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Charge to the Members of the Whitworth University Class of 2011

May 15, 2011

Elorm Atisu gave you your charge last night at Senior Reflections. It's an often-repeated phrase at Whitworth, because it's who we are. It's our mission – Elorm joked that I repeat it a lot. I do, because it's at the heart of all that we attempt do at Whitworth. There are few college campuses whose students can recite the institution's mission – I dare say just a handful. And there are even fewer campuses whose students are equipped to live out that mission so faithfully. Elorm reminded us last night that your charge is to "honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity." Let's repeat that together, once in unison. It's hard to improve on that.

Giving charges is new for me – I can't quite say that I've ever been asked to give a charge before I became Whitworth's president. And then they asked me to give a charge in Core 350 in the fall and spring this year. So, seniors, this is the second official charge I give you as our newest alumni. But I'm still wondering, how does one give a charge? Is it an order? A benediction? Some helpful advice, perhaps?

As I thought about the charge I might give you remarkable Whitworthians who have contributed so much to the Whitworth community, I thought of some common understandings of "charges" and how they might relate to your experiences as you begin to live out Whitworth's mission as alumni.

Whitworth loves Pirate basketball. A basketball charge is a foul committed by an offensive player who barrels through his or her defensive counterpart, often leaving the defensive players flat on his or her back – it's not pretty. Class of 2011, let me assure you that, in basketball terms, "you've got game." You are ready to tackle our society's most difficult challenges. You are ready to contribute significantly to the missions of the organizations and persons you will be called to serve. Each one of you is equipped with the intellectual competence, moral courage, and deep compassion it will take to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. But let me encourage you that serving a world in great need and being a servant in the image of Christ to persons of different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and cultures will require finesse, wisdom, and great care. In your heartfelt efforts to advocate, persuade, and serve, you graduates don't want to be called for an offensive charge. Rather, Whitworth graduates around the globe are known for their grace and ability to work effectively across differences. Just as basketball players are sometimes asked to "take a charge," you all will have plenty of opportunities to extend forgiveness and to work constructively for reconciliation, even when you are wronged.

Americans also love credit cards. Recently, when I was running low on cash at the grocery store, my four-year-old, Chloe, reminded me that I could "just charge it." When we use our credit cards, we are entering into a two-way promise: the bank that issues our card agrees to pay the current charges for the goods or services we desire, and in return for the convenience of credit, we promise to settle our accounts with the bank at a later date. The relationships you enjoy with family members, colleagues and friends work the same way: at times you will need to draw on your personal credit lines in asking others for help, guidance, and wisdom as you launch your post-college lives. But you will need to keep a close eye on your relational accounts. Are you giving back as much as, or more than you're receiving? Are you maintaining good credit, so to speak, by investing in others just as generously as others have invested in you My charge to you, our newest Whitworth alumni, is that you should strive to have great credit.

I thought also of the charge we get from electricity. We all enjoy personalities that are described as "electric." These are people with passion, a love of life, and a deep sense of calling – sounds like the Class of 2011 to me. Let me remind you that you are called to be plugged in to both the ultimate source of power (Jesus Christ) and the distribution grid (a community of faith) that can energize in you a spirit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When your spiritual wires get crossed, sparks and power loss can occur, but when your wires are connected correctly to their source (Jesus) and to the grid that keeps them grounded (a community of believers), the Power Giver can direct your energies in ways that maximize your gifts and talents to change the world.

Finally, I thought of Charles Wesley's poem, A Charge to Keep I Have, based on Leviticus 8:35: "Keep the charge of the Lord." The poem reads:

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O, Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.

So this is my charge to you, the members of the Class of 2011. First, as you serve the needs of others, work effectively and graciously across differences. Be winsome; don't foul out. Second, just as so many have invested in you, seek opportunities to invest in the lives of others. Don't go over your credit limit – pay off your balances. Third, stay plugged in to the giver of life, Jesus Christ, and connect with other believers for encouragement, nourishment, and accountability. Don't get your wires crossed as you enter the next exciting chapter of your lives – stay grounded. And finally, in the words of Charles Wesley, "Serve the present age, your calling to fulfill, and may it all your powers engage, to do your Master's will." We love you, and may God in Christ bless you all the days of your life. Amen.