Does anyone else resonate with this excerpt from the early writings of a pastor whose published journal I have been reading lately?
Some men simply overwhelm me with their fantastic acquaintance with so many truths. Can one man know everything? Of course not. Then what should he know? How is he to choose out of all the possible knowledge in the world that which he shall possess?
One man can devote his life to the study of New Testament Greek and speak with authority in this field. I could do that. But I could do little else. And having done nothing else would I have more wisdom or less? Or, I could refuse specialization – become a general practitioner of life so to speak. Would this be a dilution of potential? Would my spirit be so attenuated that effectiveness would be lost?
Ray S. Anderson in Soulprints,
There seems to be so much out there to be known. The more I read, the more overwhelmed I feel. The more I study, the more ill-educated I feel.
And yet, the more I read and study, the more my heart is drawn towards the increase of understanding. I want to say something worth saying. I could give the whole of my life to learning how to think about something, how to say what has not yet been said. I could surrender to the sometimes overpowering urge to sit at my research desk every day of the week, to read long and deep, to write it until I can live it, to enter fully into the beauty of a life of study which dares in almost obscene presumption to speak accurately of God.
But I am pulled in multiple directions, paralysed almost by the vastness of it all. For I am not just academic; I am practitioner too. And, whilst I am convinced that one day those two will come together in a conjunction unique to me, as yet the one seems to pull against the second as if polar opposite, each a frustrating distraction from the wholehearted pursuit of the other.
So what is it to be? This, my almost-daily question, surrounded as I am by people whose theme to me is always that I should do less, that I am living beyond my means, that I need to say more Nos to say the better Yes. And so I ask, with Anderson: is it better to devote my life to the one thing and to speak with authority in that field? Or am I somehow to become a general practitioner of life, able to inform practice with theological rigour and committed to reminding the academic theologians that there is actually a church we are serving in amongst all this?
But I cannot choose, no matter how much others think I should reduce my commitments. (Three people in the last four days alone actually!) No matter how much some might intimate to me that I may not always be “actually in” church leadership forever or that I may one day decide not to “hide in the ivory towers” any longer, I cannot choose.
I know you love me, those who tell me to live slower, that you have only my best interests at heart, that you speak because you fear that I cannot maintain this pace for long. And I promise that I am not trying to be difficult, obtuse even; I understand time management in the way that only those who spent five years of their life recording their time in five or six minute slots can(!) and, because of that, I really do understand how little blank space I have built into the calendar. I know that in the long-term if anything is likely to take me out of Christian ministry, it would first be this: burnout, or perhaps stupid choices, each the product of this sin-sickness which is drivenness. I know that and, thanks to a coach who doesn’t let me run away from this stuff, I really am working to put it to death, to say more Nos that my Yes might be clearer and stronger!
But when I read Anderson’s words, I hear the same thing. The same tension from a man who wrote those words fifty years before I am feeling this, a man who in fact never chose but stood as pastor and theologian throughout. And, in light of that, I am encouraged that – though I may say some judicious Nos along the way, working to keep my pace even and sustainable – perhaps these tracks are parallel, academic and practitioner. Perhaps I don’t need to say a final No to either one. Because, as increasingly I am discovering, I was made for the pursuit of them both.