May 23, 2011
Post-Apocalyptic Reading List
For the record, I scheduled this post before May 21, the day Harold Camping has predicted will usher in the rapture. So for all I know, I may no longer exist on this plane of reality. But I still care about you, my dear apostate readers, and I know summer is coming. So here I offer you a brief summer reading list, for your post-apocalyptic pleasure.
After Shock. Kent Annan writes this book in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, drawing from the experiences of friends, family, coworkers and other loved ones who wrestled with the problem of suffering and hung on tightly to hope in the aftermath of one of history's worst natural disasters. A little light reading, in other words.
Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem. On another front, Tamara Park writes with an infectious enthusiasm about the people she met, and the image of God she recognized in them, as she reenacted the pilgrimage of Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.
God on Campus. Trent Sheppard tells tales about students at campus after campus, in era after era, praying to find their place in the great changes sweeping their world.
Pilgrimage of a Soul. Phileena Heuertz draws on her trek on the Camino de Santiago, and a sabbatical rest that followed it, to explore the constructive tension between the desire to see the world set right and the soul's desire to be at peace with God.
Wisdom Chaser. Nathan Foster breathes thin air in the Rocky Mountains with his famous dad, and together they try to figure out themselves, God and one another.
Pure Scum. Mike Sares tells the inspiring, improbable story of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, along the way pointing out what we ought to think about as we think about ourselves in relation to God and everybody around us.
The Girl in the Orange Dress. Margot Starbuck searches for a Father who will not fail, amid various father-figures who can't seem to succeed. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and I mean it.
The Story of God, the Story of Us. Sean Gladding retells the story of the Bible from three vivid scenes, offering fresh insights into who God is and who we are, what comes next. (Should the Lord tarry, a companion DVD is coming this winter.)
The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. I wrote this. Assuming there's anyone left at IVP to press "print," it'll be out in September. It's short--which is good, since what's left of the world (according to Harold Camping) will be obliterated in October.
That's it for now. Happy reading!
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:14 AM
May 18, 2011
You may or may not have heard, but the rapture is coming this weekend--effectively killing my plans to see Thor in the cheap theaters, let alone Green Lantern, Captain America and X-Men: First Class. The apocalypse can be so frustratingly inconvenient.
This is not the first time that Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world. And he's only the latest in a long and storied tradition of anticipating the end of everything. From the Mayans to the Montanists, it seems like everyone has cast a vote, at one time or another, when the world will end, and whether it will be with a bang or a whimper.
I predict it will end with a song. I'm not alone: Prince ("1999"), R.E.M. ("It's the End of the World As We Know It [And I Feel Fine]" and "I'm Gonna DJ at the End of the World") and Over the Rhine ("The Trumpet Child") have all done it. You could, as R.E.M. put it, cobble together "a kickin' playlist" with all the songs that celebrate or otherwise anticipate the last days. The thought of it reminded me of a post from a couple of years ago, which itself had (apparently) reminded me of a post from a couple years previous to that. As often as some people think about the world coming to end, it seems, is how often I think about pop music.
In any case, here's "Brian McLaren's Gonna DJ at the End of the World," reposted for your convenience, with its predecessor "Everybody Needs a Theme Song" tacked on for good measure. Please sync your iPods accordingly.
Brian McLaren's Gonna DJ at the End of the World
I heard Brian McLaren present at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conference last week, where he led a roomful of people in a chanted prayer for justice after sharing the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" as a pattern for Christian justice work. Or something like that; I was a bit sleep-deprived. The lyrics to that song, however, are pretty great: as Steve Turner indicates in his book Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, the biblical image of weapons of war being refashioned into "plowshares and pruning hooks" is given a contemporary translation of bombers becoming butterflies. Sure, the hippies had a thing for butterflies, but it's an image worth praying for regardless.
Today Brian listed some other songs for a redemptive playlist on his blog, among them a video from his newly released worship album, two songs by Ben Harper ("With My Own Two Hands" and "Picture of Jesus"), and John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change." A few more songs and Brian will replace Michael Stipe as my choice for "DJ at the End of the World."
Brian's song choices have particular meaning to me; "With My Own Two Hands" was regularly on repeat as I wrote my first book, Comic Book Character, as it sets the tone for a gutsy, shalom-directed activism that resonates with my own desire to be some kind of hero. Harper re-recorded this reggae anthem as a lullaby for the Curious George soundtrack, which would inspire wonderful childhood dreams, I'd imagine. At his workshop at CCDA, Brian employed similar language: our aim is not to be villains or victims but to align ourselves with our Hero--sidekicks of the Savior, as I like to think of it.
"Picture of Jesus" was the song I listened to at the 2003 Urbana Student Missions Conference as the clock passed from 11:59 p.m., December 31, to 12:00 a.m., 2004. Harper has recorded that song twice: once with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (my Urbana version) and once with the Blind Boys of Alabama, the CD for which I have since lost. In any event, the lyric "I long to be a picture of Jesus" was a good, peaceful way to ring in the new year in solitude, and not a bad New Year's resolution either.
"Waiting on the World to Change" was a good organizing idea for me as I wrote Deliver Us from Me-Ville, as it represents an anthem of sorts for Generation Me. I blogged about it here at the time of its release; and Brian's post made me nostalgic for the post. I reprint it here for your amusement.
Everybody Needs a Theme Song
I'm not ashamed to admit it: I'm a fan of John Mayer. Sure he's a pretty-boy, sure he dated Jessica Simpson, sure he's on shuffle on my thirteen-year-old cousin's iPod and on the wall in her room, sure he's a little smug and self-important. But I'm a fan, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, when he was a kid he liked to dress up as a superhero, and you have to respect that. For another thing, he plays guitar like he invented it. But more than those reasons is the fact that he dares to speak for an entire generation of people. That takes moxie, and I respect moxie.
He's written about the bitter nostalgia of life after high school, the social awkwardness of relationships, the wonders of sexual intimacy, the perils of vocational uncertainty and the quarter-life crisis. He's a living, breathing discography of early-adult ennui. And now he's written what I hereby nominate as the theme song of Generation Me: "Waiting on the World to Change."
Generation Me, characterized by author and psychologist Jean Twenge as adult survivors of the self-esteem movement, is known for confidence that borders on arrogance and self-importance that borders on narcissism, but also for a profoundly fragile self-image and a low threshold for depression. Twenge argues that where twenty-somethings in the late 1960s were characterized by statements such as "I can change the world!" Generation Me is characterized by statements such as "You can't beat the system."
You could spend forever exploring the origins of this pandemic of fatalism among people born after 1970, but thanks to John Mayer, you don't have to look far to see its impact. In "Waiting on the World to Change" he asserts that "me and all my friends, we're all misunderstood." He doesn't try to overcome the misunderstanding, he just embraces the reality. You can't beat the system. You have to play the hand you're dealt. Fill in your own cliche here.
The self-esteem movement shows its influence as Mayer claims a critical omniscience--"We see everything that's going wrong"--but he then confesses an inability to address the problems: "We just feel like we don't have the means to rise above and beat it." You could understand why a person who sees all the bad in the world and yet feels powerless in the face of it would struggle with depression. And why does Generation Me feel powerless to change their world? Because someone else pulls all the strings: "When they own the information, they can bend it all they want." You can't trust what you know because you can't trust the people who put it in your head.
Mayer and his fellow twenty-somethings are often derided as hopelessly apathetic, which is a pretty hopeless and apathetic thing to say about a group of people, if you think about it. In reality, apathy is an understandable response to hopelessness; a defense mechanism, so to speak. Here's the lyric that jumped out at me more than anything in the song, maybe because it's such a clever rhyme, maybe because it betrays just a hint of attitude by using the word ain't: "It's not that we don't care, we just know that the fight ain't fair."
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the world we inhabit: a chronic sense of helplessness in the face of an unrelenting onslaught of big problems, combined with an ingrained suspicion of authority born out of scandal after scandal across the spectrum of life experience. Our government and industry leaders, our local and international authorities, our priests and pastors, our parents and teachers, our friends and neighbors, have all fallen short of the glory of God--and we see the impact on ourselves and everything around us. It's all too much.
Nevertheless, Mayer is able to muster up some meager hope, and that hope may just be enough to tide him and his friends over: "One day our generation is gonna rule the population, so we keep on waiting on the world to change." There's plenty of circumspection that needs to take place between now and then--particularly that what we are thinking about everybody else, they are thinking about us--but in the meantime let me share words of encouragement from another cynical yet insightful songwriter, Tom Petty: "You're all right for now."
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 3:36 PM
May 16, 2011
There's Good New . . . And There's Bad New
It's taken me five years to finally accept that I hate being new.
It's disappointing, really, because I've always considered myself a fan of all things new. I like to learn new things. I like to meet new people. I like to experience new places. I like to try new food. I like to buy new clothes. But somewhere along the way (about the time we moved from small-town Ohio to fast-paced suburban Chicago without the benefit of knowing or being known by anyone), I realized that consuming something new is not the same thing as being something new.
Consuming I enjoy. Being . . . not so much.
For the last week I've written and rewritten this, my inaugural Strangely Dim post, anxious to come up with the right mix of intelligence and charm, profundity and wit, strangeness and dimness (and apparently edifitainment and sanctitainment) for which my counterparts have become well known.
But in my quest to strike the perfect balance, I've been reminded once again of my first days in a new city and my first days here at IVP, and the angst, uncertainty and insecurity that comes with trying to find your place in an environment whose edges you're still trying to define.
So I'll say it again: I hate being new. The stress of it all, I've learned, can manifest itself in the oddest of ways -- one of which, for me, was a matter of logistics.
A little known fact about the inner trappings here at IVP: we have fourteen printers in eight different locations. When I started here a little less than a year ago, I'd pull up the list of printers on my screen and scroll over their names -- names like Production Printer, Production Color Printer, Production Color Copier, Production Color Printer Copier. Eventually I'd click on the one I thought made the most sense. Then I'd head out of my office only to wander the halls, unsure of which direction to turn or on which of the fourteen printers my paper would actually end up.
Go ahead, laugh if you must. But when you're new (no matter the context) and everything is new -- from procedures and systems to people and places to personalities and culture -- small things like not being able to find the printer (which has a document containing acronyms you can't interpret, for a meeting whose purpose about which you're unclear, with people whose names you don't know, in a culture whose nuances you haven't yet mastered) is enough to cause a breakdown of monumental proportions.
I've since learned that in business this is called "onboarding." If it were up to me, I'd skip the entire painstaking process.
Somewhere during my anxiety over writing this post and reliving the trauma of my onboarding, it dawned on me that since Easter, my fellow bloggers have been wisely nudging our hearts toward Pentecost. During a time of year in which my soul is musing more about Memorial Day plans, summer vacations and, well, anything that might seep warmth into my cold Midwestern bones, the church recalls God unleashing his something new upon the church. That day wasn't so much about being new as it was being made new.
In the process, I've been reminded that while I really do--truly--hate being new, when I ingest the patience and humility and even grace uniquely present in this new experience, I'm reminded not to simply sit and wait for my confidence to return, but to thank God in every circumstance. I hope I never forget how it feels to be the new person, but I also hope I'm increasingly aware (and even thankful) that even when I'm wandering the halls, trying to find my way, by God's grace I'm being made new.
Thanks to the Strangely Dim team for inviting me along. I'm excited to see what new things may come our way.
May 6, 2011
A Fresh Infusion of Strangeness
I believe the question has yet to be answered: How many blog contributors are too many? It's a tricky business: too few, and the content atrophies; too many, and the content changes too quickly, or worse, it loses its consistency, its cohesiveness.
I'm not worried about that here at Strangely Dim. We seem to have cemented our collective reputation for strangeness, if not dimness (although I may be ignoring some feedback); meanwhile, when it comes to mixing it up here, we seem to have plenty of room for more strangely dim thoughts in the mix.
Fortunately for us, IVP has a wide array of creative thinkers, willing to pour themselves out online for your amusement and edification (what I've elsewhere referred to, alternately, as "edifitainment[tm]" or "sanctitainment[tm]"). The latest to join our merry band, taking us from four to five, is Suanne Camfield.
One of our publicity managers, Suanne has also done quite a bit of writing of her own. Her writers collective, the Redbud Writers Guild, turned a lot of heads and generated a lot of buzz when they went live with the goal of "fearlessly expanding the feminine voice in our churches, communities and culture." You have to respect that kind of fearlessness. And be sure to check out Suanne off duty at her blog The Rough Cut. But while you're traipsing about, checking Suanne's bona fides, please don't forget us! Keep coming back for new posts from Suanne and all the rest of us.
Fearlessly expanding strangeness and dimness in our churches, communities and culture--and doing it all for you. You have to respect us for that.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 6:04 AM
May 2, 2011
Gone, Baby, Gone
When I started Strangely Dim eight years ago, I must confess, I never anticipated that one day I'd be announcing a maternity leave. It was just me back then, and for the record, I'm a boy. But since 1993 I've been joined at Strangely Dim by three-make-that-four cobloggers (more on that in a future post), and all of them are women. And one of them is pregnant.
We've all been thrilled to watch Rebecca Larson, our intrepid web content and community manager, prepare to welcome her first child into the world. I'm sure it's been more challenging for her than for us, of course, and maternity leave is just about the least we could do to give her the chance to recover from her pregnancy and bond with her newborn. We'll let her tell you about it when she gets back, but in the meantime please pray for her and her family for this big transition, and feel free to post your congratulations and best parenting practices for her to read and reflect on while the baby is keeping her up at night and keeping her busy during the day. Maybe if you're nice she'll post a picture when she comes back later this summer.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 4:07 AM