While tying up the loose ends for this issue, I called veteran writer Virginia Stem Owens. I didn't realize it as we talked, but it was almost exactly 25 years since her first Christianity Today essay appeared.

I found Virginia's early essay on imagination and story as fresh as it was a quarter century ago. She wrote about reading Tolkien's Ring Trilogy as a graduate student: "After hundreds and hundreds of pages of a world where everything was more—more beautiful, more dreadful, more cozy, more terrifying—than my own mundane experience, I suffered profound withdrawal pangs. Why wasn't life more like literature?"

She went on to argue the importance of viewing ourselves as characters in God's story, a story we cannot comprehend until we are (here quoting Muriel Spark) both "outside it, and at the same time consummately inside it."

Virginia's story has had its difficult chapters. In 1997, in order to care for her ailing mother, Virginia left the directorship of the Milton Center for Excellence in Creative Writing at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. She moved home to Huntsville, Texas. Since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976, nearly one-third of the nation's executions have taken place in this small town.

Virginia has explored death-penalty issues in two essays—one in Christianity Today ("Karla Faye's Final Stop," July 13, 1998) and one in Books & Culture ("Death and Texas," Nov./Dec. 2000).

In this issue, Virginia continues her nonpolemical probe of capital punishment with "Watchman on the Walls," an interview with a Texas prison chaplain who has witnessed 146 executions (see p. 46). For this experienced essayist, this piece is a first: her premiere published Q&A interview. This shift, she said, ...

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