I hit the road again this past week, covering a task force called Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) that is working to facilitate church plants along the 800-mile stretch of Interstate 29, from Kansas City to Winnipeg.
As a journalist, I’m always looking for a moment that defines a person, a movement or an event. On this particular trip, it occurred on Prospect Hill in Sioux City, Iowa.
Just as the rain let up on Wednesday morning, our bus pulled off I-29 in Sioux City and wound through a neighborhood toward Prospect Hill (where you can see into Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota). I was anxious to see the monument honoring the work of three Presbyterian missionaries named Rev. Sheldon Jackson, Rev. T. H. Cleland and Rev. J. C. Elliott who looked across the great expanse and prayed for “the great unchurched areas” on that very spot in 1869.
On Wednesday, nearly 150 years later, members of the HIS task force stood in that same spot and prayed a similar prayer.
“Lord, you called us to a purpose – to go and make disciples of all nations,” prayed Dr. Leo Endel, the executive director of the Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention. “And there are vast groups of people west of us, just like 150 years ago, that do not know your son as their Savior and you have brought us to this place today, not by accident, but by calling.”
A group of maybe 25 Southern Baptists joined Dr. Endel in prayer, standing on the shoulders of three Presbyterian missionaries who came before them. I sensed that heaven was applauding as kingdom work became front and center.
I’ll post a link to the article once it goes live on the newspaper’s website.
Speaking of links, I’ve been updating links to the Articles page here on my website and have come across several I hadn’t been aware of. Since I write for a newspaper within the Baptist Press network, I never know where my work will end up within that association of publications.
Here is an example. I wrote a story for “The Pathway” newspaper in Missouri recently about a vision tour that the Missouri Baptist Bikers Fellowship took of the I-29 corridor. Here’s a link to that story: Mo. Baptist Bikers Fellowship: ‘We need to overwhelm the north with our presence.’ That same article ended up on the Baptist Press website: Baptist bikers ‘spy out the land’ for ministry. And on Townhall.com: Baptist bikers ‘spy out the land’ for ministry.
I don’t have any news yet about the re-release date of my Christmas devotional for families, “The Experience of Christmas,” but I should have some soon. Also should be able to share the new cover with you.
As a freelance writer who has seen his pool of magazines and newspapers shrink over the past three years because of the public’s expectation of free online news, I’ve been watching a new crowdfunding startup for freelancer journalists called Beacon Reader, and I’m wondering if it will be the answer.
The model is pretty simple. Readers support one journalist they follow/enjoy with a $5.00 monthly subscription fee paid directly to Beacon Reader, and the reader gains access to everything that writer, and every other writer on the site, has written or will continue to write. Currently, the website says the company has 80 journalists in 30+ countries.
Beacon Reader does take a 30% cut of the $5.00 subscription fee – a portion of which is paid out in bonuses for the best performing articles. With that said, journalists keep all rights to their work, so this really is a new model. And articles are ad-free, which is a welcome change from the flurry of floating, blinking, sneaky, embedded, intrusive ads we often see on news websites.
Writers are guaranteed 70% of each subscription fee and are paid montly, which, assuming Beacon Reader keeps up their end of the bargain, is a real benefit for freelancers who have no control over when a check is going to be cut under the old model.
For this new model to really work, the process largely relies on journalists to reach out to readers they have already built relationships with – people who know and trust their work and are willing to support it.
Will that work?
The model has already successfully funded quite a few journalists on the site. One project raised nearly $4,000 to fund a journalist who is reporting on Vietnam’s “invisible children.” Another raised over $9,000 to support a journalist who wants to write about acidic oceans. Another project raised nearly $1,000 for a journalist who is writing about South Korean culture.
The Huffington Post is trying to raise $40,000 on the Beacon Reader site over the next three weeks to fund a journalist for one year to report about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri (to date, they have raised nearly $8,000).
Clearly some readers are willing to support journalists who write about topics they care about. But are there enough of those types of readers?
I just don’t know.
Here’s a recent video interview with co-founder, Adrian Sanders, about the business model. Regardless of whether you are a journalist, or a reader, I’d love for you to watch the video and then offer your opinion. If you are a freelance journalist, would you consider using the service? If you are a reader, would you support a journalist with $5.00 a month?
I was at a concert last Saturday night about an hour away from my home when the news broke about the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, so I still had Jana Kramer songs running through my mind when I opened Twitter early Sunday morning before going to sleep.
I could hardly believe what I was reading – NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed Ward, a 20-year-old sprint car driver, in an on-track incident. Ward was upset with Stewart about a racing incident, so he got out of his wrecked vehicle while the race was under caution to show Stewart his displeasure the next time the cars came around the track. Tragically, Stewart struck and killed him.
No details were available Saturday night about Stewart’s intentionality, or lack thereof, but it didn’t take long for fans to choose sides, which I didn’t understand. A video of the incident surfaced and it seemed to drive an even deeper divide. National news pundits picked up on the story and by Sunday afternoon, it was all over the place.
Ontario County sheriff Philip Povero has repeatedly issued statements saying the accident is under investigation, but that no criminal charges were pending at this point. On Monday, Povero said, “At this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behavior or conduct or any probable cause of a criminal act in this investigation.” He has since indicated that the investigation could take two weeks, or longer. It’s far more important to get the facts straight than it is to set an arbitrary timetable.
But that still hasn’t kept people from taking to Twitter to offer their opinions about Stewart’s intentionality, calling him a murderer – go ahead and search Twitter for “Tony Stewart” and “murder” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The truth is, none of us know what was going through Stewart’s mind as he made that lap under caution. Maybe he couldn’t see Ward and hit him accidentally. Maybe Stewart was trying to send Ward a message by getting close to him and he got closer than he intended. Or maybe the unthinkable happened. But referring to Stewart as a murderer without due process is a rush to judgment.
If you’ve followed my NASCAR writing over the years, then you’ll know I’m far from a Stewart apologist. He has inconsistent expectations from his competitors at times (screaming about opponents who block one week, and then wrecking half the field just a few weeks later while blocking). He is cocky, hot-headed and often shows a lack of respect for the print media (the same media who helps to spread the NASCAR gospel to the masses). But none of those traits make him a murder.
He’s also far more than just an abrasive personality.
In my NASCAR book, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ: Spiritual Lessons from the World of NASCAR, I include a section about Stewart's philanthropy. I tell a story about how he has helped long-time NASCAR driver Morgan Shepherd on numerous occasions.
Near the end of the 2011 season, Shepherd’s car was destroyed in an accident at Phoenix International Raceway. The aging veteran, who had limited sponsorship, had no idea how he would get the engine in shape for the next week, let alone put tires on the car (a set of tires in NASCAR costs roughly $2,000). He managed to repair the engine in time, and then Tony Stewart came calling, buying Shepherd two sets of tires so he could continue racing. It wasn’t the first time Stewart did that for Shepherd. It was Stewart’s way of honoring a driver who helped pave the way for the modern NASCAR era.
Stewart also has a foundation in which he raises funds to help care for children who have been diagnosed with critical or chronic illnesses, drivers who have been injured and at-risk animals. He won the 2010 NMPA Home Depot Humanitarian Award. USA Weekend once named him “Most Caring Athlete.” His “Prelude to the Dream” race has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity over the years. He has spent time at the Victory Junction Gang Camp and been part of the efforts of the Darrell Gwynn Foundation to give paralyzed people new wheelchairs. And from what I hear, that’s just a tip of the iceberg. He does much more of this type of work behind the scenes.
In other words, he’s not a coldhearted monster.
He does allow his emotions to get the best of him sometimes, and that may or may not have been the case last Saturday night. Only Tony knows. But until we have clear evidence that incriminates him, can we just let the legal process run its course? If you aren’t convinced you want to do so, then download the August 12 edition of the “Marty & McGee” podcast. Both of these journalists have been around the sport a long time, and they are both calling for the same thing.
Meanwhile, let’s pray for the Ward family. They buried their loved one Thursday and are hurting beyond words at this very moment.
I have some exciting news to share with you. I signed a contract last week with Bold Vision Books to re-release my Christmas devotional book, “The Experience of Christmas.” It’ll be a slightly updated version from the one that originally appeared in print from Barbour Publishing in 2006. The even better news is, Bold Vision Books plans to release it this year, in time for the Christmas season. It will be available in paperback as well as e-book on all of the major e-reader platforms. Once we’ve decided on a cover, I’ll post it here.
If you are a baseball fan, you’ll be interested in this next bit of news – I wrote a story for SB Nation’s Minor League Ball site about the Netflix original documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” The documentary is about a group of unlikely (some say they were misfits) guys who played for the independent Class-A Portland Mavericks in the 1970s. Bing Russell, Kurt Russell's father, owned and operated the team. One of the players, Dan Parma, contacted me to share some of his stories from his playing days, and that article just went up on MinorLeagueBall.com. Here’s a sneak peek – he tells a story about hitching a ride to a game one night after the team bus caught on fire and he ended up in the back of a pickup truck with chickens.
I’ve been contemplating a response to the Tony Stewart – Kevin Ward, Jr. tragedy that I plan to post here in the next day or so. This news story goes far beyond sports so even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ve probably heard about it, and maybe even have been voicing an opinion about it. I hope you’ll give me an opportunity to be one of the many voices you consider as this story unfolds.
After nearly a week on the road, I’m back in my home office today.
Last Wednesday, I traveled to the Ozarks for a retreat and had a great time. I’m always looking for a good story, and I found one. The hotel we were staying in was built by Stan Musial in 1985, so I wrote a story about it that ended up on SB Nation’s Minor League Ball website.
While I was at the hotel, I had an interesting experience that reminded me I wasn’t in Nebraska anymore. The fire alarm went off in my room one morning while I was in the shower. I got out, wrapped a towel around myself, and called the front desk.
Here's our conversation:
Me: This is room #. My fire alarm is going off.
Desk: Did you just get out of the shower?
Me: Yes. [Apparently the steam from the shower sets the fire alarm off frequently.]
Desk: I'm not showing any threat down here. Open the slaughter.
Me: Open the slaughter?
Desk: Yes, open the slaughter.
Me: What's a slaughter?
Desk: The door to your room.
Me: You want me to open the door to my room?
Five minutes later, I realized he was telling me to open the sliding glass door that opens to my deck. Apparently they are called "sliders" in that part of the country, but it was the accent that really got me.
Speaking of Missouri, The Pathway newspaper in Jefferson City published a story I wrote for them about the Heartland Interstate Strategy’s planned late August bus tour of the I-29 corridor that runs from Kansas City to Winnipeg. The task force plans to facilitate church plants up and down the corridor and the bus tour is the first active step.
After the retreat, I visited family in the St. Louis area. My three-year-old nephew was full of questions.
"Now, who are you again?"
"Why do you walk so slow?"
"You don't have any games on your iPhone?"
The answers to the questions, in order:
Because I am old.
No. I am old.
As I traveled home on Monday, I saw a storefront sign that made me wonder if I was two days late for a meeting. How could I not take a picture?