IVP - Strangely Dim - You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Comments

February 18, 2008

You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Comments

Christine A. Scheller posted the following comment on an earlier post about six-word memoirs:

"How does a writer express laughter in words?"

I of course started typing, "Ha ha ha" but stopped myself. This is a much more intriguing question than can be answered in three iterations of the same word.

The biblical Sarah and Abraham recorded their laughter by naming their son Isaac, which translates roughly to "he laughs" or more generally "laughter." That's one way of doing it, I suppose, but then again it creates its own problems.

Something I keep meaning to write about but keep blowing off is a phrase used by biblical patriarch Jacob to describe God: "the Fear of Isaac," which then translates roughly to "the fear of laughter." I like the tension of that phrase--that God somehow brings such disparate experiences as fear and mirth together. Generally, however, I try to avoid tension. I'm uncomfortable associating the word fear with God, and I still get just a wee bit nervous picturing the gathered-together people of God laughing before the Lord of Hosts. So I'm left, I don't know, a little tense trying to imagine two such nerve-wracking emotions coalescing in a coherent description of God. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, and now, thanks to Christine, I don't know how to write what I'm feeling in either case.

So I open it to you, the countless dozens of Strangely Dim readers: How do you record your laughter?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at February 18, 2008 3:25 PM Bookmark and Share


I don't know, but logging on to this page and seeing my name at the topic certainly instilled terror (is that the principal calling?. Thank you for mixing in some mirth.

And what a provocative thought: God as "the fear of laughter." Sounds ominous.

Comment by: Christine A. Scheller at February 19, 2008 5:16 PM

There are two times in my life I laughed and cried at the same time. They were both times of immense joy combined with an overwhelming sense that I'd been loved beyond what I could dream or deserve. So I can see that there would be that strange tension before God.

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at February 19, 2008 7:50 PM

Yeah--I don't know how to answer your question either. I think I usually say something lame like "That is HI-larious." Though often it's just kinda funny.

I've always found the title "Fear of Isaac" intriguing, too. (Though not surprising, given Isaac's near-death experience . . . ) Have you ever read Buechner's *Son of Laughter*?

Without that backdrop, though, "Fear of laughter" doesn't immediately sound to me like the tension you're describing, although I like what you're saying and I kind of enjoy that tension. My first impression of the phrase thus translated is to think of the way probably a whole lot of the secular world views Christians (as afraid to laugh) and the Christian God (as the one who makes them so). Which is kind of a bummer, really.

Comment by: Jenn at February 19, 2008 8:37 PM

I really must apologize. I see yet another typo in one of my posts ... on a blog hosted by two editors.

Jenn, you expressed what I was thinking in your final paragraph.

L.L., it sounds like one of those times might have been a wedding day.

Comment by: Christine A. Scheller at February 20, 2008 5:14 PM

I would like to add my two cents if I may.

I do not think there is any way that the memoir is dead. Whether for the next 10 years or 100 years.

Take a look at any bestseller list - memoirs are here to stay. They are timeless.

Many novels are in fact fictionalized memoirs that have their origin in the actual life experiences of the author. For example, JD Salinger admitted in an interview years ago that Catcher In The Rye was a deeply personal and quasi-autobiographical novel.

Today it continues to sell 250 k copies a year. Every year for the last 25 years running.

If the memoir is dead, Hollywood is dead, and novels are dead.

Comment by: Donald Miller at February 21, 2008 3:24 PM

Well, it appears I've offended every memoirist I know and even some I haven't. Assuming that the Don Miller who commented above is the Don Miller I attributed the death of the memoir to, all I can say is that (a) I'm sorry I offended you (and with you L. L. and Christine and all your fellow memoirists), (b) I very definitely read an article by you in which you declared memoir dead (I believe in connection to the "Million Little Pieces" fiasco a couple of years back), (c) I'm highly confident that you were declaring the death of memoir in jest, (d) I can't find the article anywhere (it was originally either at Ankeny Briefcase or at Burnside Writers Collective, but neither has an archive search function that I can find) and (e) please publish with IVP Books/Likewise.

Anyone needs me, I'll be hanging my head in shame and rubbing my behind from the spanking my boss is sure to give me now that I've offended Donald Miller.

In other news, Publishers Weekly has its own article (by Henry Alford) related to the six-word memoir. Read it here:


Sorry, Don Miller.


Comment by: dave at February 21, 2008 4:06 PM

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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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