Tuesday Volf thought 3…Curiosity

It’s been so great to hear AJ and Kathy and Steve say how much they appreciate Volf and love his spirit and his mind. I’m being reminded again how influential he’s been on my life, how much my classes with him, how chatting over coffee after class, how his books have shaped me.

I think I’ve blogged before about my internal schizophrenia. Part of me absolutely loves what I do, being a pastor and getting the opportunity to walk with people through the hardest and best things in their lives. But part of me loves (and misses and wishes for) academia and theology and intellectual curiosity. That part of me has just loved being here in this environment again!

Volf said this great thing, either last night or today: “If you are at all intellectually curious, you ought to be in theology. Because God created everything, we get to study absolutely everything!” It’s so obvious that he isn’t schizophrenic at all; his is an unbelievably sharp mind that rigorously and vigorously pursues God and truth. And I love that he was honest about the struggles that causes for him, too.

One question today went like this: “You said spirituality is a particular way of life before God, and that serves as the root of theology. If that’s true, does a theologian need not just theological skills, but practical spirituality skills? And what are they? How does it work?”

Again, I loved his answer. He said people always seem to ask him for more hands on stuff, and his basic response is, “I’m not good at that. I’m spiritually undisciplined.” He knows what works for him… as he is biking, he uses his Treo to listen to someone reading the bible out loud. It’s a simple way for him to pray, to encounter God. Then he made us all laugh: “I tried having a spiritual director. It didn’t work; I was undirectable! I thought too much, I was told.” He went on. “I think too much. The intellectual, obsessive questions I have are intertwined with spirituality. It is my spirituality.”

We’re all different, created differently by God with our own interests and ways of life. God can be found in all of that variety. Isn’t that what Quakers have always believed? That God is present in us all? That all of life is sacramental? That within each person is the light and seed of God? So the intellectually curious can find God in their thinking. It is their spirituality. The doers among us can find God in their doing. It is their spirituality. We can find the ways in which God best connects with us and who we are made to be. And that’s beautiful!

More beautiful still is the realization that God really does speak through anything and everything. Volf, the thinker, also could say this: “The great spiritual disciplines are kids and a wife, right? They make us live what we say we believe, and they call us on the carpet if we fail to do what we said we would.” We can find the ways God best connects with us and enjoy it, and we can trust that God will also be using anything and everything to get through to us, if we’re willing to take the time to listen.

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Volf thought 3…Curiosity

  1. Dear Friend, -Peggy- mental health professional here. You are using the word Schizophernia incorrectly. It has nothing to do with ‘split personality’. It is all about delusion. If you internally believed that you were really pastor of WIllow Creek ( what a nightmare!) THAT would be schizophrenic. You are talking about being ‘double-minded’, or in mental health speak – Multiple personality disorder or even less clear – dissociative identity disorder. We all have this to a degree – I am mother, wife, pastor, counselor, writer-blah blah blah. The ‘cure’ for this is called ‘pur of heart’ in the Bible or ‘Integrated’ in mental health speak or ‘full of integrity’ in Q speak.or in business speak( and I dislike business speak) – ‘to have a personal mission statement and to be on task 24/7’

    my personal observation of you Friend is that you would enjoy academia – but that you are not necessarily called to academia. Your Friend Mr V is clearly called to it for he stinks of integrity


  2. One of the turning points in my spiritual journey was to come to know Peter Crysdale, at last report the pastor of a small Quaker congregation in Massachussetts, I think. I first met him when he was at Pendle Hill, when I was brand new to Quakerism. That is another story in itself.

    But some time after that, he came to California and studied at PSR and attended my Meeting occasionally. His vocal ministry was often long, dramatically spoken, full of intellectual ideas, allusions and historical references, and it rocked my world. Truly, his vocal ministry spoke to me in a very deep way. It irritated other people in my Meeting a lot, including some quite weighty Friends, who didn’t like his ministry for all these same reasons, who thought vocal ministry should be short, and simple and to the point. But Peter taught me that I could bring my whole mind to vocal ministry. I had long thought that God does not speak only in epigrams. But in listening to Peter, I realized that his vocal ministry was a true reflection of his relationship with God and he shouldn’t have to edit out all the things he had learned and the ways that meeting for worship helped him to see the connections between this writer and that theory and these people he actually knows. He opened me, he freed me to continue to study theology and Quaker history and Biblical exegesis as part of helping me to be more fully the person – the Quaker – God is calling me to be. He helped me along the path to stop trying to avoid using big words, in life and in vocal ministry. But he was able to do that because his ministry spoke to me in my heart, not just my head. To some, I’m sure he sounded like a show-off. But his vocal ministry pierced my soul, to use some old language, over and over again. I’m all trembly just thinking about it again. I felt he was truly an instrument of the Spirit, not with prearranged sermons, but always including things he’d been thinking about for more than the last fifteen minutes.

    And Gregg, I think it would be incomplete of me if I didn’t say that some of your written ministry has worked in me in the same way. May God bless and keep you always.


  3. Ever since I read the comment about Gregg not being called to academia, it has not been resting well with me–and I wasn’t sure why, but over the last day, I think the reason for my unclarity about it has been that I disagree for several different reasons. First of all, as a so-called ‘academic’ myself, I am sure that Gregg has gifts in academia–the ability to absorb a lot, reflect on it, and further those thoughts. But more deeply, I have wondered if the problem is that we tend to see academia and the church in such mutually exclusive terms. Most of the great theologians throughout history have been people of the church (Augustine, for example). So what is it today that keeps that from happening? Hyper-specialization? Viewing the pastor as CEO? Viewing the acamedician as non-practical? What if there were virtually no difference between pastor and professor? What if the only difference between Gregg’s vocation and mine were differences of place?

    In reading your entries over the last week, Gregg, it seems to me that the way toward fuller integrity might NOT be to let Volf do the theologizing and just focus yourself on the pastorizing. What if integrity for you looked like becoming more of a theologian–a teaching pastor? Just to reflect back what you’ve said about Volf’s best insights, what if it truly is so important to think about God rightly? Then what should be the pastor’s highest priority, bar none?

    For what it’s worth, knowing you as I do, I think you a person of high integrity, and have observed that you seek it more than most. In converstations, as well as what I read here, it seems to me that you don’t want to have to departmentalize your theological reflection to some remote, distant memory (or something that is only for non-pastors). Perhaps it is PRECISELY your desire for integrity that has you longing to spend more time in theological reflection.

    Volf admitted that he needs more discipline and practice. As an academic, I can see that such deficiencies are an occupational hazard. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of today’s American pastor that they lose the desire and time for theological reflection. I, for one, would love to explore ways that academic theologians can serve the church, as well as how pastors can become theologians.


  4. Robin, I really appreciate your example and your words. I’m still in awe of how God has used our blogging to forge a wonderful dialogue across the great Quaker divide. It doesn’t feel like a divide anymore. It feels like God uses each of us in each other’s lives, and I’m glad for it.

    Corey, thank you for your words, because I think you are so right that we need to stop drawing such hard lines between theologians/philosphers/academics/pastors. The world has become so much more complex and specialized that I have a hard time imagining the world of Augustine or Aquinas or even Wesley, where it was possible to be a really first rate thinker AND a hands on minister. But it’s clear that it’s more healthy for me to acknowledge that I do have interest in academic theology and practical ministry, and find God’s call for me in the midst of that, than simply to say “Oh, I can’t do THAT because I’m called to THIS.” I’ll need your help, along with others.


  5. Another problem is that first rate thinkers and hands on ministers of the past were often not much in the way of first rate fathers or hands on fundraisers/counselors/administrators (choose one) or else they drank too much or had other outlets for coping that have been somewhat swept under the carpet of time. Or some of them were excellent ministers to some of the people, but didn’t worry about some of the rest of us (women, poor, slaves, fill in the blank.)

    Just to beat an old drum of mine, again.


  6. I think that thinking is doing. Intellectual activity is action. I don’t agree with the “deeds”= real but thinking = unreal or less real. What makes thinking not a practical spirituality skill? I just don’t agree ontologically with the assumptions underlying this kind of reified thinking.


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