November 28, 2012
Eleven months out of the year we think of Jesus and we think of the crucifixion, the resurrection, the atonement, the propitiation for our sins. That's all well and good: Jesus shouting from the cross "It is finished" was an epochal event, a moment that lasts forever. But eleven months out of the year it's easy to forget that Jesus didn't just finish something; he also started something.
What Jesus Started, a new book by Steve Addison, tells the story of exactly that: the movement that began with Jesus' incarnation, the event we celebrate each Christmas season and anticipate each Advent. Over the next four weeks I'll be reflecting on each of the themes Steve explores in his book: seeing, connecting, sharing, training, gathering, multiplying. I'll do this with an eye toward Christmas and, shortly thereafter, the Urbana Student Missions Conference. This year's theme at Urbana is "It Starts with 12"; What Jesus Started will be featured as a "book of the day."
Advent 2012 begins on Sunday, December 2, and spans four Sundays, the last of which is Sunday, December 23. Steve's six ideas make a four-week Advent series a little challenging--though not as challenging as God taking on flesh and comporting himself to the limitations of humanity and the social restrictions of first-century cultural Judaism under the Roman empire. So we'll give it a shot. For Steve, Jesus' movement starts with seeing.
We see all the time, of course. Right now I can see my computer, my books, my coworkers, my undone work, my three empty coffee mugs. I can see a lot. So could Jesus' contemporaries: they could see all sorts of things clearly, and yet in Jesus' eyes they were wandering around befuddled, lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd. He regularly lamented the selective blindness of his people; here's just one example.
When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, "It's going to rain," and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, "It's going to be hot," and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? (Luke 12:54-56)
By contrast, God sees everything clearly, most notably the need of his creation--the need for a saving act, for a God who intervenes. In Jesus, having seen, God acted.
Jesus also saw the end of the long story of creation, with him on his throne and his creation gathered around, flourishing in peace and wholeness, and the joy of it allowed him to endure so horrifying a human invention as the cross.
Jesus' followers are called likewise to see not with eyes jaded by the ways of the world but with eyes of faith. We are not to be deceived by what we see with our eyes; we are to fix our eyes on him as the author and finisher of our faith, and to act on what we see by his light.
What we see is a world in need of a gospel that proclaims the Lord's favor, offers good news to the poor and oppressed, sets captives free and makes the blind to see. Jesus' movement starts with God seeing and acting, and continues with God's people seeing and acting in expansive, healing ways. We see because God saw; we act because God acted. And the world is better for it.
It starts with seeing; it continues as Jesus, and his followers, make meaningful connections to the world that surrounds us. That will be the subject of part two of this series and, may I propose, the first week of your Advent.
Start reading What Jesus Started by Steve Addison. You can get it in print or digital here.
Fast from speaking for a day, and just observe the world around you. What needs do you see? Where do you see God acting? Where do you see God directing you?
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:17 AM
November 26, 2012
There was a time, albeit brief, when I was convinced I should become a master of divinity. I went so far as to sit in on classes at two local seminaries, an experience that--along with the price tag of a seminary education--effectively cured me of my hubris. But sitting in on the classes wound up being an interesting kind of field research for my work as an editor, because I found out what these future leaders of the church were reading and, maybe even more important, how they were reading.
One of the things they were reading, it turned out, was the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, a little reference book I had almost nothing to do with but had developed an immediate fondness for. Sitting next to me in the back row of one of those classes was a student who kept that pocket dictionary close at hand, flipping through it furiously as the professor professed.
That was just over a decade ago, and in the intervening years pocket books have become decidedly quaint. Why would you carry 124 tiny pages of text in your pocket when you can carry all the world's information there? But therein lies the hidden value of curated content: just because something's on your iPhone doesn't make it reliable (see: Siri; iMaps). Not all the world's information is good.
By contrast, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, along with its many follow-up reference books, is both reliable and good, because (among other things) its editors worked really hard to collect the three-hundred-some terms in each book; to gauge what was most essential and foundational about each term; to anticipate how each book might be used in the classroom, in sermon preparation, in a variety of other settings; and to write each entry with all those factors in mind. This content wasn't just cobbled together haphazardly or randomly selected based on keywords and sponsored links. This content was curated.
Anyway, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms is on my mind these days because it provides the root content for InterVarsity Press's first ever app. The Pocket App is available for Droid and IOS operating systems and brings the dictionary into the age of social media. You can, I'm told (I still have nothing to do with it), browse, search, swipe and highlight. You can also add your own terms, copy and paste content, and share what you find in the app with your Twitter and Facebook families, or (if you're feeling nostalgic) via your AOL account.
It's nice to see this very useful resource being retrofitted with the very useful tools we find on our phones these days. Whether you're trying to figure out the difference between a priori and a posteriori, or you're trying to remember who in the world Ulrich Zwingli was, now you can once again have reliable, carefully curated information right at your fingertips. I didn't have anything to do with it, but you're welcome anyway.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:37 AM
November 19, 2012
By Suanne Camfield
I had my morning all mapped out: a quick edit on my Strangely Dim Thanksgiving post (set to go live today), a slew of emails returned, a large dent on some research for another project I was working on, an early lunch and I'd be in the office to hit "publish" on this post by noon.
Except when I flipped open my laptop to get my super-productive morning kicked off, I realized I hadn't saved the most recent version of my gratitude-induced post. In fact, I hadn't saved anything even close.
After two hours of trying to recover the file (a whimsical yet thoughtful IVP twist on my favorite holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving), I emailed my buddy and co-contributor Dave to tell him I'd be a little late with our pre-Thanksgiving entry. His reply came swiftly, "Ach. That sucks. Happened to me this morning as well. Gonna be hard to be thankful this Thanksgiving."
Funny, right? The irony of his humorous little quip is how precisely it captured what I had already planned on quipping about myself--a cultural leaning (or perhaps just a human one) to extend gratitude only as high (or as low) as our current circumstance. Or if we're really getting down to it, our cultural leaning to equate the goodness of God with our pile of stuff.
Insert Linus' prayer from A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving here.
Don't get me wrong. In a few days, I will be overflowing with gratitude for both my circumstances and my stuff. I will sit on my in-laws' couch, enjoying a rare third cup of coffee, inhaling the childlike enthusiasm of my kids all sprawled on the floor as they watch the Macy's Day parade. I will hold hands with people I love around a table buckling with food and, with warmth in my bones, I will lift up a prayer of thanks for every last bite.
At the same time, I will remind myself of the slippery slope of thanksgiving--proclaiming God's goodness based on our own abundance rather than his. After all, no home or person or sweet potato casserole is guaranteed an invitation year after year. But the true goodness of God, those attributes that reside in his character--generosity, trustworthiness, holiness, love, justice, mercy and self-sacrifice--these are a safe bet every time. (Thanks to James Bryan Smith for so eloquently pointing this out in The Good and Beautiful God.)
Several years ago my husband brought home a worship CD produced by Student Impact at Willow Creek Community Church. The chorus of one song in particular still runs through my head, both on everyday mornings like today when life doesn't go as planned and in my more reflective moments pondering life's greatest gifts.
The song goes like this:
This Thanksgiving, I hope your table is surrounded with friends and family and overflowing with food. I hope your job is plentiful, your children are thriving and your adventures are successful. I hope your health is strong, your mind is sharp and your soul is full with love, laughter and life. I hope your turkey is juicy.
But if not . . .Continue reading "But If Not"
November 9, 2012
I have always been something of a politics junkie. I get pretty jazzed about elections--from the president to the pope to the park district superintendent. There is, of course, a hierarchy; I'm more interested in the selection of a president than I am in park district politics, and I realized this year that I'm less captivated by an election involving an incumbent than I am when there's an entirely clean slate of new candidates. But junkies can't be choosers, and I still get amped up every election day. And then the day after election day, I suffer ever so slightly from what I like to call post-partisan depression.
Maybe you know the feeling: the notion that nothing has really changed, that six billion dollars were spent on pomp and circumstance and smoke and mirrors. Firmly ensconced in my "election day" playlist is the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," featuring that singularly cynical line that puts the painin campaign: "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss."
Anyway, a couple of friends who happen to be authors I've edited wrote posts in the wake of the election that eased my mind considerably, and rightly turned my attention from the spectacle of elections to the electiveness of discipleship. Read these articles if this election cycle has put the blue in your red, white and blue. And feel free to point me to other articles that have set your mind back on the politics of the kingdom of heaven: loving God and loving our neighbors.
From Logan Mehl-Laituri, author of Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience: "Who did you vote for?" is the wrong question to ask. Instead, the real question is "How do you vote?" since voting is on-going, not restricted merely to Election Day, but also to the work day, Veterans Day and every other day of the year. What Francis of Assisi said of preaching is equally true of voting: do it without ceasing, and do it on Election Day only when necessary."
From Mark Van Steenwyk, author of the forthcoming The Unkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance: "What does Easter Sunday have to do with Voter Tuesday? Everything. Today, as our minds are still dripping with electoral goo, let us focus our hearts and minds on the Resurrection. . . . By practicing Resurrection, we not only embrace the hope of a far-off resurrection of the dead, but also defiantly embrace life and fullness in the face of death and deprivation. So, did you vote yesterday? I don't care. But I do care how we all vote today. And the day after that. We must give our lives to sowing seeds of justice and peace. We must wake up every day and vote for life and love in the face of death."
My own post following the election had to do with the relative value of voting as compared to the value of giving blood. You can read it here.
And from Jamie Arpin-Ricci, author of The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom, the final word for now:
Your kingdom come,
He didn't write that, but he's living it, and it wouldn't hurt if we all would go and do likewise.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:30 AM
November 7, 2012
. . . by Suanne Camfield
As a rule of thumb, I try not to let too many things get under my skin. But there are the occasional irritations that leave me squirming--grammatical mishaps being one.
I'm certainly not a perfect writer, so I can extend grace when people get affect and effect mixed up or can't remember if something comprises something or if it's composed of it (I'm still not sure I know the difference), or when they trip over the correct use of a word like notorious.
I do, however, cringe when someone says Barnes and Nobles. (It's Barnes and Noble--no s.) I can't understand why people aren't embarrassed when they use orientate like it's an actual word. And after seven years of living in Chicagoland, I still recoil when native Chicagoans end their sentences with with (e.g., "I'm going to the store. Want to go with?").
Topping my current list of skin-crawlingness is our culture's current obsession with the word proverbial. The viral nature of the thing kind of makes me want to scratch my eyes out. And sometimes eyes of the people who use it.
Too harsh? Well, okay yes, of course. But think of the last time you heard (or read) proverbial used. For me, in an office meeting last month: "The proverbial you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." In an article last week: "The proverbial ships passing in the night." In a book last night: "The proverbial pot calling the kettle black." In a blog last day: "The proverbial apple a day." In a book proposal last second (in the middle of writing this post no less): "The proverbial bible thumper." (That last one is so bad I'm not even sure it counts.)
Here's why it irks me so (and why I think we should stop doing it):
1. The Eleventh Rule of Writing: Omit unnecessary words. Do we think our hearers don't know that the "pot calling the kettle black" is a proverb? Do we think they actually think ships are passing in the night? Proverbs are common sayings. It's what makes them proverbs. Saying something is proverbial is akin to describing a tree as green and leafy. Qualifying a proverb by saying it's proverbial is not only unnecessary, but--no offense to the proverbial lovers--slightly insulting.
2. It's lazy writing (and speaking). On his fabulous and insightful blog Andy Unedited, IVP editorial director Andy Le Peau often identifies laziness as the culprit of poor writing. One of my favorite posts is Please Don't Use the Dictionary! in which he pleads with authors to stop defining words with definitions:
It's one of the most common and one of the dullest tools that writers or speakers pull out of their toolboxes--quoting a dictionary definition when trying to make a point. It happens every day whether it's a blogger, a teacher, a preacher or a speaker. Webster gets quoted to define some painfully ordinary word like professional or accidental or addiction.
Proverbial puts us on the same ground. In the words of Andy, "Work harder to find a more interesting way to express yourself."
3. Proverbial Wisdom Actually Exists. The centuries are full of proverbs that are rich in meaning and depth. They weave powerful stories with witty anecdotes that make us ponder our place in life differently than how we saw it before. In The Essential Commandment, Greg Ogden refers to this Hasidic saying:
Everyone must have two pockets, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, according to need. In the right pocket are to be the words: "For my sake was the world created," and in the left: "I am dust and ashes."
He uses the proverb to lead us to this paradoxical truth, "We are finite and broken people as well as those who have been redeemed to reflect the Redeemer." It's become such a strong image for my own spiritual journey that I've shared it with others and watched as the realization of being simultaneously flawed and redeemed has poured over their own life. As people who write and edit and publish, if we're going to call something proverbial, perhaps it should share this kind of wisdom.
Not sure where to start? Consider the first chapter of the proverbial book of Proverbs. Or how about just Proverbs.
These are the proverbs of Solomon, David's son, king of Israel.
November 5, 2012
Four years ago, right around this time, the United States was electing its president, and Lisa Rieck was nowhere to be seen. And yet she still managed to pump out the following post for Strangely Dim. Back then she was on the other side of the world; these days she's on the other side of the cheddar curtain. Her words still ring true, and the times once again call for them. So read on and get ready.
A dispatch from Lisa, who is currently holed up in an undisclosed location.
I know we're all sick of political commercials; signs in yards with names and positions in big red, white and blue letters; phone calls and junk mail from candidates; newspaper and magazine articles on the candidates' past sins, present mistakes and whereabouts, and future vacation plans; the latest political poll; and so on. So I'll keep this short.
Conversations with friends and Paul's words about praying for leaders in 1 Timothy 2, as well as wise commentary from N. T. Wright on that same passage, have reminded me, in the midst of all the hullabaloo, that we're called to pray for our leaders. So, whether or not you voted early at the mall, are going to vote on Tuesday and ask for extra stickers to wear throughout the day so that everyone will know you voted, or aren't going to vote at all and didn't even know there was a presidential election this year--start praying.
I admit, it feels like such a small thing to do for an election that will affect nearly every other country in the world. Voting sometimes feels that way. (As a friend recently expressed, in a broken system can my one vote really make any practical difference for people in need? Will broken, sinful people in power really act out of the best interests of others?) But prayer can feel even a step further removed from Washington, D.C., than voting: If I throw up this prayer for our leaders, will God really hear? Will my prayers for our president and other leaders really bring about change in them, in this country?
Many days, if I'm honest, it doesn't feel like a prayer will affect national and global affairs. But as I talked with friends about the election, it struck me what a dangerous position president of the United States is: in our post-Fall world, few men or women can handle that much power and not fall into sin or greed as a result. So even when we feel like our prayers won't make a difference, I'm convinced we must pray for our leaders.
We're commanded to, for one thing. And prayer moves our focus away from the little power we have to the power of the One we pray to: the only true God, the only all-powerful One who really does hold the kingdoms of the world in his hands. If Paul can exhort others to pray for their leaders while imprisoned by members of his own government, surely we can put his words into action.
Here a few suggestions for prayers you can pray for our leaders, whoever they are.
Who knows? As we pray, God may move and empower us to act in some of these areas, to make a difference not for our country or our glory, but for his kingdom and glory.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:44 AM