It's good that graduation ceremonies are called commencements, as celebration yields to anticipation. Next week I'll speak at the commencement of City School of Austin, a diverse Christian school that my wife and I helped to start six years ago. The following day the moving van cometh, transporting some of our earthly goods to New York City. That will be the end—unless my mad mission flops—of our 25 years in Austin.
Did I say "mad mission"? Oops, cat's out of the bag. Susan and I have had a succession of mad missions. Did I tell you about the time we moved from San Diego to Long Beach when she was 9 months pregnant with our first child? Did I tell you how, two weeks before City School opened, we didn't have a place where the initial 50 students would go to school?
But I need to define "mad mission." In part, it's the name of a song written by Boston-to-Austin singer Patty Griffin. The song protests the non-commitment of those who join "the club that likes to say there's no such thing as love." It realizes our desperate situation: "Sometimes you find yourself / flying low at night / Flying blind and looking for / any sign of light."
How often have you proceeded on a wing and a prayer? Griffin: "You're cold and scared, and all alone / You'd do anything just to make it home." Psalm 84: "My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord." I became involved with WORLD in 1990 when Joel Belz was almost single-handedly keeping it alive. He was joyful on his mad mission.
OK, define "mad mission." Here's Griffin's final refrain: "It's a mad mission / Under difficult conditions / not everybody makes it / to the loving cup / It's a mad mission / But I got the ambition / Mad, mad mission / Sign me up."
A mad mission is not a suicide pact: Success is possible. It's not one where people fling away their education, experience, and talents in a self-infatuated attempt to "follow their bliss." It's a mission, which means the idea is to hit a target and help others. But what makes it a mad mission is risk.
Alexis de Tocqueville warned in his wonderful 1830s book, Democracy in America, of the "new soft despotism" that could arise in a modernizing world if many people become sheep-like within big, controlling organizations that "are thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle"—but soulless.
De Tocqueville warned that an emphasis on security would leave individuals "not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided . . . until each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals." Francis Schaeffer later wrote of "personal peace and affluence" becoming our god and goal.