Top Struggles of 2013!

As the end-of-the-year stories fly through my feed, I find myself in a somewhat muted mood. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the misnaming of “Winter Break” for me this year. My experience has been more of a “Winter Change-of-Immediate-Tasks.” Even as the tasks have been good, they’ve been, well, tasks.

While I’m super pumped to have spent quality time with family, and to leave today to Co-Direct the College Conference at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina, I’m a more than a little bummed not yet to have read a book for fun, nor binge-watched a thing (by the way, I’m running out of quality shows—recommendations appreciated).

So rather than trumpeting my accomplishments at the end of the year—anyone can do that, after all—I’d like to reflect briefly on my year’s biggest struggles both professional and (slightly) personally.

College growing pains

Concordia College—like many institutions in higher education, and even more like most small liberal arts colleges in the midwest—is undergoing a thoughtful, careful, months-long conversation about the right size of the college. What does this mean in terms of outcomes exactly? I have inside info—will there be cuts (minor or major), reallocation of resources, higher/lower admission standards, more adjunct faculty, selling of souls, etc.?

I’m still quite new to this whole college faculty thing, and though I’ve had some experience with limited resources in church work, I’ve been surprised at how much such a right-sizing conversation can affect everything on a campus. My position requires a fair amount of administrative duties, and before recently I didn’t realize how many of them were highly dependent on a predicable future.

Overall, I think we’re weathering the storm well enough, but it remains to be seen how the upcoming decisions will affect morale, competitiveness, and my work overall. I’m excited for a positive future at Concordia—the pieces are present, we just need to get the puzzle design just right. For the time being, it’s a bit of a struggle.

Stretched Too Thin

Relatedly, I’ve found myself wondering if the feeling of being stretched too thin is a necessary constant in higher ed life. Is it just a given that academy makes faculty always second-guess themselves and long to be like colleagues who are smarter, better teachers, more prolific, and better dressed? (That last one might just be my issue.) And, if so, is that healthy? Sustainable? Wise?

While I’ve said “no” to several invites recently, I’m still often feel that if I had just one fewer responsibility, one fewer email onslaught, I’d have time to breathe. Sure, starting PhD work on the side of a full-time job was probably not helpful in this regard, but it has been really helpful in some direct ways such as pushing me to write, deepening my knowledge of my field, and expanding my appreciation of the diversity of academia.

Speaking of which, I’m beginning to wonder if I have too many research areas. I’m cognizant of, and write/speak/informally opine on areas related to Christian worship and hymnody, young/emerging adult religiosity, and “leadership studies” especially in the context of church and non-profits (though I’m honestly a bit cynical about calling the latter a true “field”). But my main research area isn’t any of those, it’s new media and religion (or “digital religion”).

I’ve been able to make sense of this breadth, in my head at least, by claiming new media and religion as the main area in which I can conduct my true academic work. Sure, I can spout off a 1,200-word reflection on young adults and the church, or on the new Presbyterian hymnal, but when I do so I’m aware I haven’t read everything I need to read to speak authoritatively in the academic sense.

As I move forward, I’m really trying to keep my major PhD projects focused on new media and religion, especially as I consider dissertation topics and how I might contribute to the broader conversation.

Cross-disciplinary conversations have always drawn me. One of my favorite descriptions of the pastoral vocation is a “generalist in a society of specialists.” So, perhaps it makes sense my move to the academy includes a similar struggle.

Commuter Marriage

Around our seventh wedding anniversary this summer, my wife’s medical training took her to Rochester, Minnesota, about a five-hour drive from Fargo-Moorhead where I’m based. For a variety of reasons, we decided to try our hand at a commuter marriage (or, as I like to call it, a multi-point household). All in all, this arrangement has gone quite well, though of course it’s had its struggles (how will we watch the new season of Downton Abbey if we’re not together?!).

Living apart has pushed us to appreciate our time together much more than when Megan and I saw each other each day. We’re more intentional about how we hang out when we do, and more protective of vacation time. And, thanks to college breaks and some weekend treks, we’ve managed to see each other on 23% of the days this semester, with an average of 9 days between visits. We’re already 1/6th of the way through Megan’s residency program!

That said, I would much prefer living in the same town as my spouse, and look forward to that happening again (in 2016, most likely).

Faith Community (or lack thereof)

It’s not uncommon for those theologically trained to struggle with finding a faith community to join. And due to some local dynamics I won’t go into here, I think Fargo-Moorhead may be a particularly difficult place for churchy-types to land.

Several colleagues have told me it has taken them years—like three, five, or more—to find a worshiping community in which they can thrive. I’ve had a similar journey, and it’s certainly not helped by the fact that I’m out of town for work or play several weekends a month.

My approach here is to take things slow and steady, and visit congregations as often as I can. But, still, it’s a struggle.

Really, My Life is Great!

This post is starting to feel like a big bummer—really, things are going quite well; 2013 has been a blast. I’m very happy at my job, love living in downtown Fargo, am relatively productive professionally, and have a great friend network near and far. But I did want to write a bit of a counterpoint to the 10 Best Things of 2013 theme seen elsewhere.

Finally, I’m grateful that anyone is willing, curious, or bored enough to read my blog posts to the end. Thanks for a great 2013, and here’s to 2014 (which, by the way, should be pronounced “twenty-fourteen” not “two thousand fourteen”).


  1. The Anatomist says:

    Hey I really liked this post. Related to your top struggles. And not a bummer, just real. Happy New Year and good luck with all of your struggles especially determining the right size for Concordia. Yikes.

  2. Love this post so much, I’m thinking of adopting this strategy for my end-of-year reflection. FWIW, I was an academician for a decade and then spent another two years in higher education administration at the state level, and believe “stretched too thin” is a fact of academic life. Ouch and bless you now and in the year ahead!

  3. I think your approach in this blog is one that is helpful to be shared. We often seem to highlight the good or rant/blame the bad. Sharing struggles I think is helpful. In our household Christmas letter last year we shared the career and home struggles we were having. It was the first non-rosey family letter. I was surprised to get feedback that was basically, “Thanks for your honesty. We’ve been there too.” This year we could share the steps we took to change our situation and the much more content place we are at. The opportunity to share the journey is a gift. Thanks for sharing yours.
    On the ‘balance’ aspect, I think many professions find this challenging, clergy too.

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