Scholar Fridays is a weekly series on Bearings Online where we feature 2018-19 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink interviewed Dorothy Bass and Mark Schwehn, Resident Scholars at the Collegeville Institute for the fall semester. Bass is a Senior Fellow with the Lilly Fellows Program and Schwehn is Professor of Humanities in Christ College, the honors’ college at Valparaiso University. During their residency, they are working on a second edition of Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be. To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
During your residency, you are revising Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be, which has been often used as a textbook on vocation. Why are you revising this anthology now? How are you going about the revision?
We are doing this second edition at the request of the publishers, and in response to all we have learned from those who have used the book in college classes. At the present time, we plan to restructure and reorder the basic questions that organize the second and largest part of the book, and we plan to add more texts from women writers, from religious traditions other than Christianity, and from people of color. The expansion of the range of writers coincides with the steady expansion of audience that the first edition received. We will probably replace about one third of the first edition’s texts with new texts. But the revisions will not be all that radical, first because the basic questions in Part II came from students themselves and second because the first edition was by and large very well received.
You have both been very involved in expanding the idea of vocation in schools with a religious identity and integrating the idea of vocation into curriculum. How has thinking on vocation changed in recent decades?
The persistence and durability of the idea of vocation in our culture arises from its elasticity, that is, it has been steadily enlarged to encompass almost anything pertaining to the meaning and purpose and shape of human lives. And the audience had already moved beyond church-related schools to the secular academy when the first edition was being prepared. This enlargement of the idea of vocation and its loss of anchorage within the religious tradition that gave rise to the idea has had some strange results. For example, for many in the secular world and even for some religious folks, vocation has come to mean self-fulfillment. And a test of whether or not one is called to this work or that work has become whether one feels fulfilled in one’s work. This criterion would have been inimical to Calvin and Luther, though neither of them would have opposed being fulfilled in one’s work. The point of the work was to serve neighbors in need, however, not to be fulfilled.
I first met you both when we were scholars together in 2005-06. What is it about this place, community, and experience that keeps you coming back?
We have many reasons to love Collegeville and the Collegeville Institute. We have made many good friends in this community. We love the natural setting and the scholarly community that is always new. We are close to all of our children and grandchildren in the Twin Cities and in Northfield, Minnesota. We have found the librarians, the monks, and the Collegeville Institute staff to be exceptionally supportive and cordial. And we love the Saint Joseph meat market, the farmer’s market and co-op, the local eateries like Fishers in Avon, and all of the local produce. The walking trails all around us are quite spectacular as is the oak savanna that they run through. We like the liturgical life at the abbey and in general the balance among the intellectual, the spiritual, the social, and the physical life here. No wonder we feel we do our best work here.
Your family has also established a good base in Minnesota! What has it been like to watch your three children find their vocations, two as ministers and one as a writer?
We have, of course, been both surprised and thrilled by this. And very blessed as well. We had not expected that both of our twins, John and Martha, would become ordained ELCA pastors. But they are both wonderful preachers and pastors, and this has been a joy to behold. We continue to marvel at Kaethe’s unfolding imagination and her discipline. Her MFAs at Montana and Iowa were in poetry and she published a lot of her poems. She then turned to creative non-fiction and Tailings won the Minnesota Book Award at a ceremony we were excited to attend. Then she turned to writing fiction, and her dystopian novel The Rending and the Nest was published in February of this year by Bloomsbury. The whole family has enjoyed one another’s writing and preaching and other forms of ministry. And the grandchildren are ever a joy and ever a reminder of why parenting is not something designed for people over 70. Grandparenting is manageable for short intervals of time.
Have you had any particularly important ecumenical experiences at the Collegeville Institute that have influenced your work or faith life?
Certainly we have been influenced by the visible monastic life and by the spiritual disciplines whose practice constitutes that life. Lutherans like us have always been more drawn to Catholic thought and practice than our other Protestant co-religionists, largely due to liturgical practice but also due to theology. Even so, monastic forms of life and learning are different from scholastic traditions within the Catholic church, a difference made most obvious in The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclerq. It is a blessing to witness that difference every day: worship among the monastics, study among the scholastics (in a broad sense of that latter term).