Category Archives: Editors Extra

How to Read Well

Faith Today senior editor Bill Fledderus was a keynote speaker at the recent Write Canada conference held in Toronto. In this excerpt from his speech, he offers advice on reading well.

Faith Today senior editor Bill Fledderus reads to learn.
Faith Today senior editor Bill Fledderus reads to learn.

Samuel Johnson, the great English dictionary writer of the 1700s, once wrote: “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading; in order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

Productive reading is strategic. It involves making a plan of what to read and then learning from what you read.

I’ve heard it said that good quality writing deserves to be read three times: the first for enjoyment, the second for analysis and the third a more sophisticated level of enjoyment that admires both the writer’s successes and how they are achieved.

So maybe your challenge, as you seek to develop your writing gift, is to be more intentional about your reading, to be sure you mix in reading from other centuries, other genres, other countries, translated works from other languages, how-to books on particular kinds of writing, and to make sure you reflect on what you read and write down those reflections.

Often we have misguided prejudices against certain types of reading. “Poetry,” you might say, “I’ve tried it and it’s not for me.”

My comeback here is that there are so many kinds of poetry, if you look hard enough (and it’s not really hard anymore thanks to Google), you are bound to find a kind of poetry you can appreciate.

It can be an uncomfortable challenge to change our reading habits. But reading to become a better thinker and writer, to help develop our gifts, means reading in a wide variety of genres and forms, regularly reading stuff that challenges us instead of just reading what is comfortable and entertaining and confirms our own habits and values.

The positive side to reading outside our comfort zone is that it can improve our thinking and your writing. If the greatest crime in writing is boring your readers, then the best counter advice is to incorporate unexpected writing elements from other genres.

Through my work as a journalism editor and university lecturer, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of  genres that weren’t my first choice.

My first love when it came to reading (as a teenager) was sci-fi and fantasy fiction. I’m not sure I would ever have woken up to the joy of poetry if I hadn’t been introduced to it in university and then later needed to work through a lot of it in order to teach it. If I hadn’t spent so many years working in journalism, I don’t think my skills for writing or editing in other genres would be as effective, either.

Working in these “second-choice” genres has made me realize the narrowness of my first love and made me a better writer and reader, and they’ll do the same for you.

Reading to be a better thinker and writer also means reading as a student, to figure out what a writer is doing and more importantly how she does it. It requires reading things more than once, something that our society suggests is a waste of time and to be avoided at all costs.

Reading from a Christian perspective will lead you to recognize  Kingdom values and, more frequently, their absence in the world around you. Maybe the result on your writing will be a nudge to incorporate issues of injustice, whether that be writing letters to the editor or straightforward journalism, or perhaps integrating justice concerns into your fiction and poetry, as Jesus did with his parables.

I am no stellar example of reading and writing widely and including Kingdom values, and so I bring this challenge to you humbly, as an invitation, not with a wagging finger.

When I was a teenager, I was a textbook example of undisciplined, narrow reading. The Bible was probably the only book published before my birth that I knew somewhat well. It wasn’t until university that I raised my aim higher than finishing all the sci-fi and fantasy books available in my local library. Growing up schooled in works of great literature, and in how to read intentionally with the objective of learning, was not my experience.

But I have found that it’s never too late to start!

The latest Faith Today features “Why Christian Classics Matter.” Read it here online. Every issue has a book reviews section that can give you some great leads on worthwhile reading.

How Sweet Christian Community is, Even Short-term

by Karen Stiller

There is so much to write about from my just-finished trip to Cambodia. I was gone for almost two weeks — and on planes for almost two days on the way back — with Samaritan’s Purse, accompanying a Water for Kids Trip.

Members of the team from across Canada and across generations pray with school staff in Cambodia
Members of the team from across Canada and across generations pray with school staff in Cambodia

I will be working on a story for Faith Today about the trip and the work we did building filters to provide clean water to school children in rural Cambodia. My task in the next few days is to sit down with my journal and a highlighter and discover the story that is there, already forming in my now worn-out red notebook. I will listen to the interviews I recorded on my iPhone on jiggly bus rides and under the most intense sun I have ever stood under. I’ll flip through my pictures yet again, marvelling at how beautiful the children were, and how ready and open to make friends.

But what I am thinking about today, two days home, is how sweet it is to be in Christian community. We experienced the warmth of fellowship on a few levels. We were a cross-Canadian/trans-denominational/intergenerational  group. We came from Nova Scotia to B.C., and spanned the years from 18 to early 60s. We made friends quickly, as we tentatively shared our stories in the departure lounge in B.C., waiting to board a flight to Shanghai. It seemed like a nice group then, and then things just got better.

We built, explored, worshipped, laughed, cried, sweated, shared, taught, learned, sang, prayed and ate a lot of rice together. And then sweated some more. And then ate some more rice. And sweated.

It was amazing to see the Church in Cambodia and join in worship and devotional times with Samaritan’s Purse local staff and with local churches.

It was wonderful to experience once again the magic of a short, intense trip in creating deep community. Yes, it is short-lived community, but short lives are good lives too.

Sometimes you do just need to add water and stir to make something rich and delicious.  I had this great big sense, once again, of being part of a great big Church. How sweet it is.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor with Faith Today. Watch for the story of the Cambodia trip in an upcoming issue. 

Really Inspiring Ideas

By Craig Macartney

As a Christian journalist, my head is always in the news. Whether I’m scanning the latest headlines, interviewing contacts or working my network, looking for potential stories, I’m immersed in the latest events. Truth be told, I’m a bit neurotic about it – I even skim through headlines when I’m up feeding my four-month-old at 3 AM.Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 12.27.02 PM

The trouble is that for a story to make the news it generally has to be sensational and most of the time that means the latest tragedies. Reading accounts from the earthquake in Nepal to the latest Middle Eastern civil war, or details of the next shooting or terror attack to take place, it’s easy to get bogged down in discouragement. The symptoms of the Genesis 3 Fall are everywhere; something the news never lets you forget.

Writing Christian news sometimes proves to be a powerful antidote. I get to speak to influential leaders across the country and hear first-hand how God is moving. Other times, however, writing from a Christian perspective means sharing stories of tremendous suffering, persecution, or researching the horrors of abortion and human trafficking.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to write Inspiring Ideas for Faith Today. The name says it all – it’s all about sharing encouraging ideas from Churches across the country.

My first month, I scrambled to find ideas, making cold-calls to churches from coast to coast. It wasn’t until after sending it off that I really found my groove, and realized how great this new project was.

I started a running list on my phone of every time I came across a church group with a creative outreach, innovative solution, or a story of hope. As my deadline approached I had more than enough and my list was still growing.

I stumbled into the best part of the job by mistake. I was carrying that list with me everywhere, so I could add ideas I came across before I forgot, but after a hard day at work, it’s amazing the boost you can get from by flipping open your phone and scanning such a list. There’s even a verse for that: Philippians 4:8 exhorts us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble…whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” and that’s what I found myself doing.

Sitting on the crowded bus, I was deep in thought, working through the best way to concisely share encouraging story after encouraging story.

In a world overcome by evil, so in need of The Saviour, I feel blessed to be able to spend part of my day sharing a few simple stories of victory and hope. In God’s grace, I stumbled into an accidental attitude adjustment and now I get to do a small part in counteracting the negativity that saturates today’s news – and that’s an inspiring idea.

Craig Macartney is a Canadian journalist and contributor to Faith Today. Find out about our latest subscription offer here. Read more Inspiring Ideas here. 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

By Karen Stiller

This Friday, Faith Today has a unique opportunity to visit the work in the field of one of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s affiliates, Samaritan’s Purse.

School children will have access to a dependable source of clean, safe water.
School children will have access to a dependable source of clean, safe water.

I am joining a team of other Canadian volunteers to travel to Cambodia on a Water for Kids project. We will be camping out — literally camping out (and that means tents) — at a school where we will install water filters paid for by the team itself. Each of these specially adapted filters can meet the U.N.-established daily water needs of about 250 children.

The ingenious BioSand filters are used by many organizations around the world, to provide low-tech solutions to bad water in communities. And it is a Canadian-made solution (invented by retired University of Calgary professor Dr. David Manz) adapted from ancient ways of cleaning water using sand and other natural materials.

In Cambodia, Samaritan’s Purse Canada has partnered with a number of local organizations to build and install more than 122,000 BioSand Water Filters since 1999.

Our team will also be working with school-children to have some fun and educational opportunities. Hint: I’m buying face paint later today to take along. We will also witness some of the work to fight human trafficking that Samaritan’s Purse does in Cambodia, a country tragically known for its high rates in trafficking.
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What the Best of Christian Press Awards Really Mean

In the Champagne meeting room of the “can’t get much more downtown than this” Novotel Toronto Centre, just a stroll away from the historic Union Station, an unusual awards ceremony unfolded last Friday evening.

Christian Courier Editor-in-Chief Angela Reitsma Bick with Ian Adnams, outgoing president of the Canadian Church press. A Christian Courier story won one of two A.C. Forrest Memorial Awards for excellent in religious journalism at this year's awards.
Christian Courier editor-in-chief Angela Reitsma Bick with Ian Adnams, outgoing president of the Canadian Church Press. A Christian Courier story won one of two A.C. Forrest Memorial Awards for excellence in religious journalism at this year’s awards.

It was the 2014 Best of the Christian Press Awards, the celebratory ending to the two day meeting that proceeded it: a coming together of members of the Canadian Church Press and the Associated Church Press for workshops, networking and business. The gathering was about 100 journalists, writers and editors strong, representing magazines, newspapers and websites throughout North America.
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Happy Easter

As we enter Easter,  Faith Today gathered a handful of quotes for your reflection on this weekend of somber remembrance and joyful celebration. 1850689MidRes

“And as he rose from the dead he triumphed over all the bad and ugly things in this world — like crosses and guns and bombs — and things like violence, murder, hatred, racism, and all the stuff that destroys life. The promise of Easter is that after the world went dark on that Friday dripping with blood, the sun will rise again.” -Shane Claiborne, “Death Be  Not Proud: The Easter Gospel of Non-Violence

“The first explosion brings him out of the tomb. Wow. “My Lord and my God.” The next one, the Big One, will bring us all out. And it will rearrange the entire topography of the world: spiritual, political, medical, ecological, aesthetic—you name it. The Lamb-become-Lion will toss away the crown of thorns for a crown of light, and true religion and true justice will reign in him forever. Quite a weekend, this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Happy Easter. Not what they might appear to be. Nor is Jesus quite what he appears to be. Thank God.” – John Stackhouse, “The Subversiveness of Easter

“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.” – John R.W. Stott

“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”
– N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

“Left to my own devices, I’d probably skip Good Friday. But I suspect that if I did, Easter morning would become increasingly hollow. I’d forget how much my salvation cost.” – Carolyn Arends, “What’s So Good About Good Friday?

“From the resurrection of Christ a new and purifying wind can blow into the present world. If a few human beings would really believe this and would let themselves be moved by this in their earthly behavior, much would change. To live from resurrection – that indeed is the meaning of Easter.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Mystery of Easter. 

“Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity. Wherever you go, ask God for wisdom on how to get that Gospel in, even in the toughest situations of life.” – Ravi Zacharias

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.'” – Billy Graham

“The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the Crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. This is their comfort, or rather, he is their comfort, their comforter (cf. Luke 2;25) This alien community is comforted by the cross. It is comforted in that it is thrust out to the place where the comforter of Israel is waiting. Thus it finds its true home with the crucified Lord, here and in eternity.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship.

My Difficult And Rich Experience Being A Pro-Life Campus Activist

by Karen Stiller

A Canadian university  campus just might be one of the most difficult  places to be actively pro-life. We’ve all heard the disturbing reports of pro-life groups being shut down by totalitarian-style student unions, of displays ripped to shreds, of cancelled events and banned speakers.1803098MidRes

As we gather  testimonials for a fascinating spread in our upcoming May/June Faith Today from students across the country who are actively pro-life on campus,  the years fall away and I’m back at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

It was 1989 -1990, the last two years of my undergraduate degree when I was swept into that city’s pro-life movement. The heat had risen because a Morgentaler clinic opened up. Pro-life activists in Halifax were galvanized for action.

I was new to being pro-life (in fact, had been just the opposite for many years). I was compelled to change my position because of my newly-committed life as a Christ-follower.  I could no longer reconcile abortion and its tragic lack of imagination as a solution for women and their children, with the compassionate Christ I now followed.

I went from being ardently pro-choice to picketing outside a clinic on the other side. How I hated that experience of picketing, which was the experience of being hated by those who disagreed.

Things accelerated on campus.

My boyfriend and I (now husband for 25 years) started Students for Life, a pro-life group at Dalhousie. Our posters (before they were ripped off the walls of course) attracted a motley crew who met together weekly to plot strategy. Our activism consisted mostly of information tables and posters. We used material from Feminists for Life because we thought it had the best intellectual appeal.
Continue reading My Difficult And Rich Experience Being A Pro-Life Campus Activist

The Power of Good Stories Well Told

By Karen Stiller

Last night I sat in a packed movie theatre in Oshawa watching The Drop Boxdrop_box

It is, of course, the inspiring story of Pastor Lee Jong-Rak who installs a dropbox for unwanted babies in the outside wall of his Seoul home. The little compartment is lined with a blanket, equipped with a warming light bulb and can be opened from outside the home — to deposit baby, sometimes with umbilical cord still attached — and  from inside the home to a bittersweet welcome. Bitter because no one is happy when a baby is abandoned. Sweet because the first thing Pastor Lee does is hold the child closely and thank God for the miracle in his hands.

There is a red glowing button that triggers a doorbell to alert Pastor Lee and his family (including at the time of filming about 15 children, many of them disabled) that someone new is about to enter this chaotic, messy, drooling, happy family.

I was struck with the expected things: the selflessness of the Pastor, his wife, daughter and the children who embrace the presence of each other. The value of “imperfect life” as seen in the severe handicap of the Pastor’s own son, a heartbreak that clearly broke the Pastor’s heart completely open, preparing it to receive what was to come: one after another after another less than perfect and less than wanted child, here perfectly loved, fully wanted.
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2014: A Good Year for Faith Today and Christian Journalism

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We’re not saying we’re going to win. We just think our writers our winners!

Yes, the Oscars have rolled up the red carpet, but for Canadian Christian publications, it’s awards season. No statues of golden men await, but responding to the calls for entries for the Canadian Church Press awards, as well as the Write Canada awards, does give us the opportunity to dig through the past year’s magazines and find what we think was the best of the best.

We are just finalizing our choices, but so far, we’re narrowing in on selections like Arthur Boer’s excellent cover story on reclaiming our lives from being so very busy and questioning the clobbering our spirits can take from so much technology. “What happens to you and me, to our hearts, to our own compassion, when we live in a nonstop, 24/7 world of demands and more demands? When we are bombarded with messages that we need to multitask and get more done? The rapid pace of our lives is one of the most pressing spiritual challenges to Christian life today,” writes Boers.

Then, there was Mark Buchanan’s thoughtful essay with the intriguing title: “I’ve been meaning to tell you this: Confessions of an ex-pastor.”  Here’s a sample of what Mark wrote: “And then it became startlingly clear. The church hadn’t failed me. I had failed the church. I had not fully lived up to my calling. So these five confessions are exactly that – admissions of failure, cathartic for me, and perhaps helpful for you.” We’re considering entering that piece for its crisp creative design as well.

An article that told the story of soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder might make our short list : “This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide – more than 800,000 slaughtered in one of the ugliest bruises on our world’s heart. Back in 1994, many of us couldn’t even bear to watch an entire story about it on The National. It could give you a nightmare and leave a bad taste in your mouth for days to come. Imagine being there.”

Continue reading 2014: A Good Year for Faith Today and Christian Journalism

Awkward Interview Moments

So there I sat in a little cozy room at the Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto, chatting to Franklin Graham and his entourage about Eliza Doolittle. Yes, Eliza Doolittle.

Part of my very sophisticated pre-interview warm up strategy involves small talk. Small talk is hard with Franklin Graham. I was trying to relax myself primarily. This straight shooting Southern guy who I’m sure has been interviewed by a million people, did not seem in need of relaxation. But as I set up,  I explained how I would be taping the interview using an iPhone app I had learned about from a journalist, Eliza Doolittle, who had travelled with Graham to South Sudan. I had heard her speak and asked her about the app. And now I use it. (And isn’t that the most amazing coincidence, I chortled).
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