By calling us to alertness without first asking us how credible we are in the eyes of the world, how important we are in the various hierarchies with which we are afflicted, awe is nothing less than an affirmation of our immeasurable dignity, our worthiness to grow in wisdom.
In his recent article in Christian Scholar’s Review, Paul Waddell suggests that every human being is called to live wisely and well. In practical terms, responding to this shared calling means becoming “skillfully attuned, each day, to the myriad ways in which we are summoned out of ourselves in response to the beauty, loveliness, and goodness of the created order—as well as in response to its suffering and affliction.” To me, this sounds at once true, simple, and utterly countercultural, as perhaps simple and true things often are.
Waddell’s account of growth in wisdom certainly runs counter to what many people these days expect a college education to accomplish. Professors and university administrators are asked by pundits, legislators, parents, and prospective students about placement rates, career-readiness, and trending programs, but not very often about what it means to live well. I personally can’t recall any conversations in which outsiders to the university have asked me if we give students the capacity to be skillfully attuned to beauty and suffering. And the truth is that in an atmosphere of precarity, many of us might prefer simply to focus on “giving them what they want,” which seems to be a clear and comfortable path to a lucrative credential.
Except that we do still talk about learning, and I want to propose that the necessary connection between learning and awe is the reason that college still can and should produce the kind of attunement to calling that Waddell talks about. In fact, if we do learning right, it must at least potentially give students the capacity for living wisely and well.
We cannot know the future. But to interpret our lives or to judge the best mode of action at any given moment requires us to consider that future—to imagine possible ends, to “project ourselves [. . .] past the End” like the poets.
During my graduate coursework in the late 1990s, Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction was revelatory for me. Published in 1966, it certainly wasn’t part of any hot, new direction in Victorian studies; it couldn’t even be described as canonical at the time. But it was vital for my own scholarly trajectory in its examination of our need for endings and how narratives play with temporality and shape our experiences both of reading and of living.
I’ve been thinking about endings a lot over the past year, prompted no doubt by the death of a parent and by my choosing to give up one of my administrative appointments, but also by our new realities in the post-pandemic academy. Perhaps it seems odd to consider endings just as we approach or anticipate the start of the new academic year—new classes, new students, new colleagues. But endings are bound up in beginnings, and to recognize their importance in our interpretive work brings vocational clarity. To begin anything is, paradoxically, to begin its ending.
NetVUE’s podcast Callings has concluded its third season with a bonus episode featuring highlights from conversations that aired throughout the year.
NetVUE’s podcast Callings has concluded its third season with a bonus episode featuring highlights from conversations that aired throughout the year. Hosted by Erin VanLaningham and John Barton, Callings “explores what it means to live a life defined by a sense of meaning and purpose” with “particular emphasis on mentoring and supporting undergraduate students as they navigate college, career, and a life well-lived.”
In these clips, guests offer insightful advice for today’s students and for anyone who teaches or mentors young adults. Guests include Rowan Williams, Thema Bryant, Rainn Wilson, Richard Sévère, Meghan Sullivan, Deanna Thompson, Shaun Casey, and Kristin Kobes Du Mez.
Click here to listen to the third season’s bonus episode of highlights
The aim is to teach students to prioritize non-homework activities that support mental health and emotional well-being, and that are critical for building cognitive function inside and outside of the classroom.
In my previous post, I reflected on the impossibility of today’s full-time, undergraduate students’ completing the two “independent student learning” homework hours for every “instructor-led” class hour as standardized by Carnegie. Fulfilling these mandated homework hours was not possible before the pandemic because students did not have enough time in their weekly schedules. After the pandemic, students face even more obstacles. Still lacking enough time to study, students seem to be missing critical independent study skills and are experiencing limited cognitive capacity as well as increased mental health concerns. In this post, I will offer a few concrete ways to address these two concerns in our syllabi and support the vocation of student learning.
The Summer 2023 issue of Christian Scholar’s Review is devoted to the subject of vocation in undergraduate education.
The Summer 2023 issue of Christian Scholar’s Review is devoted to the subject of vocation in undergraduate education. Guest edited by David S. Cunningham, executive director of NetVUE, this special issue features articles by a range of writers who have been active in the network, both on their own campuses and more broadly through their writing and speaking: Bryan Dik, Niki Johnson, Tom Perrin, Amy Santas, Paul Wadell, and Danny Wasserman. It also contains reviews of recent vocation-related books, including several whose authors have been featured at NetVUE events: Kiara Jorgenson, Jason Mahn, Patrick Reyes, and Charlie Pinches and Paul Wadell.
Loyalty comes before a discerning intelligence; it makes me listen and understand first, even while I may be struggling internally with my preferences for what I think is right or correct or better or true.
This post will try to explain a way of thinking about our vocational interactions in which loyalty might weigh more than intelligence.
Before the technologies of notes apps and simple word processing software were created, I collected and saved memorable quotations on notecards, using a typewriter. Then I’d file the typed and titled cards alphabetically in an old, wooden, recipe card box. In that box, in the Ls, is a card titled LOYALTY. The card contains a quotation from San Martin, “The Liberator,” whose idea about loyalty was found repurposed on a factory wall in Argentina in the 1980s. The quotation ended with “Remember: an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of intelligence.”
I can’t remember where I came across the quotation or in what context it was used, but I’m pretty sure I made the effort to capture the thought because I was intrigued by its comparative equivalency in favor of an unthinking loyalty. At the time, and until recently, I was suspicious of loyalty, especially as a tool used to manipulate people to act without thinking.
The final episode of this season’s Callings podcast features a conversation with Rainn Wilson, who is best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on The Office.
The final episode of this season’s Callings podcast features a conversation with Rainn Wilson, who is best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on The Office. Rainn is an actor, producer, writer, and cofounder of the media company SoulPancake. His most recent book is Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution.
From the first day of class this fall, we must show students that they are entering a space of possibility—a space where not knowing and the beautiful risk of engagement can lead to purpose, meaning, and resonance.
When I became the inaugural director of St. Lawrence University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment in the fall of 2022, I was worried about student engagement and mental health coming out of the Covid pandemic. As that academic year ended, however, I was also alarmed at the ways increasing social media usage coupled with widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT present us with existential challenges that feel insurmountable.
As we approach the fall semester, I offer the concept of resonance—drawn from the work of sociologist Harmut Rosa—to think about how to address what I see as the interconnected dilemmas of the ongoing student mental health crisis and the rise of AI, especially ChatGPT.
To consider education as gift, above and beyond what one might pay for it, changes the way that we reflect on and carry out the work for which education prepares us.
When my oldest son was in elementary school, he would quite innocently announce that he was in the “gifted and talented” program at his school. His mom and I would wince. Would others take his proclamation to be the self-deserving swagger of a 10-year-old white kid? He is now on the college admissions circuit. Have we parents, teachers, coaches, and pastors enabled him to see and resist wielding his white, male privilege? And, if so, could he nonetheless hold onto his 10-year-old self-understanding that he (and you and I) are, indeed, gifted and talented—quite literally the recipients of gifts and the stewards of talents that we did not earn but that we are called to develop and use for the flourishing of whole communities?
My recent posts have circled around this notion of giftedness and being gifted. I’ve suggested that the circulation of gifts is a more helpful way to describe being educated for vocation than what often passes for purpose and meaning within higher education. This is largely because education, in both private and public settings, has been made into an investment seeking return and a product to be purchased. To consider education as gift, above and beyond what one might pay for it, changes the way that we reflect on and carry out the work for which education prepares us. I want to bring some of these musing together here and consider how understanding students as gifted and education as a gift economy can lead to restorative and regenerative work.
The hosts of NetVUE’s Callings podcast, Erin VanLaningham and John Barton, sit down for a conversation with Richard Sévère in the latest episode.
The hosts of NetVUE’s Callings podcast, Erin VanLaningham and John Barton, sit down for a conversation with Richard Sévère in the latest episode. Richard is professor of English and interim associate dean at Valparaiso University, where he also directs the Bloom Scholars Program, a program that prepares students academically, socially, and culturally for college, especially first-generation and underprepared students. In this episode, Richard shares how purposefully connecting with colleagues and students to hear their stories can allow a sense of difference to inform vocational discernment.