Values and Velleities
by Dr. James Furr, President, HGST Elaborate recreational activities were decidedly not part of our family life when I was growing up. While Sunday was a well-protected day of rest, farming culture, or at least my Dad, required six long days of work in the summertime. When rain-soaked fields occasionally released me from driving a tractor, I loved fishing in my grandfather’s muddy stock tank (known by urbanites as a pond). The feel of a fish tugging on the line was exhilarating and I envisioned a lifetime of this highly valued pastime. As you may have guessed, I’ve averaged about one fishing trip per year during the subsequent five decades.
Frankly, I have a long list of practices that I would like to call values for which there simply isn’t enough action to justify that description. In fact, there is a term for this phenomena. A velleity refers to wishful thinking, to something we say we want that can’t be verified by our actions.
Perhaps Christians are especially vulnerable to espousing values that are velleities because we appropriately affirm beliefs, values, and behavior that are currently beyond our way of life. Jesus’ imperatives that we “be perfect,” “follow,” and “give up our lives,” make shortcomings a routine experience. We know to avoid velleity’s crude cousin, hypocrisy—dishonest claims about ourselves—but how do we manage the common challenge of not living up to legitimate aspirations?
The starting point is surely the practice of confession that leads to forgiveness and restoration although the clear necessity of confession before God, myself, and others certainly doesn’t make it any easier for me. Still, confession and forgiveness are the spiritual equivalent of exhaling and inhaling.
I’m also reminded that values are primarily developed and nurtured in community. Despite the benefits of God-given rationality, we are profoundly shaped by what we desire. I highly recommend Jamie’s Smith newest book You Are What You Love or his more academic Desiring the Kingdom to help us embrace self-awareness, accountability, and spiritual formation. In the genuine worship of God, Smith contends, our loves and lives are literally re-made in the image of the Christ.
I’ve lost track of my old cane pole, but perhaps I’ll buy one of those new-fangled rod and reel devices. And, if I have the courage and humility, my fishing time could include the spiritual discipline of examen (a devotional exercise of examining one's own thoughts and conduct) to consider a few other matters.
Dr. James Furr is president of Houston Graduate School of Theology and Professor of Church and Culture.