Richard T. Hughes on grace and the paradoxes of vocation

Richard T. Hughes

In the latest episode of NetVUE’s podcast series, Callings, we talk with Richard Hughes about his long career as a scholar and teacher. Richard has a new book out, a “memoir of sorts,” which chronicles both his own vocational story and the trajectory of his work on Christianity in the U.S. In our conversation, Richard graciously shares significant moments of rejection and criticism in his life and how these made him reconsider his most deeply held beliefs. He reflects on the influence of Victor Frankl, Robert Bellah, James Noel, and Martin Marty on his life and work, and encourages listeners to consider the paradox of how “losing one’s self” can be a gift.

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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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The Importance of Wonder

In a new episode on the NetVUE podcast series, Callings: Conversations on College, Career, and a Life Well-Lived, sociologist of religion Tom Landy talks about his life’s work in helping people understand the “thickness” of religious traditions (their own and others’). Tom is director of the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. His primary research is in global catholicism, and he founded and leads research for Catholics & Cultures, a web-based initiative to explore the religious lives and practices of lay Catholics in their particular cultural contexts around the world. He is also the founder of Collegium, a summer colloquy on faith and intellectual life for faculty from Catholic universities and colleges from around the country.

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Strength and Vulnerability: The Vocation of a College President

As a young girl in Kittrell, North Carolina, Mary Dana Hinton never imagined she might one day become the president of a college. Driven by a life-long calling to educational equity, she became the 13th president of Hollins University in August 2020 after serving as president of the College of Saint Benedict for many years. In a new episode of the NetVUE podcast series, Callings, she shares that on some days her calling feels heavy. She goes on to describe how the inspiration of her hard-working mother, the encouragement from early mentors, and the uplifting teachings of the black church have kept her going over the years.

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Seeing Constellations rather than Stars

When it comes to BIPOC students, we have a tendency to celebrate individual stars rather than seeing the larger constellations of which they are a part. Patrick Reyes offers some suggestions for how we might better appreciate the beauty and wisdom of the communities and traditions which have formed our students. In his new book, The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive (Westminster/John Knox, 2021), Patrick offers new metaphors and a different way of thinking about how to help students cultivate a sense of purpose and empower their communities.

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Jason Mahn on Neighbor Love

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason Mahn (Augustana College, IL) began chronicling his “wondering and wanderings,” which are now published under the title Neighbor Love Through Fearful Days: Finding Purpose and Meaning in a Time of Crisis (Fortress, 2021). Some of his early musings on these themes appeared on this blog as “Neighboring and Sheltering in Place” (April 2020); “The Economy and Ecology of Neighbor Love” (May 2020); and “What An Unjust World Also Needs; Connecting Vocation and Activism” (July 2020).

In a new episode on the NetVUE podcast, we talk with Jason about his “in the moment” reflections about how we commit ourselves to loving our neighbors during times of social distancing, quarantine, protest, and social unrest. He writes about the threat of white supremacy, the challenges of repentance, and the importance of mundane acts. Jason urges us to resist stories that are too tidy in their resolution. 

Click here to listen to our conversation with Jason about “Neighbor Love.”

Jason Mahn is Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities and director of the Presidential Center for Faith and Learning at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He was a contributor to NetVUE’s second scholarly resources project volume, Vocation across the Academy. He is also a member of the NetVUE Advisory Council. To read Jason’s posts on this blog, including “The Tragedy of the Road Not Taken” which is among the most-read posts on this site, click here.

Giving and receiving advice

What advice would you give to a young adult today?

We ask a version of this question to each of our guests on the NetVUE podcast, Callings. The answers are varied, alternating between encouragement and gentle warning, the pragmatic and the more idealistic. In a “bonus episode” to round out season one, we compiled those words of advice in an episode called “Vocational Advice for Undergraduates.” The advice-givers include Darby Ray, Eboo Patel, Amanda Tyler, Rabbi Rachel Mikva, Father Dennis Holtschneider, and Shirley Showalter. 

At just over 30 minutes in length, the episode offers a taste of the other, hour-long conversations and our hope is that you will go back and listen to the ones that pique your interest, if you have not already listened to the earlier episodes.

Because of its brevity, and because the advice is directed at young adults, you might also consider using this episode in your work with undergraduates. Here are some ideas for how you might do that.

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Called to Advocacy

Amanda Tyler is the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, which is headquartered on Capitol Hill and advocates for religious freedom for all. “From a very early age, I felt a calling to law and politics – I wanted to be a public servant in some way,” she shared during a recent conversation captured in the latest episode on the NetVUE podcast series, Callings. The episode is called “The Next Move.”

In 2019, Amanda was named “Baptist of the Year” for her leadership in the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. We talked about this aspect of her work during our conversation, and she described how we are called to walk a line between fidelity to the past and stewardship for the future. (Amanda was recently interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on the topic of Christian Nationalism).

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Becoming Big

As much as I had struggled before I joined the church, once I submitted my little life, I wanted it to count. I hadn’t yet given up on the dream of becoming big. – Shirley Showalter, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

In her memoir Blush Shirley Showalter shares stories from her childhood, including how she negotiated the emphasis in her Mennonite community on being “plain” and the admonition against feeling “big.” In a new episode of the NetVUE podcast series, Callings, Shirley talked with us about writing the memoir and what that process taught her about narrative and story. She relays some of the twists and turns in her own life, including the call to the presidency of Goshen College. With a new book coming out next year on grandparenting, co-written with Marilyn McEntyre, Shirley also talks about what it means to embrace becoming an elder. When asked what advice she would give to young adults today, she warned against listening to pre-fabricated advice from others: “Your vocation to yourself and to your own spirit is your highest vocation.” 

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Interruption Stories

A new episode of NetVUE’s podcast series, Callings, features a conversation with Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). Fr. Dennis served as the 11th president of DePaul University, from 2004-2017.

A wise leader with an infectious laugh, in our conversation with him Fr. Dennis shared stories about Chicago-style politics and his vision of the modern university. He elaborated upon his thoughts about the “ethics of re-opening” (articulated as a series of insights in this piece published in Inside HigherEd last July). And when asked what advice he would give to the new U.S. President, Fr. Dennis told a wonderful story about meeting Joe Biden in the cafeteria at the White House.

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