for the coordinator position on group staff the following year.
Junior year I became the group coordinator, and that experience has formed my character perhaps more than anything else in my entire life thus far. That year was tough. Maybe you can identify a year of college that was harder than the rest. For me, junior year was definitely the hardest. If you know me personally, then you know that chronic insomnia is a big part of my story. Junior year my insomnia crept back into my life and I struggled off and on with really severe fatigue, which caused doubts in my faith, and deep depression. I lived in the tension of being this ministry leader and often feeling bereft of hope. I was unsure of how I could lead this staff of twelve people and lead worship each week if I had all of these questions of faith and pain and depression that I was going through. Bob Zurinsky, the group advisor, told me something I will never forget. He explained simply that being a ministry leader doesn’t mean having it all together. Life is a journey. Your entire life will be a journey. And the important thing is to be true to yourself and seek God in the midst of it all.
Being Christian doesn’t mean we have all the answers, and I thank SPU for teaching me that. This insight empowered me to be group coordinator a second year as a senior, and I’m so thankful I did that. My faith has grown tremendously and I don’t define myself so much by my fears anymore.
So often the faith response is that we know why everything happens, even why very bad things happen to good people. But being Christian forces us to be honest with the uncertainty of things. We can’t prove that the Christian story is the right version of the story of the world and we shouldn’t try to. In fact, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through my time here at SPU is that, as Christians, we actually embrace the struggles and the ambiguities of life because we are grounded not by knowing the truth about everything, but by our hope that God is in the process of renewing us and will one day establish the kingdom of God on earth.
No matter where life ends up taking you once you leave here, no matter what job you end up taking or what state you end up living in, your vocation in the world will always be the same. Your role is to live into that kingdom of restoration and redemption and complete love here and now as best as you can as if your destiny is already your present reality. And that’s who we are as the church, as the People of God. We are a people living for the redemption of our world and we believe in our reconciliation with one another with all of our hearts.
It’s my prayer that as we graduate from this institution we go out into the world as both a people honestly aware of the brokenness of our world, the injustices and sin all around us, and also as a people secured in the hope of God’s victory over it all. Are we prepared to give our hope to the world, even though the world may often give us reason to feel hopeless?