Odd ducks

ON THE WAY HOME FROM SANTA FE – I’ve spent the past few days at PubWest, an annual meeting of the publishing industry based in the western part of the U.S. and Canada. Western is interpreted loosely as “west of the Hudson River.” Name a genre, and you could probably find at least one publisher. Chalice was one of only two Christian publishers at the event; the other was Ave Maria Press out of Notre Dame, Indiana. (Indiana is, after all, west of the Hudson.)

As a PubWest first-timer, I enjoyed the diverse nature of this group. Introductions typically contained statements like, “we publish literary and children’s fiction” or “we publish outdoor guides” or “we publish books about national parks,” and it was easy to see their mission. Then I would explain Chalice Press’ mission, but then, because we’re a faith-related publisher, I was asked to go a step further and explain our ministry, because clearly among this crowd, faith-based publishers are odd ducks.

“We’re 105 years old, based in St. Louis, we’re affiliated with a Protestant denomination blah blah blah,” I’d say quickly before seguing to, “but we know faith is changing, so Chalice Press plans to be the go-to publisher for Progressive Christians.”

The phrase Progressive Christians generally elicited one of two different looks:

  • confusion, because they could guess what that meant but weren’t entirely sure they were correct, or
  • a blank stare, meaning they couldn’t even begin to process what I’d just said.

At least nobody just turned and walked away. And better yet, nobody slugged me.

Then I would unpack the meaning of Progressive Christians: We’re inclusive and welcoming of anybody who wants to have a personal relationship with God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, and we know there are as many ways to relate to God as there are snowflakes in an avalanche. We support the LGBT community. We’re broadening our offerings on social justice in areas such as gender equality, the environment, education, criminal justice reform, a living wage, and voting rights. In everything we do, we want to empower our readers to change their world in ways that make it a better, more caring place. Once I finished that definition, I got a lot of smiles and “cool!” and “that’s really great!”

What stuck with me, though, is that time after time, I had to defend Christianity while at the same time critiquing it. It’s a fine line we Progressive Christians walk, isn’t it? You know the conversation: The divisive, nasty, incendiary garbage cloaked as faith drives people to be blasé about religion in general but, even more so, hostile specifically to Christianity. And I don’t blame them.

Try this exercise to view the world like a publisher: When you look at bookstore shelves, you see what readers are most likely to buy. Most of the time, the books you see represent the market pretty well. Now, in that bookstore you’re envisioning, walk over to the Religion and Spirituality section. The books you’re likely to notice first are from conservative pastors, often proclaiming social-morality agendas, or megachurch pastors powered by multi-million-dollar marketing budgets. When publishers see which books represent Christianity, no wonder they think Christians are all so ridiculously conservative!

The great thing about publishers and editors and marketers and designers and others who work in the publishing industry is that they are all, at heart, curious. They gave me the opportunity to explain Chalice Press’s work and mission, and then they asked thoughtful, challenging, but respectful questions. And in the end, I didn’t meet a single person who criticized what we do. My favorite response was “I knew there were some good Christians out there!”

I cannot report any baptisms or conversions or speaking in tongues at PubWest, but I can report that a good number of people may go home from Santa Fe remembering that there is at least one Christian publisher doing things differently, working to tell the world that our diversity can unify instead of divide. I return to St. Louis with new friends, new counterparts, and new insights, but also knowing that what we are doing — and by we, I mean not just our crew at Chalice Press and our authors, but also our readers, so that includes you — is holy work, and it is making a difference in the world. Progressive Christianity in 2016 is a challenge, no question about it, but know that there are people you will never meet who are thankful for the work we all do.

Grateful to be your partner in ministry,


(Here’s Publishers Weekly’s article on PubWest.)

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Remind and Renew 2016: Rev. Dr. William Barber and Sharon Watkins

Tulsa World was on hand Wednesday night when Sharon Watkins spoke at the Remind and Renew 2016 conference. They captured this great moment between two of our beloved authors, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Sharon Watkins. So great to see this dynamic duo!


Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Remind and Renew 2016: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

This week I was blessed to attend Remind and Renew, a two-day symposium hosted by Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla. One of the reasons I attended is that three of this year’s speakers were authors of recent Chalice Press books: William J. Barber II, Leah Gunning Francis, and Sharon Watkins. I’m always eager to see and hear our authors, especially in front of audiences topping 200 participants from coast to coast, but the unifying subject was particularly intriguing:

What is the conversation about race Christians in the U.S. should be having, and how might that conversation contribute to liberty and justice for all?

As a former journalist, I saw the first opportunity to live-tweet an event, and I’ll give credit where credit is due: It’s not easy. (Note that these are paraphrases unless quotation marks are used. I’m not as fast a typist as I used to be.) That said, I captured nuggets from Barber and Gunning Francis that describe succinctly yet poignantly where our country and our church have failed — and where there is hope for change.

Brad Lyons at Remind and Renew 2016, photo by Mindy McGarrah Sharp

Dr. Barber spoke first, reminding us of the original Reconstruction that half-heartedly attempted to rebuild society in the old Confederacy before Jim Crow undid that progress, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, whose progress has eroded through the end of the War on Poverty and trimming voting rights. Barber believes he is seeing the Third Reconstruction beginning in the Moral Monday Movement rooted in his home state of North Carolina and other states where the movement is gaining momentum. Here are the nuggets I captured from Dr. Barber’s talk at #RemindRenew:

  • The fact of the matter is, when you deal with racism and class, you are dealing with an old demon. We have not fully named the demon, so we cannot cast it out.
  • Of those deconstructing Reconstruction in the 1870s: “They said they will redeem America. They used moral messaging for immoral purposes. Sound familiar?”
  • “I believe the 14th Amendment (equal treatment under the law) is more important than the Second Amendment.”
  • Why was the War on Poverty stopped? Because it worked.
  • Visionaries transcend boundaries. “You never hear anybody say, ‘I have a dream for Democrats.'”
  • “If the church doesn’t have a political Pentecost and learn to speak in tongues, we will never get at this issue of race in America.”
  • “Helicopter [national] leadership will not sustain a local movement.”
  • “We need to use moral language to reframe the public policy of who’s in power.”
  • Let’s read in the Constitution that freedom isn’t, in fact, the Constitution’s priority — it’s securing our basic needs and safety.
  • On the Religious Right: “I’ve got a problem calling somebody right when they’re so wrong.”
  • Moral imagination has been the backbone of every prophetic movement.
  • “We need a grown-up conversation about race and class. An altar call. We need a revival. We need a Pentecost.”
  • (Sarcastically) Want a great America? Cut teachers. Hurt people because of their sexuality. Deny income to the working poor. Take labor more open to war than diplomacy. Distort the religious views of leaders for your own benefit. Make sure everybody can get a gun more easily than they can vote. “If we can’t preach against that … then something is wrong with us.”
  • At the beginning of the Moral Monday movement, about 40% of North Carolinians agreed with the movement’s ideas. Now, it’s almost 60%. The moral understanding of policy has changed.

Barber is the most charismatic, evangelical preacher I’ve had the honor of seeing. Each time, the audience has been mostly white and middle-class — age varies widely — but  he connects so keenly with the hopes and ambitions and frustrations that all seeking racial justice share. I can’t wait to hear him again.

In my next post, I’ll share what Leah Gunning Francis had to share about her experiences protesting Ferguson in the days and weeks after the killing of Michael Brown, of writing Ferguson and Faith, and what terrifies her in an era when just a few years ago we believed we might actually be moving into a post-racial world. Stay tuned …


Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.