First things first. I’m a magazine publisher now. What?
How did I get here? Let us roll back the clock to the summer of 2014. I was in the midst of a solid season of blogging at my personal website (JaredWhite.com), and recognition of my writing was on a major growth trajectory. However, my continued frustration with the challenges of finding high-quality, journalistic coverage of subjects at the intersection of forward-looking faith and modern culture led me to conclude that I could do more than simply write for my own blog. In essence, I wanted to curate a collection of articles on a regular basis, to provide a forum where introspective voices that normally would not find wide reach could be heard. A magazine.
After much soul-searching and dictionary hunting, I happened upon the word Trellis, and it stuck. It’s a word that conjures up numerous favorable images, not the least of which is a foundational structure for grape vines to climb on—reminding us of Jesus’ famous saying that He is the True Vine and we are the Branches.
Starting a magazine is no small feat. The time required to edit and publish a monthly periodical with a wide variety of contributors is substantial.
What kind of structures are we building in our faith communities today? What kind of structures are we building in society? In an era where long-standing institutions are being torn down by progress, where sacred cows are being cast aside and questioned at all turns, what is actually being built? If we, as Christians, are supposed to be a part of the Jesus vine, how is that vine being held into place and encouraged to grow and flourish?
Once the concept of Trellis Magazine came into focus, I knew with all certainty I had to make it happen. The main question on my mind was the timing of it.
Starting a magazine is no small feat. While Trelis is an online publication and I’m a web designer by trade, therefore our launch costs and overhead are minimal, the time required to edit and publish a monthly periodical with a wide variety of contributors is substantial. Not only that, but I’m a firm believer in the monetary value of good content, which means I was resolved from day one to pay contributors fairly. No “free blog post for exposure” nonsense.
Furthermore, I have no interest in spray-painting a bunch of horrible ads all over our website and requiring a bunch of clickbait content (15 Ways to Include More of Jesus in Your Dating Life, A Trump and a Clinton Supporter Met in a Church, and You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next) in order to maximize ad revenue. So our business model is a simple one: once our website traffic really gets off the ground, we will launch a small monthly subscription package. And if we allow any sort of advertising at all in the future, it will be to offer a very small number of tasteful sponsorships that we are genuinely excited about promoting (taking a cue from the success of podcasting).
The Ugly Confluence of Social Media & Politics
Last year, as the U.S. headed towards the climax of the general election for President, I knew the time to launch Trellis Magazine had finally come. The sheer ugliness of the election cycle and the rise of partisan fake news fueled by social media, coupled with the shocking embrace of Donald Trump by large swaths of Evangelical Christianity, raised a number of deep and troubling questions about the nature of our national discourse and the role of Christian faith in a sharply politicized world. I knew that there was a meta-narrative at play here, necessitating a reflective way of looking at culture that will define a our basic arc of storytelling for years to come.
The problem is clear: everyone is shouting now, and no one is really listening. This problem is certainly of concern among the general populace, but among Christians living in America today, it has gotten so out of hand that the love-filled message of Jesus has become completely obscured.
A great blog post by missiologist Mike Frost sums this up in a nutshell:
We simply can’t hear each other. We’ve already rejected the messenger, so the message is immaterial. We don’t engage in a contest of ideas. We attack personalities. We attack each other.
All you have to do is open up an online comments thread about a new Christian book coming out, or what a Christian artist said recently, or what a Christian think-tank claimed about a political issue, and this phenomenon is plain to see.
Heretic. Ungodly. Progressive. Liberal. Lamestream Media. Influenced by Demons. Gay Agenda.
Oh, you think because you’re a progressive you’re above all that?
Racist. Homophobe. Backwards. Conservative. Bigoted. White Privilege. Literalist. Intolerant.
At the end of the day, we are all to blame. But it’s not too late to try something new.
Trellis Magazine is an attempt to provide a haven for journalism that promotes thoughtful public discourse and encourages a fresh look at Christian faith beyond the narrow partisan ideological frameworks that have come to dominate modern conversation in America. That doesn’t mean of course that we only publish items that are non-controversial or refrain from stating a strong position on any issues. But when we do engage in issues and ideologies, we do so from the reference point of helpful education and furthering person-to-person dialogue, not simply pointing fingers and contributing to further intellectual entrenchment.
That’s all a fancy way of saying, we want you to think. Think about what you believe, and why you believe it. Think about why you are fighting against the other side, whoever that may be. Think about what it could mean to engage an issue with curiosity and self-awareness, ready to question your own view on the matter. Think about how you can reach out to others who are different from you in order to have respectful conversations, not simply demonize them and rob them of their humanity.
Christians, let’s adopt a posture of constant learning. If we’re no longer learning something new, if we’re no longer being challenged by ideas or philosophies that differ from our own, then what are we doing here? Contemplative faith traditions have much to teach us about the art of listening. That’s why our tagline here at Trellis is: Curiously Reasonable Commentary for the Contemplative Christian.
Curious. Reasonable. Contemplative. These concepts resonate with us and will continue to guide the editorial direction of this magazine.
It is only a church formed in contemplative prayer that has the capacity to resist being conscripted by empire.— Brian Zahnd (@BrianZahnd) January 21, 2017
I invite you to read through our inaugural issue, and let us know what you think (in a reasonable way, of course!). I hope you enjoy your stay here, and if you have any ideas for improvement, or would like to write for Trellis Magazine yourself, please contact me. This is only the beginning.
Peace to you,