Lee Royce, President
August 22, 2008
Welcome to the 2008 Convocation and the beginning of our 183rd year. I am not ready for this year to commence. I am not ready physically or psychologically, but here it is. It's upon us, and so we move forward. This year our grand gallery of deans chose a learning theme for our year: "The Journey for Life: Walking with the Lord." A learning theme should afford us the opportunity to organize various programs and activities around a unifying idea. This is our first year to mount what we hope will become an annual effort at creating a unifying theme, providing us with focus and thus better clarity in our various programs both curricular and extracurricular. So, it falls to me to deliver an initial interpretation of this theme.
The theme is "The Journey for Life: Walking with the Lord," and so I wish to tell you a story of a journey, a rather ill-fated, almost terminal journey I took some years ago and then to relate some conclusions from this personal journey to our theme for the year, "The Journey for Life: Walking with the Lord." The story of my journey begins many years ago when my father decided that we should take a final family vacation - a sailing adventure from West Palm Beach, Florida, to the Bahamas. We had sailed for years throughout the Chesapeake Bay, so surely we could sail out into the Atlantic and on to the Bahamas. Right. Our journey began late one summer afternoon - not a wise choice - aboard a 46-foot single-masted sailboat. As we cleared Palm Beach harbor, we raised the mainsail, or I should say we tried to raise it, only to find that it was fouled; we could not hoist it up the mast. Here we were in a sailing boat, unable to raise the mainsail. "No matter," the captain (my father) bellowed, "we'll go under power and put up the jib or perhaps a spinnaker." Darkness settled, and the sea began to churn, roll, and then swell. Growing hungry, the captain ordered the first-mate, his wife, my stepmother (who filed divorce papers the week after the ship sank, but that's at the end of the story), to make supper in the galley, which is what you call a kitchen below deck and onboard a ship. Here's this suffering soul, a Ph.D.- trained psychologist from the University of Chicago, trying to prepare a meal for a hungry crew in a roiling sea. Well, the stove caught on fire, and she screamed. My father turned the helm over to me, plunged below deck, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and sprayed the entire area below deck with sticky foam. We did not eat that evening except what could be salvaged from the mess.
We continued our journey into the darkness, with the waves pounding, growing ever more menacing. My father thought it prudent to use the marine radio to contact my uncle aboard our companion ship, now far out of sight. My uncle had wisely leased a large power boat, with 600 hp engines, and thus had sped far ahead of us. We then discovered that the two radios operated on different bandwidths, and we were thus unable to communicate with the other boat. We were also unable to reach the U.S. Coast Guard, as we later discovered in our growing fear. My stepmother, with growing anxiety, took a sleeping pill and went to the forward cabin to see if she could sleep through the gathering storm. Her bunk lay right below the main forward cabin hatch, which my father had failed to secure, not finding the hatch latch. So here you have an understandably overwrought woman, concerned about the six of us on board, trying to sleep right below an unsecured hatch in the bow of the ship. Well, we hit a great wave that threw the ship forward, popping the hatch lid and flooding the forward cabin, drenching my poor stepmother and smashing her head up against the roof of the cabin. Screaming out in terror, she reasoned the ship to be breaking apart. Again, my father handed the helm to me and plunged beneath to the lower cabin, slipping on the fire extinguisher goo all over the below deck. Down he fell. Stumbling toward his screaming wife, he vainly tried to close the hatch, to shut off the water pouring into the forward cabin. He failed, and he failed to console her; yet we were able with mop and bailing through the night to keep the water level low. Into the night we continued to plunge, the seas heaving and our plight increasingly fearful. We veered away from dangerous shoals just in time and missed crossing the bow of a freighter, which would have been a final collision. Growing more fearful, my father tried to contact the Coast Guard, with no success. So he turned to me and said, "Take the helm and sing your hymns and keep singing." Neither of my parents were Christians, but even agnostics need some comfort when the storms come literally and figuratively. So I sang on and on for hours. This was a day when you actually sang with the hymnal in a Baptist church, and I was able to remember many of them. So we crashed through the night, dark and frightening. My father was a decorated World War II veteran, and to see him scared was not a comforting sight. In fact, he said, "This may be a night for statistics, and we may be one." We could not raise the sails. We'd had a fire on board. We were taking on water. We were lost. We avoided two collisions, and we couldn't communicate with either our sister ship or the Coast Guard. We were frightened, alone and afraid. Such is often the case in the journey for life.
But daybreak arrived, as it always does. Oh, glorious daybreak met with porpoises that swam alongside our ship as they chased their breakfast, flying fish. Still we were lost, hours off course, caught in the Gulf Stream and drifting out farther into the Atlantic Ocean. Not knowing our location, we decided to follow a flock of birds heading east. And yes, twelve hours late, we arrived at West End Island in the Bahamas, exhausted, tattered, and covered above and below deck in a mixture of sea water and foam from the fire extinguisher. As we entered this grand harbor, we passed my uncle's power boat, the entire crew assembled on the aft deck looking as if they were preparing for a Ralph Lauren regatta. We heard my aunt call out, "We baked fresh bread." My father's retort is unspeakable in this company. So ended day one of a two- week journey that included grounding and sinking the ship, another divine rescue - and a divorce. I will spare you those details and draw some lessons from this journey to the ultimate journey for life.
Lesson number one in the journey for life: You need a map, you need to know how to read it, and you need to follow it. Now, when you are on board a ship, the map is called a chart. We obviously had many charts, both of the Florida waters and of the Atlantic, but we didn't know how to read the charts, and thus, we didn't know how to follow them. Specifically, my father greatly underestimated the effect of passing through the Gulf Stream, which pushed us at a speed of three knots in a direction we didn't intend to go. It is very easy in this journey for life to take you to places - psychological, emotional, and physical - that you did not intend. So in the journey for life, what's your chart, what's your map? Obviously, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the teachings of Christ represent our primary chart. Of course, we could identify the Ten Commandments or the various teachings of the apostle Paul and so many other biblical truths as important charts, but I would submit that the primary chart that you need to learn how to read and to follow are the teachings of Christ. For it was He who said in John 14, "He who has my words and does them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved of my Father and I will love him and will make myself known to him." And who could ask for a better chart than that of the two great commandments from Matthew 22:37-39: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments" (NIV). So, we have a biblical chart. Do we know how to read it, and are we willing to follow it in our journey for life? For remember, the point of a chart is to help you get to where you are going. And if you don't know where you are going, if I can paraphrase a quote often attributed to Yogi Berra, you may end up there. Seriously, the chart or the map for our destination is to become increasingly better followers of Christ as we seek in confidence our heavenly home.
A second life lesson learned from my journey and applied to the journey for life is to expect the unexpected. Many things will happen that you do not anticipate: storms will arise; water will flood your ship; you will drift near the rocks; sometimes you'll almost get flattened by a freighter, but morning will come. You might play with dolphins, and angelic birds might lead you to your safe harbor. Expect the unexpected. So many of the things you worry about will not happen, and so many of the things you haven' t worried about will happen. This leads me to my third point: if you are going to prepare for the unexpected in the journey for life, you need to be well provisioned. We were not well provisioned on our sea journey. We had only been out of port an hour when we found we couldn't raise the mainsail. The radio didn't work. When we put in to a mosquito-infested lagoon, we found there were no screens for the portholes. A few days later, when we needed to deploy the life rafts, only one of two inflated and that one only partially. We were not well prepared or well provisioned for the journey. While we didn't have a mainsail that worked properly, we'd brought along a lot of freeze-dried, expensive food, when any kind of food would have been OK. My stepmother had even purchased an expensive set of clay modeling tools, clay, and a wheel. She intended to throw pots, as they say, on the beach. All of this was left on board as the ship sank where it was moored. So we brought the wrong kinds of things with us and ignored the things that were most important. So in preparing for your life journey, ask yourself how well you are provisioned. Do you have the spiritual resources in your relationship to the Lord and to the local church? Do you have the physical resources? Do you need to lose weight, exercise more, or stop smoking? You know the resources that are necessary. Do you have the family resources and the resources of friends? Do you have the financial resources, or are you too much in debt? Are you provisioned for the journey? Can you handle the unexpected?
My fourth life lesson drawn from my journey is that you need faith for this journey, just as we needed faith to believe that we would eventually reach the Bahamas, that we would not run aground, or burn up or sink at sea. And there were times when some members of our crew lacked faith. But, we all need faith for life's journey. We need to believe that God loves us and cares for us and that ultimately we will be safe with Him however dark and difficult the journey may be.
At its simplest level, faith is trust. It means to trust in, to rely upon, to have confidence in, and to believe in someone or something. I hope many of us can recall the stirring words from Hebrews 11:1, where faith is described as giving substance to our hopes and making us certain of realities we do not see. Many of us have memorized as children the scripture verse, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." There is no better definition of faith than that which I have just read. For faith truly is the evidence of things not seen and the substance of things hoped for. To have faith is to believe, to trust, to rely upon God, and others, often in the face of contrary information and ambiguous or fearful experience.
In the journey for life, you need faith in yourself, in others, and, more critically, in God. Our theme verse, Proverbs 3:5-6, reflects perfectly this last point when the writer declares: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (NIV). Oh, how we need faith or trust in God for the journey for life.
I hope whether you participate in any of the programs that relate to this year's learning theme or not, you will reflect on your own journey for life. Learn how to read and follow your chart, expect the unexpected and provision accordingly, and deepen the habits of faith. Learn to recite with the writer of Proverbs: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." May God continue to bless you in the journey and may He continue to favor Mississippi College.