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Letters from Paul Schobernd


When You Dance With God, Guess Who Leads?

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The 1999 Jonathan Plummer Lecture Presented at Illinois Yearly Meeting of the 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 blessing imaginable.

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 some days!

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 silliness.

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 shared.

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.

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