The Meaning and Method of a Woodworker’s Madness

Roy Underhill: A Quarter Century of Subversive Woodworking
Roy Underhill – a subversive woodworker? 

The first time I ever saw anyone use a hand plane to work a piece of  rough-sawn lumber into something useful was in Tanzania, on the island of Ukerewe, in 1998. I was part of a decidedly unskilled — at least with regards to building construction — team of newly sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers helping with a local Habitat for Humanity project while on our way from Dar es Salaam to our sites around Lake Victoria.

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Brick kiln on the island of Ukerewe, Tanzania.

The house we were helping to build was made from red clay bricks that were recently fired. The kiln was built right next to the house using soil that was dug from a large open pit.  The master carpenter overseeing the construction was incredibly patient, not to mention gracious, as he taught us to lay bricks.  The first exterior wall that we tried on our own needed to be taken apart and rebuilt by the crew of skilled masons working on the project. Our eight weeks of Peace Corps training had prepared us for a lot of things, but laying bricks was clearly not one of them. Continue reading

Pomp & Circumstance

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https://www.theodysseyonline.com/graduation-speech-for-college-graduates

May is the season for commencement addresses, a genre of writing often marked by platitudes and clichés, personal anecdotes that are of questionable relevance, and hyperbole about the significance of this historical moment or the potential of this year’s graduating class. As people tied to the rhythms and rituals of the academic year, over the span of a career we are exposed to dozens of such speeches. Since most graduation speeches are utterly forgettable, it’s difficult not to become somewhat cynical about them. And yet, they often touch upon important messages about vocation, and so it’s worthwhile to stop and think about the genre and function of the graduation speech. Continue reading

Dislocation: The power of off-campus study

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Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Agora” (Grant Park, Chicago).

For the past ten years I have taught a course called Values and Vocation at Chicago Semester, an urban experiential education program that welcomes college students to Chicago to complete a semester-long internship experience and take urban studies courses. The mostly seniors and a few juniors that take my course are introduced to the idea of having a calling and thinking about where that calling might take them as they move on from Chicago and graduate from college.  For most of the students, being in Chicago is a new experience – many of the students are living in a setting quite different from their college campuses, grappling with how to integrate themselves into a new place, while interning in a learning setting very unlike a college classroom. As they lean into this new place and these new experiences, they are simultaneously trying to conceptualize how their encounters in Chicago might inform their first steps after college. Continue reading

The Way of Vocation – some thoughts for new college grads

There is a new post at Relevant.com that will be of interest to many in the NetVUE community, entitled “So you just graduated from college, now what?”  Drew Moser, Associate Professor in Higher Education and Dean of Experiential Learning at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, offers some helpful insights for new college graduates. “The way of vocation,” Moser argues, is the better alternative to the approach of “simply living it up” or the pressure to “figure it out right away.”

New college grads are indeed given such advice, sometimes conflicting in nature and much of it problematic. Moser’s concerns about “living it up” overlap with what Meg Jay argued in The Defining Decade, a book that has been used effectively in vocation classes. (If you are not familiar with her book, Jay also has a popular Ted talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20”).

Yet Jay’s analysis lacks any attention to spiritual or religious commitments, and so Moser’s new book, co-written with Jess Fankhauser and titled Ready or Not: Leaning Into Life in Our Twenties (2018), could potentially work even more effectively or as a text to augment others. A short review from Publisher’s Weekly concluded this about the book: “Though the tone is light throughout, Moser and Fankhauser provide many jumping-off points for deep contemplation about a wide range of fraught areas for those starting adulthood. Christian readers setting out into the wilds of adulthood will find this a helpful guide.”

If thinking deeply about vocation is the best antidote to the questionable advice given to new college graduates, and to helping alleviate some of their natural anxiety during this time of transition, all the more reason why they should be supported in those reflections through well-planned, substantive programs throughout their time on campus!

Naming Avocations: A Lesson Plan for the Vocation Classroom

Colleges and universities have always been places that espouse lofty values while, increasingly, they attempt to prove their worth to parents and students as places to prepare for paid employment. This bifurcation manifests itself in the area of student services on most campuses. Go in one door for career services and still others for spiritual counseling and community service. And, of course, you not only enter a different door but also a different building to find what most faculty think of as the real work of a university – research and teaching. The dominance of the division into academic disciplines and administrative compartments is hard to shake.

The movement to foster experiences, reflection, teaching, research, and publication on the subject of vocation, however, challenges the separation of different kinds of callings. In doing so, this movement enriches the lives of many. We can start paying real attention to what matters most in our lives and to the gifts we give and receive (inner calling) regardless of who is paying us and how much value others assign to it (outer calling). The word “vocation,” sometimes described as a voice within that resonates with an outer voice, can take us on a journey to places not usually associated with career preparation. We need to foster our avocations as well as our vocations.   Continue reading

Connecting the Dots: What we can learn from Steve Jobs, college drop-out

In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs reflected upon his life: his birth and adoption, his early firing from Apple and marriage and then his scare with death after being diagnosed with cancer.  The first part of the speech was dedicated to “connecting the dots” and to his early life and college experience. Like Jobs, our most successful students are able to “connect the dots” and take important risks. Continue reading