Some of you know that TFC let me speak in chapel earlier this week, to give my senior testimony. I've had the video asked for, so here it is, and I'll also post the outline I took up with me for anyone to read that wants to interact.
I came to TFC looking for a fight, and I found one. I've never been a person lacking in passion, but if there's one thing I've learned from my experience at TFC, it's that passion is not its' own reason, and being tempered by self-control, critical thinking, and compassion is not only desirable, it is essential if one wishes to be of any good to those around them and to themselves.
I came to Toccoa Falls College at the same time as my best friend at the time, Matt, whom very few of you know. We both held non-traditional views and were struggling to understand basic Christian doctrines that we'd been taught all of our lives. At least for me, this experience occurred because I had been on a journey for some time to make my views my own. I was greeted by some that engaged me in conversation, some that responded with hostility, and some that informed me of my endpoint, where my beliefs would end up. The ironic thing is that in my pursuit of truth, this last group of people was very rarely correct. It is through this experience that I have learned that when a standard is applied to a person, it very rarely seems to fit that person unless they choose for it to.
My best friend renounced his faith and left TFC to pursue other things. In light of how liberal I seemed to be at TFC, he began to talk to me as though I held to extremely conservative Christianity. Through a great deal of pressure, I began to realize that I could never settle for another person's conception of truth, I needed to seek it myself, no matter how sharply I am disapproved of. This has led to a great deal of personal difficulty, but I've always found it to be a worthwhile endeavor, as it's been the guiding force in drawing me closer to God.
I came to TFC intending to be a Counseling Psychology major, and my major and my friends are the two overriding reasons I am about to graduate from this institution.
The Counseling major is simply excellent at this college, and I've been fortunate enough to interact with professors who both know their field very well and truly desire for the students in my department to succeed. I haven't even wanted to be a Counseling Major through about half of my time here, but I could not bring myself to change that path, because every time I tried, including on the graduate level, I have failed to follow through. I've known it's my path ever since I left Georgia Tech and a promising path in life in computers, which I know very well, to work with people. I've learned through my education and through my personal interaction that I not only have needed my time at TFC to develop social skills (something I strongly lacked upon coming here), but that my calling is to help people think, and to bring them into a stronger congruence with who they are. This is not a calling I take lightly, though I must say, I've very often termed myself the “Worst Counseling Major Ever” when things socially or emotionally began to crash for me in recent years.
I have made many friends at TFC, an experience that was a first for me. I have about 3 consistent friends from the 19 years before attending this college, and I am proud to say that I've met some of the best friends I could've ever asked for at this place, including the woman I will marry.
Initially, there was a lot of social drama, something that seems to be a constant in high school and in environments like TFC. I, being a passionate and extreme sort of personality, reacted very strongly to this drama, usually making things worse. This lead to many situations that were quite unfortunate, but as I've come to recognize, the darkness sometimes helps one see the light.
I've been in three different relationships during my time at TFC, and as aforementioned, I am in the third one now, a relationship I intend to see through to marriage and beyond. The interesting thing about these was that they were all very different experiences. I've been in a codependent relationship, something that I had to recognize as idolatry and come to value myself and look out for myself in the context of relationships as a result. I know that you hear a lot of cliches and advice about relationships about TFC, but if there is one thing I have found, it's that relationships, overemphasized as they are, are a beautiful thing and can be a growing experience. The trick for me was to learn that I can not find my reason to live in another person, I must find it in the Truth of existence, or in God. What this looks like is something I can not explain up here in the time allotted, and I believe is something that each person must find out for themselves. However, as a man that has found the one he intends to marry, I will say that when people are truly their own and in submission to God, and when there is a level of absolute freedom in a relationship for each person to be themselves, it becomes a beautiful portrayal of what I think God had in mind when he created the woman to be with the man, so he was no longer alone.
My $.02. Take it or leave it.
Throughout high school, I focused so much on romantic relationships that I neglected friendships. In my time at TFC I've made many friends, and I've lost contact with some that I thought I never would. As fleeting as relationships of any kind are, it makes me thankful for the ones that will last. This has become especially apparent in recent years with the death of several people close to me. In particular, I've lost all of my grandparents in my time at TFC, a friend from another college, and my former best friend Matt, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Truly, life is a fleeting thing, and now is the time that we must live in, making every action count, every relationship reconciled, and doing as much good as we can. I believe this is what God wants us all to do, in our own way, with our own gifts and talents.
Some of you know me from Philosophy classes or the Philosophy club, or perhaps even from the formal debate I participated in at the beginning of my Freshman year. If you remember that, then graduate already! But honestly, I still had to answer questions regarding beliefs I held as long as 4 years ago within the past year. It has astounded me how few people will even consider the notion that beliefs are not static, and that the person you knew years ago is no longer the same person today.
Philosophy is not merely a hobby for me, it is a thing I participate in because I feel driven to. It is part of who I am to ask questions when people claim things, and to critically evaluate the information I am given before I will accept anything as true. Furthermore, this has become part of my regular conversation and lifestyle, and with anyone I am close to, I challenge their assumptions not because I wish for their beliefs to be torn down, but because I desire for them to have the same thing I have received from those that would challenge me. Philosophy, to me, is the “love of Wisdom,” and I'd encourage you all to critically think in whatever field you participate. Re-evaluating one's own beliefs is a recognition that we are human, don't have all the answers, and are still pursuing Truth.
I now stand to graduate from this institution, having learned many things both about myself, about the world around me, and about life. And in the future, when I move on to other things, I believe I will realize just how limited that knowledge is and come to a greater understanding about a variety of things. I encourage you, if you are as frightened by the change coming in graduating as I am, know that it is another step in the adventure of life, and look at it as an opportunity to grow rather than “going out into the real world” with necessities like “defending your faith.”
I once nearly renounced my faith because of the poor experiences I've had in seeking Truth in Christian community, and mainly because of my own bitterness and limitations. I can't say that I've fully overcome those personal obstacles, but I feel that it would only be appropriate to leave you with a quote from a man that wrote a book called Velvet Elvis, a book that God used to draw me to Himself, out of my own bitterness, and ultimately away from the path that lead me to a place far from a faith I've found to be essential to my life:
“Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know. Questions bring freedom. Freedom that I don't have to be God and I don't have to pretend to have it all figured out. I can let God be God.” -Rob Bell