Vincent Morris: MS, MA, MBA, College Administrator, Insurance Consultant
- Financial-Organizational Consultant
- Former Vice President for Finance, Houghton College
- B.A. Gordon College (1988), Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry
- M.A., Theology, (2006) Wheaton College Graduate School
- M.B.A., Finance, Investing, and Organizational Behavior (2006), University of Chicago
- B.S., Wheaton College (2012), Geology
- Board member and President for the University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA)
- Speaking, writing articles, and editing journals in my fields
- Former Board Member of AuSable Environmental Center,MI
“One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” –C. S. Lewis,God in the Dock
I was a curious child, in several senses of the word, perhaps. I wanted to know things. More accurately, I wanted to know everything. In one of his Just SoStories, “The Elephant’s Child, or How the Elephant Got His Trunk,” Rudyard Kipling tells of a young elephant who kept asking “Why…?” questions so often that he suffered difficult consequences because of “his ’satiable curtiosity”! Like the Elephant’s Child, I too was insatiably curious, and remain so, even at the risk of having my inquiring nose bitten on occasion.
In the conservative, rural part of northern Illinois in which I was raised, knowledge was prized, as no doubt it is everywhere—but knowledge of a certain type particularly; and curiosity was not rewarded so much as the ability to work hard. When to plant corn, and how to manage a farrowing house for hogs, how to preserve tomatoes, peaches, and pickles, and how to rock a stick-shift out of the mud—these were all considerably more important bits of knowledge to my neighbors and church congregation, and therefore to my young self, than organic chemistry, or sociology, or the Man Booker Prize short-listed novels, of which no one had heard. My parents had each completed master’s degrees in graduate school, so my house was filled with books and learning was important. My father taught me how to identify the phases of the Moon and the names of starry constellations as early as I can remember, for in those country places the stars were quite visible, shimmering majestically above the soybeans. He quizzed all five of us children on math problems, and geographical tidbits (“can you name the counties that touch ours?”), as well as the value of hard physical labor, how to raise a garden, prune a vine, milk a goat, change a tire, and how to kill and butcher a sheep in the chill of late October. My mother brought the treasure trove of her college literature major books to our tiny farmhouse library. In those days long before the internet, many a dark winter evening found me curled up, reading steadily through all the books we owned, along with a bagful obtained during treks to town and the local library. My book bag came everywhere with me, and my mind began to expand.
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”— Albert Einstein
One of the marks of the autodidact is an occasional mispronounced word, one that has often been read and whose meaning is known but which one has not linked with the proper audible pronunciation. My reading time was vast, around the chores, but not particularly directed. I was literarily omnivorous, so perhaps it is not surprising that occasionally I would have mis-steps: adults were puzzled for a bit when I referred to the large city to our east as “CHICK-a-go.” Being out of step with my culture and peers was commonplace. I had read, for example, all of Shakespeare by the age of 10 (with little understanding, I realized later upon re-reading) because it was what was available to me, but had watched little television and had no idea who the Incredible Hulk was, or what March Madness in NCAA basketball might be about. These cultural blind spots were not much illuminated by the mix of conservative Christian schools in which my parents placed us, having little confidence in the educational powers of the local public branch. For a time we were home schooled, as well, during which my academic progress accelerated much faster—in certain areas—than during regimented classes at grade levels (“never let your education interfere with your learning”). To this day I have only the slightest grasp of pop music or current television shows—they simply do not interest me in the same way that other learning grips my mind.
“There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don’t have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren’t lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers. Why? Because they are interested in those things. They are curious. If you are hungry for food, you are prepared to hunt high and low for it. If you are hungry for information it is the same. Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history. You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out. The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.” ― Stephen Fry
This conservative upbringing was considerably extended and exacerbated by our local church. A tiny country church where high attendance would be 50 persons, it was populated with devout, loving, and well-intentioned saints who preferred the King James Version of the Bible, sang hymns loudly together, and had quite skeptical opinions of science if it led to an acceptance of anything other than six-day creationism. I was no different, indoctrinated lovingly by a church family whom I saw Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening for prayer meeting, as well as for all “marryings and buryings” and other events—it was the social hub of our community life—indeed, my family’s life—for many years. It was, perhaps, inevitable that as I grew older and the scope of my curious interests expanded, I would begin to push on the boundaries of this religious understanding of science. I do not recall my parents ever directing me toward a Creationistic interpretation of scripture, but the church community certainly did, and it was not until later I began to question this interpretation. I did not want the tensions between what I had been taught and what I was now learning to paralyze me intellectually or spiritually.
“Calvin: ‘The more you know, the harder it is to take decisive action.
Once you are informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray.
You realize nothing is as clear as it first appears. Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.
Being a man of action, I cannot afford to take that risk.’
Hobbes: ‘You’re ignorant, but at least you act on it.’”
I remember overnight stays with friends in which we debated late into the night how many species there were, and how Noah could have fitted them all, two by two, into the Ark (“there’s plenty of room if you remember the average size of a species is about that of a sheep!”), and how he could have fed them, and—what about the dinosaurs? We worried and worried at the texts, and commentaries on them, trying to fit the thrilling science we were beginning to learn in biology and chemistry and my great love, physics, into the interpretive box of “Let there be light!” and fully formed humans six days later. (“Literal days?” “It says ‘yom’! and “the evening and the morning!”) My parents often said to us children, “If you don’t know something—look it up!” There were shelves of reference books and encyclopedias of knowledge in our little home (I was particularly fond of an odd book called Strange Stories, Amazing Factsabout what I would now describe as “Forte-ian arcana”—look it up!) It would become much easier to look things up twenty years later in the age of the Internet and Google. But as our knowledge of science grew, so did the intensity of our questions. It seemed dangerous to ask these questions, because we were not just challenging an interpretation of the Bible—we were challenging many of the assumptions of our entire subculture, the group that made us: our tribe, our family, those who had made us who we were. Such questions, and their potential answers, threatened to unmake us.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”― Albert Einstein
My parents nurtured and fed our curiosity, and did not mind our questions. They moved us from the farm to the suburbs of Chicagoland, where I attended Wheaton Christian High School (now Wheaton Academy). There I found a curious paradox: the theology was conservative, as were my fellow students, but the science was strong. Not only was I taught well enough to receive the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award my senior year, but I was allowed—welcomed—to spend every Saturday at Fermilab, the nearby particle accelerator laboratory, studying the physics of quarks and the origins of the universe. I thank my teachers and mentors, with whom I did not—and do not—always agree, but who spurred me on with encouragement that Scientia est potentia—knowledge is power. As Wheaton College philosophy professor Dr. Arthur Holmes, who attended my suburban church, was fond of quoting, “All truth is God’s truth.” So when my “secular” Fermilab mentors casually referred to cosmic rays traversing distances and put the age of the universe at 14 billion years, I felt empowered to try to understand my faith in view of the light-years of science as well as the “Let there be light” of Genesis. I considered both to be essential parts of my education, so I resolved to continue studying both faith and science, to satisfy my curiosity about how they interacted.
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
— Dr. Linus Pauling
As an undergraduate at Gordon College, I took a Biblical Studies major, learning Greek and Hebrew and delving deep into understanding the origins and meanings of the Bible as my primary guide to life and faith. I also studied Calculus and Physics, Readers’ Theatre and Sociology, Music Theory and Inorganic Chemistry and Ecology and Computer Programming and Marine Biology. I was not only interested in faith and science—all subjects of knowledge were fascinating to me. There was so much to learn! It was somewhat irritating to be told that, in order to receive a degree, I needed to declare a major. I had come to college to become liberally educated. I was interested in everything! And now they wanted me to pick a specification?
“What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within the span of his little life by him who interests his heart in everything.”
― Laurence Sterne
I chose a dual major: Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry, with heavy doses of the sciences on the side, and enjoyed college learning immensely. It is almost embarrassing to admit that when, at the end of my senior year, I returned the last of my borrowed books to the library the week of Commencement, I looked around at the stacks and suddenly broke out in tears. I had come to college to read these books, and I had not yet finished, and it was time to move on. Could I really call myself educated, when there was clearly so much yet to learn? I had great respect for a brilliant classmate of mine, a triple major in Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics. He had an expansive vocabulary, yet when he heard someone use a word he did not know, rather than nodding wisely and pretending he understood, he would stop the speaker, saying “Excuse me—I don’t know that word. What does it mean?” He was completely unembarrassed by what he did not know, although he knew more—a lot more--than most people. I admired his eager desire to learn, and recalled something my own father used to say, during my growing-up years on the farm, about a new piece of knowledge: “Whatever it is, you weren’t bornknowing it.”
“Curiosity is a willing, a proud, an eager confession of ignorance.”
— S. Leonard Rubinstein
But now I had a new concern: not only did I wish my faith and science to be integrated—now I also had to give thought to my future career. How would I make a living, and pay off these student loans I was acquiring for my education? Who wanted a pastor who knew particle physics? What laboratory wanted someone who read ancient Hebrew? Gordon College’s institutional slogan was “The Integration of Faith and Learning”—but I also needed to figure out how to integrate Life somehow. It was not entirely clear to me how to go about this.
“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”
— Samuel Johnson
Some people said that, for a person of faith, God has a specific plan for our lives. Many of us spend considerable time seeking that plan, and trying to mold ourselves into the shape of it so we will “not miss God’s will for our lives.” But I found it curious indeed that, when I applied to teach science in central Africa, the Peace Corps was skeptical about my faith and openly wondered if I were not trying to proselytize on the government dime. What was God’s plan for me, who had been planning to infect others with my contagious love for learning and the joys of scientific discovery of God’s universe? Somewhat confused, I returned to Chicagoland instead of heading to Zaire, and I ended up taking a job “for a couple of years” as youth minister to middle school and high school students at my church. If I could not teach science, perhaps I could teach faith. But teaching faith doesn’t always pay the bills, so I took several other jobs as well: copyediting for a publishing house, assisting at an athletic training center, tutoring. I was extremely busy and never bored (in fact, I cannot remember being bored since I was quite a small child.)
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
— Dorothy Parker
I grew to love the young people with whom I ministered, and two planned years turned rapidly into a decade. I watched so many children turn into adults, and was privileged to assist them in the task of growing up. My favorite quote became “There is no greater joy in life than witnessing the maturation of someone you care about.” Many students gave me much joy. They also asked me hard questions, and many of them were the same questions with which I had been wrestling for so long: how to integrate the world of scientific inquiry with understanding of faith and the Bible.
“Moral growth is best achieved by posing questions for which the current level of moral development does not provide adequate answers.” — Lawrence Kohlberg
Some of the most frequently debated questions came over origins: Genesis accounts vs. scientific descriptions in astronomy—the Big Bang and evolution. An organization called “Answers in Genesis” suggested they could resolve these questions, but the more I had studied the Bible and science, the less I felt they had a right understanding of either. Eventually I left youth ministry to take a job as Director of Risk Management at Wheaton College, learning an entirely new career—and taking full advantage of the “one free class per semester” that the College gave employees. A veritable playground for a Learner!
Accordingly, I began to study Geology. I learned that granitic rock simply cannot be created rapidly; that the rock formations in the Grand Canyon, particularly the unconformities, cannot be explained by a flood; and that there is no geological evidence of a worldwideflood.
There were many ideas and books that not only resolved some of the tensions I (and my youth ministry students) had had—they expanded my mind and gave me a great joy in the Lord and in life as I considered our purpose in the cosmos. As I read and learned more and more about both faith and the world, my knowledge, and my joy, like Samson’s hair in captivity, began to grow.
“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” – C. S. Lewis,Surprised by Joy
Even more important than these scientific bricks in the edifice of my learning was the mortar of my increasing faith understanding. Many books were helpful to me in this: Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One; Young and Stearley’s The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth; and essays in The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth.I am indebted to Middleton’sThe Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 and others for an understanding that not only is a literal seven-day creationism not the only legitimate way to understand the early chapters of Genesis—it is almost certainly an incorrectunderstanding of the intent of the narrative: to show us where we fit in the cosmos as creatures made in the image of God. Imago deiis a primarily functionalunderstanding, not a cosmological-historical one. We are the image of God as we function as he wouldon the Earth. We are a mirror to reflect God to the rest of creation. If the mirror is bumped out of alignment, it does not stop being a mirror, but it stops fulfilling its purpose, its function. It stops “imaging” God to the world. This understanding of human purpose was the deep integration I had sought post-Gordon, of Faith, Learning—and Life.
By the time the Answers in Genesis folk had built a large Ark in Kentucky to showcase their perspective, I had earned a Geology degree from Wheaton College and a master’s degree in Theology with a thesis largely about proper understandings of Genesis. My theological and academic growth had now proceeded to the point where I now felt it was relatively easy to debate and defeat the arguments they put forth. Better still (for I now sometimes found myself pitying them and their misguided attempts to reconcile things I thought were much better resolved in other ways), I had also found the great joy that comes from realizing whywe are on this planet, and had learned our function—our purpose.
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” T. H. White, The Once and Future King
I have kept on learning. I now hold an MBA from the University of Chicago, five risk management certifications, a property-casualty insurance license in the state of Illinois, and am a registered CPA. I am currently working on an MA in GIS online from the University of Southern California, and am sitting in on Mathematics classes for fun at Houghton College, where I currently serve as Vice President for Finance. I still wistfully consider earning a Ph.D. at some point. But none of this matters much, I realize. As I get older, I recognize two things about learning: 1) it is now more of a hobby and a source of happiness for me than training for a future career or job; and 2) I know now the purpose for my learning. I have had so many different jobs requiring different types of education that I treat learning asa feature and a joy in itself, a way to better understand God and his work in the world,rather than as a prerequisite for a task. I remain curious, alive to see what God is doing in the world, and how people are maturing into reflectors of his image! I expect to be curious until death—and beyond.
For, you see, those earlier well-meaning Christians who gave me advice about “finding the one path God has for you” were as mis-informed as the Answers in Genesis folks. God is busy in the world, restoring and reconciling “all things” to himself (Colossians 1:19-20). He will continue to do this until the Kingdom comes (for more on that, read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, which should be required reading for all Christians and may be perceived in a hundred years as the most important, encouraging book about “heaven”—?!?!—ever written). The great un-hidden “secret” of integrating Faith, Learning and Life is that the “job” we have at any given time may change, but as Christians our vocationremains the same: to join the Lord in this work of reconciliation and restoration, of promoting the Flourishing of all Creation as we serve as imago dei—to do what he would do, to reflect his image to the world.
Do not worry if you find you are drawn to something other than your undergraduate major—in your life you will likely have many careers and need many different types of education. Do not fret if you cannot find a job in your chosen field—it can take time, and you studied it, I hope, because you loved learning about it, not (just) because you hoped to profit from it. Do not forget that your mission is to image God. Not everyone has the skill and the love to do so in the sciences; if you do, you have special gifts there. Exult in them!
My personal educational road has been long and winding. I always wanted to be a scientist, and have been many other things instead. The jobs and careers I thought I would have are not at all the same as those I have ended up doing. Yet I find any disappointment I may have had in the past about this diminishes daily, because my very notions of “job” and “career” have been subsumed by a desire to work joyfully in whatever role I can fill that will best advance the Flourishing of the people and the rest of Creation God is reconciling and restoring.
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
― J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
What is Next?
Same as Yesterday:
Join God in the Kingdom Work of Reconciliation and Restoration.