The soul, for many, is a topic deep and mysterious. Some like John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, consider the soul the most important part of who we are. Recently, Greg R. Taylor, who ministers at Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma, sat down with Ortberg to talk about his new book, Soul Keeping and how people can find soul-satisfaction.
Your new book, Soul Keeping, could be called Tuesdays with Dallas because Dallas Willard is featured so much. Why is the focus on the soul instead of on Dallas?
Actually, what happened was the book started to be about the soul, and Dallas kept creeping into it. It didn't start out to be about Dallas at all. I wanted to talk about the soul and the nature of the soul.
But I can't think about that stuff without thinking about Dallas, because he's so central to my development. Not just to understanding the soul, but to the life and well-being of my own soul. What I loved about him was the character of his soul. In writing or in preaching, it always helps if there's story and personhood and not just abstract truth.
By the end of the first chapter, I felt like weeping. I think it was because of what you said on page 23. You wrestled with questions about pastoring:
"Why is it so hard for me to love the actual people in my church? Why is that I know I want to love my children, but I seem to be driven to be a success—especially in a vocation that's supposedly calling people to die to their need to be successful? Why do I get jealous of other pastors who are more successful than I am? Why am I never satisfied? Why do I feel a deep, secret loneliness? Why is it that I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a master of divinity and work as a pastor and yet I'm not sure who I am?"
Well, it's so much a part of the story, at least for me and my relationship with Dallas. I'm drawn to him and I'm ashamed of myself. And I don't mean that in the morbid way. When you're around somebody who's farther down the road, it casts light on you.
When I first heard of him, I had read The Spirit of the Disciplines and it changed my life. I could tell you the seat on the plane where I was sitting when I read that book from Chicago to California.
I wanted to know more about him, so I wrote him a letter saying what the book had meant. It turned out he lived a few miles away from where I lived. After he died, I received from his daughter, Becky, a copy of the letter that I had written him over 25 years ago.
Dallas had a box—this is vintage Dallas—that he called "fond old treasures." Dallas used to write about treasuring, and how central treasuring is to being human, and how even a homeless person will carry pictures or a letter. We all keep treasures.
What was his sense of humor like?
Humor and joy are so important. I asked Dallas one time, when pastors end up in a ditch—sexual misconduct, money, or for whatever reason—how often is it because they were not leading a joyful life?
And he said, "Every single case." He has a famous statement in one of his books, "The failure to attain a deeply satisfying life always has the effect of making sin look good."
One of the things I loved about Dallas is he had this very sly sense of humor that would creep out. And part of why Dallas is difficult to read is he has a very precise definition for every word. Spirit is "unembodied personal power," beauty is "goodness made manifest to the senses," joy is "a pervasive sense of well-being."