Deep Work and the Problem with Overcommunication

I remember in the fall of 2020 hearing our provost say, “Overcommunication with students will be a must this semester.” He was thinking about the challenges of remote learning. But isn’t overcommunication just what professors do? Our over-long syllabi aside, we’re always crafting top-heavy email invitations for semesters of meaningful work. Pressing “send” on over-communication gives us a satisfaction akin to what Shakespeare must have felt completing Sonnet 116.

And then, we receive our first email from a student: “Hey prof thx the class will be dank idk is textbk in or do u class need it?!?”

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What Is Our Work Now?

Our Religion department chair always begins meetings with a round of check-ins. The check-in question changes, but the invitation to share from something professional or personal is always there. This feels right—perhaps because the members of our department have worked together for over a decade. Or maybe because we know intimately how twined and tangled the personal and the professional are for those of us who out live our teaching vocation.

This week, a department member opened our check-in saying, “I’m having a rough day, but I’m doing my best in this moment to be present to the work.” Before I could think, I blurted out, “I’m also having a rough day, but I’m not sure what our work is now.”

On the surface, my comment made no sense. The agenda for the department meeting was clear: discuss core curriculum revisions, construct a shared assignment on “identity” for all first year religion and theology classes, and set hiring priorities for the fall (we lost three faculty this academic year). But eight weeks into the semester, five semesters into the pandemic, and two plus years into educational upheaval, my confusion was real.

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Valleys and Hollers: Vocation in Rural Settings

Some might associate the word “rural” with “the boonies” or the “middle of nowhere.” If you have Appalachian roots like me, the idea of the “holler” might come to mind. Whether you’re a “flatlander” or nestled in a cascade of valleys, the word “rural” might conjure images of rolling farmland or long stretches of road across the horizon. Being rural has implications for higher education, ranging from policy creation to fascinating ideas like placemaking and boundary spanning. It also affects how we think about vocation.

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Grind, Burn, Pivot, Give: How Young Professionals Talk About Vocation


Craig Mattson has interviewed many young professionals about their work experiences and their lives following graduation. This is the first in a series about what he has learned and how it might inform our work with young adults about vocation.


Professors should pay more attention to two vocation stories that circulate in the first decade after college.

The first is the Grind Story. Sometimes this sounds like a saga of sailing far oceans and seeing strange creatures. But the plotline usually caps off with, “I’ve been working like 70-hour weeks, and it’s super hard, but I’m gonna get there.” Sometimes, this story sounds cheerfully heroic, like the guy I talked to who’d started an organization called Grind Greatly. Sometimes, though, the voices sound pretty grim.

The second narrative is the Burn Story. This dystopian tale about torching capitalism has three essential plot points: (1) Burn (2) Everything (3) Down. I don’t hear this story very often, honestly. Let’s just say that it doesn’t fit the aesthetics of a LinkedIn post. Still, some early-career professionals have so much to do and so little power to do it with that they wish they could tell the Burn Story.

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A Blessing and a Limp

The latest episode of NetVUE’s podcast series Callings features a conversation with Marjorie Hass who became the president of the Council of Independent Colleges last July. Dr. Hass previously served as president of Rhodes College and of Austin College. In her responses to our questions about calling, leadership, and times of personal as well as institutional crisis, she drew upon a set of images and metaphors from her own Jewish tradition. For her, calling is first and foremost about responsibility—that is, our ability to respond—as Abraham and others did.

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Teaching and Learning in the Present Moment

When I learned that Thich Nhat Hanh died it was like a meditation bell ringing that returned my attention to the present moment. My next breath was deeper and calmer. In his death as in his life, he brought me peace. Like so many others, I have followed Thich Nhat Hanh from a distance, reading his books, listening to his dharma talks. I have taught his book Being Peace through the years, both in intro religion courses and in peace and justice courses. This year, I have felt him closer to me in the classroom than ever.

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Our Entangled Banks

A series of posts about a collaborative project at Wingate University, resulting in a first-year course called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of Our Lives.

Mr. Darwin’s Lovely Thought
– detail 1; susanskuseart.com

Elizabeth Johnson’s Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (2015) offers much to those looking to explore vocation in a COVID world. For Johnson, the human vocation is to praise the Creator and care for the natural world rather than destroy it. She suggests that in the process of falling in love with the Creator via caring for creation, human beings will find our true identities reimagined as “vital members of the community of creation rather than as a species divorced from the rest.” The entangled bank, an overlooked metaphor offered by Darwin, could be our guide:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

What if we took this vision of our participation within a community of creation seriously and contemplated Earth’s entangled banks as a source of wisdom for addressing challenges facing higher education? This post begins a series that will describe the co-creation of a high-impact general education class for first year students developed at Wingate University called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of our Lives.

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