Letter to a young colleague

The following letter is offered in the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (written between 1903-1908).

Dear colleague,

I have been holding your email in my heart and mind since I received it. Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me! You are in the throes of vocational discernment, even as you enter your mid-career. I certainly understand your concerns for the present and future realities of your calling.

The older I get the more difficult it is for me to control my own ego and impatience when I mentor others. Why do I, by default, frame the answers to other people’s questions by using my own “special” narrative? Why do I feel compelled to move quickly and forcefully to bold solutions? I hope my response to you is clear and measured in humility, empathy, encouragement, and honesty, and that it gives you something of the help you’re seeking.

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Called by a Book

At its core, the question of vocation—if we are Christians—has everything to do with living one’s life as a disciple of Jesus, hearing his summons, embracing his call. And the life to which he calls us—if we have ears to hear—is a life of solidarity with those he called “the least of these”—the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the marginalized, the oppressed, and those in prison. 

In a word, Jesus calls us to become fully human—to see through the facades of power, fame, and success, to burst the artificial barriers that separate us from people less fortunate than ourselves, and to claim our common humanity. As William Stringfellow observed many years ago, this profoundly Christian vocation can be lived out through any number of professions or careers.

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Educators have the benefit and obligation of hindsight

I find it useful to think of “vocation” as one of Western culture’s master plots for narrating or making sense of our lives.[1] But we need to recognize that a narrative approach to vocational self-understanding—whether secular or religious—throws into stark relief the differences between the situation 1200px-Rear-view_mirrorof faculty and staff, on the one hand, and the situation of the students with whom they work, on the other.

It is much easier for faculty and staff to tell their stories than it is for students to imagine with any certainty the story that will, eventually, be theirs. And that uncertainty places obligations on educators Continue reading