IVP - Strangely Dim - August 2010 Archives

August 20, 2010

Alter Calls

I'm pro-homophone. There. I said it. Homophones, for the uninitiated, are words that sound alike (and often spelled alike) but carry different meanings. The most obvious are words like their and there, yielding cute sentences like "I can count to two too!" The less obvious are, quite honestly, the most entertaining, the most intriguing. Like the song "Had a Bad Day" by Daniel Powter. (Sound it out . . .) Or the one I have in mind a lot these days: the altar call.

An altar call is, historically, an invitation from a preacher to get up from one's pew and move toward the front of the sanctuary (where the altar sits) as an indication of a changed life. Preachers issue altar calls to encourage people to come to faith, to separate themselves from their lives of sin, to give big chunks of money to a church building project, whatever. The altar is situated such that anything happening there is public and seemingly sacred: "I have decided to follow Jesus," we sing from the pews, but only from the altar does the next line--"no turning back"--carry any real weight.

Here's the problem: no one knows how to spell anymore, and no one cares when they spell something wrong. For all the texting and blogging and tweeting and status updating we do these days, we've become an aural culture, and our writing reflects it. We spell like we're spraying graffiti on Plymouth Rock, like we're LOLing at something Cotton Mather just orated. We spell like we're functionally illiterate.

And that's when the magic happens. Imagine, for example, if instead of "altar calls"--which so often devolve into superficial acts of public piety, where people go forward simply because it's been a while since they last did--we engaged in "alter calls." Same purpose: to leave something behind, to embrace something new, to emerge different from how we were when we entered. But now the emphasis is not on place--on the altar--but on the act: on the altering.

There's a place for calling people out, I suppose, asking them to put their face where their impulses are. When Martin Luther supposedly said, "Here I stand; I can do no other," where he was standing was significant: he was on trial, asked whether he believed enough in what he had written to be persecuted for it. He did, and his life going forward reflected his conviction. He had decided to follow Jesus; no turning back.

But that's Martin Luther, and in this case his call was to defy the existing ecclesial authorities. Imagine, by contrast, the apostle Paul standing in front of some Roman ekklesia, his image sketched out in grape juice on large papyrus screens to his left and his right. Picture him shouting, "Who wants to be transformed by the renewing of their mind today?!?" Maybe some first-century equivalent to organ music is wafting softly from behind the rail, some sandaled ushers discreetly waiting in the wings to catch the Spirit-slain. Maybe some parents are nudging their children, some spouses trading evil eyes. Maybe some stomachs are rumbling, as distracted disciples silently hope that whoever goes forward does so quickly so the ekklesia can move on to coffee and donuts.

Then again, this is the apostle Paul we're talking about. Who wouldn't want this hot shot itinerant to lay hands on him? Who wouldn't want to be seen by her friends and neighbors as transformed, her mind renewed? The spectacle far too easily trumps the discipline, I fear.

No, Paul's invitation is more dynamic than mere spectacle. Paul's invitation is not to be showcased, celebrated and prayed for but to be changed--sacrificed, even--and then left to test and approve the will of God. The altar call is a coda; all that's left is to serve the snacks. The alter call is a prelude, with a whole new life ahead of you.

That's why I like homophones: at their most innocuous, they annoy or entertain, but more often than not they subvert our assumptions and stretch us beyond our status quos. For those who have ears to hear, so to speak, they alter us.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:41 AM | Comments (2) are closed

August 16, 2010

Words of Days

Every Wednesday afternoon, without fail, the IVP editorial department stops working at 3pm for a half hour of noshing on popcorn. Sometimes we talk about our work or our homelife or our new favorite books or movies. Sometimes we stare silently at each other.


Such is the life of an editor. Editing can be incredibly solitary work, and IVP's publishing program is sufficiently diverse that we often don't know what our nearest neighbors are working on--often, if you can believe it, we don't even know what each other is talking about. There have been times when I've tried not to betray my bewilderment with the expression on my face, as Ph.D.s around the table gossip about the latest controversies in theology or biblical studies, or as spiritual directors argue back and forth over the relative merits of the Cistercian order's extreme asceticism versus the Beguine communities' secular simplicity. Or something like that.

Eventually a few of us decided to entertain ourselves by selecting a word in advance and waiting for it to come up in conversation around the table. Before too long it became a formal contest: The Word of the Day. Someone selects a word, and whoever says the word gets a candy bar; if no one uses the word, the candy bar stays with the person who selected the word. Or something like that.

Lately (and by "lately" I mean for the last fifteen months) we've archived the words. I'm never sure why, but it seems like something worth doing. They represent our department as it is and as it has been, with hints at what has occupied the thoughts of former employees and interns, as well as the newest crop of coworkers. I list them here for public use: write yourself a haiku, or a short story ("Bulbous, verbose Senator Frost stoked, 'Kennedy turned utterly pinko!'"), or take a cue from Rebecca and make your own Madlib. Whatever. Consider it a gift to you from the word nerds in your IVP Editorial department.

words of days.doc

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:56 AM

August 11, 2010

Summer Madlib

As some of you may know, I am a big fan of Madlibs, those silly games where you come up with words that match parts of speech and then fill them into a short story with hilarious results.

One of my coworkers has encouraged a few of us around the office to participate in Madlibs from time to time. Call it a "team-building exercise." She tells us the parts of speech. We come up with the words--or in our case, they're usually compound words or phrases to make it that much more fun.

Thanks to a desk calendar and the pleasingly nimble minds of several IVP employees, this wonderful Madlib below was born back in 2007. I recently stumbled upon it and thought it was worth posting again. I wish I could say I was there to take part in it myself, but alas, I can only enjoy its continued afterglow.

Here are the blanks the Madlib included, followed by the results:

1. A person: Dyed-In-the-Wool-Faith-Head

2. A location: a particular node of the brain
3. A verb: lash out uncritically at religion
4. A plural noun: slick collection of organs
5. A plural noun: discarded 19th century assumptions
6. A noun: turbocharged rhetoric
7. A plural noun: ivory-tower atheists


Class Trip
For our final class trip our teacher, Mr. Dyed-In-the-Wool-Faith-Head, announced that we're going to a particular node of the brain! I'm so excited, I can hardly lash out uncritically at religion! I'm bringing my new slick collection of organs, my fancy discarded 19th century assumptions and of course my turbocharged rhetoric. I'm sure we'll see lots of ivory-tower atheists.


Any of you have any good Madlibs to add?

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 3:37 PM

August 4, 2010

Knowing What You Know (Part 3)

This week we say goodbye to Deborah Gonzalez, our summer editorial intern. She's been a great help to us--not least in her willingness to write three posts for Strangely Dim. She's also offered a refreshing reminder about the difference between knowing about and knowing--an all too obvious blind spot for people in the publishing business, where authors' humanity is commodified into brand and platform, their stories squished from three dimensions to two. Read Deborah's first two posts here and here, then come back and complete the trilogy. Feel free to Google her while you're at it; the stalker becomes the stalkee . . .


For those who have tuned in to my last two posts, you know that the common theme has been about knowing people. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, probably because I am doing a temporary internship where getting to know people is slightly difficult. Not because people aren't friendly (they are!), but because it takes time to get to know someone, and unfortunately, my time here is limited.


To make up for lost time, so to speak, I read up on people before I got here and connected with them while I was here (through Facebook, Twitter, etc.). I am amazed at what I've been able to learn about people without spending a whole lot of time with them. Call this my confession of all my stalkerish tendencies--but c'mon, you know you have them too.  The Internet--combined with people's willingness to be transparent about their lives--makes it surprisingly easy to learn things about people without really knowing them.


The more I think about this phenomenon, the more I think we have a similar dynamic with God. In a culture like ours--one with freedom of speech and vast amounts of information at our disposal--it is pretty likely that everyone knows a little something about Jesus. If you grew up in a Christian environment, it is likely that you know a lot about Jesus. Many of us have read the Bible's account of what Jesus said and did. We've even read Christian books and commentaries to learn how other people interpret Jesus' words and actions. If asked Jesus trivia, some (you know who you are) may get a perfect score.


However, knowing a lot about Jesus doesn't necessarily mean I know Jesus--just like knowing about a person doesn't mean I really know them, even if I feel like I do.


Truly knowing Jesus involves more than just knowing about him or reading what other people have to say about him. It requires meeting him, sitting down with him and having a conversation. Truly knowing Jesus entails a mutual relationship, one in which he reveals the truth about himself to us, and we do the same to him--confessing our mess and allowing him to work in us.


Jesus wasn't just a good teacher dispensing information; he claimed that if we come to him, he will forgive our sins, heal us from physical and emotional pain, and reconcile our broken relationships. With the information available to us, we know this about Jesus, but what do we do with this information? Do we take it to heart, or do we go on living as if we didn't know? Do we keep the information to ourselves or share it with others? Do we keep Jesus at arm's length, or do we go deeper? What we know about Jesus can either lead to monumental blessings or a life of complacency--but it rests on whether we move from knowing about to truly knowing. 


I am continually amazed by how analogous our relationships with others are to our relationship with God. It's almost as if God gave us one another for practice: if we can master intimacy with each other, intimacy with God will come easy. If we don't allow ourselves to open up with each other, it is likely we won't want to be vulnerable with God either. This is what makes our digital culture so challenging: it is easy to gain a false sense of intimacy. We are more connected than ever before, yet in some ways more distant that we've ever been.


When I first started my internship at IVP, I felt like I knew people, but I really didn't. So what did I do? I got to know them to the best of my ability in the short time that I had, and I plan on maintaining my relationships after I leave. When it comes to knowing God, the reality is that we don't know how much time left we have in this life. Yet there is so much to know about God, and it can be known only by welcoming his presence on a regular basis. Don't settle for knowing what you know, but dig deeper, and you'll be surprised by what else you will discover.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:51 PM

August 2, 2010

The Sparrow*

Last week I received an email with news of what I'm going to call an unequivocal miracle. Attached was a picture of a small girl, sitting on her new dad's lap, laughing. He's holding what must be the funniest slice of orange ever.

Perhaps a little history will help here.

In March I participated in a twelve-day "vision trip" in Kenya with Hope's Promise, an organization which specializes in adoption and orphan care. Hope's Promise establishes small, permanent homes for orphans in countries throughout the world in partnership with Christian nationals. I've been connected to two of their homes in Kenya for close to four years now, and in March I was able to visit them with a group of several others with a goal to learn about the lives of orphans and God's heart for them.

Esther with walker.JPGPart of our time was spent in a Nairobi slum in collaboration with a church there. The church has a number of remarkable ministries, including a small daycare at which each child is guaranteed a meal. For many, this meal is the only one they will receive. This was the case with little Esther, five years old but appearing to be perhaps two and weighing only about twenty pounds. Horribly neglected and undernourished, she exhibited all the signs that these circumstances produce--flat affect (nonexpressive face, disconnected emotionally from her surroundings), being severely underdeveloped both physically and cognitively, unable to walk without assistance, and other symptoms as well. She was an utter wreck, unwanted by her parents, and without hope for the present, much less for her future.

Esther's circumstances are certainly not unique. It can be easy to remain unaffected by stories like Esther's because we hear so many that sound alike. There are hundreds of thousands of people, including orphans, in the same or similar circumstances. And aid organizations abound, as well. Esther is a single grain of sand in a vast and unyielding desert.** 

Esther & Baba.jpgKnowing this, it can be easy to get caught up in numbers. We want our dollars to stretch as far as possible, assisting as many as possible for the smallest possible cost--in effort no less than in dollars. This is why I think it is significant that one small girl among the two million or so orphans in Kenya so impacted my team. We held innumerable children. We loved all of them. But we could not forget Esther.

In a recent report to our team about a visit to a physician prior to Esther's transfer to one of their homes, Colleen Briggs of Hope's Promise had this to say:

In one of the most bizarre experiences I have had thus far in Africa, I am asked to evaluate the worth of a life. Esther is melting into her mother's lap on my left, a tear swelling in the corner of her eye. Mama Karau [in-country coordinator for Hope's Promise] stands on my right. The doctor sits in front of us, silhouetted against a large open sunlit window. The dissonance of grinding gears and squealing brakes from traffic just outside almost drowns out his comments. I lean forward to hear as he gently explains that the tests Esther needs will be costly and her daily care will be consuming. We need to determine the value of her life. A thousand thoughts flood my mind. If the scale tips to the left, how long will Esther defy the odds? I turn to the right, and the balance shifts towards life. Knowing that I have the backing of friends in the U.S. including her child sponsor and the group of doctors, I tell Mama Karau, "If you can provide the care, we can secure the funding." As she later explains, Mama does not doubt that God has His Hand on Esther's life and has brought her to us for a reason, Mama does not hesitate to reply that they will care for her.

Like I said before--a child, loved, home at last, laughing in the arms of her father. No small miracle. 


*Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 12:6-7.
**For my take on approaching this problem, see my Drinking from the Social Justice Firehose.

Posted by Christa Countryman at 11:38 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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