With twin 18-year-olds graduating from high school this year, I have had a lot of time to ponder the mixed messages young people receive. I've heard graduation speeches, valedictorian addresses and the heart-felt testimonies of parents.
What really brought things into focus for me, however, were two very different songs, each inextricably linked with decades of graduations -- "Pomp and Circumstance," and "Stairway to Heaven."
Isn't it interesting that one of the most popular songs for high school proms in history speaks of heaven, while the most popular song for graduation is all about pomp, which is defined as "a cheap or pretentious or vain display."
Perhaps our idealistic young people, in choosing their prom themes, hope to find truth in a place where those who organize graduations have forgotten to look?
For those of you who were alive when "Stairway to Heaven" debuted, forget the hyped claims that the song, played backwards, contained references to satan. Consider instead the overt references to Christian living you can find playing it forward.
"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
"And she's buying a stairway to heaven
"And when she gets there she knows if the stores are closed
"With a word she can get what she came for."
We all know ladies (and men) blinded by our material world, hoping to get into heaven by tithing. We also know that, even late in life, they can get into heaven through God's word -- the promises of Jesus.
The song is full of references to a spirit (the piper) calling us to better things, with gentle reminders about the insistence of His call.
"Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
"The piper's calling you to join him
"Dear lady can't you hear the wind blow and did you know
"Your stairway lies on the whispering wind."
What is a whispering wind, but the Holy Spirit? And what is the consequence, in our earthly lives, if we finally heed that calling? The song tells us.
"And if you listen very hard
"The tune will come to you at last
"When all are one and one is all
"To be a rock and not to roll."
To be a rock and not to roll. To stand for Christ, rather than to fall for whatever the world throws at us.
Let's get back to commencement, where speakers carefully warn young people to be diligent in their studies, to be shrewd in business, to be all that you can be. Balance career and family, recreation and spirituality, materialism and charity.
Patrick Morley, a Christian author, said recently that out of 113 million Christian men in America, 107 million are "Christian in spirit, but secular in practice." They have accepted Christ and go to church, but at work on an average Monday, they can't be distinguished from their non-Christian peers.
In a world desperate for some good news, there are too many Christians busy adjusting their baskets so their light won't shine through.
One commencement speaker I heard recently polled her friends and colleagues about what message they wished they had heard at their own graduation ceremonies.
The answers varied. Some wished they had been told to relax. Others wished they had been told the importance of friends.
What I wish I had been told was that, at 50 years old, I would be spending all my time trying to discern God's will for my life; that I would be praying for discernment and looking for ways to bring His kingdom to earth.
What I wish I had been told is in Romans 12:1-2.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is his good, pleasing and perfect will."
And if you have already graduated, have already embarked on a road that you know isn't exactly the "Stairway to Heaven," remember this:
"Yes there are two paths you can go by
"But in the long run
"There's still time to change the road you're on."
Al Boyce is a former writer and reporter for The Associated Press. He lives in Raleigh, NC, where he now writes for God.
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