With all of the craziness of last semester, it’s hard to find time for recollection and reflection. Readings for this class have to be done by such-and-such a day. Graduate applications are due the same day as two papers. And, oh, did you remember about the project that’s due for work in the next few days?
Granted, with the trajectory that many students like me are taking, we’re either going to graduate on time or crash and burn in a blaze of glory. Maybe both.
Funny thing, that. Graduation from college. In little more than ten weeks’ time, many of my friends and I will cross a stage, be handed a diploma, and land in adulthood.
Theoretically. At least, that’s what it seems like we’re supposed to be doing.
But on certain nights when I’m being honest with myself, I don’t know what life will look like after graduation. I don’t know if or when I’ll see many of my closest friends anymore. I don’t know where life will take us.
And that frightens and excites me simultaneously in a wonderful, horrific amalgamation of emotions somewhat typical of the human experience, as I’ve so learned.
As a senior looking at the immanent reality of life potentially outside of academia, I suddenly feel like two eight-year-olds in a trench coat wielding a cardboard sword and sent off to face the dragons of life.
I wonder how many people feel the same exact way?
I’ve found some solace in the story of a man in a similar circumstance. He was impulsive, rough around the edges, and not the sharpest one of his friend group. But he was dependable when his passions didn’t get in the way. I think that’s why his friends called him Rock, err, I mean Peter.
When Peter began following Jesus, he had just given up his fishing nets. He had little, if any, training for the road ahead of him. He was a blue-collar worker, through and through. And yet, it was this Rock, this Peter, that Jesus chose to be the Rock upon which to build his church. It was this Peter that took up the mantle of leadership after only three and a half years of training.
I’m sure he (and the rest of the disciples) felt the same way that many of us do.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch of the imagination to say that I’m a self-professed nerd and proud of it. I count myself as one among many of the fandoms that exist throughout the world.
Lord of the Rings? You bet.
Star Wars? Of course.
Hunger Games? Maybe a bit of a stretch for it, but I can see its appeal.
The funny thing about each of these series is that each one of them boils down to the same story at the end of the day. Someone is called upon out of a backwater community to overcome some great obstacle or seemingly invincible evil. But, as time goes on, they find that they aren’t alone – they are joined by people who provide support, companionship, and advice along the way. Eventually, depending on how their allies have influenced them, the unlikely hero makes a decision that will have a sweeping impact on the world around them – for better or for worse.
But why tell the same story?
It seems as though the reason is that there is something about these stories that resonates with the core of our experience as a species. Something about these stories tells us that for any journey we go on, we need someone else to walk alongside us, providing companionship, support, and advice along the way. We need others to tell us that the journey is worth taking in the first place.
It reminds us, suggests G.K. Chesterton, not that dragons are real, but that our dragons are defeatable.
When I started on my journey at my undergraduate college, I came in confident of my positions. I thought I only had a few questions. I thought college was about merely refining the beliefs I held about the world.
I’m leaving college with more questions than I had coming in. I think that’s the point of college – to sharpen your hunger for knowledge, to whet your appetite for truth, and to give words and shape to identifying beauty and nuance.
But I’m also leaving college with a newfound respect for community.
I’m glad that the Gospel of John ends the same way that the book of Genesis begins. It begins, and ends, in darkness.
The Gospel of John’s final chapter opens a few minutes before sunrise. For those who have gotten up early enough, you’d know it’s one of the darkest moments of the day. The moon has set. The stars have disappeared. The world itself seems like it’s holding its breath.
If the chapter was part of a movie, the camera would open, hovering over the surface of the deep, just above the waters of the Sea of Galilee. As it pans horizontally, it would pause as it faced east.
And then, right where the sky meets the sea, the camera could just make out the silhouette of a small fishing vessel. On it are some men and women, not unlike you and I, puzzling over what to make of the past few years.
You see, just there on that very same shoreline came a man who invited each of them on a journey. And for those that followed him, they got to see him do some amazing things. At times, they heard him say some incredibly challenging things, too. But above all, as these men and women got to know this strange man from Nazareth, he taught them day by day how to write a better story with their lives.
And yet, in the last couple of weeks, everything went sideways. The world turned upside down and these men and women found themselves running for the hills in their friend’s moment of greatest need. They found themselves returning to writing the stories that the world told them made the most sense – basing their value and belonging on what they did or what they knew.
And for many of these men and women, what they did and what they knew had to do a lot with fish. And so, they returned to their old way of living.
Eventually, they decide to call it a night and draw in near the shore. As the boats get closer, though, one of the men leans out over the bow and squints. He points. Far off, there, on the shore, is a man. At first, nobody knows who he is. Neither would you in the same type of lighting. But as the boats draw closer, the look on his face changes. He’s puzzled, not sure whether to be overjoyed or ashamed.
As the light of the rising sun reflects off the water, it lights up his face so you can see who it is who’s doing the pointing. It’s Peter – Jesus’ right-hand man. So too, can the men and women see who is waiting for them on the shore – the same man that they left in his moment of greatest need.
But instead of reacting in a way that would make sense in a story that the world told the men and women they should tell, Jesus does something completely different. He doesn’t judge them based on how well or poorly they did. But he doesn’t laugh at the fact that they don’t know the answers to all their questions, either.
But instead of showing his power by saying “Let there be light” and throwing another star into the sky, Jesus turns to his friends who still don’t know how to react and bids them join him at the small charcoal fire he had started, one large enough to cook breakfast for his friends.
And it is over food that Jesus calls Peter, who still can’t look his friend in the eyes just quite yet, and recommissions him for the work to which he was called.
The notion of stepping out into the unknown is still a frightening thing. I have more questions than I believe I have answers. I wonder if my cardboard sword is enough to take down the dragons I face. I’m afraid to make mistakes.
But I take solace in the fact that when Jesus made the church, he made it out of humans. Humans like Peter, like Thomas, like Matthew, like Joanna, like Mary, like Martha. Humans that have in them the same amount of intelligence and stupidity, of humility and pride, of malleability and stubbornness that each of us is made of. That you’re made of. That I’m made of. They struggled with getting Jesus’ message as much as we do today.
And yet, Jesus continues to work with them. He reminds them that there’s a better story to tell. And it is the same story that allows us to do as the disciples did – to step into the dark, into the unknown, as sheep among wolves, as a bunch of eight-year-olds in trenchcoats, advancing the Kingdom in their own little ways.
The story that they learned to tell was one that said that community and belonging and meaning was not based on how much they knew, or how much they did, but on who they found themselves in relationships with.
Their stories tell me that regardless of where I end up, I can still tell a better story. And I suppose that in this, I can find some rest.
That is if I can get this paper in first.