At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ballack Is Back!

It's true! In one week, The Broken Cross will be available on Amazon Kindle, with the paperback to come out a few weeks later. So that's September 1st for the ebook release, which will make a sweet belated birthday gift for me!

Here's the synopsis from the back cover:
A place of solitude, prayer and reflection becomes a place of death as the Catholic Church's lead attorney is brutally murdered in St. Louis' Cathedral Basilica just days after winning a prominent case. 

Within hours, Cameron Ballack is appointed the Special Investigative Division team’s lead detective. The wheelchair-bound Ballack, and his new team, must battle secrecy, depravity and deception as they begin to uncover an unholy reign of illicit behavior that has triggered one killing after another.

Connecting horrors of the past with the case at hand, Ballack gambles everything in a union of logic and intuition to ensnare the murderer. But as the killer’s intentions reach a critical mass, will Ballack and his team be able to stop this evil crusade before more lie dead before the altar of past sins?

More news as we approach the release date! And thanks for all your encouragement as we bring this story to you.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Back to School: Painting Things Green

This actually has nothing to do with painting. The title was just a conspiracy to get you reading this. When teachers head back to school, much of the focus lands on lesson plans, counting desks to make sure you have enough, and navigating through the maze of orientation meetings with other staff. But the best question we teachers can ask at this time--especially those who teach within the Christian academy--is "Why are we here?"

To this end, the faculty at my present employer, Westminster Christian Academy, read two short books over the summer (at least, we all were supposed to have read them!), one of them pictured above: Jay Green's An Invitation to Academic Studies. Green is professor of history at my alma mater, Covenant College, although he arrived six years after my graduation. To answer the question "Why are we here?", Green looks at various strategies that well-meaning believers have tried in regards to academia (he focuses  mainly on college studies, but there are ramifications here for secondary education, too). Then Green proposes a powerful--and in my view, a biblical, alternative.

Green begins with the ancient church father Tertullian and his famous/infamous quote, "What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?...After Jesus we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research." I confess to twitches of pain and convulsions of embarrassment whenever I see that quote. Green lays out several strategies that Christian have historically taken with regards to academics and faith.

1. Avoid higher education altogether: This is the idea that pursuing serious study in a collegiate setting can ruin a young person's faith.
2. Defensive engagement: Entering university studies must be undertaken with sober judgment, so students must take care to preserve their Christian worldview while in college environments that can be hostile to their faith.
3. Dualism: Christian faith and academic study exist in separate spheres. Faith is of interest to the faithful, while the common kingdom of academic study has more of a pull for non-redeemed humankind.
4. Jerusalem transforming Athens: The cause of the faith is to renew and change educational pursuits of every kind, where students are "agents of renewal" in the world by virtue of their Christian education.

While respecting whatever merits reside within these strategies, Green opts for his alternative proposal: Academic disciplines are "gifts from God, can help us to cultivate a deeper love for God and our neighbors--an alternative that not only is interested in what we Christians are doing for our academic disciplines, but also asks what the academic disciplines might be doing for us as Christians."

Green's proposal has biblical merit, both didactically and through the example of historical narrative. In I Timothy 4:4, St. Paul--an academic cleric himself--says "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." What are academic disciplines like history, mathematics, engineering, biology, German, literature, and the like but portals to the creation of God and what he has imbued in humankind? Yes, fallen humankind...I get that. But this world is still good and bears the brushstrokes of a Creator calling humanity back to himself. Why wouldn't we want to plunge into the details of this groaning planet and our robust yet vandalized existence? All this has something to teach us about fidelity to God in his world.

Not to mention, if there is anything the story of Daniel teaches us in Scripture (aside from the fact you can have a pretty exciting career as a federal government official), it's that the participation of godly people in academic studies matters. Daniel and his three co-exiled buddies were put in the honors program in Babylon, far from home, far from faithful nurture. But Daniel didn't take an avoidance approach, bunker down in defensive engagement, or radically say "This part is God's, this belongs to Babylon." No, he and his friends participated in the pagan training, learning the literature, language, history and (most likely) the religion of the Babylonians (Daniel 1:3-4). And God gave them both learning (worldview) and wisdom (skill) in these subject areas [Daniel 1:17], to where Daniel and company were head and shoulders above the rest (1:19-20). Why would God have done this unless what they learned was of no benefit to their faithful existence?

It's something to consider. Consider also--if you're a Christian school teacher-- having this discussion with others. Snag an administrator, a fellow teacher, a student, and a parent and ask them, "What seems to be our goal here at _____ Christian School? What are we doing here? What should we be doing here?"

It might be fascinating what kind of answers you get.

Selected quotes from An Invitation to Academic Studies

"The point here is not that worldview thinking within the disciplines is unimportant compared to disciplinary knowledge...But if such 'worldview' issues are the first or most important considerations raised, or if, in pursuing them, we believe we have exhausted our academic responsibility before God, then I believe we dishonor the disciplines and ironically strip them of the power and promise they hold for us and for God's kingdom."

"How would our pursuit of learning in college change if we were to envision the academic disciplines not so much as adversaries in need of fixing or censoring but as genuine gifts from our gracious God?"

"The academic disciplines are both extensions of creation and one of the most consequential ways in which we exercise dominion over that which God has made."

"A worldview mastery of a craft is no substitute for mastery of the craft itself."

"It is accordingly helpful to see each academic discipline as extending a kind of basic knowledge, a set of distinctive skills, and a variety of virtues, all of which require our careful attention and our labors."

"We need to move these fields of study conceptually back within the bounds of creational goodness where they belong and allow ourselves to be amazed and thrilled by the worlds of joyful discovery that they open to us when we enter them with this kind of expectation. This sense of wonder can't help but overflow into gratitude to God."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Remembering Uncle Bob

This past Saturday dawned much like any other day, but within a few hours, the sun's rays didn't seem as bright as usual.

In a hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, my Uncle Bob, who had hung on for over ten weeks after suffering a traumatic brain injury, finally came to the end of his earthly journey.

Uncle Bob had been doing what he loved, bicycling around the area, when he had his accident and suffered his injury. And that probably gives us a window into Uncle Bob. It seemed that whatever he was up to, he was doing something he loved.

Whether it was taking a walk through the nearby arboretum, dabbling in photography, taking one of his dedicated long-distance runs, biking across states like North Carolina or Kansas, playing with his grandchildren, or finding ways to heal the struggles and fissures in marriages, I think it's fair to say Uncle Bob found joy in each journey.

Over the years of my own existence, there has been plenty of opportunity to know and enjoy Bob, whom I knew probably the most out of all my uncles. It went beyond visits during Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Once during a sabbatical in Atlanta, Bob flew over to Mississippi to spend time with my folks and it coincided with my seminary fall break. And October mornings in Mississippi are some nice hours to spend some four-mile runs with Uncle Bob. 

But it was when we lived geographically closer to Bob and Aunt Judy that we were most appreciative. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I found the going difficult and--honestly--depressing. It was hard recognizing the greatest resistance to the Gospel could come from people you were trying to lead, and I couldn't find a way out of that darkness. During those two difficult years, I think it's fair to say that thanks to Bob and Judy's kindness and consistent encouragement, we managed to make it through to the next vocational step. The encouragement didn't stop when we moved away. When I published my first novel in 2013, Bob sent an email about how much he enjoyed reading it (even saying it left other well-known authors in the dust, a comment that humbled me and I continue to prize).

It's also fair to say that throughout his life, Uncle Bob found a way to be a healer. He recognized soon after entering the pastorate that he'd be wise to train in marriage and family counseling, and that decision eventually led him to over three decades of service as the director of a counseling center in Greensboro (which he founded). I attended one of his training seminars for clergy when we were living in North Carolina, and I manage to bring in a number of those principles even in teaching when talking to kids about relationships and preparation for life. Uncle Bob believed so much in the importance of marriage that he wrote about it. In marked contrast to a society that preached personal fulfillment and reckless individualistic happiness, Uncle Bob calmly but definitively lifted the banner of promise keeping. It is not making ourselves overjoyed that makes us human, he indicated. Rather, faithfulness, monogamy, and the stubborn and steadfast love of another is what empowers us to flourish. The Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina has many marriages that have been prepared and repaired because Uncle Bob held consistently to this mantra.

It wasn't just couples that Uncle Bob sought to help, but also those fraught with scarcity. His work with Bread for the World underscored his concern for others to have the basic needs of food and sustenance. So much of that was behind the scenes, but it was passionate living out of his beliefs all the same.

A life of passion, a life of hope. I think it's altogether appropriate that one who lived his earthly days as a healer for others has now received his complete healing from the Great Physician, and one who has given wisdom to others has entered the presence of the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9).

Uncle Bob, thank you for a life well lived. And it's been humbling I was able to intersect with it.