Please Help Reshape a Collection of Readings on Vocation

 

helpwantedThe anthology Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (LLTM) has been widely used by faculty and students at NetVUE schools as a collection of texts that can be used to guide and stimulate the exploration of vocation. The book, edited by Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass (Eerdmans, 2006), includes a wide variety of selections — poems, short stories, essays, speeches, obituaries, screenplays, and excerpts from longer works — drawn from both religious and secular sources.

The editors are now developing a second edition, and they seek your advice.

The book was originally Continue reading

(Re)-reading Wendell Berry on community and vocation (part 1)

Wendell Berry (Photo by Guy Mendes)
Wendell Berry (Photo by Guy Mendes)

One definition of  “community” that I have become fond of lately comes from a quote by Wendell Berry.  You don’t have to look very hard for a good quote by Wendell Berry about almost anything.  I could get lost on Berry’s BrainyQuote page and never find my way out.  The connection between vocation and community is strong throughout Berry’s work, but David Guthrie’s recent post, which highlights the many shortcomings of our academic communities, has convinced me that  Berry has something important to say about this connection.  My plan is to look at two of Berry’s essays, the first (in this post) published in 1969 and the second (next time) published in 2015, that contain definitions of community and vocation that may very well be… definitive.  Continue reading

Calling as Summons: Treading carefully in the “cult of calling”

“So, I no longer say that ‘God calls me’ in the same smug way that I once did.” So writes Leslie Verner in a recent article on why she has left the “cult of calling.” Instead, Leslie concludes, she now uses language of calling more carefully, perhaps more reluctantly, thinking of her callings as contingent and subject to change — “if I use those words, I preface it by saying that I am called to this ‘for now.’ And if and when that calling shifts, I am left standing on solid ground, because my calling is to intimacy with Jesus Christ. And he never changes.”

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Should we abandon the language of calling, even in difficult cases where our lives take an unexpected turn? Leslie’s insightful words are an invitation to think carefully about the nature of our calls — and specifically, what it means to be summoned by something or someone outside of ourselves. 

Verner begins the piece recounting the idealism of her twenties. She wanted to follow Continue reading

Avoiding the BS: Education as a Relationship

What if we stopped thinking of education as an object — a system, a process, a collection of entities — and started to think of it as a relationship? What if it is meant to be nurtured and cultivated, rather than quantified and evaluated?

Chronicle Review Illustration by Scott Seymour (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 2018)

This was the question posed by a former student of mine, in a discussion on Facebook about Christian Smith’s recent Chronicle essay titled “Higher Education is Drowning in BS.” For those who missed it, Smith’s jeremiad is a 22-item list of everything that is wrong at the present moment, from “hypercommercialized college athletics” to “disciplines unable to talk with each other.” But one can agree with practically every item on Smith’s list and miss the larger point: that these problems stem from a failure to treat education as a relationship.

In our Facebook exchange, my former student comment that the problems that Smith identifies may be “the harvest of the ‘common grievance over parking.’” He was referring to Continue reading

Doing my job and doing it right (Part 2)

Francois Clemmons at StoryCorp, March 2016

In my last post (what seems like ages ago now!), I tried to argue that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, In the Heights, is a special type of story that engages important  themes related to vocational discernment.  Specifically, I was interested in the interplay of the particular work one does, the place where the work is done, and how that work supports the flourishing of individuals and relationships in a community.  In that post, I also promised to return to another story told by Mr. Miranda — not Hamilton — to support my claim that Miranda is a remarkable modern explicator of vocation.  If not the greatest!  But first, allow me a brief detour to explain how Miranda’s short musical, 21 Chump Street, captured my enthusiasm as something useful for engaging students with vocational discernment.

It was an otherwise typical Friday morning in March (2016!) while I was driving my daughter to school.   The weekly installment of StoryCorp on NPR moved me to tears when Francois Clemmons told the story of how Fred Rogers had approached him in the late 1960’s to ask him to play the role of a police officer, Officer Clemmons, on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Continue reading

Beyond “warm and fuzzy” mentoring

To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, “Mentoring kids is a difficult matter. / It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” Many obstacles confront undergraduate advising and mentoring. Faculty are pressed for time and advising often becomes a mere cog in the course registration machine. Colleges sell meaningful mentoring to students but rarely offer the needed resources to support robust advising. Students expect ready answers and affirming words — they want their advising to be “warm and fuzzy.”

Moreover, we tend to think of advising and mentoring as an individualistic endeavor; its goals include helping the student to navigate college and to find a personally suitable direction in life. But what if we looked beyond the student’s life-long personal fulfillment, and sought to make mentoring a socially transformative endeavor? What would this require Continue reading