Review: The Seamless Life

the seamless life

The Seamless LifeSteven Garber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A collection of short reflections around the integral relationship between our daily life and work and the love of God, accompanied by the author’s photography.

Steven Garber has written thoughtfully on the integration of faith and learning for students in The Fabric of Faithfulnessand of loving a broken word, joining with God’s love for his creation in living out our callings in Visions of Vocation. This is a very different book that rings the changes on the themes of these previous books. Garber writes:

   This is a book about vocation, but a different book, a collection of essays and photos. An unusual effort for the publisher, it is new for me too. Rather than making an argument that is developed over scores of pages and many chapters, this one is a deeper and deeper reflection on one question: What does it mean to see seamlessly? To see the whole of life as important to God, to us, and to the world–the deepest and truest meaning of vocation–is to understand that our longing for coherence is born of our truest humanity, a calling into the reality that being human and being holy are one and the same life.

The book is a collection of short (2-3 pages each) essays that follow Garber across the country and through his personal history. We begin with a Madison Avenue company that consults with social entrepreneur non-profits seeking to do good work for the common good, later with one of the companies that are a client of the firm, situated in the Catskills, and then with faith leaders from different sectors of Pittsburgh committed to seeking the flourishing of their city. The journey continues across the country. These reflections are woven into ones on Garber’s own history, from restoring order to a house he and his son are renovating to a visit to a New Mexico livestock auction, bringing back memories of his cowboy grandfather who worked out his belief in God in the way he worked with competence and character.

He reflects on movies, and on words like vocation and occupation; the common root of cult, cultivate, and culture; and proximate. He writes beautifully of the growing friendship he has shared with his wife, Meg and thoughtfully about how joy and sorrow are linked in our lives.

All of this is accompanied by the photography of the author at the beginning of each essay. Many of these could be hung in a gallery. One I love, because it is a view etched in my own memories, is the skyline of Pittsburgh at night from Mount Washington.

This is a wonderful book to be read slowly, perhaps as it has been written over the course of many journeys. It speaks to our longing not only that our lives would matter but cohere. This is a good book to give as a graduation gift, but perhaps a better book for one in the middle of life wondering if the endeavors of every day connect to the deep and transcendent longings of us all. It is far better than the waste of a mid-life crisis. It is a book for those who both love and grieve the world and wonder how this might be held together–seamlessly.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Visions of Vocation

The main thesis of this book is that to live as a called person is to be implicated in what one knows, to have a sense of responsibility that flows out of understanding the world and our place and work in it.

Steven Garber writes this book out of a lifetime experience of helping people discern the calling of God in their everyday lives. He has particularly worked in recent years among young leaders who come to Washington, DC on various internships as the principal of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture. Much of this book is a weave of thinking about vocation and stories of calling culled from the many people he has walked with on this journey.

He begins with talking about what it means to know the world as it is in all its ugliness and love it. Such a love is sacramental and joins with God in his care for the world. Later on, Garber speaks about how those who know and love most deeply also mourn deeply while yet living in hope. Seeing and knowing for a person living attentively to God’s call must eventuate in doing. Yet as he talks about in his chapter “the landscape of our lives”, we live in the midst of a mind- and soul-numbing glut of information that can leave us indifferent to any and everything. He talks about the sobering example of an Eichmann who could read Goethe, listen to Schubert, and plan the destruction of thousands of Jews and somehow see himself not implicated in their deaths.

Perhaps the only remedy, Garber thinks, is to “come and see” afresh the incarnate Christ, the Word become Flesh. The coming of Jesus tells us that words have to become flesh and have to be lived out in our actions in the physical world. He then gives us narratives of friends who have done this in fields as diverse as cattle ranching to health care in indigent communities. He tells of Kwang Kim, who starts asking as a student “what should the world be like” and “what should I be doing” and has translated that into decades of work in the World Bank shaping development plans that are sustainable for loan recipients and not just profitable for the bank.

The latter part of the book explores the dangers of cynicism and the necessity of realizing that all of our efforts to live out our callings will be proximate rather than perfect. We realize that we live between the already and the not yet of the kingdom and do what we can rather than what we cannot. He concludes with the story of his father whose life brought him joy and was contrasted with the high-roller with whom he was a seatmate on a flight and was stopped in his boastful tracks by the simple question of whether any of this had brought him happiness. We are left to conclude that only the life lived attending to the call of God to love the world for the good of the world can bring a deep sense of joy and satisfaction with one’s life. Garber’s book both leaves us wanting that and points the way.