Text of 2017 Commencement Address
A Fountain Flowing Deep and Wide
Prepared remarks by Charles Green, Professor of Psychology
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Ray and Sue Smith Stadium
President Knapp, Provost Nordell-Pearson, Faculty Colleagues, Trustees, Families and Friends, and most especially—Class of 2017:
I want to begin by thanking those who made this event possible. The people who did the planning, set up the chairs, organized the processions, published the programs, practiced the music, tested the sound, and everyone else who enabled the rest of us simply to show up and celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. Please accept our thanks.
I’d also like to take this opportunity for us to recognize President Knapp. John, we thank you and Kelly for your service to Hope. You showed us how to be a Christ-centered community in a winsome, open, and loving way. We will miss you both.
Graduates, when I was a kid, I spent a whole lot of time at church. We were a three-times-a-week family. I remember lots of singing in the children’s classes, and one of the many songs we sang was a little ditty called Deep and Wide.
I’ve been asking around, and I think many of you know it.
Now I know we’re all gussied up in our caps and gowns, and I know y’all are on the verge of becoming sophisticated college graduates. But I do not care. We are going to sing Deep and Wide right here at your commencement. That goes for the faculty, the families, and everyone else. If you don’t know it, that’s OK. Just listen. But if you do know it, own up, and sing along—and don’t forget the motions. Are you ready?
2, 3, 4:
Deep and wide.
Deep and wide.
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Deep and wide.
Deep and wide.
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
And that’s it. That’s all there is to it. Deep and Wide doesn’t have the theological import of Jesus Loves Me. It doesn’t teach a Bible story like Only a Boy Named David or Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man. So what does a four-year-old learn from singing Deep and Wide? What does a sophisticated college graduate learn?
As we are all well aware, we live in a divided and divisive time. We’ve always had our differences, but in the U.S. today, and in many other countries, there is a polarization that cuts right through, leaving us fearful, angry, suspicious. I feel it. I bet you do, too.
Underneath, many of our most divisive arguments are a disagreement about which is better—deep or wide? Should we hunker down with the people who look and think like we do? Or should we embrace the diversity and internationalization of the age? As a nation, we can’t decide. As a church, we can’t decide. As a college . . . well, that’s another speech, for another time. Fortunately, the answer to this question is right here in this song. All we have to do is listen for the most important word. It’s not deep. But it’s not wide, either. It’s and. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide. Not deep or wide. Not deep but wide. Certainly not deep versus wide. A fountain flowing deep and wide.
For people of faith, this fountain represents the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. God’s love is deep and wide because God is deep and wide. Scripture tells us we were created in the image of God, suggesting that we, too, were meant to be both deep and wide.
Now, to be made in the image of God does not mean we are almost as wise or almost as powerful or almost as holy as God. It means we’ve been created with a capacity to comprehend God—dimly, yes, as through a glass, darkly—but with an ability to be moved, deeply moved, by glimpses of the divine. To stand in awe of the Holy and sense that the righteousness of God is the aim of our very lives, individually and together. From there, everything else flows like a fountain. The desire to dig deep and reach wide.
Christians believe that Jesus taught this in his Sermon on the Mount.
Go deep, Jesus said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart—for they will see God.
Go wide, Jesus said: Be the salt of the earth. Be the light of the world. Love your enemies. Make peace wherever you go, and be known as a child of God.
Be perfect, Jesus said, by going deep and wide, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Christians and Jews both believe that the very first psalm in the Hebrew Scriptures teaches this, as well. The psalmist wrote that we are blessed when we delight in the law of the Lord. We become like a tree, rooted deep by streams of flowing water, branching wide to offer our fruits in their season.
Muslims believe that the Q’uran gives us 99 attributes of God. Many are deep—The Almighty, The Creator, The Omniscient, The Giver of Life. Many are wide—The All-Beneficent, The Most Merciful, The Ever-Forgiving.
All of our faith traditions teach us that deep versus wide is a false choice. Deep and wide go together, each reinforcing the other. Going deep pulls us wide. When our roots are truly deep, we have the confidence to reach out, to bring alongside, to invite, support, ask, welcome, to meet new people and learn new things.
And going wide pushes us deep. New experiences enable reflection and encourage commitment. New ideas offer a richer understanding of God and God’s creation. New people teach us to see difference and similarity, and we learn more about ourselves as we learn more about others.
Deep and wide. But you know this already. You’ve told me in your senior seminar papers this semester. I wish I could read from them all—I really do—but I offer six excerpts from your life-view papers—your descriptions of a Hope College education that pushed you deep and pulled you wide:
Number one: I was a rather arrogant freshman who thought I was here solely to better myself and study my chosen career. It didn’t hit me until later that the reason people choose this place is to deepen their spiritual lives and grow in multiple areas. Hope College is less about a specific major track and more about the broad studies required of students. As a freshman I didn’t see the value in this, but now I see that the broad studies distinguish Hope from other colleges and universities.
Two: The most influential class for growing in my faith was History of Christianity. I was able to ask the hard questions and even come to conclusions that were not easy for me to wrap my mind around. Sometimes I left class feeling frustrated and confused, but those are feelings and experiences I would never trade.
Three: Whatever my career, I want to work to increase opportunity for marginalized people. A huge part of this has been the job I hold now, as a caregiver for a man with muscular dystrophy. Very quickly he went from being my employer to being my dear friend. He and I think very much alike and we share a similar sense of humor. I hate to admit it, but at first glance I assumed we didn’t have anything in common. Hearing about his life has opened my eyes to the ways in which the world is set up for some people and not for others. I have learned that I come from such privilege. I have to do a lot more exploring of the world before I can truly understand how to contribute something to it.
Four: A turning point for me occurred in my Behavior Disorders class, where we learned how people with mental illnesses are treated in the prison system. I was devastated. How could there be so much injustice in a system specifically designed to effect justice? Motivated by my anger, I took an internship with 70x7 Life Recovery, a non-profit organization that supports people with felonies re-entering society. At 70x7, I learned about injustice, but I also saw progress, and learned about the importance of grace and hope.
Five: The Emmaus Scholars Program, a living-learning Christian community, has changed my life. We lived and ate and prayed and took classes together, giving us a vision of what the Kingdom of God might actually look like. A theology course, “Reconciliation and the Christian Mission,” transformed the way I think. We studied the injustices in our world through the eyes of Jesus and the gospel. I began to really know the true meaning of my faith in Jesus Christ: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)?
And six: About a year ago I visited International Justice Mission. I was moved by their activism, but the thing that captured my attention most was a booklet of stories of people rescued by IJM. I felt inspired as I held that booklet in my hand; I smiled and thought to myself. “The world needs people to write these stories. I want to be one of them.” As I think about the Biblical call to justice, I want to use the art of written words to inform, share, and inspire hope.
Deep and wide. I hear it in your stories. I read it in your words.
But, Graduates, you can’t take deep and wide for granted. Deep versus wide is not only a false choice—it’s a trap. And many people who fall into that trap do so in the years right after graduation, as they make just a few key decisions that lead them down a path of conforming to the cultural norms of separation and segregation. You need to know where the trap of deep versus wide is waiting, you need to recognize it when you see it, and you need to be prepared to run the other way.
When you move to a new city and look for a place to live, I guarantee someone is going to recommend a “nice” neighborhood. When they do, dig a little deeper. Odds are, when they say “nice,” they mean “everybody there looks and thinks just like we do, and we keep poor people out.” You tell them no, that the nice neighborhoods are deep and wide, and you will be looking for one of those.
In your new hometown, I guarantee someone will suggest a church where you can feel “comfortable.” When they do, dig a little deeper. Odds are, when they say “comfortable,” they mean “everybody there looks and thinks just like we do, and we keep poor people out.” You tell them no. Our faith is deep and wide because our God is deep and wide, you’re most comfortable in a church that’s deep and wide, and you will be looking for one of those.
If you have children and start thinking about schools, I guarantee someone is going to recommend one of the “better” schools. When they do, dig a little deeper. Odds are, when they say “better,” they mean “everybody there looks and thinks just like our kids, and we keep poor children out.” You tell them no, that the better schools are deep and wide, and you will be looking for one of those.
And when election time rolls around, I guarantee someone is going to come after your vote by telling you that the only people who matter are the ones who look and think like you. He’ll promise to push out people who are different and push down people who are poor. You tell him no, that our nation was founded on principles that are deep and wide, that there are politicians who understand that, and you will be voting for one of those.
Graduates, the trap of deep versus wide is waiting for you right around the corner, and over the next few years you need to make conscious, intentional, deliberate decisions in order to avoid it. So please remember what you’ve learned here, and the most important word in our song: a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Class of 2017, as you move from this place into new arenas of life and work, new venues for leadership and service, draw on the depth and the breadth of your Hope College education. Plant your roots deep. Spread your branches wide. Go with our blessings. Congratulations! We love you. Thank you very much.