IVP - Strangely Dim - Scavenger Culture

November 4, 2005

Scavenger Culture

For three years now I dutifully woke up early every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (unless I could come up with a decent excuse) to drive to a local gym. For that same three years, whenever I was asked by machine or muscle-bound consultant what my goals are for working out, I replied "Losing weight" or "Burning fat." And for that same three years I lost no weight and, so far as anyone can tell, burned no fat.

Then, for two weeks, I reluctantly cut carbohydrates and sugars out of my diet. No Oreos, no Nutter Butters. No ice cream, no cream cheese. No instant oatmeal, no sugary cereal. I lost sixteen pounds and found three more holes in my belt.

I share this story reluctantly, in part because I don't want to be taken as poo-pooing exercise or endorsing a particular diet. But I find it interesting that I so willingly embraced a major lifestyle change--joining a gym and working out regularly--that yielded none of my desired results, while for three years fighting hard against a discipline that ultimately delivered beyond my best hopes.

My best guess is that for me, and I suspect for most Americans and perhaps most humans, it's easier to take something on than to let something go.

I think it's fair to say that I live in a scavenger culture. In fact, I scavenge for a living. I do a fair bit of editorial acquisitions, which means I go out looking for books for IVP to publish. In that respect I'm the poster boy for scavenging. My business card shouldn't say "Editor," it should say "Book Scavenger."

We start scavenging for fun when we're little kids: "Here's a list of worthless junk; whoever is able to come up with the most junk from the list wins even more junk!" Suggest to me that I should go get something--a portable CD player, for example, or an iPod, or an iPod Nano--and odds are I'll rearrange my life to fit it in. It works in other ways too: I know of a magazine that markets the simple life through page after page of high-end purchasing opportunities--spend $500 to be more simple, the logic goes. I've bought books and videos on working out, step aerobic equipment, dumbells and gym bags, and even a stairmaster in my drive to drop a few pounds. If there's something we want to happen, chances are there's something we can acquire to make it happen.

But ask us to forgo something--dessert, perhaps, or political power or 10 percent of our income--and we're distressed. Saying no is infinitely more challenging than saying yes.

Something supremely self-evident evades the understanding of a scavenger culture: Sometimes scavenging is the enemy of desire. Sometimes what we need is found not in groping after but in letting go.

Jesus saw that in a rich young ruler who had everything but wanted more--assurances that he was on the right track, that when he died he'd go to heaven, that he could have everything and still be a good person. Jesus confronted his consumerism head on: "One thing you still lack," he said, in language that sets any scavenger to drooling. "Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me."

No stuff. No money. No home. Just Jesus. Yikes. I need some comfort food--fast. If anybody needs me, I'll be hiding out at the gym, eating Nutter Butters and "burning fat."


Next Friday I fly out to Alaska, the land of the rising sun, or something like that. I'll be speaking to a group of high school students, which should be a lot of fun. I seem to be encountering a lot of giants in the field of youth ministry lately--and by giants I mean highly accomplished and creative youth ministers who happen to be big, athletic guys with perfect teeth who could crush my spindly, geeky spine in a heartbeat. Pray for me.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at November 4, 2005 9:57 AM Bookmark and Share


You must have been eating a ton of Oreos and Nutter Butters before cutting them out of your diet... Actually, all the exercise you were (supposedly) doing maintained your weight whilst you indulged in your daily portions of nutter butters/ oreos / ice cream, etc.

I too have the same (or at least similar) struggles that you mention. I would much rather take than to let something go - I too like the daily oreo/nutter butter. I intend to give that stuff up, but then I go to the store / or the kitchen, and there they are, staring me in the face, saying, "eat me. It's ok. You can let me go next week..."

It all seems to come back to the level of comfort that we choose to live our life. Sure the pants are a bit tight, but darn it, my taste buds are happy. The fact that my cholesterol it through the roof and my "done-lap" has engulfed my belt doesn't really concern me since I can take care of it "next week". In my particular case, giving up the daily portions of oreos and nutter butter may "appear" to be painful to me, but in the long run, I'd be happier, right? The pants would at least fit better...

Comment by: Dan Webster at November 4, 2005 10:43 AM

Or you could buy bigger pants. Every time I see the words "nutter butter" I drool a bit. Halloween isn't helping, is it?

Comment by: dave at November 4, 2005 10:48 AM

Actually, the "loose fit" pants are a better option... roomier fit. And no, the Halloween candy my kids brought home also calls out to me.

Comment by: Dan Webster at November 4, 2005 10:54 AM

You're so sweet to say all those things about me. However, to be truthful, "big" and "could crush my spindly, geeky spine in a heartbeat" are the only true statements of me.

Comment by: Andy Jack at November 4, 2005 2:18 PM

Someone needs a hug . . .

Andy has great teeth, and he's written some very intriguing stuff on youth ministry at "Cow Tipping" his blog: http://cloudofwitnesses.blogs.com/my_weblog/

I'm going to sniff through my Kierkegaard collection and see if I can turn up the essay you're looking for. Whatever happened to chubby bunnies, anyway?

Comment by: dave at November 4, 2005 2:28 PM

" I suspect for most Americans and perhaps most humans, it’s easier to take something on than to let something go."

so true!

thanks for the continued existential examinations and excellent ruminations about your excess (and less and less) mastications.

Comment by: Macon at November 5, 2005 12:10 PM

As someone who has also experienced the change of cutting carbs (hmm...your story sounds oddly familiar...), it can amaze me when people ask what I did to lose weight and I tell them I stopped eating sugar, they say what an impossible thing that would be to do.

The next thing they ask me about is my exercise habits, attempting to suggest that the change occurred because I exercised more than them. But my sporadic running habits have remained constant throughout the past years.

Cutting carbs is not for everyone, but it could probably assist many. And, really, it's not all that difficult to do - it does not involve starving or fasting. Nor even making time & space to be physically active. One can even get into acquiring all kinds of special low-carb stuff (for me, living on a limited income that means I merely scavenger from others' low-carb specialty excesses.)

Dave, thanks for sharing, I find myself agreeing with your analysis. Could this be why I don't often hear sermons about giving up one's life?

It's not easy, but it is so life giving.

Comment by: Karen Sloan at November 8, 2005 4:17 PM

Very cool... I really like your writing style.

Comment by: Margaret at November 9, 2005 12:05 PM

Always remember that you are a giant... even when you don't feel like it. Those around you can't help but see it.

Comment by: Margaret at November 9, 2005 12:33 PM

Don't worry dave, you'll see me in March- the opposite of "giant", unless you are speaking of geekiness, of course...

PS - Oprah killed chubby bunny, and I'm not talking about her wight loss progam. grrrrrr....

Comment by: Damon at November 13, 2005 9:04 AM

Hey, everybody, big welcome to Margaret, my new, noncontiguous friend!

And Damon, you're a YM giant--you're like Sentinel big! And have I ever told you how nice your teeth are?

Comment by: dave at November 14, 2005 10:48 AM

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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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