On occasion, the most bizarre things leap out of the great abyss, reminding us of the fallen nature of humanity. Worthy had that experience this week with regard to a controversial book we published last fall—the autobiography of Michael Vick. It tells the story of a poverty-stricken child who rose to stardom in the NFL, followed by a meteoric fall from grace into federal prison. Vick confesses heinous wrongs from his involvement in dog fighting and seeks redemption with the counsel of legendary coach, Tony Dungy. 

Now, six months after his book, Finally Free, released across North America, serious and credible threats of violence are being made against Vick, his family, and bookstore employees, including Barnes & Noble, at the announcement of an in-store book signing by Michael. To protect the safety of bookstore employees, fans, and the Vick family, the decision was made to cancel those book signings.

After the threats were reported to law enforcement, the story was picked up by media all across the country. Here’s just one of many stories being circulated.

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The QB, who canceled his book tour after being threatened, is a reformed man. What more can he do to prove himself?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Delete it from your iCal: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and convicted former animal abuser Michael Vick will not be appearing in a bookstore near you any time soon. His publisher announced this week he has withdrawn from a scheduled book tour due to “credible threats.” Nice grasp of how it works, bullies. Because nothing says I am a compassionate humanitarian who’s on the higher moral ground than anybody else like throwing around a few threats of violence.

Vick, who served over a year and a half in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to felony charges regarding a dogfighting ring, has spent the past six years trying to prove he’s a changed man. Since serving his sentence, he’s not just gone back to his football career; he’s become a volunteer for the Humane Society, speaking out in schools and public events about animal abuse and dogfighting. Last year, his foundation gave $200,000 to renovate a rundown local Philadelphia football field. He even became a dog owner, and when the news of his family’s new addition emerged, he announced, “I want to ensure that my children establish a loving bond and treat all of God’s creatures with kindness and respect. Our pet is well cared for and loved as a member of our family. To that end, I will continue to honor my commitment to animal welfare and be an instrument of positive change.” And now, he’s written a memoir for a Christian book publisher with the hopeful title, “Finally Free”—a tale his publicity materials describe as the story of “how a broken man sought and received forgiveness for his wrongs.”

But forgiveness is far more easily sought than received. Vick has long faced the scorn of those who will never, ever forgive him for what happened to those animals. In 2010, PETA’s vice president Lisa Lange compared Vick to “convicted pedophiles,” and the michael_vick3-620x412consensus among Internet commenters still runs heavily along the “rich creep” lines. But this week, things took a darker turn, when his publishers announced, “Despite warnings of planned protests, Vick had hoped to continue with the appearances as planned, bringing his story of redemption and second chance to major markets. However, once the reported protests escalated into threats of violence against the retailers, Worthy Publishing, Vick and his family, decided to cancel the events. . . . While we stand by Michael Vick’s right to free speech and the retailers’ right to free commerce, we cannot knowingly put anyone in harm’s way, and therefore we must announce the cancellation of Mr. Vick’s book-signing appearances. We’ve been assured these threats of violence, which have been reported to the police, are being taken very seriously by local authorities.” The publisher says the threats were made to Barnes & Noble and an independent bookstore in New Jersey.

As Phillymag reports, the comments on Vick’s Facebook page give an indication of the tone: from “I would go there to slit your throat knowing how you treat animals” to “hope your kids don’t fall in a pool with a battery” to “I would snap your neck if I met you, your [sic] a piece of trash.” Ah, sweet liberating rage. And that’s just the random, run-of-the-mill Facebook grossness. Makes you wonder what the threats to the bookstores looked like.

The actions of Vick’s dogfighting ring were unconscionable. Vick was a part of a group that maimed, tortured and killed animals—and did it for the thrill of sport. But Vick’s behavior was not then and sure as hell is not now an excuse for anybody else to behave like a monster either. One man’s misdeeds are not an opportunity to be rude or cruel or say scary things about his children. And there’s something truly sickening about the sheer relish Vick’s detractors seem to possess, their pleasure in the way that his crimes give them license to be as angry and resentful as they want to be. Gosh, what a convenient outlet.

You think once an abuser, always an abuser? OK. Don’t buy his book or go to Eagles games. But don’t misdirect all the rage you have at the universe toward the guy. Don’t kid yourself that being furious and unforgiving makes you a noble human being. And consider that you don’t have to have done time for hurting animals to be abusive. Michael Vick has spent the last several years looking within himself, living with the burden of his actions and trying to change the course of his future. He knows his wrongs. How many of his trolls can say the same?

MEWilliams_BioMary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.


Still Captivated
After All These Years

Periodically, though not nearly often enough, I’m seized by an awareness that I’m still getting to do what I love to do! Publish books. I have found myself immersed in a career so deeply satisfying I can’t imagine it coming to an end. Of late I’ve reflected with amazement on the odd track that brought me to be involved with books.

My first years were spent on a remote farm in north Texas in a house with outdoor plumbing. At five-years of age I had already begun to see a bigger world while sitting on my grandfather’s lap watching CBS News each evening on a little round-faced 1950s TV.  Loved the news!

By day I fed a Jersey, two pigs, and small flocks of chickens and sheep. Weeded and harvested a one-acre garden with my grandmother, taken by how seeds explode. Met Dwight Eisenhower – well, he patted me on the head – at a whistle stop during a campaign, and by age six I already was captivated by a stimulating world.

Spent nearly every day of my eleventh year watching typographers set and pour hot-type, and then observing the presses roll out the city paper at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It was clear to me that words captivated. Lounged on a public library floor during junior high reading the Tale of Two Cities and Robinson Crusoe. Later in life often sat on the floor of our Barnes & Noble sampling books with my teenage daughter, except that her tastes ran more to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

Restocked a bookstore in high school, while making ridiculously poor grades in English. Years later an old English teacher of mine was stunned to see me as a book publisher and, truthfully, I am more surprised than she was. Sold books and Bibles door-to-door two summers in Ohio and Alabama during college years, and also sold books direct to consumer via telemarketing, never realizing any future irony.

Through it all, and I’m convinced it must be a God-thing, I have come to publish a list of ‘amazing authors and their remarkable ideas’ – that’s how I’ve come to describe the business of books. I’ve seen first hand how words can transform lives. It’s been an honor to work with Max Lucado, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, Jerry Jenkins, Charles Colson, Nolan Ryan, Emerson Eggerichs, and so many more.

Acknowledging these gifted authors, including Sarah Young and her remarkable Jesus Calling, I’ve never been more honored than to work with David Jeremiah on his upcoming Jeremiah Study Bible, which Worthy Publishing expects to release, God willing, before Christmas 2013.

My current course was well predicted by a high-profile business consultant who once told me, “Those whose careers are invested in intellectual property never choose to retire.”  I’m still captivated after all these years!

What work most captivates you?

Encouraging News about Books

Considering the quakes rumbling through the book industry, even slightly encouraging news lifts the heart. Because I believe so fundamentally in the vitality of book content and the future of reading, I’m not alarmed that the reading of books is threatened. But what’s nearly impossible to predict is the course book reading will take over the next few years.

That said, of late I’ve noted a number of small indicators that may affirm the future of the book industry.

  1. During this holiday season, TV ads for a half dozen brands of digital devices are noting how attractive their device is for book reading, whether in low light, bright light, in bed, or on the beach. Those TV spots are defacto consumer ads proclaiming the joys of book reading. Yay!
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a Publishers Weekly story saying Barnes & Noble bookstore profits were up and that sales increased 1.8% for the quarter, excluding Nook hardware (in transition to a partnership with Microsoft). There’s little the book industry needs more than a healthy Barnes & Noble. Go, B&N!
  3. E-books accounted for 22% of book sales in the second quarter, up 14% over the previous year, according to Bowker Market Research. It appears quick adopters have settled in with their reader of choice, but notice that physical books are still 78% of the total unit sales. We need new technology, yet everyone involved—authors, publishers, retailers—need an element of stability in our shared industry. Christmas cheer all around!
  4. AAP reports trade book sales for August 2012 were up 10.4% over 2011, whereas ebooks are now growing at a far slower rate. Great news!
  5. Family Christian Stores just announced a new investor group that is committed to its mission. Having spent time in recent days with one of those investors, I’m encouraged again about moves toward more stability in book retailing. Prayers for Family!

Change is inevitable. But smart change will better protect the flow of great content to consumers in a way that works for author, publishers and retailers. I’m praying that the flashes of sanity I’m seeing aren’t illusions, but are the makings of a trend toward a more stable, healthy book industry.

Does God Do Anything?

As a publisher it should come as no surprise that we tend to see daily headlines or intriguing quotes as prospective book titles. In that vein, I’ve recently been unsettled by a theological conundrum. Simply stated, it seems to me that we Evangelicals are in danger of becoming defacto Deists. I’ve managed to suppress this concern for years, but I’m now fully out of the closet.

When I suggest that Evangelicals may be defacto Deists, I’m not saying we fully embrace sixteenth-century European Deism, which later influenced American founders like Jefferson and Franklin. It’s something subtler that I’m observing today.  Surely I’m not the only one who reflects on this matter, but a deafening silence on this issue suggests our discomfort with commonplace answers.

What is a Deist? The great theological reference work, Wikipedia, says “Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature that [God] configured when he created all things. God is thus conceived to be wholly transcendent and never immanent.”

Said another way, a Deist is one who believes that God wound up His universe – carefully putting in place the laws of nature – and now sits back, empathetically watching as the world winds down to the Second Coming. God doesn’t interfere or break into the natural order at all.

That begs the question – after creating the world, miraculously calling and repeatedly rescuing Israel, sending his Son Jesus, who along with his disciples, performed signs and wonders, and then miraculously providing Scripture and a saving Gospel – what’s this all-powerful God doing now in the 21st century? Did God’s recordable work end 2,000 years ago – around A.D. 90?

Most classic Deists believed in God’s past creative activity, too. Though some Deists were understood as agnostics, I’m not sure most would accept that label. Deists believed in God, but they also held that God had stopped breaking into time and space, interfering with the laws of nature.

It seems many Evangelicals, in effect, hold some views in common with the Deists:  That disease, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, evil dictators and corrupt regimes have their destructive effect on humankind, and that God allows that to happen without intervening. Sure, God grieves about all this, but he knows the end is near, and he longs to bring his Chosen home to Heaven.

How does a Deist-like theology play out in everyday living? When faced with trial, sickness, danger, we pray, but do we expect anything to really happen? So then, we tell ourselves: The real purpose of prayer is to align our hearts with God’s will; or, since God knows what’s best for us, we should understand “no” is his loving answer when our prayers are not answered. Ultimately, we live in blind faith that we are finite and that ours is a mysterious God.

Having taken that position, if an overzealous Evangelical neighbor dares to say he prayed in faith for a specific blessing – whether for health, happiness, success or material need – and then boldly claims God did something overt in answer to his prayer, the Deist within us tends to tense up, fearful that theology has run amok.

I’m not arguing for a prosperity gospel or against my own traditional, orthodox Evangelical heritage. I am just asking a simple question: “Today, in this 21st century, are we comfortable letting God out of that claustrophobic box, allowing him be the God who has surprised and blessed his beloved people from the beginning of time?”  Maybe we should sit back, relax, and let God be God.

I suspect there’s a book here somewhere.