Spoiled Rotten: When Work and Play Meet

Playing in the Frio Canyon. Thanks for the photo, Jennifer.
In the sweltering summer of 1998, I spent nine weeks being trained to work in campus ministry. We lodged in air conditionless university housing and Julie and I were poor enough to cry when she accidentally deposited $20 in the bus meter one afternoon. That was money for a fan to make the stifling nights bearable, and the machine gave no change. Quite a tax on a $1.35 fare.

I don’t remember sleeping much that summer anyway – my thoughts turning toward class and books and late night conversations with veteran colleagues. I was 24 years old and kept awake by fresh ideas about the importance of work, film discussions on truth and art, and stimulating dialogue with agnostics on campus. As far as I had known, work was worldly and done to make ministry possible. And culture was only acceptable if it pointed conspicuously toward heaven. But something new was happening in me. Each day that my mind raveled and unraveled, the summer paid out.

That was twelve years ago and I’m still receiving dividends.

Last week’s trip to Texas bears witness to this fact. As you may know, I belong to a network called High Calling Blogs. It is an online community of more than a thousand people, focused (some more than others) on the idea that God cares about everything we do. Our families matter, of course. Faith and how it’s lived out matter, too. But so do work and art and music and cooking and how we let employees go. Faithfulness in all areas of life is a bedrock belief of my own workplace - the Coalition for Christian Outreach - and High Calling Blogs shouts the same from one modem to the next.

First lunch together. Thanks for the pic, Deidra.
Last week I spent five days with 15 members of this usually virtual community. We are the writers, editors and photographers behind the project and none of our arms had to be twisted to attend a retreat at the beautiful Laity Lodge. Who wouldn’t want a writing workshop with Lauren Winner or to worship with Ashley Cleveland or canoe along the Frio River canyon and hike with pilgrim and poet, Scott Cairns?

Because of that formative summer long ago, I started this work-honoring advertising blog and soon after met Marcus Goodyear – a poet, zombie fan and mastermind behind the network. He welcomed me warmly. Then I met L.L. Barkat – a playful soul and author of Stone Crossings. They are two of the 15 and the ones I've known the longest and best. (We spent the past two years at Jubilee together.)

I can’t remember the exact order of introductions thereafter, but I met each of the following as we gradually entered this community. I encourage you to read on. They are good folks, inspirational followers of Christ, and now friends. If you blog, or even if you don’t, you’ll want to meet them, too.

Here is the High Calling Team. Click on the names to visit their personal blogs:

Bradley Moore is an executive with a keen eye for living out faith at work. He is, in fact, our work editor. My prediction? He’ll be a household business name within the next decade. Brad tells it straight and has been featured several times at Christianity Today’s FaithInTheWorkplace.com.

Jennifer Dukes-Lee is a contributing editor whose family makes a mean chocolate-covered soy nut. I ate them by the handful (Thank you!). You might assume that the former chief political correspondent for the Des Moines Register would be pushy and cold, but Jennifer’s big heart adds a remarkably compassionate dimension. You’ll see this clearly on her blog and in the posts she writes a couple of times each month.  

David Rupert and horses don’t get along. He works for the U.S. Postal Service though he may not have made a good Pony Express rider. David writes with a consistent voice about work and faith and he highlights noteworthy blogs. A very funny man with a complement of sincerity, I enjoyed rooming with him in Texas.

Gordon Atkinson is best known as Real Live Preacher, a web name he created in the stone age of blogging. (Did I even know there was internet in 2002?) He has a massive following, mostly of folks who admire transparent honesty. Gordon says and asks what others fear and often does this through great story-telling. Founding Editor is a good title for him since his napkin sketching started this brainchild long before it took on its current shape.

Talking with Ann Kroeker was like talking with a sister. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that, especially since I like all of my sisters. She’s got humor, passion and a commitment to the family. Fittingly, she’s our family editor and seems to attract parents from all over.

I met Laura Boggess while leading a book discussion at High Calling Blogs in the summer of 2009. With a gentle southern accent to match her charm, she welcomes readers with hospitality and intellect. She's in the middle of writing a book series for young adults and she runs our High Calling book club every Monday.   

Glynn Young defines reliability. A growing poet, Glynn acts as a contributing editor, following many blogs in the network. Glynn is an award-winning speech writer and has a quiet depth about him. He also edits TweetSpeak Poetry. (Go try it out!)

The enigmatic Ann Voskamp fascinates me. You never know what you’ll get, but she can talk tractors, health care, geography and spirituality with equal adeptness and humility. Like Glynn, she is a contributing editor. Ann is the wife of a diligent farmer and the mother of six children. Her following rivals that of Gordon, and is soon to grow even larger with One Thousand Gifts coming this January. Yet she remains quietly behind the scenes, letting God get the glory, as you'll see here

Claire Burge is our photo editor and the youngest of the bunch. Not only does she inspire the community with stunning photography, she also writes a monthly piece for me that invites camera owners to try their hand at new picture-taking techniques. Claire is originally from south Africa and joined us from Ireland. She is beyond her years.

Dan King is BibleDude. Maybe it's from living on the Florida coast that he loves all things "Awesome!", but Dan's exuberance plays itself out as our very influential social media editor. He and I are lightheartedly competitive with each other. I won't say who's winning.  

I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person who lives in Nebraska. Now I have and the whole state is now on the map for me. Deidra Riggs is a pastor’s wife, and a contributing editor for us as well as for (in)courage. She let me try on her glasses which, if I can call this a claim to fame, began a mini viral craze

Cheryl Smith once experienced fame when her facebook image got accidently pulled into a singles ad. It not only crashed her website, but made news all over the world. She is one of two welcome editors. If you were to join the network, you’d have a 50% chance of meeting her. No, guys, she’s not actually single, but she does send a friendly note.

Dena Dyer is relatively new to the club. She shares the role of welcoming editor with Cheryl. Dena has written several books and is currently working on a novel. Did I mention that she loves to laugh?

I find it quite valuable to stumble upon a movement (Can I call it that?) like this, especially since its aims are so similar to those of the CCO. I look forward to the work we can do together as a team and as related organizations as we aspire toward faithfulness. Pray for our work, will you?

Big News

[Updated on 10/12/10] On October 7, 2010, High Calling Blogs merged with The High Calling to form the new and redesigned site, TheHighCalling.org. As a top 100 Christian website, this was no small matter. Team leaders Marcus Goodyear, L.L. Barkat and Gordon Atkinson have been busy polishing and purging to make it a great place. Stop over and check out the new digs, and say hello to my friends along the way.  


David Rupert October 6, 2010 at 10:10 PM  

I notice that canoe grin is one of pure victory. In your face, dude-man!

Sam Van Eman October 6, 2010 at 10:20 PM  

That noticeable, huh? Ah, victory.

Laura October 6, 2010 at 10:21 PM  

I'm just all giddy seeing everyone here again. What a treat. How about a re-treat?

And, oh yeah. Sam. You are taller than I thought you'd be.

Kathleen Overby October 6, 2010 at 10:27 PM  

A league of extraordinairy folks - all who have given me hope and encouragement - when I needed it most. May I say thank you for the hen scratch on that napkin that started all this blessing?

Sam Van Eman October 6, 2010 at 10:30 PM  

We'll have to talk Marcus into it.

Sam Van Eman October 6, 2010 at 10:34 PM  

Kathleen, it's remarkable how little public credit Gordon takes. It's like he leaves all that credit laying around on the table. If only I could figure out a way to take it. Ha! Maybe I'm just intrigued by his humility.

Yes, I'm thankful, too.

Real Live Preacher October 6, 2010 at 10:41 PM  

Sam, it was really great getting to know you. I was surprised by how playful you are! I bet you're a great dad.


Glynn October 6, 2010 at 10:50 PM  

You didn't say too much about the other member of the staff, you know, the guy who ate family style at La Fogata in San Antonio?

I think he was the same guy who put his hand on my shoulder at one point and said, are you doing OK? I said sure. But actually, I wasn't. And somehow he knew.

Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience October 6, 2010 at 10:55 PM  

It was all too short.

No small matter, what you've done here, Sam... Thank you.

I pray there is an again...

L.L. Barkat October 6, 2010 at 10:55 PM  

Sam, I'm so impressed with this post! You've described everyone just right.

Love the pics too.

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus October 6, 2010 at 11:15 PM  

Hey, who let that Dukes Lee character in with all these fine people?

(Humbled, truly.)

And, Sam? What a joy to meet you. Your descriptions, too, are spot-on.

Dena Dyer October 6, 2010 at 11:20 PM  

Spoiled rotten about says it, Sam. That's exactly how I felt to be on the retreat, and on the HCB staff. Thanks for the link and for our talk at dinner on the last night of the retreat. I felt heard. :)

Bradley J Moore October 7, 2010 at 8:08 AM  

Sam, what a beautiful round up! Great summaries- I read it like I was going through a photo album, lingering over each image. And thanks so much for your great vision of my future writing. It was so much fun being together for a while

Cheryl Smith October 7, 2010 at 9:36 AM  

You grabbed me with emotion - the $20 tax, and reminded me of similar tears in my own story. And then, the photos and the telling. I'm full.

Marcus Goodyear October 7, 2010 at 9:48 AM  

There's no talking anyone into anything. Re-treat is simply on the table for us. Not sure exactly what that will look like. Not sure exactly how we can spread the joy even wider. But I will definitely ask with great passion.

And the new site goes live TODAY!

Sam Van Eman October 7, 2010 at 10:32 AM  

Thank you, Glynn.

Dukes Lee, meanwhile, we're asking, "How did I get on a team with Jennifer? Wow!"

Dena, I enjoyed that convo, too. So easy to talk about anything.

Marcus, when you ask, take along the most puppy-dog-looking photos of us you can find.

Deidra October 10, 2010 at 7:34 PM  

Yes. It was a gift. It was too short. You are way taller than I imagined...or maybe I'm way shorter?

Sam Van Eman October 12, 2010 at 12:33 PM  

We're both just right, Deidra.

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