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.