IVP - Strangely Dim - What’s in a Name

July 30, 2004

What’s in a Name

By David A. Zimmerman

I think I signed something I shouldn’t have signed. Or maybe I should have signed it. I’m all “engh” about it.

I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a coworker “invited” me to sign a petition to amend the Illinois constitution. And I signed it, mostly because I was still waking up and not in the mood for a fight.

But as soon as he left I remembered that I don’t support such an amendment. It’s not that I was unsympathetic to the thought behind the petition; it’s that I don’t think such an amendment is a responsible use of a constitution. Constitutions govern how a government is to be run and ought to deal with issues such as term limits for members of Congress or definitions of voting rights. Constitutions do not typically dictate how people are to conduct themselves on a day to day basis. If we amend the constitution to prohibit, for example, the sale and distribution of alcohol, then we really ought to amend it to forbid murder, theft and any number of violations of natural law.

But I digress. The real issue is that I don’t support the amendment, yet I signed the petition. I signed the petition because I hate conflict, but the petition will likely generate more conflict, which—as I mentioned—I hate.

It’s not as though I expect this particular petition to sway the will of the Illinois state government or the state’s dozens of living voters. I don’t think this issue will hold the attention of the American people for very long, and the amendment process takes a long time.

But now my name is on a petition that I don’t agree with, and that means that my words do not correspond with my actions. It’s one thing to say “I believe this”; it’s quite another to take steps to do something about that belief. And when I take steps to do something that I have said I don’t support, I am not—as former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, might put it—living in the truth.

All this just to avoid an uncomfortable conversation about what I believe about, of all things, the telos of the Illinois constitution. As if anyone in the known universe cares about the Illinois constitution. But it points to larger issues: what am I willing to sacrifice to maintain peace, and what am I willing to sacrifice in order to be myself.

So I’m ashamed to say that I let a moment of discomfort color my identity. I’ll never be Václav Havel, apparently. And unless I get some gumption, I may never be myself either.


Read about my forthcoming book, if you have any remaining respect for me.

Get on my e-notification e-list. E-mail e-me at dzimmerman@ivpress.com. No e-spam, please.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at July 30, 2004 9:25 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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