Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Stewardship and Anxiety

The word from the fellowship hall was not good.

It's an old building, one built with loving amateur hands back when I was young enough to come up for a children's sermon.  It serves my little church well, in the way an old and well worn hammer still does the simple job for which it was made.  It's not fancy, because we're not fancy.  We need a part of our common house that we can tap for...well, anything.  We need a multi-use space, suitable for fellowship and celebrations, for meetings and as an offering to community.  It's as well made for donuts and coffee as it is for a room full of dancing, squealing poms.

It's a significant asset of our fellowship.

And it looks like the roof is failing.  That big rain from the first days of winter lit up the first signs of it.  Moisture, pooled on the tiles near the back wall.  The tell-tale signs of water damage where it had seeped into the drywall.  The hope, of course, that it would all magically clear itself up, was dashed as soon as the next rains came.  It hadn't just blown into one of the roof vents, or come it through a door left ajar.

It was the shingles, designed to last 20 years, finally giving up the ghost after over twice that.

The question now, for my church, is whether we patch, or just replace the whole roof.  It's time, whether we want it to be time or not.

There are churches that would struggle with this choice.  We'd need to fundraise.  We'd need to be in full on panic mode, or raiding funds that were meant for other things, or talking about going to the bank and taking out a loan.

But that's not how good stewardship works.  Care for the things we as a community hold in common is not something we should do anxiously, or without foresight.  It's just part of the way that we take care of the world we inhabit.  Good stewardship...over family finances, those of communities, or of nations...is not a creature of immediacy, of pressing out against the edges of what can be done.  It leaves space for the unanticipated, space to be a little less fearful about what the future will inevitably bring.

It's an attitude, and a way of life.

And so for the last seven years, my congregation has been spending less than we put into the common pot.  It means, now, that the roof can be repaired by writing a check.  No panic.  No anxiety.  No ringing the alarm klaxons and preaching sermon after sermon about how God loves a cheerful giver, so smile when you write that check, dagflabbit.

In those seven fat years, we've stored up for the lean times that inevitably come.  It's just wise living.

As we move into 2018, we continue to reap the benefits of that way of life. 

And, hopefully, the benefits of a nice dry fellowship hall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wha' Happened?

That we were all privy to John Podesta's emails and internal Clinton campaign documents was one of the most peculiar abominations of the 2016 election. 

How did we see those things?  They were stolen by Russian agents, fed to an organization that exists primarily to subvert the integrity of the United States, and then blithely regurgitated by a profit-driven press.

And I read them.  There were details in there that are still relevant.

One that struck me, because I bothered to read the emails that we...Jesus Mary and Joseph, why did the press do this...were given: The Clinton campaign helped give us Donald Trump.

Oh, not directly.  But because...like the similarly realpolitik Vladimir Putin...the Clinton campaign machine viewed him as the weakest, least competent, most defeatable Republican candidate.

And they needed the worst.

All of the polling during the campaign showed Clinton losing to every other Republican.  As the pollster-shamans read the monkey entrails of our culture, she lost to Cruz and to Rubio, to Kasich and to Bush and to...Jesus...there were so many.

She trailed all of them.  In every poll.

All but one.

That one was Trump.  The best polling showed she had a real shot against Trump, because, Lord have mercy.  What proud, decent American would vote for him?  I mean, really.

People who knew what they were doing and had reliable datasets suggested that she could best him...alone among the Republican candidates...by two percent or so.  It was consistent, solid, and replicable, as reliable as one of those European Model trend lines that we use to track the hurricanes battering our coastline.

What we know is that the Clinton campaign did everything in their power to raise the profile of the weakest and least competent candidate.  They actively responded to him, knowing that their engagement would inflame the Republican base, who had been taught to despise Clinton more than they valued competence and integrity and sanity itself.  By inflaming the base, you raise his profile, and by raising his profile, you increase the chances of getting the candidate you want to oppose.

In that, her campaign's steering efforts were successful.  The Clinton campaign got the opponent that they wanted.  And they beat him, in the popular vote, by precisely the margin the very best polling suggested.

So when the question is asked by the person for whom I voted in the last election: Wha' Happened?

The answer can be, legitimately: you got the opponent you wanted.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Many Voices

As I work my way through the brilliant, mischievous Screwtape Letters with my little class at my little church, I find myself encountering a repeated theme worth examining.

As Clive Staples Lewis would have us understand it, our God cares about individuality and personhood.  There's something about the uniqueness of persons that drives the Creator of the Universe to allow us to be distinct within ourselves, while still and at the same time yearning to be conformed to God.

It's one of the things that drives the demonic Screwtape simply batty.  He can't grasp how you can be part of something, and yet simultaneously maintain your identity as an individual.  In Hell, after all, the goal is for the stronger to devour the weaker, subjugating the weaker will to the more powerful, until everything is washed out by the grey controlling sameness of power.

But God...or the "Enemy," as Screwtape likes to call God...desires to light us up with unconditional love, yet with each of our souls turned in its own unique way to the service of love.

What, I'd found myself wondering, would that look like?  What image or metaphor supports that kind of diversity in unity?

In a recent evening in my household, conversation turned to sixteenth century British composer Thomas Tallis.  As much as I miss the bustle and clamor of my kids when they were tiny, I have to admit, it's also kind of cool that my offspring will suddenly start talking eagerly about sixteenth century British composers.

I love Tallis, and the piece in question was Spem in Alium, a choral work of astounding beauty and complexity.  It's a forty voice motet, which means that...from what is a remarkably simple beginning...the piece gradually adds parts until there are forty voices all going at the same time.

Meaning, not forty people divided into soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass sections.

A forty member choir.  Forty different voices.  Forty different parts, each distinct from the other, interweaving with one another.

It's both beautiful and blindingly complicated, as if our little fellowship were to gather on a Sunday, and there in the hymnal was your part...yours alone...to be sustained while the people on either side of you sang something different.

That might seem unattainable, but on a certain level, we're already doing it when we become part of a living church.

Each of us, in our own distinct way, trying to live in harmony with one another.  Each life, distinct, yet part of the same song, with harmonic interplay so complex it dizzies us with delight.

That, I think, is what Screwtape found so frustrating, and what it means for us to be both one in purpose and yet still very much ourselves.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Available at:
Your local independent bookseller
Barnes and Noble
and wherever books are sold.

A riveting and unexpected novel that questions whether a peaceful and nonviolent community can survive when civilization falls apart.
When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community.
Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?
David Williams’s debut novel is a thoroughly engrossing look into the closed world of the Amish, as well as a thought-provoking examination of “civilization” and what remains if the center cannot hold.
New York Times Book Review Editors Choice
In print September 10, 2017 / Online September 7, 2017
“This oddity of a novel (and sly parable for the threat of climate change) puts a clever spin on ‘prepper’ fiction . . .”

September 4, 2017
“This novel will stir your imagination. A discussion based on this book is likely to be lively, touching on root issues such as the role of community, technology and money, as well as violence, forgiveness and revenge. Because the novel features plain folk, the language and story are simple, deceptively so. But make no mistake, it will cause you to consider some complicated topics, such as whether or not the providence of God will be enough once the grid goes down.”

September 1, 2017
Positive Review
“A thoughtful, meditative novel that convincingly depicts the daily life of a community that is dedicated to simplicity, humility, and peace . . . Williams juxtaposes this community with a violent and broken society, and it is the fallen world that comes away looking strange or foreign by comparison.” 

September 2, 2017
Summary Review

In print September 3, 2017
“Intriguing . . . [Jacob’s] words are simple and, like a buggy-tugging horse, each pulls its weight. This stylistic staidness runs in satisfying counterpoint to the dramas unfolding . . .  an apt and original spin on the genre of ‘prepper fiction.’”

In print July 30, 2017
“In this beautifully written book, we are exposed to questions that we may never have even thought to ask.”

“It’s rare to find a debut novel as finely crafted as When the English Fall. This book drew me in with its first line — ‘I hold her, tight in my arms, and she screams,’ and kept me riveted long after I’d finished it. The open ending leaves room for a sequel, and I’d be glad to spend more time with this community and discover what’s next for it. But whether it’s a direct follow-up to this book or a different story entirely, you can bet I’ll be reading whatever Williams chooses to do next.”

Christian Science Monitor (online; see print coverage below)
July 27, 2018
“Contemplative . . . quietly told . . . but Williams creates an impressive sense of dread that builds. When the English Fall is thoughtful and the events are believable.”

Christian Science Monitor (print edition)
July 24, 2017
“10 Best Books” Roundup
“An unusually good post-apocalyptic novel.”

July 7, 2017
“Entrancing . . . the narrative voice is deceptively simple, lulling, holding, at times, the power of prayer.”

July 21, 2017
“I never realized I wanted a postapocalyptic Amish novel, but the premise is so perfect I can’t believe that it’s never been done before — or that someone did it so well on the first try. It’s a gorgeous, moving book that’s creepier than you might expect. Williams’ use of tension, suspense, and compression is masterful, calling to mind the distilled prose of Ron Rash. In the past decade, pop culture may have become oversaturated with postapocalyptic stories, but this one is fresh, unique and unforgettable . . . A quiet, brilliant little novel.”

The Christian Century (online and in print)
July 18, 2017
“Simple yet elegant . . . Williams strikes the right pitch in Jacob’s sensible prose and sly wit.”

WYPR Radio (Baltimore, MD)
July 26, 2017
On-air reading of the starred Kirkus review

Reviews Roundup
July 29, 2017

The Week
July 28, 2017
Ran Boston Globe review

Roundup: “Five Books Making News This Week”
August 8, 2017

August 16, 2017
Author interview
“A remarkable slice of apocalyptic fiction.”

Online July 19, 2017 (in print July 23)
“Clever . . . the totality of When the English Fall is surprisingly moving, and Jacob a sympathetic and compelling guide to a world that feels closer every day.”

July 23, 2017
“An important and remarkably affecting first novel.”

The Missourian (Washington, MO)
July 11, 2017
“Smart, subtle, and powerful . . .”

(Published in local newspapers throughout the country, including Savannah Morning NewsCharleston Express(Charleston, AR) Bristol Herald Courier, Quad-City Times, Daily JournalGlobe Gazette, Telegraph Herald,Lacrosse TribuneGoshen NewsRushville RepublicanMarco Eagle, Peninsula ClarionEagle Times, and others.)
July 10, 2017
“A post-Apocalyptic Amish novel? How does that work? (It works fine. Better than fine. It’s incredible). You’ll be blown away by the juxtaposition of serene beauty, mindfulness, prayer, and a dark urgent terribleness-to-come. (That works, too. Very much so). A stunner . . . You’ll love When the English Fall so much, you’ll need to share.”

Sun Prairie Star (Sun Prairie, WI)
August 7, 2017

The Swellesley Report (Wellesley, MA)
August 5, 2017

August 3, 2017

Interview feature
August 2, 2017

Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, WA)
August 23, 2017

July 11, 2017
“Best Books of July”
“Fascinating . . . Williams grants us access into a closed society, a reminder of how reliant the rest of us are on technology to sustain our way of life—and that even the most steadfast will struggle in the face of chaos. When the English Fall is a gripping story, with an ending that made me want to go back and read it all again…”

July 10, 2017
Adrian Liang / “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of July”
“A fascinating exploration of the corrosive effect of anger and the strength that can be found in holding true to one's beliefs, even if it leads to the harder path.” 

July 13, 2017
“Best Summer Reads Under 400 Pages” Roundup

July 14, 2017

June 28, 2017
Debut Novels Roundup

July 12, 2017
Author Interview + 2017 Debut Author Challenge

June 2, 2017
Summer books roundup

June 26, 2017
Summer books roundup

June 24, 2017
Summer books roundup
“Tense and utterly realistic.”

July 23, 2017
Author Q&A and event listing

LNP Media Group (Lancaster, PA)
July 11, 2017
Short feature

Ephrata Review (Ephrata, PA)
July 12, 2017
Event listing

July 7, 2017
July releases roundup

July 11, 2017

June 5, 2017
Summer books roundup

May 30, 2017
Summer books roundup

January 6, 2017
Brief review
“A fascinating debut.”

October 21, 2016
New sci-fi books roundup

June 2, 2017
Summary review

March 15, 2017

May 29, 2017
Brief review

July 21, 2017
“Perfect for contemplation or discussion . . . The bulk of the narrative raises many important questions about modern life, community, and personal responsibility and compassion, making it a more than worthwhile addition to the rapidly growing genre of post-apocalyptic literature.”

July 24, 2017
BookNotes contribution

July 6, 2017
“Contemplative and powerful . . . This book has changed the way I think and live – a true victory in the world of literary fiction.”

July 17, 2017
Author Q&A

July 3, 2017

July 7, 2017

August 4, 2017

A July 2017 Library Reads Selection (Also included in Shelf Awareness)
A July 2017 Indie Next Pick
July 2017 Kobo Best Book of the Month (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Horror category)
Trade Reviews and Author Endorsements
« “A standout among post-apocalyptic novels, as simply and perfectly crafted as an Amish quilt or table. Lyrical and weirdly believable.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

« “A quiet, ideas-focused dystopian novel that will stay with readers long after they have turned the final page.”
Library Journal, starred review

“When the English Fall takes its place in the landscape of post-collapse survivalist fiction as satisfyingly as a puzzle piece clicking into a gap. You'll read it and wonder how you never realized it was missing. Jacob's determination to remain true to his faith, his struggle to protect his family and aid his neighbors while chaos gathers around him, is both convincing and affecting, and gradually, without ever seeming to grasp for it, his humble, questing voice accrues a surprising power.”
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead

“[A] satisfying postapocalyptic novel . . . The unique spin draws readers into an alarmingly plausible story of contemporary civilization’s demise.”
Publishers Weekly

“Told in the quiet, simple prose of a quiet, pious man, this is an intriguing take on the dystopian novel.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Stories and Teaching

As Fall arrives, and school gets cranking again, our little church restarts its education program...and for the adults, that means diving back in to reading.

A couple of years back, our denomination decided that pastors should be called "Teaching Elders," which had historically been the title for the folks who got up and preached on Sunday.  This distinguished us from the "Ruling Elders," who did pretty much everything else to make the church go.  That decision didn't stick, because it confused people.  "A teachity what?  You do what?  Is that even a job? "

And so we went back to being Ministers...or just plain ol' "pastors," but the idea remained.  The job of the Presbyterian pastor is to preach and teach, and so I'm once again stepping up

The class for this Fall Semester at PPC?  A slow, sustained, six week reading of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  I'm a huge fan of Lewis.  I have been ever since I was young and wandering the green fields of Narnia in my imagination.  Although I really appreciate his essays and his reflections on the Christian life (Mere Christianity is brilliant, and A Grief Observed so powerfully poignant), it's his storytelling that really sets him apart as a teacher of the faith.

Screwtape is a fine example.  What Lewis is attempting in this book is nothing more than an exploration of the heart of human sinfulness.   Questions about the nature of truth, the ground of human resentments and angers, and our desire for power and control?  They're heavy, heavy stuff.  So heavy, in fact, that it'd be a little difficult getting human beings to wade through them.

But instead of just walloping us over the head with theology, Clive Staples Lewis gets creative.  He tells us a story, guiding us through the life and struggles of a young man whose life is being shaped by the inputs of his "guardian demon," an inexperienced young servant of darkness who's struggling to claim that soul for Hell.  We don't hear the voice of Wormwood...just the reactions and guidance of his Uncle Screwtape, an experienced senior demon who has risen high up in Hell's bureaucracy (because of course Hell has bureaucracy.)

What could have been tedious suddenly becomes mischievous, and by wrapping up some hard-hitting insights into humanity in an elegantly crafted story, Lewis finds a better way to teach.

As, or so I seem to recall, did Jesus.