Counter story-telling in The Purpose Gap

Patrick Reyes’ The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive is an engaging, highly readable, and thought-provoking book that can be used to spark important conversations with students. The book does several things simultaneously. At one level, it offers a timely and needed challenge to the traditional discourse about vocation, and for that reason alone readers of this blog should pay close attention. It weaves together insights about how personal and communal thriving are intertwined; the import of design thinking—the physical design of urban spaces as well as the power of stargazing far away from visual noise; institutional vocation; cultural commutes and the challenges of “going home” when that commute is vast; the power of networking; and attending to daily practices. In short, there is A LOT packed into this book of less than 200 pages. Reyes intersperses these discussions with reflection questions for the reader, making the book user-friendly and ready-to-use with students both in and out of the classroom.

Reyes also uses stories from his own life to underscore his larger point about “the purpose gap.” In its pedagogical use of autobiographical anecdotes combined with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own life, the book is not unlike Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, and yet there is a world of difference between the two books and the stories they tell. That difference is both a matter of privilege and of the target audience for each book. In this post, I want to explore how Reyes makes effective use of his own stories because it is much more than simply “sharing” his perspective or conveying his personal story. It is a powerful example of what critical race theory calls counter-storytelling.

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Exploring Selfhood in Let Your Life Speak

There are many resources available for engaging undergraduates in vocational exploration. I have found Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to be an abundant source, full of passages that engage students and which easily serve as the basis for journal prompts that can be met with authentic response, leading students into rich vocational exploration and discernment. Palmer provides personal stories and invites readers to engage in their own vocational discernment in a stepwise manner. By first exploring authentic selfhood, he then asks the reader to search the depths of their inner life prior to exploring how to live and serve others within their community—to serve in a way that is authentic to your true self. He then calls them to step forward to lead within society. Finally, Palmer leaves readers with the idea that the vocational journey follows a process akin to the cycles of the seasons. As the first in a series on using Palmer’s book as a resource, in this post I will highlight the first step: exploring selfhood.

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The Journey of the Called Life

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new book about vocation called Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life (Cascade Books, 2021). A labor of love and friendship, the book was co-written by Charlie Pinches, who teaches at the University of Scranton, and Paul Wadell, professor emeritus at St. Norbert College. Weaving together insights from a wide range of thinkers, including Augustine, Aquinas, and Gabriel Marcel as well as Barbara Brown Taylor, Parker Palmer, Wendell Berry and Pope Francis, a sizeable portion of the book explores the virtues that are needed for the journey: attentiveness and humility, fidelity and courage, justice, hope, and patience.

The book draws upon much of the recent writing about vocation, including the collections published as part of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project. Several authors who have contributed to this blog—including David Cunningham, Douglas Henry, Jason Mahn, Anantanand Rambachan, Caryn Riswold, and Hannah Schell—are mentioned in the footnotes throughout the book.

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Digital Drag and Discerning What’s Real

A review of Chris Stedman’s IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives (Broadleaf Books, 2020).

I was travelling in Germany for three weeks with students while reading Jean Twenge’s book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. It seemed like a good idea to read about this generation while spending an extended amount of time living with twelve of them. Among other things, Twenge convinced me that “iGen” was a better name for this cohort than the commonly used moniker Generation Z, which is of course a derivative generational marking – remember when the now-named Millennials were Generation Y? This GenXer does. 

The name comes from the fact that “members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. … iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010” (Twenge 2017). They have the distinctive experience of being the first to navigate adolescence and now emerging adulthood with a smartphone nearly always in their pocket and social media an ever-present factor of life.

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Leading Lives that Matter

When you are a college teacher, certain books become beloved companions because of how well they work for undergraduates in a classroom setting. William Placher’s deceptively brief A History of Christian Theology was that type of book for me when I taught the history of Christian thought at Monmouth College, as was the first edition of the wonderful anthology Leading Lives that Matter, especially when we began to weave vocation into some of our courses. I loved teaching that book. It was a thrill to introduce students to its array of thinkers and texts and to engage them in conversations about the questions the texts posed. And so I was excited to learn that the editors Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass were engaged in the task of putting together a new, second edition—but also quietly hoped that they wouldn’t change it too much! I’m happy to report that the updates do not alter the original strength of the collection, that the second edition includes a welcome diversity of perspectives, and that it is now available for purchase from Eerdmans.

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