TO THE SUMMIT: AN INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN FOSTER
Endorsements from Philip Yancey and Eugene Peterson grace the back cover of Nathan Foster‘s first book, Wisdom Chaser (IVP Books). The book closes with an afterword from Nathan’s father, author and speaker Richard J. Foster (Celebration of Discipline). If the company we keep says anything at all about our personal character or the content of our work, I’d say Nathan Foster is someone worth spending at least 200 pages with. In his memoir, Nathan recounts the time he spent with his father sumitting mountains, both literally and metaphorically. Nathan travels to the edge of adventure and to the depths of his soul and invites his readers along for the ride. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about his book, his dad, and his thoughts about outdoor life in his new home state of Michigan. Enjoy!
The stories in your book, Wisdom Chaser, take place around your attempt to climb as many of Colorado’s Fourteeners with your dad, Richard J. Foster. Could you talk a little bit about how this whole adventure got started? What led you to take on this adventure?
Sure. It really started as a joke. “Hey, dad you want to climb the highest mountain in Colorado?.” It was something I really wanted to do, but I fully expected him to say no.
It seems that at the heart of your book, it’s really all about relationships. What is it about relationships that are so important? What did tackling the Fourteeners with your father teach you about relating to others in meaningful ways?
The conclusion that I reach in the book is that the most important thing we will do on earth is building and cultivating relationships. Now by this I mean relationship with God, ourselves and others. I’ve really become struck in recent years by reading the Bible in the context of relationships. Seeing scripture as the narrative account of how God has pursued and pursues relationships with humankind and the various ways this has played out. For some reason God seems to place incredible significance on the importance of the relationship we have with each other and how we get to be “Jesus” to each other.
Time is probably the most powerful tool for building relationships, and this is something my father offered me in the hours upon hours we spent on the trail.
For me, while reading your book, I got the urge to get out and go exploring, to kind of experience the grandeur and beauty of the world around me. It’s pretty clear that you have done your homework when it comes to hiking, climbing, and survival skills. Where would you point rookies for help in getting started with taking on the wilderness? Were there any books that were especially helpful to you?
That’s so cool that the book had that affect on you. I think nature is so important for us to be familiar with. We have so much to learn about God by immersing ourselves in a world bathed in his presence that consistently declares his glory and mystery.
I don’t really have any books to offer. I’ve been a fan of Backpacker magazine since I was a teenager, it’s full of helpful information. I’ve found talking with people who do a lot of outdoor activities to be invaluable, not to mention we usually like sharing ideas, experiences, and favorite places. The staff at outfitting places like R.E.I usually have a lot to say. Also they often offer short seminars on various topics.
As you tell the stories of your time on the trail, it’s apparent that you see your spiritual journey and personal growth intertwined with the time you’ve spent summiting the Fourteeners. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Like I mentioned earlier, nature teaches, and I think it’s very difficult to spend much time in the outdoors and not find growth, that is if we are aware of what’s around it, and are willing to soak in the drama of what creation has to offer us.
I have so much respect for my father spiritually, much of the book is about how this process evolved. In the end it was his time, acceptance and love of others that taught me, as much if not more than his words, spoken and written.
Your father’s writing is seen as one of the primary influences that has reignited interest in the practices of the early church fathers in spiritual formation to the evangelical church. In your book, you write about your experiencing of growing up and not really know what your father’s work was all about. You kind of discovered his work during the time you were spending time with him in the woods. How has his writing impacted you? Is there a specific work that has been more meaningful to you than others?
Sure. I do like his work a lot. Certainly Celebration of Discipline is a very helpful book. Some of the ideas he captures in his book on prayer are amazing. Personally, I really like this little book he did a number of years ago called Prayers from the Heart. It’ really just a collection of prayers from various people both current and historical, and includes a handful of my dad’s. It shows a more intimate, vulnerable side of my dad that he rarely shows publicly.
While the setting of your book takes place in Colorado, you are living in Michigan now and working as the Assistant Professor of Social Work at Spring Arbor University, my recent Alma Mater. Have you been able to do any hiking since your move? Do you have any favorite spots in Michigan?
I really have done very little in Michigan. I’ve gotten into cycling since moving here and this been my major experience in nature the last few years. I ride to work year round on a wooded bike trail. I love that place. I have spent some time hiking the trails around Silver Lake and Pickney, and that’s really nice. Of course, up north seems to have a mess of great hiking.
How would you describe your book, Wisdom Chaser to potential readers? What do you see as the heart of the book?
It’s really been interesting to me to see all the different things that stick out to people. For me personally I see it is a beautiful story about relationships and redemption. I hope people are able to find a piece of their own story embedded in the work. I tried to be as honest and authentic as I could while paying extreme attention to trying to hold the reader’s interest. Writing gives me the chance to process ideas and experiences. I found myself learning as I wrote the book. I approach writing as an art and hope some of this comes through.