Chasing Wisdom with Nathan Foster

As I mentioned in Wisdom Chaser: Insights on Parent-Child Relationships, I found reading Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet (Nathan Foster. InterVarsity Press. 2010) to be a great blessing.  In follow-up, I contacted Nathan Foster (Assistant Professor of Social Work, Spring Arbor University, Spring Arbor, MI) to chat about some topics which I thought would be particularly applicable to members of the Emerging Scholars Network.

Nathan Foster and Tom Grosh IV Chat

First we’ll explore how a private person, such as Nathan, wrote such an open book about his life, struggles, family, and vocation.  In coming weeks we’ll explore …

  1. becoming a wisdom chaser in higher education
  2. discerning the call to higher education
  3. being present to one’s family
  4. power in the classroom from the perspective of the teacher
  5. taking the first steps in teaching
  6. how InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can journey with academics

And in case you were wondering, Nathan is following the series and would love to respond to your comments. So please, take advantage of the opportunity!

Thomas B. Grosh IV:  How do you come to write something so personal?  Did you have a sense from the start that you’d be writing something like that or were you just keeping a journal and it became a book?  How does that happen?  How did writing a book about your journey up mountains with your father come to your mind?

Nathan Foster:  I always knew I wanted to write.  I was just waiting for the right project to come along.  It is probably no coincidence that when I write it tends to be very honest, somewhat raw.  That just personally fits me. Most things that I do, I try to have that flavor.  So that’s how my relationships go.  Some of that just stems back to

  1. growing up and just wanting things to be honest and real.
  2. being a counselor and therapist, where you’re dealing with real life stuff and you lose interest in playing games.

That’s probably why the book came out that way.  It’s beautiful when you’re working with broken people because when you’re dealing with something serious you don’t have time to put on facades and work on image management.  It really becomes about community and coming together.  And so I have made an attempt to live my life that way and I guess that just translated in my writing.

I’m a very private person.  For example, there were probably five people total in Michigan that knew I was an alcoholic before the book … apart from my 12 step meetings.  So in one sense it’s a little awkward to be so vulnerable with people I don’t know.

TG:  Do you think that openness is to some degree generational or do you think it’s more of a personality?  You said that you were more of a private person.

NF:  I think there is something generational about sharing more.  I’m fairly encouraged that a generation of people are searching after things that are authentic.  Now there is a downside to that too because authenticity has become a buzzword in our attempts to impress, we end up faking it.  … Personality-wise there are some of us who are truth tellers to a fault.  We can use that to alienate people and keep people at arms length by telling the truth like it is.  It can be a way of keeping people at arm’s length.  So there are some negatives.  But I think generationally we’re making some good strides in that kind of way [i.e., authentic, open sharing].  I know we can criticize where we’re headed culturally or as a country, but there is good in it too.

Wisdom Chaser Cover

TG:  Talking about openness.  How did you share with your Dad that you have this project?  What was your Dad’s first reaction to the project? Was it awkward to mention the idea to him?

NF:  I lived in Kentucky and I talked to my dad one day on the phone and he said he was going to Nashville for a conference.  And I said, “Hey. I’ll  meet you and hang out on the hotel floor.”  He said, “Great.”  I went down and he spoke.  And we got to hang out and do a bunch of stuff.  … The two of us were casually sitting down with a publisher and we were cracking jokes about our trips and talking about some of things we had done and I made some joke about “I’ll write a tell all book about Richard Foster.”  And the publisher said, “I’d be interested in that.”  And the agent said, “I’d be interested in that.”  And I’m like, “Hmm.”  And you know that was really exciting for me.  I just said it as a joke, but they were like, “Write a book about your hiking.”  They didn’t know all the other stuff of the story at that point.  They just saw it as a fun book.  Now at that point, my Dad is one of those really cool guys who likes to lift other people up and he has fun doing that, so he just loved the idea of me writing.  Now it didn’t make him uncomfortable or I don’t think he knew exactly what was going to happen as far as me writing about him. But he loved the idea of me writing a book.  And he was so good and so gracious about letting me write about him.  And he didn’t ask me to look at it while I wrote it.  When I finished, I gave it to my Dad and said, “You have veto power.  Anything you want changed, I’ll cut it out.”  And so I sent it to him and he didn’t change a thing.  A little unnerving.  I kind of wish he would have.  But he kept his hands off it the whole time.  It took me three years to write it.

TG:  Wow!

[Come back next week, when Nathan comments, “Your question about education and wisdom is great.  I worked at a place once and they didn’t like to hire people with advanced degrees.”]

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Mike Austin commented on June 2, 2010 Reply

    I just started this book a couple of days ago, and look forward to the discussion. I’m curious what advice you might give to a father? What were some things your dad did that you appreciate now in retrospect?

      Nathan Foster commented on June 2, 2010 Reply

      Good question Mike. I would say offering of our time is huge, I remain taken with how powerfully transformative it can be. You’ll pick up some of this later in the book. I think it’s important to engage our children as people we respect and want to get to know. If we don’t listen to them when they’re little why would we expect them to listen to us later in life? So many parents don’t know anything about their kid’s lives. We show love by holding our kids to a high standard, but without a relationship all our wisdom and insight is useless.

    David J. Goodrich commented on June 9, 2010 Reply

    Nathan said, “I know we can criticize where we’re headed culturally or as a country, but there is good in it too.” Having read the book myself and shared it with my own father and brothers, it seemed as though Richard Foster had a way of believing in Nathan and continually being willing to engage with him and even learn from him about his expertise in mountain climbing. He continued to do this despite experiencing the common clashes that fathers and sons encounter and despite the mistakes and flaws Nathan demonstrated as authentically described in the book. Nathan, would you propose that we approach our culture with a similar posture of respect and hope toward redemption? Shouldn’t we just warn culture since it is going down the tubes (insert sarcasm font here)?

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