Ariana Huffington delivered the commencement address at Smith College this year. A successful, powerful woman spoke to this year’s crop of young women wannabe’s, and she gave them a powerful message. She fudged on the real power, because she kept everything quite interfaith neutral, but as I read the speech, I was impressed by the fact that she had hit on some important truth that everyone needs, no matter the age.
The president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post gave the assembled graduates a memorable message. They should each have a copy of it packed in their bags as they leave college. If I remember college graduation at all, my memory does not include the content of the graduation address. I don’t even remember who spoke. These ladies need a take-home copy of the speech which they promise to read and absorb after the graduation glow has subsided. Ariana Huffington recommend that Smith graduates think of success in terms beyond the traditional notion that success is money and power. She advocated that they add some new dimensions to their concept of success: well-being, wonder, wisdom and service. (Ms. Huffington used the term “give back,” but since I like to avoid liberal/political rhetoric, I choose the cognate term “service” which is more compatible with a Christian perspective.) Ms. Huffington explained all these terms in eclectic, interfaith imagery, but I immediately recognized some basic teachings and truths of Christianity. The uniqueness of Christianity is the person and work of Christ; the moral teachings of Christianity often intersect, if not outright overlap, the moral teachings of other religions. Ms. Huffington’s speech seemed to me to be only half of the story, because people who live in relationship with Christ certainly would applaud her ideas, but they would take them farther.
The first element of the Huffington/Smith College component of success is “well-being.” Ms. Huffington talked about ways to achieve “well-being,” but her suggestions are quite half-baked compared to the teachings of Christ. He wrote a whole sermon on what it means to achieve well-being and what a person needs to do and be in order to experience that well-being. Listen to this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit …
Blessed are the meek ….
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
Blessed are the merciful …
And so forth.
There is a way to live that automatically leads to well-being – peace and blessing and fulfillment – and Jesus explained exactly how to live that way. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is not the whole story, but it is a good place to start learning how to live with a sense of well-being.
The second element of Ms. Huffington’s path to success is “wonder.” She is correct that the ability to experience wonder is crucial to anyone’s quality of life, and it has kept a great many projects going while those who lacked a sense of wonder saw only a persistent slog to the end. Wonder does more than animate creativity, however. The ability to experience wonder is a crucial element of worship. In the book of Revelation, myriads and myriads of worshipers gather in reverent wonder before the throne of God and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) Many people are so blasé about the whole idea of religion that they ignore the greatest possible source of well-being, because they feel too smart and too mature to believe in God. Yet it is God who dwells within Christians so intimately that they can live their whole lives in an attitude of worship, which is real wonder. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) That statement certainly should have inspired wonder on the part of early Christians, and it inspires wonder today, as Christians try to live the worship evoked by wonder at the majesty of God who miraculously dwells within us even as he inhabits the throne room in eternity. It is the wonder of worship that pushes back the chaos and destruction that forces of evil attempt to impose on our lives daily.
The third item in Ms. Huffington’s expanded definition of success is wisdom. Anyone who reads the daily news is treated to story after story where human beings display a profound lack of wisdom. When subterfuge, deceit and fraud are uncovered, it doesn’t matter if a person is a Hollywood celebrity or a powerful political official or a rich businessman. It takes a complete lack of wisdom to believe that lies will never be discovered. Reputations, business ventures, even entire countries collapse when a lack of wisdom bears fruit in someone’s life. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom cries out, shouts and screams, to no avail:
20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
As long as there have been people, Wisdom has been ignored by people to their very great shame and loss. Jesus told his follower that they would need wisdom in order to have good lives when he said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”(Matthew 10:16) Wisdom often means making choices that are personally costly, choices that don’t build toward the accepted definition of success as money and power. Sometimes wisdom requires the willingness to do what is not profitable, because wisdom and truth go hand in hand.
Ms. Huffington’s final element of her amplified definition of success is “service.” She calls it giving back, because Ms. Huffington thinks in line with progressive political mantras. She is convinced that the young women at Smith College owe the state and the community for their current level of success, and they must pay the state and the community back for the contributions that have brought them this far. This is what was in the back of her mind when she used the term “give back.” However, Jesus had a much bigger view of the dimension that makes life rich and good. Jesus said that the most important thing anyone could ever do is to “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: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) In short, love God and serve your neighbor. You could even say that if God is first in your life, you will automatically serve your neighbor, because your neighbor will be as important to you as yourself. People like Mother Teresa who exemplify this teaching show us what real success looks like.
Ariana Huffington gave a great speech to the graduates of Smith College. But if they want great lives, they need to get the details from a relationship with Christ. It is in relationship with Christ that human beings find real fulfillment and success.