PROFESSOR OF BIBLE, RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY
B.A. Journalism, Franklin College
M.Div., Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
Ph.D., Emory University
WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
Strangely, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I would be when I grew up. I worked on my uncle and aunt’s tomato and sweet corn farm through all of my adolescent years, and then worked at a shoe store during high school and college. Around the age of 12 I felt an internal calling toward ministry, affirmed by several people from church. But I determined through high school that I was too “fallen” to ever be a pastor. I actually wasn’t that fallen; it was the 70s.
In college I was a journalism and pre-law minor. After completing internships with a local lawyer and my congressman in Washington, D.C., I decided I didn’t want to do law. At that stage in my life, law felt like too much of a compromise, although I’m very grateful for some of the exemplary Christian lawyers there are now. I started post-college life as the editor of a weekly newspaper, and then several months later became editor and general manager of the printing operation – at the age of 22.
While I was working as editor and general manager, I also was heavily involved in congregational life in my home congregation. That congregation asked me to consider becoming co-pastor of the congregation when I was 24, and I entered ministry that summer, beginning to take seminary courses at the same time. Three and a half years later, as I was preparing to be married to Ann Graber, who was teaching art at GC at the time, I was asked to teach several communication courses while Stuart Showalter was on sabbatical. I also was asked to be interim campus minister, then, in 1987, and that combination of doing seminary, teaching classes, and being campus minister helped shape my calling toward teaching religion.
WHY OR HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I love the academic study of religion, and I love the church. Doors opened for me at several critical life points, and I in some way “fell into” this particular vocational path. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back and say, “Oh, this really makes sense,” and see a coherent narrative in these life events. One thing led to another in ways that were serendipitous and life-giving.
WHAT’S EXCITING ABOUT YOUR JOB OR THIS FIELD?
I absolutely love teaching, partly because working with college-age students is so life-giving. I love the questions students ask, their openness to learning new things and exploring their faith and the world in new ways. I love working with faith and religion – things that genuinely matter in our personal and corporate lives. I love working with concrete, nitty gritty institutions that have sought to be faithful. I love the pastoral care and counseling dimensions of teaching at a small, liberal arts college where we learn to know students at a variety of levels. I love being able to leave every few years to lead SST in some location in Asia or Latin America, and then to learn to know students deeply and intimately in those overseas contexts. I love being able to be a life-long learner, spending time in books and in conversations with thoughtful colleagues and students. How many people get paid for sitting on their back decks overlooking the Goshen Pond on a fall day, chatting with their colloquium students about their faith journeys, or about polarization in the church, or about what Jesus means in a 21st-century context? Lordy, what could be better than this?
I like to think of my teaching position, or at least my salary, as a kind of gift/allotment that keeps me from needing to get a job. That way I’m freed up to do what I really want to do – which is to teach.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
You need to get a Ph.D.
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY PROUD OF? (IN A MENNONITE, HUMBLE SORT OF WAY, OF COURSE)
My children and family. My church, Assembly Mennonite. The commitments and transformative work of some of my former students.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I have often wished I had come to Goshen College as an undergraduate. Seriously, I think it’s the only real academic mistake I made, though I did learn some things about marginalization in my context at an American Baptist college.
What advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
Don’t compromise your faith or your ethics for a job. Don’t enter a vocation that stifles your creativity entirely. If you find yourself dreading to go to work, quit and do something else. Focus on maintaining relationships more than climbing ladders.
And, especially, relax. There are multiple paths that will lead you to the same vocational destinations, and few decisions you make are unalterable. You can turn around, change, develop in different directions, accept new positions, do another degree. And whatever experience you’ve had will likely contribute to making you a richer, deeper person.
And when you’re 40 or 50, you’ll likely be able to look back and say, “Yes! This all makes sense now. I can see a coherent narrative. I can see the beauty of the tapestry of life.”