You can read for free the serious introduction from Serious Dreams by scrolling down a bit. Or, enjoy my bit of background explanation and sharing my appreciation for the support we've seen for this new project, first if you'd like. I did a thorough explanation of it and its various authors and chapters at the last BookNotes blog post, here.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, FOR CARING ABOUT MY NEW BOOK
Beth and I (and our friends at the publisher of my new book, Square Halo Books) are truly gratified by those who have said so many nice things about the recent release Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; regularly $12.95; on sale here for $11.50.) Facebook and Twitter have been aflutter with good wishes and we are grateful for friends who have celebrated this milestone with us. (Special thanks for the champagne the big day the boxes of books arrived, Derek!)
We are so appreciative of those who follow our work, who value the BookNotes reviews and website lists, and the authors and ideas and visions we try to promote here through our small town bookstore. That some have said that they value our store, so want to have my book no matter what it is about is, well, almost embarrassing. I am also deeply touched by the loyalty and friendship of our customers and friends in the publishing industry. I wasn't prepared for the mix of feelings about all this; that could be a column itself, I suppose. I know other artists and writers and I now realize more then ever what it feels like to put yourself out there, and see what happens.
A GREAT GIFT FOR COLLEGE GRADUATES
We are glad for those who have bought bunches of the new book to give as gifts to those graduating from college (or other kinds of schools) this season - or other young adults who are perhaps transitioning into new stages of their lives or careers. As a collection of graduation day speeches by famous and thoughtful evangelical Christians who are known for the integration of faith and thinking, for being wise about the relation of the Bible and life, for their passion in nurturing a worldview that includes key notions of calling and vocation, helping clarify a spirituality of work and social engagement, well, you can see why we think it is great as a graduation gift. It has more substance than those little collections of aphorisms and, given how very relevant it is, its size and shape and feel, we think it has a chance of actually being read by those to whom it is gifted.
If you see yourself as part of the movement that has been talking about these things in the last decade or so, if you love books as we suspect you do, if you want to help others catch the vision of this lively and generative whole-life-discipleship, we hope you will help us get the word out about this little volume. Is there somebody you can give it to? Can you ask your own church to considering honoring their college grads by giving out a few Serious Dreams? Heck, I'll even autograph them if you want.
A GOOD READ FOR ALMOST ANYONE
But, there's more. (You'd be disappointed if I didn't do my earnest book-selling pitch, wouldn't you?) You see, we truly are confident that this collection of relatively short reflections can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. The speeches really are that good. The authors are worth knowing and considering. Reading or sharing this little book is a simple way to offer a great introduction for yourself or for those you care about to a handful of important voices you should know. Maybe it is like those "best of the year" album compilations where in one CD you can get all the hits of that year. Well, these little talks maybe weren't big hits across the country, but these authors are stars, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to curate this project, selecting wonderfully inspiring talks that cohered, by women and men I admire. We think it deserves a wide reading.
So. Serious Dreams is a collegiate graduation gift, certainly, and yet because it is a short collection of reflections/essays about calling and work and the gospel of the Kingdom, it is a way to hear some of the thinking about these themes by the finest writers doing this kind of work these days; again, it is good for anyone who wants a short book of robust thinking, motivational passion and Biblical vision for serving God in the contemporary culture. The questions for reflection at the end of each chapter make it particularly useful to read devotionally, too.
GOD HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR: SELECTING, EDITING, CORRECTING AND MORE
A couple of friends asked me about how I came to do this, or what it was like working on it. I've written a page or two here about that, but if you want to skip down and read my introductory chapter to the book, please do. I hope you enjoy it.
Writing well is hard work. I know that, of course, but since my BookNotes reviews are composed on the fly, in between customers and conferences, I admit that they sometimes could use a second or third draft.
Good grammar is not my love language, anyway, and too often the ideas come faster than my fingers can type. (And I do often take solace in the great chapter in Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies called "Love the Long Sentence.") Usually, I'm not crafting beautiful prose for the ages - although I try to make it interesting - since most days my job is to alert readers to new and worthy book releases. When a waiter explains the catch of the day or the special soup, she uses a few lovely adjectives, but the recitation is designed to get the job done.
When I set out, though, to craft a talk or sermon, I usually don't write it out fully, but work from an outline of sorts. A year ago, however, when I was given an honorary doctorate from Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and had the grand privilege of doing the commencement speech there, I realized that the big occasion demanded a line by line manuscript. It was a manuscript to be delivered, out loud, though, and my speaking style is very different then my customary writing style.
When I had to edit said (lengthy) manuscript a half-a-year later to be included in this book idea I cooked up - - well, I learned how little I knew about serious editing. Yes, I curated the volume, selecting and arranging those that fit the purpose of the book, but the details of trimming mine down to size was, shall we say, daunting. Tweaking it is the inelegant word we used, but to allow it to sound right on the page (no matter that it received great reviews as a speech) took more than tweaking.
The legendary, passionate civil rights leader, John M. Perkins, never preaches from a manuscript, I learned, and although he only has a third grade education (he was raised in the Mississippi delta, a son of poverty-stricken black share croppers) he has been awarded a number of honorary degrees. He has long been one of my heroes and we were so honored to have his involvement. Dr. Perkins gave a tremendous, passionate, commencement address at Seattle Pacific University, and was kind to offer us a transcript of his talk. Again, I learned something about the art of editing an orally-given, live speech, one laden with off-the-cuff asides, ebonics, black preaching moves. It was fun tweaking that one a bit, allowing it to sing on the page as well as it did in when performed in person.
Other speeches in Serious Dreams were presented by academics, those who routinely craft manuscripts that read well out loud, but that were also perfect for the printed page. To have me, of all people, check the grammar and tenses and participles of scholars as renowned as Nicholas Wolterstorff (whose books are published by world-class, serious publishers such as Eerdmans, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press) or the exceptionally concise and always clear Richard Mouw, or the eloquent and profound Steve Garber, reminded me these last months that God must surely have a sense of humor. Amy Sherman's years of work on her magisterial book Kingdom Calling allowed her to present an impeccable presentation; we have met a time or two and she trusted me and we were so glad to have her remarkable speech. Dr. Claudia Beversluis, of Calvin College, also had a manuscript that was just perfect -- I've said it before, but it was watching her moving speech drawing somewhat on a Wendell Berry poem that inspired me to compile these talks. But still, I had to work on them all, of only a bit.
I felt a little like Moses who told God that he couldn't speak well enough for such a job. Who me? Moses asked God. Yes you, came the Divine reply. Of course, Mo was given a well-spoken sidekick, and Beth was obviously my learned partner in crime in this part of the project. ( And some late nights we texted our grammarian daughter, Stephanie, who is pretty much the most savvy grammar geek I know, who helped us puzzle a way out of a few verbal quagmires as we edited one line, creating rippling effects of other lingual inconsistencies.) All the while I kept thinking of the lovely autobiography of the late great Lewis Smedes, My God and I, which tells of Smedes finding himself becoming a Reformed thinker at Calvin College more then half a century ago ago because he learned there that "God loved participles."
And so, under the microscope these pieces went, and - no surprise - most were nearly impeccable, and we concluded that we'd bring them into the book largely unedited.
Early on in this project I had to figure out what to do about the idiosyncrasies of these speeches that were delivered live in a particular place. Should I leave in the names and lingo of that place, as the speech was delivered, or edit out stuff that may not be germane for other readers? (Mine was maybe the one that spoke the most about the social location of the speech, naming faculty members and a bit of the legacy of Geneva College there in the Beaver Valley of Western Pennsylvania, even celebrating certain connections to the CCO and the beloved Jubilee conference.) I didn't want readers, especially younger ones, to be distracted by odd jargon or in-house references.
To explain my choice to leave some of the local color intact, I wrote a little forward for Serious Dreams called "A Word About Speeches" which made the case that listening in to speeches delivered in other people's settings, is a good thing. Among other things, I wrote,
We edited out a few of the congratulatory comments at the start of each. The speakers, of course, named the college Presidents, thanked everybody on the dais, made nice with the Trustees. They are all earnestly polite and we wouldn't want you to think otherwise. We did leave a number of the particularities of each speech intact, not to bore you with details of those specific places, with their own heroes and lingo and traditions, but because they were germane to the actual speech, and to illustrate that these were real talks, messages crafted for a certain group of people, in a particular place. That's how it often works: we lean in and listen to others, even if their locations and situations are a bit dissimilar to our own. Their storied specificity actually keeps us from being too abstract and lofty. Christian faith is always embodied, down to earth, real. We think these are good examples of that.
Of course these were originally spoken and heard, live. They were each delivered at real places and have that story-telling energy and sermonic style, but we think they are universal enough to be of great benefit, here in print, in mostly unedited form. We think that the largest story of which they speak--the gospel of Christ's Kingdom--comes through the details of these various places. We're sure you're smart enough to notice the instances where the unique setting shines through, and appreciate that for what it is: authenticity.
My first vision for this book, as I've said, was to create a gift book to give to graduating college seniors. I love college students, and, mostly through the CCO, have come to be friends with a number of such students. There are many nice gift items for high school seniors, but fewer good ones for Christian students commencing out of college, graduate programs, trade school, or transitioning out of other contexts. We were clear on early drafts of the cover that these were graduation speeches, even with a cool cover design showing iconic mortarboard caps flying in the air. One early reader, though, thought these chapters were so good, so rich, so useful for nearly anyone entering the work-world, or setting out to make a difference in the world, that he convinced us not to risk the book becoming merely a souvenir of the big day. That friend believed in our project, appreciated these authors, and insisted that we pitch it not only as a gift for graduates, but as a solid book that deserves to be kept handy on one's desk or bookshelf, carried, shared, pondered deeply, talked about in book clubs, college fellowship groups and young adult ministry gatherings. These are all graduation speeches, and the epilogue specifically offers practical advice for those launching out right out of college, but we think that the speeches are universal enough to be adapted to the printed page, and released as what we hope will become an enduring little collection.
And you'd be surprised at the dozens of possible titles we brainstormed. This title, that subtitle, and vice versa. Some art work had to be jettisoned once we changed the title. And vice versa. I knew this was complicated (and I know a number of good authors who had little say over the cover art of their precious book.) What a stressful, complicated process that was.
We messed around for weeks and weeks, with the cover, then, and Ned Bustard, the remarkable Creative Director of Square Halo Books and book designer, did a good job working with us. The cover font, he explained, has a youthful zest to it that counters a bit of the heavy pomp of the title. The meaning of the acorn/oak trees motif is obvious in a book designed to help launch young adults into the world, inviting them to bloom where they are planted. One of the great chapters, in fact, given by Claudia Beversluis, a former Provost of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, cites a Wendell Berry poem, "The Memory of the Seed," using Berry's poetic reminder of this insight: things of our past reside within us like seeds, soon to blossom in the future. (I wanted to allude to that poem and call the book What We Owe the Future but concluded it was a bit too allusive.) Ned used graphic silhouettes of oak leaves before the title page of each speech, and the acorn from the cover is placed playfully at the end of each chapter to demarcate the short reflection questions we designed for each.
The book is compact, hand-sized, and has a rich, tactile feel, making it very nice to hold. The paper has a slight creamy tone, making it just a little nicer than some paperbacks without that touch. It is a very handsome product, and we worked hard to bring it to you.
Even though this is not a self-published book - Square Halo Books is a classy, boutique press that specializes mostly in books about faith and the arts - they are quite the indie, craft house. As my friend Keith Martel (who started a micro-publisher called Falls City Press, which released the impressive Storied Leadership a few months back) observed, people are these days all about the indie scene, craft beers, hand-made bakeries, micro-distilleries, local farmer's markets. We really should support not just independent bookstores, but indie publishers, too.
In a world where even the largest publishing ventures (from Zondervan to Penguin) are owned by yet bigger conglomerates, there is something good about supporting niche marketing projects that are not mere vanity presses, crappy pay-to-get-published insta-printing, or direct-to-amazon outfits, but real publishing houses lead by people who love books and love the craft of making real books and selling them fairly in real stores. Which is to say we are happy to report that my first book, which we worked hard to compile and develop and edit, is released by a fantastic, if quite small, indie publishing house that is more about the book and the difference it can make than money or marketing charts. Kudos to the small team at Square Halo Books for taking us on, and releasing our Serious Dreams in such a nice, nice way. We are grateful, very, very grateful.
And kudos to my friends who work, or have worked, with students through the CCO, the campus ministry headquartered in Pittsburgh to whom the book is dedicated.
Oh yes, and to those who maybe haven't lived into their hopes and dreams yet, those who Matt Kearney, in a new song on his CD Just Kids, calls "heartbreak dreamers." He assures them in that song, It's gonna be all right. It's dedicated to them, too.
But now, we need to recruit our fans and friends to help us care about this little paperback, to keep it from languishing. We hope you enjoyed my explanatory review last week, and this little window into our writing and editing and design thinking. It's been a challenge and a blast, but not the hard, critical point has come: we have to sell this thing. Can you help?
We really, really are grateful, and, as I said in my previous review, if ever there was a time when we need help getting the word out about a title, this is it. Again, thank you very much.
LIVE WELL, DO GOOD, BE TRUE: AN INTRODUCTION
Here is my long introduction to Serious Dreams. There was one more set of edits after this version, but this edition is handy for me to share here, with our compliments. I hope you enjoy it.
It's funny how, when somebody seems destined for great things in our culture, we say, "She is really going to go far," as if there is great virtue in leaving home, moving away, heading out to, well, anywhere but here. It is almost a cliché that young adults who move back to their old hometowns (let alone to their childhood houses) are losers. After all, who doesn't want to "go far?"
Yet there is also another set of voices these days calling us to stay put, live locally, celebrate the small and mundane, form communities, and discover vibrant ways of finding home in a culture of displacement.
Graduation speeches--and, at first glance, maybe even the speeches in this little volume--tend towards the first view. "Oh, the places you'll go," the great Dr. Seuss predicted. Who isn't inspired by the encouraging word to really "make something of yourself?" In some Christian circles, much is made about God's call to change the world and our man- date to transform the culture. I like that breathy, exciting rhetoric--you'll see it in my own speech, I hope. But such an attitude can be damaging. So allow me to say here at the outset that there is nothing wrong with staying put. We don't have to go far; we don't really have to go anywhere new or different or big. In fact, many of our wisest writers here in the hot-wired, fast-paced, twenty-first century do not invite us to the highest paying jobs, to the glitz of the big city, or to halls of power and prestige. Rather, they invite us to quiet, ordinary lives in small towns, caring for extended family and friends--not "going far," but staying home.
From the esteemed Kentucky farmer, novelist, poet, and essayist, Wendell Berry, we are inspired to develop a sense of place, caring about local regions, watersheds, rural places. From Presbyterian pastor and writer Eugene Peterson, we hear the themes of paying attention to local details, practicing the presence of God in the ordinary and the mundane. Books like the one by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove drawing on old monastic wisdom called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture praise the value of steadiness. Stability may not sound that enticing to a fresh-out-of-college young adult like you, but for those who are serious about living into the contours of a meaningful, good life after college, stability is important to consider alongside the louder calls to "go big or go home." Maybe part of what it may mean for you to live well and do good is to be true to your own hometown.
Maybe you will be inspired by these energetic speeches to head out into the world and be used by God for Christ's Kingdom's sake, and that might take you to faraway cities and exciting, innovative jobs. But I hope you will also consider what Steve Garber calls "common grace for the common good"--which is a pretty big idea--that God cares about common graces built into creation such as good friends, healthy food, imaginative art, sustainable neighborhoods, helpful stores, nourishing families, trusted spouses. God is at work in many small, ordinary, human things such as work and play and art and citizenship, and we are invited by God to cultivate these common gifts, for the good of all. Our salvation in Christ is for this very purpose: to live humanly in the world that God loves, so that we, our neighbors, and our neighborhoods may flourish. Few people say this better than Amy Sherman, whose inspiring chapter reminds us that our success is for the sake the of broader community.
This big vision of the common good is often lived out in small ways. But these exciting talks delivered with great passion on days given to celebrate commencements could be misunderstood as a call only to go big, to go far. They should not be misunderstood, as if we are calling you only to extraordinarily great things.
Don't feel bad for getting an ordinary job with a plain-sounding title and an unremarkable salary in your major which, maybe for you, was a mixed-bag, anyway. You don't even have to feel bad for getting an ordinary job that is not in your major! That's just the way it works sometimes.
Yes, most of us long to see the world healed and made a bit more whole. We want our own professions and workplaces to be transformed so they are better, healthier, serving the world in the way they should. Many of us long to play a part in the redemptive story of God. There is nothing good about living a boring life--what Thoreau called "quiet desperation." But this call to find a life of purpose and joy by taking up our vocations in the world doesn't necessarily mean doing big, crazy things. We don't have to be extraordinary. We can, as the Bible sometimes says, live quiet and peaceful lives, blooming gracefully where we are planted, learning to care and mature in ordinary discipleship.
As elder social justice activist and leader in the cause of racial reconciliation, Dr. John Perkins, reminds us in his challenging graduation speech offered at Seattle Pacific University, "you have enough to learn more." I think he meant that, as college graduates, you have learned how to learn, to think well, to study, to develop your own personal library, to figure stuff out. You have the skills and self-discipline and habits of heart that will allow you to continue being life-long learners. You will continue to grow and thrive. You will need to because this "making a difference" stuff, whether in a posh office at a Fortune 500 company or in returning to a familiar summer job for a season or two, takes time.
Graduation speeches are naturally designed to be in- spiring, motivational, upbeat. We really can be salt and light and leaven; we can be in the world and not of it; we can make a difference. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we really can be transformed into agents of God's coming Kingdom. But it may or may not entail big time passion, and super-radical lifestyles. More likely, you'll just put one foot ahead of the other, day by day by day, soli deo gloria.
It takes time to get your bearings, to find your sweet spot. And that is my point in these introductory remarks. We hope these talks encourage you, inspire you, remind you of some key themes you most likely have heard over the years of your college career. This is an exciting time in your life, even if bittersweet. But don't feel badly if you don't see yourself as a "change agent" and "radical Christian" who "makes a difference" right away. We all have to lean into these things, be patient with ourselves, and learn more about the spiritual practices that will sustain us over the long haul. You've gotten through college. The silly little slogan on plaques and posters and cards really is true--today actually is the first day of the rest of your life. I think these meditations and reflections will keep you moving forward. Live well, do good, be true.
So, I've danced around two themes that might help frame or inform your reading of these graduation messages. Let me be clear: first, you don't have to "go far" or really "make something of yourself." You may be called to less dramatic, more mundane faithfulness, serving God and nurturing your faith in pedestrian ways in places that don't look like a TV show. Not all of us can be social entrepreneurs who start new charities or websites or programs or protests. Starting up a start-up isn't for everyone. Changing the world may even be, as Eugene Cho put it in a book by this title, overrated. It's okay to be ordinary.
Secondly, we have to be patient as we step into our lives' vocations. We may know we are called to be part of God's redemptive mission and that that is the story that shapes our lives. But, like everyone else, we have to learn the skills and craft and practices of our professions. We have to, as the saying goes, earn the right to be heard. We have to be life- long learners, deepening our insight and fidelity to our callings, our jobs, our places and relationships. Whether we are called to the high-power corporate world in a cool urbane setting or a less prestigious job in a small town, we have to do the work, learning day by day. These speeches will be good reminders of the bigger picture, even serving as provocative commissionings to see your life as part of the Biblical story of the all-of-life-redeemed Kingdom coming. All of these speeches invite you to fresh thinking and renewed commitments to joining God in your careers and callings. You've got a lot of baby steps to take in this season of your life, and that's okay. God is gracious, and you can take your time.
Another important theme that is hinted at in several of these reflections needs to be named here, too. Nicholas Wolterstorff talks movingly about having eyes that shed tears, and reminds us of the Bible's invitation to "weep with those who weep." John Perkins teaches from the Good Samaritan story about the Jericho Road where an unnamed person had empathy, the first attribute of a life of com- passion. Claudia Beversluis reminds you that "when your gut aches and your heart breaks" you should "find a place to share the pain." I think that anyone who is going to maintain visions of vocation and be faithful in small things for God's glory will have to become a person who is not afraid of shedding tears. As the late and still beloved contemplative writer Henri Nouwen put it, we must become "wounded healers." The Bible is full of those who experienced hardships, mystery, confusion, hurt, tears, rage, and lament. To not name our fears and doubts is denial. We who want to develop a Christian worldview and care about the things God cares about in the very way God cares about them, simply must be prepared to host our hurt. We must honestly attend to the great anxieties we have about our own lives and about the state of the world. Don't let anyone or anything (let alone these happy speeches inviting you to serve God in the years ahead) suggest that you can't be honest about your own heart.
It isn't the main theme of this collection, but it bears saying: if we try to struggle against the idols and dysfunctions and crude values of our culture, perhaps of our workplaces, maybe even of our own broken families, we will seem a bit counter-cultural. We may feel like weirdoes because we care so deeply and are in touch with the brokenness of this fallen world. Art historian and Christian philosopher Calvin Seerveld, in a collection called Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living, writes to some graduating seniors and reminds them that Jesus said His yoke would be light. "It fits well over your graduating shoulders," Seerveld, said, "even if it makes you feel maladjusted in our Darwinian survival- of-the-fittest society." It is okay to feel maladjusted.
This idea about being prepared for hard times is the climax of my own talk given to graduate students at Geneva College, and I hope you take it to heart. The black gospel tradition that inspired the civil rights movement can instruct us all in this matter. I mention Mahalia Jackson singing to Martin Luther King, Jr. over the phone in the middle of the night, "Precious Lord, take my hand."
If you are battered and bruised from trying to make a difference in the world, if you are sad and discouraged because you haven't found your niche or your calling, if you are full of frustration and doubt and anxiety, or if you've faced disheartening resistance to your fresh ideas for healthy reformation in your church or workplace, you can sing the many laments from the Bible with integrity. You can cry out to God through your tears and fears.
Our glad and hopeful speeches collected here offer congratulations and inspiration and emphasize God's desire for graduating seniors to take up their careers and vocations as holy callings. Each one of us deeply realizes that making the transition between Sunday and Monday, carrying faith into the work-world, market- place, and contemporary culture, is harder than it sounds. We know that we all have to cope with setbacks and anguish. We know from the Bible and the best thinking of Christian leaders throughout history, that this is normal; tears are nothing to be ashamed of.
A very creative writer who has experienced more than her share of anguish and who continues to give her life to others is Anne Lamott. In her lovely book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, she writes,
We connect with God in our humanity. A great truth, attributed to Emily Dickinson, is that "hope inspires the good to reveal itself." This is almost all I ever need to remember. Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity.
Most commencement speeches don't say this, but you shouldn't be surprised when "gravity and sadness" yank you down. Be prepared to lament, to be with others in your times of need, and to sit with others in their own abysses. A high priority for you in this post-college time is figuring out how to find and form supportive community, to maintain your best friendships, and to find a local church body whose members can walk with you in life's ups and downs.
Added to this collection of speeches is an epilogue by Erica Young Reitz who has served college students for many years. She has a book coming out, tentatively called Life After College, that will be about this time of young adult transitions. Erica's book will be both visionary and practical, aware of both the fresh opportunities and looming pitfalls of young adult faith development and post-college discipleship. Her brief remarks here are themselves an integral part of this book, and the stories she tells are going to be helpful for you. They will assist you in moving from the profound and glorious rhetoric of these messages to the daily steps you need to take in order to live into this stuff.
I know I speak for all the contributors who allowed us to use their commencement addresses when I say that we truly hope that the next season of your life will be very meaningful, and that, though tears may be shed at times, you come to know deep, deep joy. God cares about you, about all areas of your life, and there are very significant ways God invites you to think faithfully and serve well wherever you find yourself. Together with your friends and church, you will have to figure out what that looks like.
These chapters deserve repeated readings and can be good companions along the way as you, in the great line from the chapter by Claudia Beversluis, "make God and God's good news believable to others, not just through your words, but through the daily ways you live."
You really can live well, friends. You will surely do good. And please, be true, be faithful. Know, above all, that the God who loves you, who calls you, who has sustained you thus far, is true. God will be faithful--whether you go far or stay put.