Caveat lector: I seem to be in a phase of some comparatively intense, historical pondering, so please consider this difficult-to-categorize post accordingly. (The thinking here began with the first two installments in a sort-of infinitival series: “To Serve and Contribute” and, before that, “To Lead and Serve.” I’ve actually delayed posting this one for quite a while, interposing others that were similarly titled, and having difficulty coming to terms with what to say and how to say it. If all this is too cryptic, well, just skip this post, wonder what purposes might be served through it, and come back for an unrelated post in a few days on Bible reading and study!)
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Several years ago, I had a very good telephone interview for a faculty position and had air travel arrangements set for a follow-up, on-site interview. (I think I was one of two candidates at that point.) About two days before I was to leave, I received another phone call in which the department chair questioned me about a thing or two, beginning to back off from considering me. I instantly thought I knew what had happened and have never doubted that I was right: someone at that college had gotten herself a half-story about a situation, through someone who knew half of it himself (second hand—he wasn’t around anymore, anyway).¹ The first someone had known the second someone in the past, so the connection was easy. The world of patently Christian colleges is small—and its sense of its own perceptive abilities, sometimes myopic and aggrandized. The long & short is that I was un-invited for the on-site interview.
A couple years later, the same school was again hiring for the same position. I did not exactly apply that time, but I did send a personal letter to the chair, revisiting the previous conversation in order to explain and clarify. That conversation had not ended comfortably. Inasmuch as it depended on me,² I hoped later to shed light and smooth things over more than anything else. I’m pasting in some slightly adapted versions of things I wrote in this follow-up letter, with most of the identifying marks removed.
Things back then were, to say the least, in a state of flux. Personally speaking, I almost never felt secure, and my entire time [there] was marked by instability: the departure under negative circumstances of my predecessor; pervasive angst about administration and turnover; major initiatives that led to more than one openly heated debate….
The new [ … ] had come in with a flash, spending money [unwisely] and making promises.³ He seemed to be gone from campus as much as he was present that semester. Relatively soon, he found a new position and left.
Going back to our last telephone conversation . . . I recall reacting with a rather strong voice to questions that I believe were based on misinformed suspicion (perhaps “misleading ‘spin’” would be a better way to put it). [I]t seems that my candidacy was essentially torpedoed by someone who was poorly informed of certain realities and who acted antagonistically.
[To explain and clarify: This person] and I had had good times and bad times. He affirmed some of my efforts and gifts, and he ignored or detracted from others. He laughed with me and caused me more tension than I have experienced with any other boss. . . . He spoke on isolated occasions with language I consider unbecoming, and he also tried sincerely to inject God. . . . Some colleagues—who had not had opportunity to see his deep generosity and hard work first-hand—seemed to carry a rather one-sidedly negative opinion of him (as opposed to a mixed one, like mine). I was as frequently embarrassed by (and intimidated by) his overbearing demeanor and persona as I was impressed by his work ethic and his intent to serve. A study in contrasts, he.
[At any rate,] … had I been directing, conducting, and teaching for [ …] since the last time you posted this position, we might or might not have enjoyed perfect chemistry, but you would know the real me—someone who cares deeply and works with conviction for his students, his program, his colleagues, and his institution . . . and someone who sometimes comes across defensively or with too much intensity. . . .
All this reminiscence and re-traversing brings fresh emotional pain (to which I am no stranger in general). I am of the general, unstudied opinion that such reflection is to be engaged in, not avoided. (I suppose it is usually better under the guidance of a trained therapist!) Personal growth can occur when we go through the muck and the deep waters. I’m not so sure I’m growing, and I intermittently smell of muck, but my head is above water.
¹ To describe the situation would be to say too much here. I had tried to handle it as well as possible. In hindsight, I suspect the “new” person referred to as “new [ …]” in the second inset paragraph above ignored a red carpet I laid out in order to have the scenario appear a certain way. I was a scapegoat and later a lame duck, to some extent.
² The particular religious/philosophical alignment of the hiring college turns out to be ironic: it is affiliated with one of the so-called “peace churches,” but it had unwittingly been a part of a very un-peaceful chain of events. Here, I do not present myself as a peace-bringer in the first instance, but that was actually a large part of my goal in the follow-up letter quoted above, from a couple years later. I received no reply.
³ The particular promises seemed to be based more on Christianese fluff than on reality or even faith. This is beside the point, yes, but I would say it is also another, related, important point.