Category Archives: Thoughts

Baccalaureate Homily

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

Nolan Kurtz

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?

Thank you.

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2012-2013 Reflection

So much has happened in my life since I last wrote, but at this moment I’m noticing that my desire to write and to allow the feelings and thoughts inside of me spill out into typed sentences is something I can’t put off any longer.  My journal is half full of stories and private thoughts that nobody will ever see – confessions, lamentations, revelations, letters, and prayers, but it’s not yet satisfying enough for me to write what I know nobody will ever read.  I have to do this for myself.  There’s so much I need to say.  I want to reflect on the past year, so let me tell you some things that have happened.

This year I was the coordinator of the weekly campus worship service, which is simply called “group”, and it changed my life.  There’s so much I could say about that, but I’m doing it again next year and I’m going to let that speak for my experience.  My band Darkpine released its first single.  I think it’s pretty good for being our first studio recording.  Our EP should be better, though.  Very few people actually care about the music we create, but there’s something special and intimate about that.  We’ve been given the opportunity to record with a big-name producer this summer.  We’ll see where that takes us, but if nothing else it will be a neat thing to have done.  Earlier in the year I cut off my dreads and experienced being someone that doesn’t catch the eye of strangers.  I got my first job at a local deli, and I had my mom pierce my ear on my 21st birthday and then drank alcohol.  I think alcohol can easily become a dependency in which one feels they can only experience joy in full when they are consuming it.  I find that to be rather dumb, and something I want to be careful about.

This year friends came and went as quickly as the seasons pass and blossom.  I guess very few things in this life are permanent.  A revelation I had was that I had to be my own best friend this year and make sure that I met my own needs, that I left my desk and took an hour walk because at that moment I needed the early Spring wind to minister to me, that I said no to hanging out over some weekends because I knew that what I needed most was just time to bask in the silence of my room and get away from the sound of people talking, yelling, and complaining – time to be introverted, warm, sad and happy all at the same time.  I would take time to daydream about what it will be like to live in this world after it is utterly transformed by Jesus’ complete establishment of God’s reign.  I would write letters to God in my journal – a way of communicating my feelings to someone that would listen.  And I would write responses to these letters because I liked pretending that I was God talking back.  I would tidy up my room to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, or take a nap to Cat Power’s The Greatest, or wash the dishes in the sink to Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill because these are some of the ways I feel at home.  I would remember the freckles scattered across her face and how many dreams it took for me to finally admit that they weren’t mine.  Admittedly, I wandered through the year with a broken heart that slowly healed and broke again and healed and then in its breaking once again taught me the symbolism of yearning, that what I actually want most is to fall in love with God again and, perhaps more than that, I want to feel loved by God.

I found that loving others is easier said than done, and is something that I can only do with the help of the Spirit.  This year also made me realize that my questions, doubt, uncertainty, and frustration concerning my faith are not going to fade away over night.  And if nothing else, this year has taught me how profoundly lonely I am at the core of my being and that this is one of the most tragically beautiful parts of me.  Somehow my response to this is an almost innate longing to live life head on and without regret, without fear of the implications, so that I can firmly say to my loneliness that I wouldn’t have been able to do all that I’ve done without myself, and that being alone is often times the freest one can be in this life.

But God, there’s little I want more than to find you and enter into relationship with you.  I want to know you more than academic theology could ever teach me.  I want your kingdom to shine into the present so much that this world resembles its own destiny.  I want to be the person you created me to be and to be firm in my faith. And in case you were wondering, this is why I took a break from my blog and why I parted ways with my silly dreadlocks and my Facebook and why I tried to stop caring so much about little details.  I had to live into this paradox of being hidden in public.  I had to grow some humility and be okay when I wasn’t being looked at.  I had to be doing things for the right reasons, and while that is a life-long process, it’s something that can start now in the form of daily disciplines.  Deep down I’ve always desired fame to an extent—to be seen and to be known, but I have to be okay with being someone who tends to their garden and commits to being a better person day after day.  And I think in many ways this looks like blending in and being a source of water for those who are thirsty just as I am for a better world.

New Green

It’s easy for me to feel lifeless during finals week, so I have to make a real effort to get out by myself and touch the leaves. This afternoon I was doing just this, minding my own business and enjoying the feeling of doing nothing but looking at an empty field of grass when I heard some disturbing comments coming from the playground nearby. I looked far to my left to find the source of these voices and discovered that they were coming from the tallest point of a distant tree. It sounded like junior high-aged kids, which made it even more sickening considering what they were saying. I heard them calling this girl on the playground a “fucking whore,” a “fat and meaningless bitch.” Over and over again they traded off dehumanizing this one single girl on the swings who looked like she was just trying to be by herself. That’s when I packed my backpack and began to walk over to the tree. Initially my plan was to tell these boys to stop talking and get a life, but I immediately realized that they were probably used to being reprimanded and that telling them to shut up would probably do very little at actually getting them to stop. So, I decided I would attempt to simply make conversation with them to relieve this girl of being severely insulted.

I get to the base of the tree. One kid had just come to the bottom and he looks at me mischievously communicating that he knows what he and his friends are doing. I look up the tree and see a group of about six to eight kids sitting on its branches all staring at this girl and taking turns insulting her. I call out to them and ask them how they got up there. They give the obvious answer. I ask them how old they are and what their names are. They respond. I lie about my name and my age when they ask me. I tell them I’m young and the most vocal of the group tells me that it must suck to be me and not know anything about life. I don’t even touch that remark. What I say next probably shocks them. I ask them if they think that girl on the swings is a “fucking whore.” They all say yes. I ask them why they think so and they tell me that she is stupid and has no friends. They proceed to inform me that if I knew what sixth grade girls were like, I would understand how they are justified in putting her down. I’m suddenly saddened and reminded of familiar emotions of my middle school years. Now I tell them my real age. I tell them how when I was their age I disliked most of my peers. I tell them how their immaturity was beyond annoying. The way they thought that the world revolved around them and how whatever they said they just had to say two times louder than necessary bugged me to the point where I didn’t even want to associate with them. All of these kids high up in this tree agreed with me telling me that that’s exactly how they felt. I said, “Somewhere down the line you just learn that saying nothing at all is the most effective way to deal with kids your age.” They didn’t respond this time. Maybe they saw the irony. They just stared down at me not knowing what to say.

A few moments passed. I realized I didn’t have much more to say, so I looked over my shoulder and smiled once at that girl on the swings and when I looked back to my new friends in the tree I said, “Why don’t you give this girl a break.” I let the silence sink in. I let God find them, and after a pause of silence said, “I like you guys.” See you later.” And as I walked away from this tree they all said their good byes to me. You had to be there. It was cool. I prayed that they would remember feeling loved on this afternoon on a Seattle playground. I prayed that they would perceive God’s grace. And as their voices faded out, I soaked in all of the love that God had filled me with. I hadn’t said much to those kids, but I think it was enough.

I don’t know if you know this, but God shows up wherever He wants. He shows up in another person. He shows up in strangers who cross paths with you out of nowhere. He comes to you in your dreams. He comes to you when you’re enjoying the peace of walking by yourself. He even comes to you in the midst of turbulence and sadness. But, being a Christian in disguise helps me cope with feeling empty and alone. When I get back to my room I remember that deep down I feel like that girl on the swing, but I look over my shoulder at myself and smile because I see the virtue of patience in times like this. He doesn’t see it yet, but big things await him on the other side. All he must do is trust and wait. Is it going to be easy? No, not at all. Is it worth it? I’d be willing to bet my life on it.

Lord—

I feel weak. Give me strength.

I feel weighed down. Lift me up.

I feel hopeless. Give me hope.

I feel sad. Fill me with joy.

I feel confused. Give me clarity.

I feel lost. Show me the way.

I feel angry. Give me peace.

I feel broken. Heal my wounds.

I’ve lost motivation. Give me passion.

God, I see darkness, but I shout for the light. I fall to my knees and once again admit defeat. In Jesus’ name, lift me up.

Amen.

The Day’s Beginning

This is the third dream. They’re connected. It’s always the same place. I don’t know where it is in time or location, but it’s always the same. We start over every time. It’s like meeting someone for the first time over and over again. It’s quite beautiful actually. You’d think it’d get old, but it’s always the same in it’s enchanted thrill.

Asleep, I dreamed a little longer—running hand in hand, jumping off high places, and forgetting about this life. It was so perfect. It felt eternal. Though, I will admit that something about it put a chill down my spine the entire time. I think I subconsciously knew that it was only temporary.

But when I woke up, I chose to smile instead. I thought to myself, “This dream will be my little secret.” I turned over and was blessed to dream a little longer.

The day’s beginning.

Sunny Friday

I thought, “How strange it is that everything can be so sunny and bright, and yet, just beneath the surface, there can be such darkness. Sometimes on beautiful days like this I think I hear a curiously familiar voice, so I walk all around the city, up through the neighborhoods, down the hills and into the grass, perhaps just to find enough quiet to validate the voice. But then I find the wind seated next to me and suddenly I’m not sure I heard anything at all.

Floating

I can’t focus in my classes. I don’t have much of an appetite. I see the sun and I cringe because it’s so contrary to how I’m feeling inside. I can’t sing without wanting to cry. I can’t journal—there’s too much to say. God, all I want is to wake up. I’m so tired and weak and my prayers are so vague. My dreams go nowhere. They don’t even take me back a week. They exist in this parallel universe where all of my worries come true. Honestly though, I don’t really know what I want. I’m just so sad, empty, and confused. I’ve never felt this way before. Nobody has any advice for me except that “time will heal things.” I hate to think of that. Of course I want to heal, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to move on. I think going places by myself at night has been a good way for me to go somewhere without moving anything but my heart. I’ve been staying up really late. My eyes beg me to let them rest, but my mind tells me to keep thinking. I keep going on long walks by myself or bike rides to alleyways where I can be completely alone in the night. I need space to think and just be. I listen to one specific album on repeat probably 6 times through until I settle for the sound of the wind against my skin. I can’t sleep in. I roll out of bed and feel emptier than the morning before. I’m not going to pretend that I have it together right now. This sucks, and I think it’s okay to be brutally honest about that. I just feel like I’ve been cast out into the sea without any direction. I’m cold and I’m scared of the dark water. I’m unsure of how deep “deep” is. But, upon my own will, I begin to sink. Slowly I gradually make my way further and further into the deep of the dark never letting go of my knees. Though there comes a point in my sinking as I’m looking out into the emptiness of the water that I realize I don’t actually want to be here. It’s quiet and it makes me feel appropriately melancholy at the time, but this is Hell in disguise. I hold my breath for as long as I can, but my humanity has me rushing back to the surface gasping for air every time. Don’t tell me that God is here with me. I’ve heard that enough.  I don’t doubt His presence. Do I doubt that He loves me the same as before? No. Do I really believe that this is the end?—that my dreams are merely dreams? I don’t think so. I don’t think I was created to swim out here alone. But for now, I will continue doing just that.

God, I don’t know how to shape my prayers, so I’m relying on you to pray for me.

Amen.

Lately Divine

I’m seeing God again. I got another glimpse of home on Friday. Something triggered it and I don’t quite remember what it was. I believe I was writing a friend’s name down during class almost like a prayer request, and for a split second I felt the joy of perfection, of all things coming to justice—the notion that N.T. Wright claims is instilled in all of us from God. It looks like a sunny afternoon—what I’d imagine dancing in an apple orchard would feel like in the midst of spring love. It looks like solitude, but it’s all of us. We’re together laughing and soaking in the beauty of being a part of life. I think to myself, “If only everyone else could see what I’m seeing right now.” We would live our lives so differently—intentionally seeking love for a greater purpose, not to receive it back but to bless those around us for the greater end, for the God of the glimpse, for our return home.

Tune In

And what is sin? Sin is anything that stops you from seeing. What is holiness? Anything that helps you to see. When you’re in the presence of a holy person I think what you’re in the presence of is not someone who’s just morally right but someone who delights in being. They flicker before you, and when you hear them speak you become closer to the beating heart of reality.