Home > President Emeritus Robinson >
Whitworth College Fall 2003 Convocation Address
Sept. 3, 2003
This past July 1 happened to be my 10th anniversary
of coming to Whitworth. And, by pure coincidence, I had set it aside
to think about the future rather than reflecting on the past.
When I do look in the rear view mirror, I see
mostly students, faculty and staff, and the warm relationships that
have made this such a good
place to work. I have to admit that I do catch myself contrasting the
quality of the 1993 campus with what we have today, but at the top of
my reflection list are the people and events that define us. However,
this past Sunday when there was a power failure, I did remember the two
times I canceled classes. One cancellation was for the great ice storm
that brought down more than 130 trees on campus and left us without power.
Some of you remember how adventuresome the blackout seemed at first.
We were all macho about how we could handle it; that is until we noticed
the toilets didn't flush, at which point we promptly closed the
And then the most celebrated cancellation came
in March of 1996. Our men's basketball team had reached the semi-final round of the national
championship in Boise, Idaho. I couldn't help but ask myself, "If
we make it to the finals tonight, how cool would it be to cancel school
and take buses to the game?" I tried to think who might object.
Mmm, faculty. They're so dedicated to learning. So I convened a
meeting that included faculty president, John Yoder, to see how folks
felt about announcing to the campus that "if we win tonight, we're
going to Boise tomorrow." Dr. Yoder stroked his beard, pondered
the possibility. He concluded that the faculty would be OK with this
very special exception. "So what about you, John, how do you feel?" I
asked. "Oh, I've already canceled my classes. I'm flying
down there." So we made the announcement and that night Whitworth
students were glued to their radios. When we were ahead in the first
half it was party-time. And when we got behind by 10 points in the second
half, there was an outbreak of homework all over campus. And when we
won the game, the road trips began.
So these past 10 years have been good. But, as I said,
my thoughts these days are on the next 10 years? What is our highest
hope for Whitworth
College? In the next few minutes I am going to tell you mine. I am
going to tell you what would please me more than any new building,
more than any magazine ranking, and more than a $10,000,000 gift (but
not as much as a $50,000,000 gift).
I would like Whitworth to become the world capitol
of grace and truth. I would like us to bleed grace and truth. I would
like to overhear some
guy in a sports bar say, "sure Gonzaga has a great basketball team,
but how about that grace and truth up there at Whitworth?"
Grace and truth. We parents are usually ridiculous
when it comes to answering our kids' first questions about God. I remember flushing
some dead goldfish down the toilet then being quizzed by our two year-old
daughter, "Where's Grumpy, Dad?" I mumbled something
about goldfish heaven. Of course, when she teased out of me the particular
route Grumpy took to heaven, she asked if God was in the toilet, and
if we'd get flushed down the toilet, and a bunch of other dumb
questions that were totally my fault. I think the best way to answer
the questions about God is by pointing. That's what John the Baptist
did when he was standing on the roadside with two of his disciples and
pointed at Jesus and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."
John the disciple, who recorded John the Baptist's pointing incident
and with no shortage of modesty described himself as "the disciple
Jesus loved," used words to point in the 14th verse of his gospel.
After starting his gospel with a grand, third-person statement about
how the world was created by Christ the Word, John shifts into the first
person plural and sums it up, "here it is in a nutshell folks,
the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the
glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and
Grace and truth. I'm going to sound very Zen here for a moment,
because I would like to argue that the essence of the universe can be
found in the essence of the Creator, and John reports that the essence
of the Creator is grace and truth. So, if you believe you are made in
the image of God, then you must understand that you will
properly if you ignore your essence - grace and truth. Although our genes
got contaminated in the Garden of Eden, and we haven't exactly
cleaned them up along the way, the inclination to live by grace and truth
is deeply embedded in our moral and spiritual DNA. For this reason, you
will malfunction as a friend, you will malfunction as a spouse, you will
malfunction as a parent, and you will malfunction as a Christian -- if
you suppress grace and truth. It is a primary source of joy. It is the
essence of who God is and it is the essence of how we are created.
Grace and truth. What did grace and truth look
like to Jesus? One day a group of religious leaders somehow caught
a woman in the act of adultery,
an act carrying an automatic sentence. "So, we caught her," they
boasted as they pushed the woman in front of Jesus. "What are
you going to do, Jesus? The law says she must be stoned." Well,
you know the story. Jesus suggested whoever was without sin to cast
the first stone, and he didn't get any volunteers. So now it's
just Jesus and the woman. Jesus, who'd been writing something
in the sand during this exchange, looks up and says to the woman, "Where
did your accusers go? Did they condemn you?" "No," she
answered. And Jesus said, "neither do I" -- grace -- "don't
do it again" -- truth.
Grace and truth. There is certain eco-system
to grace and truth. We can't jack up one to make up for a shortage
of the other. Truth without grace is harsh, usually self-centered and
It makes the teller feel good, and leaves the receiver feeling kicked
in the teeth. Grace without truth is deceptively permissive, often lazy,
and equally un-Christ-like. It allows us to become comfortable in our
ignorance or denial of the truth.
Grace and truth. What happens when the ecology
of grace and truth is lost? First, I have observed over the years that
grace ceases to be
grace if it lacks truth. And truth ceases to be truth if it lacks grace.
Now, I don't need to dwell much on grace ceasing to be grace
when it lacks truth, because your parents explained this to you just
before they nailed you. "Honey, it's because I love you
that I must ground you for the rest of your life." "Yeah,
yeah, yeah. Thanks for the love, dad." But on the other hand,
is it grace when we permissively allow our friends or relatives to
take dangerous paths? Is it grace when we shield people we love from
the unpleasant consequences of their actions, allowing them to continue
in self-deception? No. Grace without truth is not grace at all.
But it can also be argued that truth without
grace cannibalizes truth. About six months after I graduated from college
I was doing youth work
in a church that was divided on a very important issue. One day the main
leader on one side of the issue invited me out to lunch. Not more than
10 minutes into the meal, I realized that I was the lunch. After he got
done blasting me, I grunted through tears and anger the only thing that
made sense to me. "I quit." Over the years, I've reflected
on that beating in search of anything that could be helpful to me. Happily,
I've come up with some rules for all of you who want to pummel
me with the truth: First, I will have a hard time hearing truth if I
am busy defending myself; second, I will have a hard time identifying
truth if the assault feels like it's more for your good than for
mine; third, I am not capable of accepting truth from you if the attack
feels personal; and fourth, I will stop thinking about truth if you make
claims about my motives; only I knew my motives -- and I would rather
you ask me what they are than tell me what you think they are. So for
me, and I suspect every other human being in our culture, without grace
you will lose credibility and any hope for truth-telling will be destroyed.
Grace and truth. At the most primal level of our human relationships,
we need grace and truth together. For those of you who have come to Whitworth
holding religious convictions that lie outside the Christian faith, I
would bet that you can find reverence for grace and truth in your faith
or world view. It is how we are made. Christians have no monopoly on
grace and truth. In fact, Christian history has shameful examples of
graceless attacks on those who disagree with them. And there are shameful
attacks that have happened on this campus, all in the name of Christian
truth. And, ironically, when these attacks have happened it is because
we have denied the truth. The truth is that we see through a glass dimly.
The truth is that we cannot fully explain an infinite God. The truth
is that we know God by faith and by faith alone. The truth is that this
God with whom we have bludgeoned others is the same God whose Bible says
way more about humility and love than any particular sin, except for
maybe the sin of pride. Am I suggesting that Christians water down the
truth? No. I am suggesting that we bathe our criticisms in grace. Am
I suggesting that we avoid satire and sarcasm and teasing? Of course
not. I am simply suggesting that we be gracious in our honesty.
Now, I don't want you to cheer and I don't want you to groan
at what I'm about to say. I flat out love how much fun we have
at Whitworth, but this morning grace and truth for me is that I don't
find much good in the kind of sexual innuendo that was a part of last
night's fun, both during and after Mock Rock. Do I condemn anyone?
No, my level of righteousness barely qualifies me to criticize, say nothing
of condemn. The awareness of God's grace toward me makes it easy
for me to feel plenty of grace toward others. But if I am a person of
truth, I cannot stand here as if I'm feeling fine about last night.
The true Christian story is all about BOTH grace
and truth. When humanity rebelled against God, it was only God's grace that could keep us
from condemnation. So the cry of Reformer Marin Luther became, sola
grace alone that saves us. But with all due respect to the entire Protestant
Reformation (and to ASWC president, Ben Metcalf, a fine Lutheran), Luther
was wrong. Sure, it is grace alone if you're Luther, or Ben, or
me for that matter, but it is not grace alone if you're God. Because
God is God, it had to be gratia AND veritas. Grace and truth. It was
truth that would not allow God to wave his grace wand and say, you're
all fine -- sola gratia. Have a nice day. Humanity's sins
had to be punished. Someone had to pay. That's truth. And the only
one qualified to pay the price for the sins of the entire human race
was God the Son. That's truth. So Jesus joined the human race and
endured the greatest punishment that this planet will ever know. That's
grace. And one day perfect grace and perfect truth will reunite and God's
kingdom will be consummated. That may not be our history, but that's
our future. That's grace and truth.
Let me close with a vision of this grace and
truth that was given to St. John when he was on the Island of Patmos.
Listen to his report...
1Then I saw in the right hand of him
who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and it was
with seven seals. 2And I
saw a mighty angel shouting in a loud voice, "Who is worthy, who
is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3But
no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll
inside it. So I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy
to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders
said to me, "Do
not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he
has triumphed. He is worthy to open the scroll...."
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing
in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures
elders. ... 7He came and took the scroll from the right
hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken
it, the four living creatures
and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb...and they sang
a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you paid the price and purchased for God men and
women from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Grace -- the Lamb of God was willing to
Truth -- the Lamb of God had to be slain.
Grace and truth.
Hey, how about that grace and truth up there at Whitworth College? May
grace and truth be yours. You're the best. God bless
you. Have a great year.