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Steven Garber Moving Back to Washington D.C.

November 13, 2019
Almost two years into this we have eager, grateful, serious students in the [MALTS] program from all over the world who are willing to think and read and reflect—and be more faithful in their own lives.

Dr. Steven Garber, Regent’s Professor of Marketplace Theology and Director of the MA in Leadership, Theology, and Society, will be stepping down from his role after the end of the 2019/2020 school year. He and his wife, Meg, will move back to their home of 30 years in Washington D.C.

In his role as the Director of the MA in Leadership, Theology & Society (MALTS), Steve has been at the helm of one of the most exciting recent developments at Regent College. The MALTS program is a low-residency, cohort-based program designed to enable participants to remain in their current jobs while growing in Christ-centred wisdom and leadership ability. After two years, the program has taken off, with strong, international cohorts of motivated students benefitting from the program’s biblically and theologically grounded approach to leadership training.

Regent is thankful for the passion and creativity which Steve has contributed to developing the program in its vital first few years. His vision for seamless life in Christ will remain a focal point as the program seeks new leadership.

In this interview, Steve talks about his highlights of working at Regent, his soon-to-be-released book, and what he’s most looking forward to about returning to Washington D.C.

What were some highlights of your time working at Regent?

It's clear to me that the highlight has been getting to know students. My wife and I have lived for our whole life of marriage with this credo from the Clapham community of 200-plus years ago in England: You should choose a neighbour before you choose a house. So that's always how we've lived life.

When we moved here we chose to be neighbours to Regent College, and to its students especially, living five minutes away from the College. We’ve had students in and out of our home a lot, and it's a short walk from our home to the College atrium to meet with a student. As long as I can remember, I have been somebody who has loved to love students. I've especially been drawn to eager students, of course, and students here have been eager to learn a more seamless way of seeing life, the world, and who they are in the world.

And I would say, never previously having lived in the Pacific Northwest, I've enjoyed many parts of it. We’ve had a glorious view of the ocean and the mountains––morning, afternoon, and evening––and that's been a great gift to us.

I have long had a respect for Regent, from its 1970s beginnings through the years. In the work I've done with the Washington Institute, I was a co-facilitator of the ReFrame series, so I watched that unfold. And before I ever thought about coming here, I was invited by the Laity Lodge in Texas to speak one summer with J.I. Packer, who was the longest serving speaker the Laity Lodge has had in its 60 years of history. To put it a little bit playfully, I thought I could have died and gone to heaven after that, because of what a great gift it was to me to be beside this great tutor and teacher. For the first half hour of my first presentation, I just said to him, sitting close to me on the right, “Dr. Packer, thank you for this, and thank you for this, and thank you for this.”

Having played such a central role in getting the MALTS program off the ground, what are your ongoing hopes for how that program develops?

In many ways, the questions that brought MALTS into being have been the questions of my own life. For 15 years I taught a program on Capitol Hill which—in its own terms, and differently than MALTS—was concerned with leadership, theology, and society. For the next 15 years I directed a project called the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture, which is a different way to describe a similar vision, a similar belief.

So to come here, in some ways, was a new wineskin. But I believed in it, I recruited for it, I brought people who wanted to study with me into it. When they said, “can I study with you?” I said, “why don't you come be part of the MALTS program?” And I think the proof is in the pudding. Almost two years into this we have eager, grateful, serious students in the program from all over the world who are willing to think and read and reflect and be more faithful in their own lives. That's the long hope of the program.

What’s next?

In the most simple terms, I would say I've missed my grandchildren. When I was first asked about coming here and I began to take it as a more serious question, three years ago, I initially said, “No, I'm not planning to move anywhere. I planted four trees in my yard this year, and I'm not planning to move from them, actually.” So I'm planning to go back to my trees, to my flowers. I've spent thirty years in a house nourishing a garden with flowers, spring into fall, and that's been very important to me.

But even more deeply, when I was pressing into the question of whether I would ever come here, I told those who wanted to know, “You'd have to come meet our friends.” So Jeff Greenman made a trip from Regent out to Washington D.C. that year to spend a day with a number of our closest friends. I told him that though the decision would be my wife’s and my decision to make eventually, it would be a decision with communal consequence. And so, when we were making the decision we drew our community of friends into the decision with us. And I miss them. They've been 30-year-long friends, and I want to go back into that world, and step back into their lives. Their lives change, evolve, and deepen—and they matter a lot to me.

I've long taught and written that vocation is a big word, a complex word. It isn't the same as our work. Our work is an expression of our vocation. I look forward to stepping into this bigger, richer, deeper, complex view—[the view that] vocation is more than my work, but my work will be an expression of that.

I will continue to write. I have another book coming out in the next month or so.

Can you tell us more about that book?

It's gotten some very good reviews so far and I hope people read it. The publisher said that their expectation is the book will be read globally. I hope that's true. We’ve received endorsers for the book who are from all over the world—an Anglican archbishop from Kenya, a businessman from Singapore, an artist from Europe, a singer/songwriter from Nashville, a professor from Boston, and more.

It's called The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship & Work, and is a new effort from Intervarsity Press because it's a book of both essays I’ve written and photos I’ve taken. I've found in the birthing process of all this, which has been strenuous and laborious actually, that it's harder to bring something into being which has both text and photos.

Are there particular places where you feel that your vision is being lived out in a compelling way?

It's a very good question. I don't do this as much as I used to, but for many years I traveled most every week––the States, principally, though Canada sometimes, too. The last two weekends I've gone back to the States––once to Austin, Texas and once to Durham, North Carolina––to speak at Anglican churches.

One was a church which had recently hired a new minister for vocation. They asked me to come and inaugurate this new chapter in their church's life by speaking for a weekend. So I did that gladly. It's called Christ Church Anglican in Austin, Texas.

And the second was this past weekend, All Saints Church in Durham, North Carolina. They've been reading my Visions of Vocation book the last few months as a congregation and asked me to come give flesh to the words. I'm glad and eager and willing to step into those kinds of places.

Have there been companies, NGOs, or similar organizations where you've found a fulfillment of this vision of seamless living?

In the last day I've had a series of back and forths with a friend of mine in Singapore; I serve as a fellow for the catalyst group, the think tank, of the Mars Corporation. For fifteen years now, I've been deeply involved with them in a project that's been named “the economics of mutuality.” It is a serious effort to rethink the way work works in the world, what economic life means in the world, how business happens in the world. It's not an airy-fairy idea. There are literally billions of dollars at stake in this project, because Mars sells a lot all over the world. But it's been a serious effort to call into question the way of the world.

Now Mars is not a Christian company, not a parochial company. It's a family-owned corporation which gives them a certain responsibility to ask other kinds of questions. In my office I have a photo I took at a U2 concert some years ago. It's of Bono, there on the huge big screen in the whole big arena. I've been asking this question for years, whether it's to rock stars or Mars executives: Can you sing songs shaped by the truest truths of the universe in a language the whole world can understand?

Bono actually does love God, but he's not trying to make parochial music for the people of God in that more narrow sense. He's trying to sing songs for the whole world. How do you make sense of his abilities and surprising gift of God to come to Vancouver, the biggest arena of the city, and have scores of thousands singing “How long must we sing this song?” I think, “Well, how'd you do this, Bono?”

And in a different way, with my work with the Mars Corporation, again, that isn't a Christian making Christian products for Christian people. But they serve––iconically, in some ways––the whole world with their products. Could you actually sing a song shaped by the truest truths of the universe in a language the whole world could understand? Could you actually work from a biblically born vision of the jubilee of God, candidly and honestly, and say, “what would this look like in a twenty-first century globalized and political economy? What if you took a more complex bottom line more seriously, what if you called into question Friedman's assumption––which most of the world assumes must be true––that the sole purpose is to maximize shareholder profit?”

What is the single thing you're most looking forward to about being back home?

The dogwood is the state flower and the state tree in Virginia, and we have about twenty dogwood trees in our yard. I look forward to loving them again. And I would say, when I'm with my grandchildren in Charlottesville, Virginia, to have a little four-year-old boy say, “Grandpa, I miss you,” tugs on my heart. I want simply to be a more sustained presence in his life.

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