IVP - Strangely Dim - January 2013 Archives

January 21, 2013

Remembering Birmingham

A quick thought from Dave.

Every year on Martin Luther King Day I read his Letter from Birmingham Jail to white clergy who had called on him to take it down a notch. Here's the passage that stuck out to me this morning, which apparently also stuck out to me two years ago.

***

On the Blemished and Scarred Body of Christ

An observation by Martin Luther King Jr., from a cell in Birmingham, Alabama, on the history and responsibility of the body of Christ.

I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

9780830866632.jpg

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

***

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Letter from Birmingham Jail. Read the whole thing here. And keep an eye out for Ed Gilbreath's forthcoming ebook Remembering Birmingham for a consideration of King's ongoing challenge to us today.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:10 AM

January 17, 2013

What I'm Editing: The Easy Burden of Pleasing God

By Dave

Next week we will send a PDF of Patty Kirk's The Easy Burden of Pleasing God (on my short list for favorite book of 2013--sorry, everyone else) to the printer. Six weeks from then we'll get it back as a book. Then, God willing, we'll start shipping it to readers, mostly via other booksellers.

That's all in the future. Today I'm simply taking my last look at it.

Easy Burden 1a.jpg

The last look is always a little angsty for me. What have I, the editor and primary interface for the author to date, forgotten to deal with? What new errors have entered the book since the look before this one? Is this book the best it could be? What will the reviewers say? What about the readers? What will the author think of the finished product? Of me?

Ah, the perils of people-pleasing. They can make what should be a celebration into an existential crisis.

In this case, thankfully, I feel pretty good. Patty Kirk is a great writer, and editing her (for the second time now; you can get her first book with IVP here) has been just a little bit like a master class for me. She's also a relatively unique persona in my network of author relationships. She's the only author I've edited who lives on a farm (some of my authors, frankly, give me the impression that they were born in a barn, but that's a different story), and her sensibilities reflect the farmer's life--something that for me evokes memories of my childhood, when I would play in the fields and occasionally assist in the chores at my grandparent's farm in northeastern Iowa. I've developed a great fondness for Patty as this book has made its way through our publishing process.

Moreover, I've developed a bit of a dependency on her thesis: that the work that God expects of us is nothing more and nothing less than to believe in Jesus, the One God Sent.

That's a burden, because any claim to godhood and messiahship is a totalizing claim on an adherent's life. Paradoxically, however, it's also a relief. As we've proven over millennia, we're not comfortable accepting simple belief as the whole work of faith. So we come up with burdens of our own devising, telling ourselves that they please God or somehow save us. And then we start judging ourselves and, worse, our neighbors by the quality and weight of our burdens. Every time we do that, Jesus suggests, we're missing the point; more than that, though, we're missing out on the rest that Jesus promises as a side effect of the burden he places on us.

Kirk demonstrates this insight into the gospel throughout the book, going so far as to reinterpret the ethical burden of faith in Christ not as human work but as the gift of a divine parent who knows us better than we know ourselves. For just one example, Kirk recounts a story of a conflict she had with a fellow teacher who "shared" (in the bureaucratic sense) equipment and facilities with her. When her best efforts to use the equipment well came into conflict with his own thoughts, the you-know-what hit the you-know-what:

He yelled at me as at a child, right in front of my students and his, and I went home that day angrier than I'd ever been at someone not related to me.

Coincidentally, I had been reading about anger in Scripture, hoping to convince my husband that anger was not sinful.

She had just read Matthew 5:21-22, however, which doesn't entirely subvert the argument that anger is not sinful but does complicate it quite a bit. Here is where Jesus associates anger, as it is practiced, with murder, going so far as to say that "anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." Patty "detected the unmistakable trail of the Holy Spirit" and took on the burden inherent in the passage: not the burden of forgiveness, as we might expect, but one of confession.

The smile he had for the student or colleague he assumed would be opening his classroom door vanished when he looked up from his gradebook and saw me, and it took every ounce of who I am to force myself to express convincing remorse. I lied that I should have shared authority over the lab with him, should have consulted him before making changes that would affect his teaching. If I had it to do over again, I told him--if I had our entire acquaintance to do over again--I would have operated so differently.

The curious thing was, as soon as these words left my mouth, I actually felt them to be true. . . . I confessed to my innermost self--who knows such things anyway but likes confessions--that I'd felt as intruded upon by this man and his snooty high-schoolers as he must have felt by me and my ridiculous seventh-graders. Our distrust and hatred was mutual, our culpability in the conflict about equal.

My apology tipped the balance, though. Expressions of remorse tend to disarm an opponent, I have since learned. In any case, we forgave each other, on some level, immediately. We even hugged. . . .

Every new time I offer myself in this way, I think of my girls and how I feel when they reconcile after a fight, and I know that God is thrilled.

Imagine God thrilled, the way you're thrilled when your kids hug it out and stop hating each other. Imagine the bizarre physics of taking on the burden of confession only to feel the burden of a strained relationship fall off. Imagine a world in which everyone abandoned the various burdens of their own devisings, or the burdens laid on them by people who loved them but didn't know how to love well, and instead took up the burden of believing in a God whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, for whom in fact the believing in is the burden itself.

If you have trouble imagining that, read Patty's book when it drops.

***

Patty's book is one of the first in a new line we've launched here. IVP-Crescendo offers dedicated space to showcase women we should all be listening to, women whose insights into the faith and the human condition are worth simmering in for 180 pages or so. You can take a look at some of the other initial offerings in the line here.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:52 PM

January 4, 2013

A Likewise Year in Review, and Reviews in the Likewise Year

Reflections and a mild rant from David A. Zimmerman

Well, good riddance, 2012. We're still here and you're not.

We're just back from the triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, and while it will take us a good three years to recover, a fickle blogosphere demands constant refreshing of content. So this seems like as good a time as any to look back on the year just ended and celebrate or mourn as appropriate.

Several new Likewise books were released this past year, including

  • Everyday Missions, by Leroy Barber, whom Sam Edgin at the Englewood Review of Books lauded for his "incredible ability not only to relate the stories of others, but also to draw new meaning out of Biblical passages most Christians have heard many times over."
  • Letters to a Future Church, a collection edited by Chris Lewis, which Blake Atwood at Faith Village called "a challenging and yet ultimately hopeful appeal to the church-at-large to put feet to faith."
  • Go and Do, by Don Everts, which Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today praised for its "summons . . . to robust missional engagement." 
  • Reborn on the Fourth of July, by Logan Mehl-Laituri, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly for its "well-crafted story and . . . compelling narrative" about the competing claims of militaristic nationalism and Christian faith.
  • This Ordinary Adventure, by Christine and Adam Jeske, which Grace Biskie praises with a sassy challenge: "You wanna a healthy kick in the tush? Go get it."
  • Real Life, by James Choung, about which church planter and missiologist JR Woodward said, "The lessons linger with you long after you shut the pages of the book."
  • What Jesus Started, by Steve Addison, which Neil Cole says "contributes a strong focus on the patterns shared by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament and . . . helpful examples of what God is doing today around the world."
Urbana 12 promo.jpg

Four of these books were designated as Urbana Books of the Day, which should give you a sense both of how long Urbana is and how significant Likewise Books is to Christian students and the missional church. You're welcome, global evangelicalism. 

While at Urbana, I had the pleasure of interviewing three Likewise authors (plus Christianity Today Book of the Year award winner Amy Sherman) for the bookstore team. Amy, Phileena Heuertz, Leroy Barber and Alexia Salvatierra (whose book Faith-Rooted Organizing will release late 2013) were all delightful conversation partners and made me look very smart in front of many of my coworkers.

I would be remiss if I didn't invite and encourage you to review these books yourself. You would be helping these authors and book publishing in general a great deal by posting your thoughts (about these and other books you've enjoyed) at GoodReads, on Amazon, on your blog and other places you have influence.

In sadder news, the band of contributors to Strangely Dim went from a trio to a duet when Lisa Rieck left InterVarsity Press to work for, um, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. You can track her new blogging here. We're hoping to continue to have new posts from her at Strangely Dim, or at least reposts of what she's writing for InterVarsity.

We began our year with a new sister line of books when Biblica International transferred their books program to IVP. We added another line mid-year with the launch of Praxis, a line of books for church and ministry leaders. And in December we sent off to the printer four books that will launch our next line, IVP Crescendo, which showcases women authors. Keep an eye out for that (as if we won't be bothering you about it in the weeks and months to come).

So, that's our year in review. How was your year? Feel free to post your reflections on the last twelve months below. Otherwise, please enjoy "My Year in Review," by the great Bill Mallonee.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:18 AM

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Strangely Dim

Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on the communications team for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky.

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 founder of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs occasionally 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.

Subscribe to Feeds