In Memoriam

Douglas J. Schuurman (1955–2020)

We give thanks for the life and work of Douglas J. Schuurman, one of the founding leaders of the contemporary conversation on calling and vocation. Doug passed away on the evening of Saturday, February 15, 2020. Many in the NetVUE community will be familiar with his important book Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life (Eerdmans, 2004) and with the more recent collection (co-edited with Kathleen A. Cahalan) Calling in Today’s World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives (Eerdmans, 2016). Much of his life’s work was devoted to the task of “retrieving and reforming the Protestant concept of callings for modern times.” He also contributed to theological explorations that broaden the range of women’s callings, serving as co-editor (with Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Annelies Knoppers, Margaret L. Koch, and Helen M. Sterk) of After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation (Eerdmans, 1993).

Continue reading

Jonah: a parable of calling

What does the biblical figure of Jonah have to teach us about calling? On the surface, not much. In fact, Jonah may be the great anti-hero of vocation. 

God calls Jonah–and he runs in the opposite direction. God asks him, a good and upright man, to “Go to great city of Nineveh and tell them to end their wicked ways.” Now, to a Jew, Nineveh lay in enemy territory; it was in the country of the Assyrians. Nineveh was the Paris, the Mexico City, the Shanghai of the ancient world, an “exceedingly large city,” a city of “a hundred and twenty thousand people–and many animals,” a city it takes “three days to walk across.”

Maybe Jonah thinks this calling is beneath his pay grade. Maybe he crosses borders with difficulty. Maybe his passport has expired. Maybe he’s just terrified. But he’s quite certain the God of Israel should not bother with the Ninevites and Assyrians, because they’re not part of the “chosen people.” They don’t worship the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah. So Jonah boards a ship heading across a different sea. He thinks he can outrun God’s call.

Continue reading

On the Merits of Still Deciding

At a campus event a couple years ago, I spoke with prospective students and parents about studying the humanities. I was struck by one father’s question. He understood why we would insist on connecting the liberal arts with career success but, he said, it also worried him. He was thinking of his daughter growing into a young adult, for whom he wanted excellent career preparation but also much more.

His question was: Could I assure him we offer more?

In line with so many other colleges like ours, we at Maryville College have turned to outcomes assessment and, perhaps especially, employment outcomes as a measure of our educational effectiveness. We want to make the decision to come here easy, and so we have Powerpoints and data points and talking points at the ready to answer the questions we hear people asking, like, what jobs can you get with a degree in the liberal arts? Once those questions are settled, we move on—we say to ourselves—to the deeper values that we truly treasure.

Continue reading

Wrestling with White Supremacy

Second edition published in 2014.

In an essay published in December in The Cresset that is now available online, Richard T. Hughes recounts how he slowly came to see the myth of white supremacy as one of the most significant in forming American history and identity. The author of Myths America Lives By (published by the University of Illinois Press in 2004 and revised in 2014), Richard shares how a comment offered during a panel at the American Academy of Religion initiated a change in his thinking:

I had spent years thinking about the Great American Myths. I had taught classes and written books and articles on that subject. While I acknowledged the persistence of racism in American life, not once had I considered the notion of white supremacy as an idea that has been central to the American mythos. I understood that avowed white supremacists stalked the American landscape, but I had always viewed them as standing on the margins of American life. To suggest that white supremacy was a defining American myth struck me as preposterous.

Continue reading

Institutional Vocation: Some Reflections from Nashville

The regional NetVUE gathering in November in Nashville was titled “Institutions Can Have Vocations, Too.” Organized by Richard Hughes and held at Lipscomb University, it was well attended and prompted rich discussions, but three threads emerged as especially salient to me: the usefulness of story in thinking about institutional vocation; tensions between institutional identity and diversity; and the significance of explicit vs. implicit stories and the stories that we do not tell.

Continue reading

In Defense of School Spirit

Working with traditional aged college students one almost immediately encounters FOMO—fear of missing out. It manifests in anxiety over daily matters of whether they are included in friends’ social media exploits all the way to big-picture fears about picking the “right” major to end up with the “right” career twenty years later. {For more on FOMO and vocation, see Daniel Meyers’ “Making Hard Choices.”}

Writing in the NetVUE volume At This Time and In This Place, William T. Cavanaugh has pointed out how this obsession with maximizing choice usually just works to obscure potential inputs and inspiration for determining one’s most satisfying life path. I want to suggest here a somewhat sneaky way to get students to focus on more immediate goals, helping them learn how to identify noble goals in the future and thereby chart a course for a meaningful life: start by cheering on your mascot and wearing school colors.

Continue reading

Building multicultural competency

Malcolm X sat across the desk from Mr. Ostrowski, his teacher and advisor. Despite being one of his top eighth grade students, Mr. Ostrowski told Malcolm he should be realistic and become a carpenter–not a lawyer–because he was Black. Little did either of the two know at that moment in time what greater vocation lay ahead for Malcolm X. As educators and student development staff in higher education we would like to think that this type of racist interaction is a thing of the past; however, unconscious and conscious biases shape our interactions with students. Building multicultural competency is not an easy task and is a life-long journey and yet taking on this charge is critical if we are to ethically serve all of our students.

Continue reading