Monday, August 3, 2015

Change at The High Calling

For the last five years, I’ve been part of the editorial staff at The High Calling. We are a part-time, mostly virtual group, living in Texas, West Virginia, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and a few places I’m likely forgetting. We’ve had staff members from as far away as Ireland, South Carolina and Australia.

Working with these writers, editors and fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith has been a remarkable, unforgettable experience. It’s one of those experiences that you cherish each day, knowing that it can change and perhaps end, but while you have it, it is a remarkable thing. What started as an idea in the mind of Howard Butt Jr. created a major presence in the faith and work area.

The announcement of change – that should probably be change in all caps – was made Friday night. A lot of discussion ensued this weekend, mostly on Facebook but some, too, on the post itself. The announcement generated some misunderstanding as well, and I’ve personally received a lot of email messages and private Facebook messages asking for any clarification possible.

Here’s what I know:

The High Calling will cease publishing as it has been at the end of August. Some form will continue – a couple of reflections each week and the Facebook page. But the regular posting of stories built around weekly themes will cease. The site will remain live and accessible.

The Butt Family Foundation, led now by Howard Butt’s son-in-law David Rogers, has decided to go in a different direction with other initiatives. It’s that simple. The High Calling uses the Foundation’s resources and attention, and the Foundation has every right to choose what initiatives it will pursue. My personal feelings, and those of the other staff members, are important to us, but really don’t have any bearing on what strategy the Foundation’s leadership decides.

The understanding of faith and work – living one’s faith in the context of work, including and especially in the secular world – is just now beginning to take hold. It is not a done deal that everyone understands and “gets.” Too many of us still separate Sunday from the rest of the week when it comes to faith. And considerable work remains and, I would argue, is going to become more important as Christians find themselves increasingly at odds with the prevailing culture.

Other groups are actively working the faith and work concept – LeTourneau University’s Center for Faith and Work, the Theology of Work Project, the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, and several more. None of them, however, has the online presence that The High Calling has. And the reason for that may well be that The High Calling was envisioned from the beginning as an online presence, and not only the web and social media properties for an organization or initiative.

The reality is that the change at The High Calling will leave a significant gap in the faith and work area. It’s an exaggeration, but perhaps not much of one, to say that, for faith and work, it would be analogous to The Wall Street Journal announcing it would no longer cover business news.

What I will miss will be the people I work with. We’ll find ways to keep in touch – we already do a lot outside the official High Calling channels via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. But losing that regular interaction, that opportunity to work almost every day with people who have come together to create something of value, not for themselves, but for the thousands of people who've participated in what we’re doing via the online world – that’s the part that’s hard.

So: Ann Kroeker, Charity Craig, Sam Van Eman, Deidra Riggs, Marcus Goodyear, Bob Robinson, Cheryl Smith, Dan King (#Fistbump), David Rupert, Dena Dyer, Kris Camealy, Laura Boggess, Tina Howard, and Katie Cherniss – thank you.

Marcus, Deidra, Katie and Tina – best of success with new Foundation initiatives.

To the thousands of members of the High Calling Network – thank you for those blog posts you created, those posts I read every day and tweeted on behalf of The High Calling. This was an incredible community of people, who were so open and caring that virtual always seemed real.

To all of you: thank you for how much you taught me. Thank you for your patience with me. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for the opportunity to work alongside of you and create something wonderful. Thank you for living your faith through the work we did – and doing it over and over again.

Top photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Bottom photograph: one of my favorite photos of The High Calling staff.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

And on that day

After Acts 8: 1-3

And on that day, that day
of Stephen, that day
of Stephen and the stones

that moment of begging
to forgive them, them
with the stones

and on that day a madness
broke out, a great boil
erupting, spewing itself
across the city, splattering
the people, marking
the door frames
with blood

dragging them
through door frames
with blood

forcing them from the city
into Judea, into Samaria

forcing them to carry

the gospel outwards

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

I haven’t said anything on the series of videos about Planned Parenthood and the selling of fetal body parts from abortions. I am now. The simple reference to what this is about is enough to turn my stomach. Four videos have been released – both edited and unedited versions – by the Center for Medical Progress, a group that opposes abortion. Eight more videos are coming. Russ Douthat at The New York Times wrote one of the best columns I’ve seen on the subject. The Gospel Coaltion has a report on the latest video; The Federalist has a list of links to some of the latest stories. Corey P. at The Ink Slinger also has information and links. And Bob Smietana at Christianity Today interviewed David Daleiden, the 16-year-old director of the Center for Medical Progress and the man behind the video project.

I’ve seen the talking points, and that’s what they are, talking points – from Planned Parenthood, The New York Times editorial page staff, the spokesman for President Obama, and my own hometown newspaper’s editorial writers. They are largely the same talking points: “heavily edited videos,” “haven’t broken the law,” “attacks on women’s medical services.” Yes, they are talking points or “key message points,” designed to blunt our understanding of what is going on here, and make it okay to turn our eyes away and go about our busy lives.

I don’t know how else to say this: Planned Parenthood is an evil organization, and we are all a party to what they do by allowing our tax dollars to help subsidize this abomination. The videos that turn our stomachs are leaving us no out – none of us can say we don’t know what is happening. We can no longer pretend, like all those good people did who lived near the Nazi death camps, that we don’t know what’s going on.

I tremble for what we as a people are becoming.

Faith, Life and Culture

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? –Eliza Griswold at The New York Times.

Palmyra: Ruins That Inspired the Architecture of Power – Jane O’Brien at BBC News (Hat tip: J of India).

Sin is the Only Bad Word Left – Melissa at Your Mom Has a Blog.

Useless Information – Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

The Structure of Gratitude – David Brooks at The New York Times.

Neither Falwell nor Benedict, But a New Creation – Greg Forster at Patheos Mission: Work.

Therapeutic Superstition – David Bentley Hart at First Things (originally published November 2012) (Hat tip: Rod Dreher).


Three Butterfly Images and Summer Lavender – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.


You May Be a Passive Leader If… -- Jon Mertz at Thin Difference.


People like us – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

Michelangelo – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Poets on Poetry – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

At Times – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Review by  Mary Sayler at Poetry Editor.

“The Holy Round of Creeds and Chants and Mysteries” – Fred Sanders at The Scriptorium.

Endless - Aaron Brown at Curator Magazine.


Stay in the Process – Mick Silva.

An Adjuster’s Letter to John Keats – Lyla Lindquist at Tweetspeak Poetry.


Lemp History – Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

Photograph by Milana B via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Short Takes: Three Novellas

Short Takes is a new feature here that focuses on works than can be read in an hour or less. Today it’s three novellas – a mystery, a work of suspense, and what I can only call a computer hacker procedural (a new genre in the mystery/suspense field, I’m sure). All three are actually introductions, either to larger works and / or a series.

Three Sisters by Helen Smith introduces a rather unlikely detective, Emily Castle, a young woman who is still mourning the loss of her dog. She lives in a south London neighborhood, and she finds an invitation to a party slide under her door. It’s a squat party, which means it’s being staged at a nearby house that is occupied by squatters. It’s a rather lavish party for the neighborhood, with food, drink and entertainment. Except one of the entertainers ends up dead. Or does she? Emily rather persistently (and slightly obnoxiously) continues to investigate.

Suspects abound, and it’s quite a trick for author Smith to keep them all straight in the relatively short narrative. She’s written full-length Emily Castle stories, and based on Three Sisters, they’re well worth checking out.

Before Paris by Adria Cimino is, I suspect, a rather large chunk of narrative removed from Paris, Rue des Martyrs, to help shorten the manuscript. Cimino has turned it into a novella, focusing on one of the four stories she covers in the full-length novel (the novella is subtitled “A Prequel to Paris, Ruse des Martyrs”).

The novella is the back story for Rafael Mendez of Colombia, who is resisting his father’s demand that he join his parents in the emerald trade, a rough-and-tumble, borderline criminal activity on a good day. Reluctantly, he goes with his parents for what turns out to be their last trip – they’re shot dead while driving to the mines. His father’s dying words are “Find Carmen,” whom Rafael determines lives in Paris – on the rue des Martyrs.

It’s not a complete story (it is finished in the full-length novel) but it is a good introduction to Cimino’s style and how she constructs a story. (You can read my review of Paris, Rue des Martyrs here.)

In Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland, we meet Brody Taylor, a self-described “white hat” computer hacker who makes a living by trying to hack companies’ computer defenses. He’s called to a British pharmaceutical company after the company learns that Chinese hackers are nosing around, trying to obtain the research on a new Alzheimer’s drug. Taylor tells the story on a double track – explaining how he was able to hack the company’s systems and his relationship with a new girlfriend. She thinks he’s a movie location scout, and is ignorant of his hacking profession.

Sutherland takes the reader on a few interesting twists, the most surprising of which brings the story full circle. Social Engineer is a fun read and a good introduction to computer hacking, and how it’s done. The novella is also the introduction to a series of Brody Taylor stories.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Louise Penny’s “Still Life”

I always enjoy finding a new mystery series, and I believe I’ve found a good one with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

Gamache, with the Surete de Quebec, is the creation of mystery writer Louise Penny; the first of her series of mysteries is Still Life, set in the small town of Three Pines in Quebec, not far from the American border. Gamache is called to investigate the death of an elderly woman, Jane Neal, shot in the woods apparently by an arrow. Neal was a rather eccentric artist – loved by her neighbors but one who had never shown her art nor let anyone in her house beyond the kitchen.

Gamache and his team discover that what looks to be an accidental death caused by a hunter is actually murder, murder with a motive buried long in the past.

Louise Penny
Penny is strong on characterization, not only for Gamache and his police team but the rest of the major and minor characters as well, a collection of both rather normal and rather eccentric people, most of an artistic temperament. One of them, in this quaint little village, is a murderer.

It is Gamache, however, who is the novel’s star. A loving husband with grown children, he is in his early 50s, enjoys good food, and believes in teamwork over lone wolf investigations. He has a past, with mostly notable investigatory successes but some have come at a cost. He listens and observes; he watches and likes to set potential suspect against potential suspect. He’s not convinced by an early confession. And he develops strong likes, and strong dislikes, for the people he meets.

One of the characters is a poet, and poetry plays a surprisingly significant role in the story (as does art). A poem by W.H. Auden contains an important clue. And Penny includes interesting historical facts about the region that had color and depth to the story.

And now I have the satisfaction of knowing there are several Chief Inspector Gamache stories waiting to be read.

Painting: Quebec Village by Arthur Lismer, oil on canvas (1926); Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Hiding Place: The Rope Tightens

It is two years into the Nazi occupation of Holland. Each month, Corrie ten Boom writes in The Hiding Place, the occupation grew harsher, the restrictions more numerous. Corrie’s brother Peter violates one of the latest edicts and plays the Dutch national anthem, the “Wilhelmus,” during a church service. He’s imprisoned for three months.

More Jews are being arrested and deported to the camps in the east. The numbers seeking help and hiding remain steady. One friend organizes the “burglary” of an identity card office, including a very real physical beating to convince the Germans. Corrie is later taken to a meeting of the Dutch underground, bicycling with a contact with tires wrapped in cloth to muffle the sound.

This is the line between amateur underground operations and the professionals. Corrie and the ten Booms will cross that line, and what results is the construction of a secret room in their home, a place that Jews and others can be temporarily hidden, the “hiding place” of the book’s title.

The risks for the family were enormous.

And yet they took them, with barely a second thought. As Corrie’s father would say, “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” His meaning extended to God’s original chosen people, the Jews.

Was this courage? Foolhardiness? Recklessness?

Or was it an expression and extension of the ten Booms’ faith?

What does it mean to have that kind of reckless faith? Their lives, the lives of the extended family, the security of their church were all at great risk. And yet they continued.

We haven’t faced that kind of test of faith and courage here in the United States, but many say the time is coming. Christians in the Mideast have faced it and continue to face it. Globally, the number of persecutions of Christians has been increasing. We are likely fooling ourselves if we believe that something like this could never happen here.

I think about my children and my three grandsons. Would my faith be that reckless if I knew I would be putting them in jeopardy?

It’s a question I hope I never have to answer.

But I need to be prepared to answer it.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading and discussing The Hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “The Secret Room,” please visit Jason at Connectingto Impact.

Photograph: Members of the Dutch underground in 1944, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Poetic Voices: Megan Fernandes and Sandra Marchetti

I read some poetry collections that are enjoyable and well crafted but soon disappear in the far reaches of memory. I suppose that’s a nice way of saying they are enjoyable in the moment but not terribly memorable. And then there are other collections, by poets who use words that are almost jagged, sharp points that tear and shred preconceived notions and force you to consider something in an entirely different way. The result can be unsettling.

Meet Megan Fernandes and Sandra Marchetti.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.