IVP - Strangely Dim - Original Likewise

August 15, 2011

Original Likewise

This year, for me, has been the Year of Biography. I've been reading memoirs, autobiographies, histories of particular historical figures, that sort of thing, almost exclusively since January 1. I've read books by two winners of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor as well as a posthumous autobiography by Mark Twain himself; I've read an authorized biography of Nelson Mandela and a somewhat jaded story about the breakup of three pop superstar groups in 1970. If it's biographical, or autobiographical, or memoirish, or at all defensible as fitting those categories, I'll read it.

Lately I've been reading a book by Paul Elie that collects the stories of four American Catholic writers from the twentieth century: Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Dorothy Day. I was pleased to find these writers described in Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own as what I might (somewhat self-servingly) call "original Likewise." If our line of books might reasonably be described as "contemplative activism," then these four writers would have fit the bill: "four individuals who glimpsed a way of life in their reading and evoked it in their writing, so as to make their readers yearn to go and do likewise."

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Today's subject was Dorothy Day, at the founding of her newspaper Catholic Worker. Contained in its first issue (if I'm reading Elie correctly) was the following "easy essay" by Peter Maurin, a French Catholic who served as the catalyst for Catholic Worker and who set Day on the path toward sainthood. Check this out:

 

The world would be better off
if people tried to become better.
And people would become better
if they stopped trying to become better off.
For when everybody tries to become better off,
nobody is better off.
But when everybody tries to become better,
everybody is better off.
Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried to become poorest.
And everybody would be what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be what he wants the other fellow to be. 

Chew on that for a while. This is the sort of plainspoken elegance that wisdom dresses itself in, the kind that we aspire to publish, the kind our authors aspire to write. Elie sums up the power of this kind of writing, which inspires readers and writers alike:

Certain books, certain writers, reach us at the center of ourselves, and we come to them in fear and trembling, in hope and expectation--reading so as to change, and perhaps to save, our lives.

Here's hoping that you and we and all of us read or write something life-changing today, and every day. And here's to the great writers in the long tradition of the church--the "original Likewise" from the first century A.D. to the twenty-first--who help us see that hope not as mere idealistic fantasy but as a particular vocation of the church in every age. Books can still change lives, we contend, when they're written by people who seek all manner of salvation, when they're inspired by a God who makes a habit of changing things for the better.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at August 15, 2011 2:17 PM Bookmark and Share

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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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