The 1999 Jonathan Plummer Lecture
Illinois Yearly Meeting
Religious Society of Friends, McNabb, Illinois
August 1, 1999
Biography of Paul Schobernd
Paul Schobernd and Beth Hanks Schobernd are both
native Illinoisans, having grown up just a mile apart in the
rural splendor of Calhoun County, Illinois. Paul highly
recommends marrying your best friend.
While trained as a teacher and administrator,
Paul's first love has always been the study of the spiritual
life and the living of the experience. His journey led him to
Friends in 1983, but he has the distinction of having provided
pulpit supply for Brethren, Lutherans, Mennonites and Quakers.
He served as Field Secretary for Illinois Yearly Meeting from
1992 - 1994.
Paul and Beth have three children: Zachary, 23,
of Nederland, Colorado; Zebulon, 19, of Normal, Illinois and
Earlham College; and Zekiel, 16, a junior at University High
School in Normal, Illinois. The dinner table and the rich
conversation and humor that occurs there has been the greatest
He and his family came to Friends after getting
lost in downtown Philadelphia. They ducked into Arch Street
Meeting House quite by accident, with three little children in
tow. A three dollar Faith and Practice began the
journey, and Friends at Friends Hill Meeting in Quincy, Illinois
completed the transition. The family now attends Heartland
Worship Group in Normal, Illinois.
Paul is eccentric and eclectic. Ever since he
figured out the difference between schooling and real education,
he has never been able to satisfy his curiosity.
When You Dance With God, Guess Who Leads?
I imagine that most Quakers in Illinois Yearly
Meeting have at some time or another given some thought to what
they might say if they were asked to give the Plummer Lecture.
It is in some ways the highest expression of affirmation that
Friends in IYM have to bestow on each other, or at the very
least it is an expression of our intense curiosity about the
interior lives we all share. I am very pleased to be able to
give this lecture, but I also must say that after the glow of
the invitation had run its course, the cold dark reality of
fear, a sense of unworthiness, the reality of personal hubris
and limitations set in. Had I known what lay in store for me
when I agreed to do this, I might be someplace else today!
There is nothing that refines the soul and burns
away the dross quite so effectively as intense introspection and
laying bare one's soul to God and to others. This has been my
experience of the past year and what I give you today is the
fruit of that spiritual labor. I have counted the cost and
gladly paid the price to stand before you today. What ever you
find that is good in what I say today, give the glory to God,
from whom all good emanates. On the other hand, if you find my
words disturbing or problematic, feel free to let it go for
another day's consideration. Having said all this and realizing
how somber some of this sounds, I want to back up and say that
what I really hope we can do today is share something of the joy
of our life together. This is a lecture about joy, and a
celebration of how God has chosen to join the dance of life.
Any description of the spiritual life or a
description of the spiritual journey is really just a set of
snapshots taken from one perspective at one point in time. It is
sort of like the comedian with an imaginary slide projector who
shows you imaginary slides with a running commentary. Today I am
going to show some pictures from my life as it was, my life as
it is, and we will take a peek together at what may lay ahead.
Ultimately, this is not about me; rather it is about the human
condition and the relationship of humankind to God and all
sentient life. One individual life is only a piece in the great
story that is the mystery of our existence.
At the ripe old age of 48 I am simply too young
to give this lecture. When I gave this lecture any thought at
all, I always considered that maybe by the time I was 60 or
maybe 70 -- then maybe I would be ready. I figured that surely
by that point in my life I would have all the answers and I
could then write the definitive guide to the spiritual life --
at least from my perspective. But, for reasons that are not
clear to me the call came 20 years too soon and so here I am --
a work in progress, a cracked vessel and a damn fool to boot
I, obviously, do not have any definitive answers
to share with you. In fact, every question that I ask simply
leaves me with more questions. As I get older, I know less and
less about more and more. For a man who started off so many
years ago with a profound respect for Martin Luther -- a man who
faced his accusers with the great statement of faith, "Here I
stand, I can do no other!" -- this is a little disappointing to
me. I always thought that eventually I could stand rock solid
and never need to question my faith. I always thought that as I
got older all the pieces of the puzzle would fall into place,
and that eventually I would die content in the knowledge that I
had tied up all of the loose ends, clarified all of the
ambiguities and I would depart this world with an A on my report
card -- the heavens would open and God would be pleased. What
Real life has fortunately de-railed that
particular piece of mythology. Today, life is an ever-deepening
mystery, a process that brings joy -- even when it does not
bring happiness -- and it is an experience of profound humility
as I realize the overwhelming gift that is our life.
By now you are beginning to fidget and you are
tired of the appetizers. You want to know where all this God
talk is going. So, here it is. As I said, at the ripe old age of
48 I do not know very much, but I have not lived in a vacuum
either. I have formulated some statements, and borrowed some
others, that I live by and these are what I want to share with
you today. In the process, I will introduce you to some of the
people and experiences of my life. Some are profound, some silly
and some transcend the limits of my ability to fully understand.
But, what I do know is that these are gifts from God to be
Now this first statement may underwhelm you, but
I beg your indulgence. Stick with me here. The first thing that
I know is that God is. I can hear the murmurs in the
back row now, "You mean I got up and took a cold shower for
this!" Don't go back to sleep on me yet. This statement is not
so obvious to everyone, nor is it simple.