IVP - Strangely Dim - July 2011 Archives

July 28, 2011

John Stott Lives On

This week global evangelicalism lost its great uncle. John Stott was as important to the church in the remotest corners of the Majority World as he was to the great halls of the Church of England. He was equal parts measured and gracious and forceful, as profound in person as he was in print. I had the opportunity to meet him twice but only mustered up the moxie once; when I did he shook my hand and said my name and made me feel better about myself, better about our collective future.

While IVP has published more Stott books than any other publisher in the world, he's never authored a Likewise book. That's not because he couldn't; in fact, with the author's name left off, a cataloger of IVP titles might be forgiven for assuming that The Radical Christian or The Living Church belonged in the Likewise section. We sometimes think of Stott as the forerunner to our Likewise authors, who like him treasure the Scriptures and love the world and long to see the two meaningfully and fruitfully commingled. Jamie Arpin-Ricci, for example, expresses a debt to Stott's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount as he wraps up his forthcoming Likewise book The Cost of Community.

He was truly one of the most influential men of our age and will continue to be for generations to come. . . . His book "The Message of the Sermon on the Mount" . . . launched me into the life and teachings of Jesus like I had never before.

Jamie is one of many in our Likewise line who see the life of the mind as integral to our discipleship, but who refuse to allow our discipleship to be mere intellectual exercise or, perhaps worse, mere private practice. In those refusals, they are a kind of legacy for Stott, some of the inheritors of his pastoral charge and missional vision.

In the spring of 2010 we released a book about John Stott, Roger Steer's Basic Christian. I wrote a post about an excerpt from that book, titled "A Serious Act of Solidarity." I repost it here today as a token tribute of our great uncle, who lives on in the kingdom of God and in the memories of those of us still aching to see it.


Working at InterVarsity Press, you can't help but be into John Stott. The history of IVP is incomplete without his Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ and countless other titles, and his approach to writing has shaped the approach of countless other of our writers. So yeah, I dig John Stott. But I always thought of him as a "scholar-pastor," not as a punk--until I read this, from Roger Steer's biography Basic Christian:

Basic Christian.JPGEver since he was a teenager at Rugby when he had founded his Association for the Benefit of the Community, John had felt a concern for those who were rejected by society. But what would it really be like to be one of London's underclass? John decided to try to get some idea. He stopped shaving for several days until he had a stubbly beard and put on some very old clothes. He still had his wartime identity card and, having put this in his shoe, set off to make the dramatic transition from Queen Anne Street to the Embankment area on the north bank of the River Thames.

He spent his first night under the arches of Charing Cross Bridge surrounded by tramps. He lay down in the company of men and women whose only covering, apart from their clothes, was newspapers. He didn't get much sleep. The pavement was hard. Men were coming and going, some very drunk and making a lot of noise. It was November 1946 and very cold.

Hard-core, no? This wasn't urban tourism or reconnaissance for gentrification; this was frontline missiological research, a serious act of solidarity.

As light dawned and the sun came up he was relieved that the new day was sunny and dry, though the air was crisp. He called at a number of the old ABC teashops where employees were kneeling outside scrubbing the steps. He had deliberately brought no money with him.

"Can ya gimme a job for a cup o'tea?" he asked in the best Cockney accent he could muster. "Or even spare a breakfast?"

When nobody took pity on him, he began to feel rejected. He walked into the East End of London and, since he had had little sleep, lay down in the sunshine on one of the many bomb sites. Rosebay willow herb was growing in profusion, making a reasonably soft bed, and he fell asleep.

When evening came, he made his way to the Whitechapel Salvation Army hostel for the homeless and queued for a bed. When he got to the window where you booked, the officer in charge was brusque with the man in front of him. Momentarily, John forgot who he was meant to be that day.

"As a Salvation Army officer," he burst out, "you ought to try to win that man for Christ and not treat him like that!"

The officer looked at him sharply, wondering who he was, but said nothing.

No wonder Stott has become so influential the world over. No wonder his readers and students and congregants and biographers alike hold him in such high regard. For John Stott, the gospel isn't something to be merely appreciated; it's to be embraced and embodied. Likewise, the world isn't something to be dissected; it's a place to be loved and served. 

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:19 PM

July 25, 2011

Experiments in the Kingdom of Love: My Fast from Whistling

Of all the things we do in the world to wound one another, I rarely think of whistling as a weapon. But that's what it was a week ago at Jewel, a chain of grocery stores where I live. I was minding my own business, standing in line behind a guy buying beer and a whiffle bat. When I mind my own business, I tap out rhythms on whatever's handy--in this case, my shopping cart. And I whistle. And this guy was not feeling it.

"Seriously, man. What's that whistling proving? Anything?" he groused as he completed his transaction.

I apologized and tried to stop. I didn't want him to break out that whiffle bat. But I whistle--it's what I do. I do it while I work, while I walk the halls at the office, while I drive, while I sit around the house, while I'm chillaxing with my wife, while I mow the lawn, while I'm enjoying a quiet moment at a party. I whistle. It's what I do. So, I thought, it's probably something I should try not doing for a while.

Thumbnail image for Scandrette-Cover1.jpgProverbs 27:14 was my guiding verse for this experiment, inspired once again by Mark Scandrette's great new book Practicing the Way of Jesus: "If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning," the writer cautions, "it will be taken as a curse." I don't typically whistle early in the morning--or if I do, it's privately, in my car or my family room--and I don't think I whistle especially loudly. I also don't think that I whistle in order to bless; at best, my whistling is innocuous, or at least I always assumed it was. I never mean any harm by it, but as I've learned from the guy at the grocery store (and more compassionately from my wife after that troubling event), sometimes it's annoying, an imposition, even, on other people's way of being in the world.

Why does anyone whistle, anyway? I inherited the habit from my dad, who never means any harm by it. It's always struck me as charming when he randomly starts whistling. Dwarves, we're led to believe, whistle while they work to fend off the monotony, to give themselves a winsome rhythm to work to. Wizards and hobbits whistle in the dark as a show of bravery, a means of drowning out the chattering of teeth or the inner voices that whisper anxieties. But a day after the grocery incident I read a less charitable take on whistling, almost a direct indictment of my behavior at the grocery store.

Sometimes, under the goad of speed, we act as if other people are not there. When we move fast, those around us seem to be blurs, like statues glimpsed through the fog. Our minds are elsewhere, and we have just enough attention in the present moment to avoid knocking everybody down--and sometimes not even that much! We will shove our way in front of others when they are reaching for something, squeeze by them at the door, shut the lights out on them when we leave the room, disturb them by talking out loud to ourselves or whistling or banging things about--and all this because we do not truly see them. (Eknath Easwaran)

So this experiment has been less about whistling and more about seeing people. Figuring out why I do it, and what I miss out on when I do it. On the first day of my whistling fast, I broke down twice: once at work and once at home. I had picked music to listen to at work that doesn't support whistling--random recordings by minimalist composer Philip Glass--and yet I found myself whistling along to Glass's repetitive structures (thanks Wikipedia). I stopped, shamed myself and got on with the day. That night I whistled as I mixed up a smoothie for myself. I'll be honest: it was somewhat devastating to not be able to go more than about six hours without pursing my lips and blowing air.

It's not surprising, though, I suppose: whistling (at least my whistling) is an unconscious act. It's a habit I picked up somewhere along the way, a means of coping or pacing or lightening my mood. Sometimes I think my whispers are a surrogate; if I don't whisper I'll cry. More often though I think I just like the sound it makes. I once fancied myself a musician, and while it's been decades now since I've played the saxophone, when I whistle I'm maintaining the self-perception; I'm still making music with my mouth. I think I'm actually pretty good at it--not Andrew Bird good, but better than many.

I kept catching myself starting to whistle for several days. Gradually I decided that I might be better served not by shaming myself but by thinking of my impulse to whistle rather as an occasion to pray--like a mosque alarm ringing out five times a day. I prayed for my family; I prayed for an upcoming conference; I prayed for coworkers, friends, the state of the world. Interestingly enough, the further into the week I got, the less often I caught myself whistling, and the more often I caught myself praying.

I'm glad to be done with the experiment though. Whistling isn't a weapon; it's a means of self-soothing, of self-expression. Now that my experiment is over, I may even try whistling while I pray; then at least I can't be accused of not blessing people with my whistle.


Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:35 PM | Comments (1) are closed

July 1, 2011

An Experiment in Gratitude: Abundance in Poverty . . . Or Maybe Just in the Rain

"Good experiments. . . stretch [Jesus followers] into uncomfortable (yet ultimately transformative) realms of experience."

This from a previous post chronicling the first of several seven-day experiments we here at Strangely Dim are conducting as we practice the Way of Jesus, Mark Scandrette style.


I reread the quote somewhere in the midst of writing about my own seven-day experiment and therefore cringe over what I'm about to admit: I chose to keep a gratitude journal --  writing down ten things each day (without repeating) for which I was grateful  --  while I was on vacation. Did you catch that? I picked to do a gratitude journal while I was on vacation. The epitome of uncomfortable transformation.

It probably served me right, then, when I awoke on the first day to the drone of rain on my nylon tent. Not only the first day, but the next and the next. Instead of drinking in the beauty of the Wisconsin pines (and soaking in the sun) by kayak, I spent the week wrapped in a raincoat, squishing around in soggy wet shoes, dashing from one structure to another trying -- and failing -- to stay dry. Everything we owned smelled like wet dog.

Scribbling the first entry -- "hot cup of coffee" -- into my gratitude journal was a struggle.  Not because I wasn't grateful, but because I was grumpy. And cold.

But as the week progressed and my list grew, I began to notice the outside transformation that formation experts (internally) high five about. My list evolved from hot liquid and warm campfires to good friends and meaningful conversations to the holiness of God himself. Herein lay the beauty of my experiment: I had to look past the rain to discover the truth that gratitude isn't the sum total of things -- even good things. It's a state of being based on the goodness of the One who was and is and is to come.

I wasn't alone. Following one of the core tenets of the book (the Way is not meant to be practiced alone) I asked my friend Nancy to join my experiment.

Her journal was full of simple pleasures: the beauty of a sunrise, the sound of her kids laughing, the colors of creation, the size of her daughter's hand in hers as they walked through the woods. She slowed down. She took time to talk to people she otherwise would have rushed by. She smiled more. The difference, she said, wasn't in what she was writing but how she was viewing her world -- with a grateful heart.

Both of us went from scraping our daily ten off the bottom of our wet gritty shoes to being overwhelmed by the richness that swirled all around us.

In chapter nine of Practicing the Way of Jesus, "Experiments in Security," Mark and his friends wrestle with where true contentment lies. "What if we measured wealth in purposeful work, simple pleasures and meaningful relationships?" Scandrette writes. He then goes on to share his own experience of standing in a mud-floor shanty in El Savador listening to a prayer of thanks from a mother who feeds her family of eight on two dollars a day. "Her ability to see abundance in poverty," Scandrette writes, "both instructs and haunts me."

Abundance in poverty. An American vacation of any kind isn't exactly poverty (regardless of the weather) but the idea of continually looking beyond our possessions, our circumstances and even that which is meaningful for that which satisfies is an experiment we all could stand to do a little more of.

On the last day of our vacation, I stood thigh-deep in a Wisconsin lake. Although the rain had finally cleared, the clouds hovered, gray and thick. It was 57 degrees. My kids were standing next to me, my husband on the other side of them. With a small crowd gathered and tears in my eyes, I listened to my children claim Jesus as their Savior and watched as my husband dipped them into the cold water, a symbol of their own gratefulness to the God who makes all things new.

Abundance in poverty.

Or maybe just gratitude in the rain.

Either way, taking a step, albeit a small one, to practice the way of Jesus in an intentional way gave me new eyes for living in the kingdom of love. Thanks Mark.
Posted by Suanne Camfield at 10:52 AM | Comments (2) are closed

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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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