January 31, 2012
A Favorite from 2011 and a Challenge for 2012
It's no secret that we at IVP are Margot Starbuck fans. And really, what's not to like? She's funny, she likes to paint polka dots on the rims of her glasses, and she's serious about justice--all reasons why her newest book, Small Things with Great Love, is one of my favorite IVP books of 2011. To be perfectly honest, though, she's not the only reason I'm a fan of her latest book; I also love it because she wrote it for me. Not me personally, but me in my working, introverted, single, suburban life (jealous?).
Truth be told, for several years now I've wanted to be involved in some type of justice work--work that says to the most abused and abandoned: You are a precious child of God, worth fighting for with all the resources we've got, until justice is won. I've done the small, seemingly easy things like giving money to organizations working for justice and doing some reading to become more informed about particular issues. My work at IVP on books like Welcoming Justice, Just Courage, Daughters of Hope and Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle has also kept me connected to the pulse of justice work. But often, as I sit in my safe little cubicle, I wonder if the small things (read: anything less than quitting my job, getting a more "useful" degree like law, medicine or social work, and living among the poor) really matter in the incredibly huge pool of justice work that needs to be done.
In Small Things with Great Love, Margot emphatically says yes, the attempts we make at loving others that seem so small to us do in fact make a difference in the world. She writes:
Is God scowling in judgment because we're changing the batteries in our smoke detectors instead of going door to door collecting eyeglasses to send to Haiti? Is God looking down from heaven feeling sort of resentful that we're using the "look inside" function on Amazon.com instead of visiting prisoners? . . . I simply don't think [that's] the case. Here's why: God's love for you and God's love for the world in need cannot be separated. God's longing to see you liberated for life that really is life can't be neatly pulled apart from God's longing to see the poor liberated for life that really is life. . . . Can you see what great news it is that this serendipitous double liberation isn't something extra we do? . . . . The regular stuff of our lives--the commute to work and the potlucks and home improvement projects and errands and play dates--are the exact places in which we express and experience God's love for a world in need.
Yes, Margot, I can see what great news that is! But it's not just great news for little ol' proofreading, copyediting, cubicle-dwelling me. The truth is that she also wrote this book for you, sweet wanting-to-make-a-difference-in-the-world-by-loving-others-with-the-love-of-Christ Strangely Dim reader. Yes, you. Whether you're married or not; male or female; young or old; or living in the city, the suburbs or the nice, quiet, beautiful countryside waking up to the sounds of cows mooing, there's a chapter specifically for your age and stage of life that's chock-full of small ways you can engage the world around you with real love. "Small things happen when I learn the name of my daughter's school bus driver," Margot writes. "Small things happen when I listen to the dreams of a woman who lives in a group home on my block. Small things happen when I risk crossing a language barrier even though I look really stupid doing it." Her life and her observations of the lives of others have led her to this simple conclusion: "Embracing the adventure of loving a world in need is--at its best--about giving Jesus, in us, access, through us, to the ones already around us he already loves."
Feeling inspired? And maybe even free to stay in your current non-slum work/home situation without guilt, trusting that God can use you in the places he's called you to? Us too. For the month of February, Dave, Suanne, Rebecca and I will be blogging about our attempts to do small things with great love as we walk through our ordinary, pay-the-bills, change diapers, go-grocery-shopping days. And we would love to have you join us in learning to love the people around you--family and strangers, friends and enemies, neighbors and garbage collectors--more intentionally. Then leave us a comment telling us your story so that we can celebrate together God's work in us, through us, around us.
Before we start our adventure together, though, let me offer one word of caution for you and for us here: Doing small things with great love, however more feasible and less overwhelming it might feel than having to single-handedly wipe out AIDS/HIV in Africa, is not easy. It takes intention. It might, for example, involve some sacrifice and hard choices, such as creating a bit more margin in your life so that you have space to listen to and watch for the opportunities God brings your way. It also takes faith--faith to trust that the One who made us with certain gifts and called us to the particular place we are will use us there to love the others he loves. And faith to trust that the One who did miracles with small things like a few fish and a bit of bread or an almost-empty flour pot in a time of drought can still do big things through our small offerings--even an offering of faith as small as a mustard seed.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:25 AM
January 26, 2012
(Slightly) More Objective Votes for 2011 Favorites
Well, we hate to brag. But we're going to anyway, of course.
Mark Scandrette's new book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, was not just a favorite here at IVP. It made RELEVANT magazine's "Top Ten Books of 2011" list and was described by reviewer John Pattison (who is, truth be told, coauthor of the IVP book Besides the Bible, which we recently acquired from Biblica, and coauthor of the forthcoming IVP book Slow Church) as "inspiring and eminently useful." What more could you want in a book?
So if you need something intellectually stimulating, spiritually challenging and potentially life-transforming to do to pass the time until the best-of-2011 movies are announced on Oscar night, pick up one or two IVP favorites from 2011 and let us know what you think. (On the other hand, if you don't want to be spiritually or intellectually challenged or to change anyone's life--yours or others'--feel free to keep playing video games and watching The Bachelor while your brain cells die off, one by one, and your perception of reality gets more and more twisted. Just don't ever say we never did anything to help you . . .)
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 5:39 PM
January 24, 2012
More Subjective Treatments for the Best of 2011
"Everybody thinks their opinion is the right one," says Anne Lamott. "If they didn't, they would get a new one."
It's one of my favorite quotes, and the one that keeps running through my head as I try to put an objective spin on my favorite IVP books of 2011. Honestly, it's a ridiculous idea. We label things like books and movies and music and art as "favorites" not solely for what they are (for their transporting melodies or poetic prose) but for how they make us feel, and for what they reveal about our own souls. Remaining objective requires that we leave behind that which is uniquely us--our biases and idiosyncrasies, our experiences and baggage--that which has shaped us and formed us and leaves us longing for more. Objective is boring. And, I'd argue, impossible.
And so favorites, like opinions, are as subjective as they come. If not, we'd all run off and get new ones. With that epiphany, here's my Subjective Best of 2011.
Publishers Weekly called Invitations from God by Adele Calhoun "a persistent critique of modern culture and of status quo Christianity." Hearts and Minds Books called it "a treasure" that requires us to take inventory of that which we accept and reject, and to examine how it shapes who we are.
It also happens to be written by a friend of mine. I met Adele six years ago when my husband accepted a job at the church where Adele worked. I knew her first as pastor, then as mentor and now as friend. During pseudo-therapy sessions on her sofa or muddy hikes through the woods, our conversations dripped with both the anticipation and the anxiety (mostly mine) of hearing and responding to God's invitations.
I wasn't alone. I watched hundreds of women flock to sit at her feet, to soak in her teaching, to sop up her wisdom. To pretend I don't bring the knowledge of who she is and the difference her words have made in the lives of others, including my own, to the pages of this book is, well, ridiculous. "Invitations shape who we know, where we go, what we do and who we become," says Adele. Both her words and her actions have done the same for me. Subjective Favorite #1 goes to her.
I fell in love with God Behaving Badly the moment I read the subtitle: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? What a seriously fantastic question! It represents countless conversations with my own father, a man of deep faith who has struggled, like so many of us, to understand how a loving God could seemingly be (and these are my words now) so dang mean. More often than not, those conversations found me bumbling along until I'd finally shrug my shoulders and concede, "Honestly Dad, I don't really get it either."
And so when I cracked open this book and found the conversational style with which David Lamb answers some of our hardest questions, I was overflowing with thanks. (Later, when I realized Lamb is an Old Testament professor who actually has the gift of teaching, I was smitten. My parents, both retired school teachers, remain the best teachers I've ever known.) When Christmas rolled around, I eagerly wrapped up this book and gave it to my dad, a reflection of the bond we've shared as we've earnestly pursued our Creator. God Behaving Badly wins Subjective Favorite #2.
Choosing only two favorites doesn't seem like nearly enough, especially when I scan the plethora of passionate, insightful, transformational books here at IVP. But favorites, unlike opinions, do have a limit.
Posted by Suanne Camfield at 4:02 PM
January 16, 2012
Creative Maladjustment: Practicing the Faith of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we thought we'd post an excerpt from Adam Taylor's Mobilizing Hope, a book that, inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, aspires to unleash a generation of "transformed nonconformists." King coined that phrase in a sermon that cut right to the heart of it: "The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority." Adam picks up on that theme and chases it throughout his book; it seems appropriate, just days after our New Year's resolution to do things differently this year, to remember it on this and every Martin Luther King Day, and to follow Adam on the chase.
I used to bemoan the fact that I wasn't alive during the 1950s or '60s, when injustice seemed so much more overt and movements seemed so much more robust. At that time there was no way to ignore the suffocating discrimination of Jim Crow segregation in the South. The task of realizing justice in our contemporary context often seems more difficult because injustice and inequality have become mutated genes that seem more invisible. The Goliaths of economic injustice and inequality may be more covert and institutionalized but are still pernicious. Goliaths are still embedded in systems and structures that subjugate and oppress. . . .
Trying to tackle injustice based on our own limited abilities means playing small. Instead we must tap into the renewing power of faith to overcome the barriers that get in the way of transformed nonconformism.
The first and most common barrier is inertia. Particularly in this Internet age, we are barraged and inundated with constant information and marketing campaigns enticing us to do or buy something. This information makes it more difficult to grab people's attention and solicit their commitment. After a while, we either start shutting out this information overload or become increasingly jaded about solicitations for our time and attention. Inertia becomes our fallback and the keeper of the status quo.
. . . The second barrier is fear, which includes the fear of real or perceived risks associated with getting in the way of injustice. We may fear fallout from colleagues, family or even friends, particularly if the issues we are getting involved in are controversial. Living a countercultural life of activism can involve persecution, particularly in countries that don't enjoy the same degree of protections for free speech and assembly as the United States.
. . . A third barrier is apathy. We can easily become desensitized to the pain and suffering in the world. Apathy is often fed by cynicism, the belief that nothing will really change regardless of our actions.
. . . As people of faith, we are often uneasy about power and blind to the power we possess. While it is important to remember Lord Acton's dictum that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," we are often overly timid and passive about using our God-given power because power takes on an overly negative connotation. But power can be used for life-affirming or life-denying purposes. Dr. King said it best: "power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is shallow and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."
. . . The last barrier is a feeling of isolation, which makes people feel alone and alienated from people who share similar interests and values. In any campus, workplace, church, and so on, are countless people who are waiting for the right call to action to be drawn out of their isolation. Without an invitation we often fail to realize the degree to which other people share our values and desire to build a better community and world.
. . . Activism can be intimidating, particularly when you think about the complexity and seeming intractability of many of the injustices in the world. Where does one start? What are the best entry points? . . . Creative maladjustment involves a broad range of daily-life commitments. At its core, it requires making a daily commitment to what Gandhi described as "being the change you want to see in the world." Our actions must become a mirror image of our core values and convictions. . . . We are called to be good stewards not simply of our money but also of our time and our talents. Creative maladjustment . . . a more holistic and radical stewardship of our time and resources . . . is at the very heart of discipleship.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:09 AM
January 12, 2012
Honest Faith & Survivor's Guilt: On the Second Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake
Two years ago today IVP was still celebrating the successful December launch of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, Kent Annan's mission memoir of his time living and working in Haiti. We had introduced Kent to the world at the Urbana Student Missions Conference and launched a contest for a small group to win a trip with Kent to see the work of his organization, Haiti Partners, up close and personal. And then the earth shook.
Early estimates put Haiti's death toll at 230,001 (Kent adds the one as a reminder that these were people, not estimates), and while those estimates have since been revised lower, more than a half-million people are still living without homes amid the rubble two years later.
Kent wrote his second book, After Shock, to wrestle with the goodness of God in the shadow of this already-struggling country, now defined in the global imagination by death and dislocation. To contribute to Haiti Partners' work in rebuilding the country and specifically the education of its children, click here. To grapple with Kent's insightful witness, read on.
Then there's posttraumatic stress disorder. . . . Part of the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (the standard guide on these things) is that a person faces a physical trauma (themselves or as witnesses) and that their response involves "intense fear, helplessness, or horror." . . . Not to minimize the extreme nature of what people in Haiti (or soldiers coming back from combat, for another example), are facing, but I'm struck by how, in a less acute way, this definition applies to almost everyone alive. Granted, some people can experience traumas and, through the difficulty, flourish. But others are crushed. Suffering becomes the sole arbiter of truth. And many of us, I think, are tempted to respond by walling off our hearts or ideals.
. . . Being shell-shocked by the traumas of life is a right response. Guilt is often a right response to being alive too, when we fail to love as generously as we should. But guilt and trauma shouldn't close us down. Being open to life is also the right response to life. It's what survivors should do as long as we can.
The church is a pile of rubble. Nothing left. The school beside it is damaged but standing. Nobody had been in the church when it collapsed, but one teacher died in the church school when the roof partially collapsed in his classroom. . . .
Andre pulls out the Communion wafers. The only part of the building or furniture in the church that wasn't smashed to pieces, which I hadn't noticed when I'd been here before, was where they kept the Communion wafers. . . . We line up to go forward and receive. In front of me is a grandmother. She's lost everything and sees her family and community devastated. She's frail. She moves forward without hesitation in the line. A young man behind me. What dreams can he dream now? He keeps moving forward for the bread.
"This is my body broken for you."
I arrive and the jagged Communion wafer--Christ's presence, yes, Christ's presence that did not stop the church from falling, that did not protect the teacher in the school or the dad on the porch, but Christ's presence here in the pile of rubble and here in this group of people in a sun-struck yard--is placed on my tongue.
For the rest of the service I sit on some rocks, still without shade, next to Jean, whose legs are atrophied and folded under him. He can't walk. He's led a tough life with his disability. Before the earthquake, he always sat on the aisle in one of the front rows. When the first chord of the Communion song was struck, the song signaling we could come up front to receive the bread, the song whose chorus is "Vinn jwenn Jezi, Vinn jwenn Jezi," Come find Jesus, Come find Jesus, Jean would swing out and, using his hands and arms to propel himself, be first in line. He was always the first to come find Jesus.
And here in the rubble, come find Jesus. . . .
Here, week after week, people come to find Jesus. The rubble may make him harder to find, but maybe, like the wafers in the center of this leveled church, he never left and never will.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:02 AM
January 6, 2012
For the Feast of Epiphany
That silly satire is my earliest impression of the Magi. But it hardly merits the feast day offered every year on the Feast of Epiphany, celebrated on January 6. On this day we're encouraged to look at the freshly incarnated Jesus through the eyes of "wise men."
In his book The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, the second volume in our Resonate series, Matt Woodley gives us a true sense of the meaning of epiphany, the discovery of the Christ that vindicates every journey, no matter how difficult or seemingly hopeless. An excerpt from Matt's book follows.
The Magi represent a universal human drive to embark on a quest. Their stargazing wasn't recreational or philosophical; it signified the red hot coal stuck in their throat, their longing for joy, their participation in the search. After intently watching the stars and planets, after reading the signs and searching the clues, they embarked on a quest. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea," Matthew tells us, "during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?'" (Mt 2:1-2). We don't know much about them, but we can assume this was a costly search driven by deep desire. In one sense the Magi represent all of us--seeking, questioning, longing human beings who awaken to life as a quest.
But they also represent something about God, for the Magi are not only seekers; they are questers who have been outquested by God. According to Matthew, God initiated their long and costly journey through part of his good creation--a star (Mt 2:2, 9). They may have spotted the star, but God used the star to guide them out of their everydayness toward joy. God also guided them through his spoken word, refining their initial quest through an ancient Old Testament prophecy recorded in Matthew 2:6:
At each stage of their quest God sought the seekers, recapitulating the journey described by Augustine's prayer: "I should not have sought you unless you had first found me." . . . We start out the quest intending to discover something, but we end up being discovered. We think we are looking for something only to find that someone was looking for us. We assume we're ascending to God and realize that God is descending to us. This is divine mercy. . .
It's hard to miss the application for us: the questing God of Jesus, the God of grace, still seeks seekers, welcoming home sinners and outsiders. He still guides us step by step through nature, circumstances, relationships, failures, triumphs and especially the Holy Bible until we are led to worship King Jesus. The church, living at the foot of Jesus' crib and cross, should do no less.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:45 AM
January 4, 2012
Best of 2011--An Entirely Subjective Treatment
I'm generally reluctant to call any one book I've edited the best. To do so feels more like a betrayal than a compliment. Designating one book as "best" is, after all, implicitly designating all the books I worked on (minus one) as "not the best." That makes this month's theme here at Strangely Dim, "Favorite Books of 2011," a little problematic for me.
Besides, one of the things that distinguishes a publisher from, say, an instant oatmeal maker is that each of our products is entirely distinct from every other. When we compare books to one another, we're comparing apples and oranges, not apple-cinnamon-flavored and "Shrektastic(TM)-Flavored" packets of otherwise identical dust and flakes. We wouldn't have contracted a book--or gone through all the trouble of editing, designing, marketing, manufacturing and selling it--if we didn't hold it and its author in high regard from the outset. So the short answer to the question "What was the best IVP book of 2011?" is perhaps frustratingly evasive: "Every book is the best in its category, which happens to be a category of one." See what I did there?
Nevertheless, the assignment persists. But I'm an oily little devil; I've refashioned the assignment as "my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011." Sneaky, no? Just try and stop me . . .
Anyway, for me, 2011 began and very nearly ended with the release of two books that had special personal significance: After Shock, by Kent Annan, which came out in January, and The Cost of Community, by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, a November release. Both books remind me of my 2010 visit to Haiti, and specifically of my celebration of the Feast of Pentecost on the floor of a leveled church.
The connection between After Shock and Haiti is painfully obvious. Its author, Kent Annan, is the codirector of Haiti Partners, a ministry dedicated to education in a country where public education is woefully underdeveloped. Less than 30 percent of Haitian children actually get schooling past the sixth grade. A seemingly insurmountable task of educating particularly rural Haitian children falls to NGOs and other nonprofits, like Haiti Partners. Their work wasn't helped by a devastating earthquake, one of the most destructive in history and the subject of After Shock.
My trip to Haiti was planned before the 2010 earthquake. We were celebrating the release of Kent's first book, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, by sponsoring a small group of contest winners to spend five days with Haiti Partners staff. I had invited myself along and raised funds from some very gracious friends and loved ones to get me there. The earthquake just punctuated the poignancy of our experience, as we watched communities try to recover even as Haiti Partners helped get their schools back up and running.
Kent was writing After Shock even as he was taking us from town to town, introducing us to teachers and other friends, and helping us process what we were seeing. At one point he and I hopped out of our truck so I could take the book's cover photo; it was intended to be a placeholder till we found a more appropriate picture to take its place, but we never did. Eventually the book was even a finalist for an award for book cover design.
We celebrated Pentecost down the road from the church that graces the book's cover. The only things left standing where we worshiped were some support beams and the tabernacle where the elements of communion were stored. We shared communion that Pentecost Sunday, in commemoration of the birth of the church, as described in Acts 2. On that first Christian Pentecost tongues of fire descended on gathered believers till they started preaching the gospel in a great variety of languages, till they started sharing all they owned with each other and so tying their fates together.
I was in the midst of my own ecclesial earthquake in the spring of 2010, having left a church after a somewhat bitter experience and still trying to figure out what a church ought to mean to me, and what I ought to mean to a church. Sharing communion with people who had lost everything and who were yet able to eat the Lord's Supper together with glad and sincere hearts renewed my commitment to practicing my faith in communion with others and restored my hope that even a fundamentally broken church can be an instrument of God's grace and peace.
One of the people who traveled to Haiti with me was Jamie Arpin-Ricci. He had submitted a book proposal sometime between when we selected him as a winner of the contest and when we boarded the plane; I brought his book contract with me for him to sign, because I get a little giddy over that sort of thing. Jamie got terribly sick while we were in Haiti, so we weren't together often, but our every interaction reinforced for me that he was going to write a really meaningful book.
Jamie's community in urban Winnipeg (the coldest city on earth, in contrast to the unearthly heat of late-spring Port-au-Prince) is rooted in the teachings of Francis of Assisi, whose mission was rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest recorded sermon and a good distillation of his ethic. Jamie's insight into the demands of the gospel not just on the individual but on gatherings of people was helpful to me as I processed my Pentecost experience. Our conversations in the many months between contracting and publishing his Cost of Community helped me continue to wrestle with my relationship to the church. Francis, the Sermon on the Mount and Jamie's community in Winnipeg, all their radical circumstances notwithstanding, are good guides for following Jesus.
While we were between appointments in Darbonne, Haiti, a fellow walked by with a donkey in tow. A man leading a donkey, for the uninitiated, is the logo for Likewise Books, the line that houses both Jamie and Kent's books. So they and I grabbed the rope and pulled it tight, and someone snapped a picture. I'm told that I almost got kicked in the face by the donkey for the privilege, but it was totally worth it.
It was an honor to walk alongside Kent and Jamie as they brought their books to life, to sit at their feet as they wrestled with the problem of pain and the cost of discipleship. Buy and read both their books, but read them slowly; they're meant to be chewed, not devoured.
I would be remiss in recounting my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011 if I didn't mention an author dinner at the first-ever Wild Goose Festival. Seeing so many authors eating together with glad and sincere hearts was a kind of validation of the several years now that we've spent teasing out the role of a publisher in Jesus' command to "go and do likewise." In many ways any effort to publish in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, Jesus' parable that inspires the Likewise line, is deconstructive. To parse such a simple story, such a simple command, into a regularly replenishing supply of new books is perhaps to spin it into hopeless abstraction. We're protected from such accidental subversion, however, by the authors we work with, who are doggedly concrete in their discipleship. To go and do likewise is, for them, first and foremost not just to mull over an idea but to go out and put it to the test--to take Jesus seriously enough to act on what he said.
Two of the authors on hand for that dinner had books come out this year that cut straight to that chase: Mark Scandrette, whose Practicing the Way of Jesus both demands and demonstrates that our discipleship cannot be not merely private and intellectual but must be communal and embodied; and Margot Starbuck, whose enthusiastic Small Things with Great Love makes loving your neighbor as you love yourself seem less like a burden and more like a great adventure. Those two books were only about 2 percent of the total output of IVP's publishing program in 2011. But as a favorite editorial experience, being with them--and the twenty-some other folks around the table who were likewise committed to making the gospel undeniable and unavoidable--is right up there with remembering the birth of the church in a building without walls in Haiti.
That's my best of 2011, as effusive as it is evasive. Editors can't do much, but we can do at least that.