August 23, 2012
What's the Right Calling Plan?
Bob Fryling, publisher for IVP, continues our series on calling with some thoughts on how and when he sensed a vocational call to organizational leadership.
I dislike shopping for phones. This is not because of the phones themselves, which are amazing in their cool technology. Rather it is because of the expensive decision of choosing a carrier as the salespeople robotically ask, "What is the right calling plan for you?"
In a strange way I have felt similarly about discovering my calling in life. There are lots of wonderful books with principles and special features on both vocational and spiritual calling, but they have not always led me to determine what has been the right calling for me.
For instance, I started my vocational journey wanting to be an astronomer. I had my own telescope, looked at the moon and read books on the stars. I was following my dreams until I realized I didn't like staying outside on cold nights!
Then my guidance counselors in high school encouraged me to study engineering in college. I was good at math and it seemed like the patriotic thing to do in light of our country's desire to stay ahead of the Russians in the "race for space." So I studied materials science in college and then worked for Ford Motor Company as a research engineer.
I could and indeed did do well in this vocational path; the major problem was that I was not motivated by it. I began to realize that the right vocational calling plan for me was neither just what I dreamed about doing nor just what I was good at doing. I needed something more.
Reluctantly, I began to accept that maybe organizational leadership was part of my calling. Although I had been captain of my Little League team and president of my high school choir, I never saw myself as a "natural born leader" who could just walk into a room or situation and command immediate attention. I never ran for any elected position or made any long-range achievement goals. Yet people kept asking me to take organizational leadership positions--and that is what I have been doing most of my adult life now.
In fact, it was really this affirmation and calling by others that has been most significant in my own sense of calling. I have certainly taken initiative in learning about leadership through books and seminars, and I really do like helping others to work together successfully. But I needed others who saw my gifts and potential and gave me opportunities and words of encouragement to use and develop my gifts. I wasn't so much on an independent personal career track as I was working in tandem with the career track of others. The more I connected with others the more they connected with me.
This was even true during some very difficult times in my career when I was fired (twice, in fact--from the same job!) for primarily organizational reasons. The reasons also brought to light some of my personal shortcomings, though, and those times of loss and self-examination drew me closer to God and to not only what was not happening with me vocationally but also what was happening within me spiritually.
Consequently, over a period of years I developed a vocational prayer that was more focused on who I was becoming as a person than on what I was doing in my job. Yet it also captures what the Lord has been calling me to in leadership. This may change in the years ahead, but right now this is the prayer and calling plan that seems right for me:
Read Bob's book The Leadership Ellipse for more insights he's gleaned from his years in organizational leadership.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 12:35 PM
August 20, 2012
To See, to Hear, Perchance to Feel
A reflection on connection by David A. Zimmerman
I find, as I edit nonfiction, that one of my chief tasks is to narrow the gap between author and reader. It's a tricky business for both parties. For the reader, who can't see who's behind the book, it can be difficult to assign value to what's been written. Is the author trustworthy? Has she taken into account what I've experienced? Has he really thought this thing through? The onus is on the author to make the reader feel comfortable and confident with the message at hand.
I pity authors, actually, because they take on this task without access to any evidence of success. There is no conversation partner who nods and leans forward when something resonates, no church congregation member who shouts "Amen!" or claps politely or stays awake (depending on your faith tradition) when a point hits, no audience obeying the applause signal hanging over the host's head.
Even negative feedback is helpful in communication; when someone shouts "Shut up!" or boos or falls asleep, at least you know a course correction is in order. As awkward as such moments can be, they're infinitely more helpful than the deafening silence that greets authors with each new sentence; they have all the responsibility of a communicator and no access to the energy that fuels success. All they get are the editor's comments.
That means the onus is on me to make the author feel comfortable and confident with the message at hand. And it's a crapshoot to figure out what I can say to achieve that desired response.
I recently came across a clue in a crossword puzzle that read "Assurance from a therapist," for which the correct response was "I see." I got it right (even though my therapist wife almost never says that) because the clues that surrounded it gave it away. So I filled it in, and then I went to help a friend distribute a book he's written for new inmates at the local jail, where I got into it with an inmate who didn't like that I made his celly cry. He lit into me, and I, in an attempt to heal the tension between us, told him, "I hear you."
"You hear me?!? I don't care if you hear me! Do you feel me?!? DO YOU FEEL ME?!?"
I suppose I could have told him, "No, I HEAR YOU. DO YOU HEAR ME?!?" Or I could have been even more officious and responded with a noncommittal "I see." But I really wanted to be done with this guy, so I said, "Yeah, I feel you." Apparently he didn't feel felt, because he kept yelling at me till I finally wandered off.
See. Hear. Feel. All in one day. You wouldn't think there was a vast expanse between each of these, but apparently there is. I came home from prison and got ready to go back to work, where countless authors were waiting to find out from me whether what they'd written was on track. Should I see them, hear them or feel them?
I like to think that in the area of human connection, these are generational terms. My wife might not tell a client "I see," but I can imagine Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung saying it. Something seen is objective, definable, classifiable. It's a specific piece of a solvable puzzle. To see is to lend something empirical substance; it's the affirmation of the modern era, the era that gave us psychotherapy and called it a science.
Hearing is the preferred communication of my generation, hence my feeble attempt with the hostile inmate. "I hear you" acknowledges that there are things unseen--things nonmaterial, things irreducible to empirical data--that must not be neglected and must be given their due. It's a bridge into postmodernity, so to speak. Fledgling postmoderns don't say "I'm listening to you," because such a phrase lacks the warmth we need to survive a cold, meaningless existence; we say "I hear you" as an assurance that the void between us has been overcome, and we are not alone. The generation that shook off the stigma of the therapeutic process--the generation that took the psycho out of psychotherapy--doesn't just see and so affirm the point of what you're saying; it hears you and affirms your person.
But now the ground has shifted again, and it's no longer enough to see or hear. A person--who stands in the totality of his experiences and emotions and insights and convictions--must be felt. In a virtual world awash in ephemera, our existence is not so much meaningless as it is elusive; perhaps only a sense of touch, of true connection, will reassure us that there are fixed points in our person. We feel people when our spirits are quickened by theirs, when what they say and how they say it rings true, when we connect. To feel in this respect is too intimate for a formal therapist-client relationship; it's more covenantal than therapy ought to allow.
Not that I'm my authors' therapist, nor that my authors are their readers' therapists. But these are the cumulative demands on communication these days, particularly communication that supposes to carry some authority or gravitas. If I want authors to trust me with their prose, then the onus is on me to make sure that they see my points, that they hear my concerns, that they feel me binding myself to their books' success. If authors want readers to give their books more than a passing thought, then what they write needs to be seen and heard and felt; but more to the point, in what they write they must demonstrate that their readers are being seen and heard and felt.
It's a lot to ask of an author. But talk to anyone about their favorite books, and you'll find that the best authors are, by and large, up to the task.
Get a taste of how the Bible resonates here.
Discover some sensory spiritual practices here.
Hear from postmodern people how they see their path to faith here.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:41 AM
August 17, 2012
Best Books on Calling and Vocation--A Perspective from the Emerging Scholars Network
This summer we here at Strangely Dim have been exploring the question of calling, at least partly in anticipation of this winter's triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference, where thousands of college students converge to think deeply about what God might have them do with their lives. You might say that InterVarsity has calling fever, since our friends and colleagues at the InterVarsity Emerging Scholars blog are compiling a list of good books that address the issue of vocation. You can see what they've come up with here (be sure to scan the comments, where you'll find gems like Brian Mahan's Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose). Three of the four entries in the post proper are published by us:
by Gordon Smith, which is helpfully "analytical," consistently offering "a good definition for a concept, or a discussion of some specific issue, such as matching your personal calling with the corporate calling of an organization or business."
Culture Makingby Andy Crouch, which "deals with the questions of human calling in general: Why do we work? How do we approach culture? Do the artifacts of human culture have eternal value?"
The Fabric of Faithfulnessby Steve Garber, which has been hailed by one influential bookseller as one of the best books of the past ten years and which "explores the issue of living a consistent life, in which our actions, decisions, career, etc., match what we say we believe."
Be sure to check out ESN's list and then let us know which you think are the best of the best!
August 16, 2012
Keep Plugging Away
An Untheological Reflection on Calling by Suanne Camfield
One of my favorite moments of the 2012 Olympic Games was when Great Britain's Jessica Ennis snagged a gold medal in the heptathlon. If you didn't see it, I'm sorry you missed it. Headed into the last event of the competition--the dreaded 800 meters--all Ennis had to do was finish respectably and she'd win gold. But with an entire stadium on their feet, and an entire country's hopes pinned on her shoulders, Ennis did more than just finish respectably. She smoked the pack. Nike must have been on to something: she totally found her greatness.
I think I wept.
We've been doing a little series here at Strangely Dim on calling and I can't help but wonder how often we (and by "we" I mean "I") think the Ennis endings, as great as they are, are the only ones that matter. I once had a missionary tell me that people often think God has called them to do something great, but what they forget is that God has called them first and foremost to himself. I think there might be something to that.
As a senior in high school (a long, long, long way from the Olympics) I was recruited by my soon-to-be college of choice to compete for them in the heptathlon--the event where Ennis found her greatness this summer. One day, only a few months into my training, I was running a 400-meter sprint, only instead of crossing the finish line, I sat down on the side of the track and started crying. A few weeks later, a bone scan confirmed that I had developed stress fractures in both of my shins. I was "redshirted," suspending my eligibility to compete during my freshman year. I was devastated. Well-wishers said redshirting was a respectable way to start a career, but I didn't much care about respectability. I wanted to smoke the pack.
[Insert Identity Crisis here.]
I'd often call home and lament my "failure" to my parents. I couldn't do the thing I thought I was brought to college to do. Adding insult to injury, my team went on to win the conference championship that year (the only year they'd do so in my tenure there) and I had to sit on the side and watch--no skin in the game for me. At the end of each conversation I had with my dad, he'd leave me with the same bit of encouragement: Just keep plugging away. It will eventually pay off. Just keep plugging away.
That was nineteen years ago. Now in my mid-thirties, identity crises (mostly) resolved, I'm deeply convicted to do the things I feel God brought me to this earth to do . . . if only I knew exactly what those things were. As I've tried to draw the mystery of calling out of others, the more I've realized how infinitely mysterious calling is--few people actually know what they want to be when they grow up. Even when they are grown up.
The first time I felt what I'd describe as calling was about seven years ago. My husband, Eric, two kids and I had just moved to the western suburbs of Chicago from rural Ohio. As an at-home mom of two toddlers, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and ridiculously lonely. A few months into our move, a nasty stomach bug hit our entire crew. As luck would have it, I was the first to recover. Before anyone could stop me (and, moaning from a fetal position on the couch, they couldn't) I snagged Eric's laptop and dashed out of the house. I sat at a coffee shop and did something I hadn't done in four years--I wrote.
And something inside of me came alive. I think my soul actually lurched.
While I realize I can't exactly build a theology on "lurch," I've never looked back at that day with anything but certainty that it was a life-changing moment--the one in which God impressed upon me a sense of purpose and direction. For the next three years, I threw myself toward that direction. I started writing more and speaking quite a bit, but my freelance gigs weren't exactly paying the bills. So once my kids were in school, Eric gently "suggested" that I look for a job. I wasn't opposed to the idea, but I had been an at-home mom for eight years--quite the gap in the 'ol resumé. More to the point, though, I was afraid that the more time I spent working, the less time I'd have to speak and write. At the end of the day, working seemed like the best option so, on a wing and a prayer, at the age of thirty-five, I took an unpaid internship at IVP. Four months later, I had me a job. And it's been good.
But now life is about juggling. I work thirty-two hours a week as a publicist. My kids, now nine and ten, are physically more independent but need me more than ever. I manage meals and bills and car pools and Little League and swim team and homework until my head hurts. I try to be a good life partner to my megachurch-pastor husband who is working on his MDiv. I exercise at 5 a.m. to keep my sanity. I have friends I couldn't breathe without. And in the midst of it all, that moment in the coffee shop sits in my soul and beckons me to return to it again and again. And so I do. I write and I speak as much as I can. And each night I climb into bed so tired I could cry.
Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. Often I wouldn't be surprised if it's not. I'm pretty sure, given the scope of the world's problems, God could care less about my budding resumé. But somehow, against all odds, I believe that he does care.
And so what do I do?
I get out of bed. I fall to my knees and plead. I surrender any false notions about finding my greatness and ask Jesus to first and foremost call me to himself. I stand up and put one foot in front of the other and trust the things I know to be true--that God cares more about my character than my competency, more about redemption than my resumé. That I can only do what I'm capable of doing, that I can only give what I am capable of giving, that I can only live the story that God has given me to live. My future is not ultimately mine to script anyway.
I hold fast to bits of wisdom that people have shared with me over the years:
From my friend Ed: "We're always looking for what God calls us to do next and in the process we forget that he's called us to do whatever we're doing right now."
From Mindy: "You can ask me how I got to where I am, but the truth is I couldn't have planned it if I tried."
From Adele: "Maybe instead of asking what you want to do, you need to start asking who you want to be."
From Eric (and I really hate this one): "Moses was a shepherd for forty years before he saw the burning bush." In other words, be patient. God knows what he's doing.
And I read things from those who have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with their own calling:
Brennan Manning in The Wisdom of Tenderness: "Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus."
Michael Card in The Walk: "Behind every specific call, whether it is to teach or preach or write or encourage or comfort, there is a deeper call that gives shape to the first: the call to give ourselves away--the call to die."
I remember what Eugene Peterson so clearly shows us about calling--that it's all about a long obedience in the same direction.
And somehow I become okay with doing what my dad told me to do all those years ago--just keep plugging away--and trust that the God who has formed me, gifted me and called me will take care of the rest.
Read Dave's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who go.
Read Lisa's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who mourn with hope.
August 6, 2012
Selling Apples on the Same Corner: Dan Reid's Vocational Journey, Part Two
Dan Reid, senior editor for IVP's academic and reference publishing, continues the story of his arrival in the "providential profession" of an editorial vocation. Read part one here.
Let me make this clear: No one in my earlier years would have said to me, "Dan, some day you are going to be an editor. I just know it!" No. Not at all. Never. My high school English teacher has (so I've been told) used me to illustrate the point that you never know what your students are going to do, particularly your less promising ones. This makes some of my IVP colleagues suck in their breath and feel slightly nauseated. But my old high school friends love to hear me tell my story. And from where I sit today, I can look back and see all sorts of interests, experiences, propensities and educational opportunities that prepared me for my vocation in theological publishing. And when the time was right, the desire to do it--and the sense of calling--was strong.
I also see a stream of associations with IVP meandering through my life. Various IVP books had been part of our household as I was growing up, and some of them had entered my life at strategic points during my college and seminary education. There was a period when I eagerly awaited the next IVP book from Francis Schaeffer--in fact I had taken along a book or two of his for nearly three weeks of solo backpacking through the North Cascades of Washington State in 1969. It's very likely I had The God Who Is There in my pack that night on Aspen Mountain. I had also used IVP books in teaching. But still, it was something of a wonder to one day find myself at the source of this stream, in an old brick building on Main Street of Downers Grove, Illinois. That was over a quarter century ago.
My father likes to quote a very successful family friend's key to success in business: "I just keep selling apples on the same corner." This man was being very modest. But I have come to see the wisdom in that homespun reflection. I have come to doubt that anything really worthwhile is achieved apart from devoting yourself to it consistently, day in and day out. Not many of those days are very thrilling in themselves, but put them end on end and they can add up to something. And besides, we need that time to grow into our vocation, to slowly gain wisdom and build things where we have been placed. Impatience can impair that process. I'm much less enamored of brilliance these days, particularly the kind that flares ever so brightly . . . and then either burns out or dissipates in a shower of sparks. I'm moved by stories of those who have played the long game.
The vocational field I've been called to cultivate, year in and year out, has been remarkably uniform: acquiring and editing reference and academic books for IVP. But it has also been motivated and carried along by a particular vision of what evangelical biblical scholarship might become. For the most part it has only taken a few good ideas, executed with consistency and a sense of calling--and undergirded by a whole lot of providence--to make it whatever it is today.
I have frequently thought there are any number of people who could have done this job as well or better than I have. And I marvel that I was in the right place at the right time and given the opportunities I've enjoyed. I also wonder why there are people so much more gifted than I who just don't seem to find a vocational niche that fits them well. I do not have an explanation. And I sometimes feel embarrassed by the richness of my own calling. (Though I do realize many will find this an amusing delusion, since they view my work as immensely boring!) Yet I have also seen Christians who are capable of so much more than their job requires of them, who have nevertheless used their surplus of giftedness and character to make their work far more than it would have been without them. This too points to a deep sense of vocation and reminds me that it's not only what you do but how you do it that counts as witness to God's kingdom.
In my previous post I mentioned the sense of loss when I returned from the Philippines. Today from my desk I can see a shelf of foreign-language editions of reference works that I've built from the ground up. They are translated into Chinese and Russian, Portuguese and Italian, to name a few. It turns out that publishing can indeed bear witness to God's kingdom in a variety of tongues. I am taking part in that crosscultural missionary calling, though not in a way I had anticipated.
I still have moments--particularly when the routines and occasional crises of publishing seem to overwhelm--when I am sure I should have pursued a career in the mountains. But apart from the possibility that my life might have been quite a bit shorter, I still conclude that, for me at least, I would have missed my true calling. I can always satisfy my hunger for the outdoors. (And I do. My dream vacations are most people's worst nightmares.) Then, with body and soul ventilated, I get back to the particular work God has called me to do.
See IVP's books by Francis Schaeffer here.
Check out Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good here.
See some of the fruits of Dan's vocation here.
Read Addenda & Errata, Dan's IVP blog, here.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:18 AM
August 1, 2012
The Providential Profession: Dan Reid's Vocational Journey, Part One
Dan Reid, senior editor for IVP's academic and reference publishing, tells the story of the long and winding road to an editorial vocation.
I've heard the editorial profession called the "accidental profession." I guess a lot of editors have just fallen into this line of work. Many of us have not had any specific training for it. But in my case I'd call it the providential profession, or vocation.
Books have always been important to me. That doesn't mean I've always read the "right" ones. I've often pretty much followed my interests--whether it be stories of adventure and arctic exploration, or philosophy and theology, or just a good read. Unfortunately, for many of my earlier years my interests seldom lined up with school curriculum. I didn't like school. So up through high school and early college my grades reflected this. This is not what most people assume of me. You read it here.
Fortunately I came from a family where the King's English was honored and enforced. And I was schooled in a time and place where the instructional level was of such a caliber that even a drifter didn't stray too far from the main channel. I also came from a missionary family--three generations, in fact--so I grew up negotiating two cultures and two languages. I was--and am--a Third Culture Kid. They say this explains a lot, and I'll allow that.
I had quite a bit of theological education early on in college--a Bible college, to be specific. Then my interests broadened into philosophy and the humanities in general. Finally, my focus ratcheted down and I launched off into seminary with a general aim of heading into an academic line of work. Would I teach? I hoped so. The pastoral life didn't seem to match up with me, at least those parts that aren't related to preaching and teaching.
But before I go any further, I need to backtrack to September 1971. I was camped one night on the upper slopes of Aspen Mountain in Colorado, on my way back to Portland, Oregon, where I was due to resume my college education. I'd spent the first half of the summer bicycling down the Oregon and California coast, then traveled east to the Grand Canyon, where (on my last twenty dollars) I found a job and lived and worked until mid-September. I was a devoted mountain climber and skier, and being in Aspen set me to seriously contemplating finding a job right there and "living the life." But I had a revelation that night--and it boiled down to the fact that ski bums often don't end up doing much with their lives. (This should have been borne out by general observation, but there were enough attractive exceptions to distract my attention from the main lesson.) So I got back into my one-hundred-twenty-five-dollar 1949 Chevy (bicycle now within) and headed back to Portland, with a sensible detour through the Grand Tetons. But now with a new sense of purpose.
By the mid-70s I was married and in seminary. I was a much better student than I'd ever been before. I ate up Greek and everything else put in front of me. By 1979 I was the father of two and in a PhD program, and in 1982 I finished the degree. I had no assurance that this extended education would prove to be vocationally fruitful. But I knew that if I didn't do it, I would surely regret it. I thought I would fulfill my vocation teaching in a seminary in the Philippines. And I did that for two years, growing and learning through the experience. I enjoyed it. But in 1985 a family health problem brought us back to the States, and I was wondering what was next for us. I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't mention that with my missionary background, I was feeling a sense of loss. Would I find a position teaching? Maybe. Maybe not. I had nightmares that we would be living in one of the packing crate we'd shipped our stuff in (not an improbable scenario if you'd been living in the Philippines!). And I prayed.
Interestingly, the idea of working in publishing had been worming its way into my thinking. For a book guy, the idea of reading books before they were published, and being involved in the process of bringing books to birth, was tremendously attractive. I started to inquire of publishers. I got some freelance work with a publisher. I began to dream of working in publishing (rather than living in a packing crate). And the only concrete opportunity that surfaced was a new job opening at IVP for a reference book editor.
The job description was made for me--it had everything but my name on it. And IVP, after an interview, was courageous enough to make it mine. In the early years I really didn't know whether this new role as editor would work out for the long run. But over the years--twenty-six of them now--I've found it's my place, and a fascinating one at that. I work with great people, for a great company, and there is a constant stream of new ideas in the form of books and book proposals moving across my desk. I feel like I constantly have my finger on the pulse of evangelical thought. And I've come to know and work with all sorts of authors and scholars, some of whom I might not have met otherwise.
More from Dan in a post to come.
See some of the fruits of Dan's vocation here.
Read Addenda & Errata, Dan's IVP blog, here.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:40 AM