A few weeks ago, I had to do one of the hardest, saddest tasks of my professional career.
I printed a list of all the editors who work for The High Calling with a thumbnail picture of each editor’s face. I emailed each of them and asked when would be a good time to call. When the time came, I called.
“The High Calling is changing,” I told each one, each friend. “Starting September 1, 2015, we’re ending our contracts with all of the current, part-time editors.”
The first High Calling radio spots began in 1999. In 2007 the site began an experiment in online hospitality. Soon, we had a dozen part-time editors helping us spread the love with comments, links, reprints, and contracts for freelance authors. This team helped produce more than four thousand articles about the integration of faith and work with enough readers to fill a megachurch every Sunday for a year.
Together, we created a vibrant, healthy online community. Writers and readers and editors even started gathering together in person at conferences and retreats around the United States. Every time we met in person, we realized that flesh and blood engagement extended virtual hospitality to a whole new level.
In fact, the most exciting stories the editors tell about their work online involve encounters with readers offline. When people travel, they meet up with friends from The High Calling, grabbing lunch or coffee. Readers would arrange to attend the same conferences in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nebraska. Paradoxically, the virtual work of The High Calling has been a catalyst in the real word, inspiring real flesh and blood connections.
Stop Chasing Digital Ghosts
Flesh and blood. That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? Shakespeare used it four hundred years ago in the mouth of a stupid servant named Dull. Dull enters the Duke’s palace with a message for the Duke and refuses to deliver his message until he could see the Duke’s “own person in flesh and blood.” The dull servant believes he can’t trust that his message will reach its intended audience unless he delivers it in person.
At The High Calling, we haven’t been dull. We have faith that each number in our analytics is a real flesh and blood person. As a group, you open emails. You click on articles. We have even measured anonymous scrolling data to see if people were reading.
I’ll be honest, our reader data always felt like chasing ghosts. Outside of direct interactions through email or comments, I could list on one page the number of people I met in flesh and blood. But the community was real, we told ourselves.
Community is an abstract concept that is different from any particular collection of people. We talk about community as if it is a concrete thing, but it is just an idea that can take many forms. A particular team of editors is made up of specific, real, physical entities. When those editors are in the same room, we can talk about the community we experience, and those of us in the room understand this community to be a specific gathering of specific people. As a Christian, I want community with other Christians across the globe, but this desire is hubris apart from Christ. Outside of God’s presence, my own desire for omnipresence with the readers of The High Calling is ridiculous. My tiny brain can’t handle it.
The Sacredness of Being Present in the Physical World
In the past, we have imagined The High Calling as a destination for people. We discussed the homepage as if it were a foyer to welcome folks into our community. We thought of your time on our website as time you spent “being there.”
Martin Heidegger wrote about the idea of “being there” in his foundational philosophical work Being and Time. Philip Sheldrake summarizes the concept in his book Spaces for the Sacred:
Heidegger insisted that "place is the house of being." … A "person" for Heidegger was Dasein, or "being-there." In other words to be a person is literally "to be there," to be in a particular place.
For years, we thought of The High Calling as a digital space for the sacred, at times even as a literal place in moments of wanting to build something lasting. But in fact, The High Calling isn’t a place at all, so much as a collection of words and images that can be brought into a place.
A reader isn’t present on The High Calling so much as she is present at her table in the morning while she reads the Daily Reflection. A guest writer isn’t present on the site when his work is published. Rather, he is present in his office where he composes the words at a keyboard or on a pad of paper.
What matters are the actual places where articles from The High Calling come to life in the minds and hearts of our readers—homes, small groups, pulpits, classrooms, offices, commuter trains. Physical places.
A Blessing to You across the Digital Void
Reader, think about where you are right now. We are connected in a sense. My ideas and words are flowing forward in time to when you will read them. They are translated into 0s and 1s and transported via cables to whatever screen you are viewing right now in whatever country you may be viewing it. In the past, we have allowed ourselves at The High Calling to become infatuated with sending our ideas out through time and space with new technologies. But the delivery of an idea to you is much less important than where you are right now.
So much good has come from this team, this virtual community. Now, we hope to help you engage even more in the community where you live.
This has been a hard realization. It breaks my heart to disband the editors after eight wonderful years serving together. There were tears. There was anger. I am still working through the stages of grief.
The Daily Reflections and Weekly Calling WILL continue to come your way after August 2015. Thank you for reading! We will continue to connect with you through comments and social media. But we are focused on a new purpose—to help you be present with God and others in your physical location.
Wherever you are, be there. This is the purpose of human beings. Love your neighbors by being present with them. Virtual presence matters as a catalyst to physical presence. So go ahead! Use Facebook and email to read the latest news or the latest devotions and reflections from The High Calling, and then invite your neighbors onto your porch, invite them to your church, invite them over for a cup of coffee. This is how God loved us, not being content with words sent through prophets on scrolls but coming down to earth to be present in flesh and blood. Let us return our love to God in the same, simple way, by being present and grateful in the created world when and where he has placed us.
We are people of flesh and blood. God help us spend more time engaging with each other in flesh and blood.
We welcome your comments and thoughts here, and we invite you back to The High Calling at the end of August to tell your stories and help us celebrate the work of the editors.