IVP - Strangely Dim - Adventures in Writing Archives

March 1, 2013

And Then There Were None: Farewell to Strangely Dim

A final post from David A. Zimmerman

I'm tired. So tired.

Strangely Dim has been a regular part of my week for nearly ten years now. In that time I've posted over five hundred times and deleted over twelve million spam comments (give or take a few million). I've also written two books and a booklet, started a personal blog and become a columnist at Burnside Writers Collective, with occasional articles at other outlets. Oh, and I've edited over a hundred books. That's a lot of words, and I fear I may be running out.

In the past ten years Strangely Dim has hosted a handful of guest-posters (a combination of authors and interns), and it's been a forum for five bloggers besides me: Suanne, Rebecca, Christa, Ann and Lisa. Four of the five have left InterVarsity Press in the past year and a half; I don't want to quit IVP, so I've decided it's time to quit Strangely Dim.

Stop crying, people! We'll all get through this together. You can still read my stuff here or here, and if you need something more tangible and permanent, you can always buy this, this or this.

Strangely Dim has been great fun for me from the beginning. I tested ideas here, profiled friends and trends here, and played a lot of writing games along the way. Here are a few of my personal favorite posts:

The first post ever to Strangely Dim, posted below, reflects the outlook of a much younger me, but I can still affirm it. I like that: with all the changes, both to the world around me and the world within me, that come over the course of ten years, it's nice to see that God is still there, still not silent, still endearingly ineffable.

Thanks for hanging out with me here over the past decade; even though the blog is now part of our history, I hope we can continue to be strange and dim together far into the future--world without end, Amen.

Oh, and one more thing: Rabbit!


Why Strangely Dim?

I have two cats. Wait, I also have a point.

I mention my cats because they, like you and I, are things of earth created by a watchful, careful God. They're also cuter than I am; you wouldn't have kept reading if I had opened with "I have a wart on my third knuckle."

But back to the cats. Such divinely inspired stuff doesn't grow dim without a catfight. And yet, Christians often disregard the things of earth. Some churches even sing about it:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full on his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

The insinuation is clear: nothing else warrants a close look once we've caught a glimpse of God. Fair enough. I can't imagine what could be more compelling than the face of our Maker.

But why, then, all this stuff? Surely a world could be fashioned in which all we could see was God, with no other people, institutions, animals, plants or minerals to distract us. But that's not the reality God created.

The prophet Isaiah once turned his eyes on God in full glory.

"I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty. . . . The house filled with smoke. And I said, 'Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King.'"

Maybe we're better able to appreciate the glory of God after experiencing our failings and the failings of those around us. Prodigal creations celebrating God with clearer vision--that would be a happy ending. But Isaiah's encounter is far from an ending; in fact, it serves as a beginning for his project: "Go and say to these people . . ."

Isaiah encounters God, and God sends him back from whence he came. Something smells funny.

The apostle Paul tells us that "what can be known about God is plain. . . . His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." We see all this stuff and recognize the glory of God. But if we are anything like Isaiah, God will quickly point us back toward the things he has made--the people who rub us wrong, the institutions we support or endure, the creation we steward or pollute.

The things of earth are important to God; they ought to be important to us as well. We each have a perspective limited by our location in space and time, but given that God created each of us from scratch and placed us where we are, when we are, who knows but that we were created for such a time and place as this?

So I propose that we explore the things of earth afresh, searching for what God has for us in them, and for them in us. God has created the things of earth--from cats to kids--for a purpose, and though they occasionally dim in the light of his glory, with his help we can see them more clearly than ever.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:35 PM | Comments (2) are closed

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

November 7, 2012

A Proverbial Rant

. . . 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.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young.
Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
    Let those with understanding receive guidance
by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
(Proverbs 1:1-7 NLT)

Posted by Suanne Camfield at 8:21 AM | Comments (2) are closed

September 24, 2012

Snubbed Again: Who Are You Reading?

By David A. Zimmerman

Last night was the Emmys, and this year might be thought of alternately as "The Year of Homeland and Modern Family" or, more cynically, "The Year of the Snub." Perennial favorites such as Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston and Parks & Recreation went home empty-handed in their respective categories. (Parks & Rec wasn't even nominated for best comedy, which may be part of a communist plot; no disrespect to Modern Family and the other nominees, but Give. Me. A. Break.)

Speaking of snubs, once again Strangely Dim (not to mention my personal blog, Loud Time) was left off the list of the "Top 200 Church Blogs." This annual list showcases "today's most influential church leaders, journalists, theologians, and Christ followers," based on traffic, page ranks, subscriptions and other indicators. The compilers of the list obviously didn't ask my mom which "church blogs" she reads religiously.

I'm not bitter, really I'm not. I do find myself wondering, though, what blogs didn't make the list that should. Ed Stetzer makes three quick observations about the list: (1) the dominance of Calvinist perspectives; (2) the decline of emergence perspectives; and (3) the absence of women's perspectives. I might dispute (2) a bit--I see a decent showing of people on the list who lean Emergent, especially given Stetzer's observation (1)--but the dominance of Calvinists and the dearth of women are hard to argue.

ct women to watch.jpg

Stetzer's observation about women bloggers comes almost simultaneously to Christianity Today's cover issue on "Women to Watch." Ironic, isn't it, that we are being advised to watch these women, but precious few of us are actually reading them.

Here at IVP we're doing our part to close the gap between watching and reading women. In the spring, we're launching a line of books that showcases women authors. More to come on that, believe me. But in the meantime, we're always on the lookout for interesting people with interesting perspectives, and while we want to elevate the voices of leading women, we are also happy to hear from men with something important to say. So here's your chance: Who are you reading, and why should we be reading them too?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 3:19 PM | Comments (1) are closed

September 21, 2012

Hug an Author Day: A Recap

By David A. Zimmerman

In retrospect, it was a pretty good idea. It probably could have been executed more strategically, yielding more book sales, elevating the profile of more authors, moving more product. But to do so would have made Hug an Author Day less an act of fondness and respect, and more an act of exploitation.


God knows authors don't need any more exploitation in their lives. What they need are hugs: concrete assertions that they exist and have value, that what they've invested so much of themselves in was worth doing and has had an impact. They need to be reminded that they are not merely the insights and assertions of their writing but real and whole human beings whose needs are legitimate claims on the rest of us. They need to be given permission to do the awkward self-promotion that their publisher and their own ego-needs are crying out for them to do, and they need to be reassured that they are not less loved or respected for having done so. They need a hug--or something very much like it--and they're not likely to get one unless there's time and space devoted to it.

Call me biased, since some of my best friends are authors, but I wish every day were Hug an Author Day. I'll settle for every September 15. I've marked my calendar; I hope you will too.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:24 AM

September 7, 2012

What Authors Eat

By Dave Zimmerman

It has been brought to my attention that I tend to go on a bit in these posts. Sorry about that. I thought I'd overcompensate by talking about something simple: what authors eat.


For the most part, authors eat what pretty much everyone eats--although some, including Sean Gladding and Rachel Stone (whose forthcoming book Eat with Joy will be as yummy as it looks), are particularly particular, in that they like real food, as opposed to the processed stuff that I (and, if you're being honest, you) feel little compunction about chowing. But authors are also like everyone else in that they're suckers for a free lunch; in that respect, what authors eat is, essentially, whatever I pay for them to eat.

The first time I took a prospective author to dinner I was ill-prepared. I was a deer in the headlights, and he was a ravenous, road-kill-eating ice road trucker. (Not literally; books in that genre don't fit nicely into our publishing program.) Anyway, he ordered an impious amount of food and drink, and when the bill came, I swallowed hard and paid it. He eventually signed a contract with another publisher.

Since then, when I take an author to lunch, I tend toward bargains and signed contracts. I am unique among my colleagues in that regard; most of my coworkers respect food and authors enough to pick a nice place. Pity the poor Heuertzes, Chris and Phileena, whom I rewarded for for their book deals with meals from Taco John's and Taco Bell--which, in my defense, may have been the best Mexican food on offer at the time in Omaha.

When authors come to IVP, I usually let my coworkers (or the authors) pick the place. Over the years a few restaurants have emerged as particularly good for such occasions. If you're ever in the area and itching to write, here's a list of places I might take you (or, if you're lucky, my colleagues might take you).


Uncle Bub's. Award-winning barbecued pork, and immortalized in some film starring that Git-Er-Done guy. Order the pig-pickin' pulled pork sandwich or, if you're especially hungry or daring, the Uncle Joe burger.

Standard Market. A relatively new entry on the scene here, Standard Market is a farmer's market with a dining area. It ffers a simple yet elegant sit-down meal with good service. I like the Buddha Bowl.

Siam Kitchen. Good Thai food. I had lunch there once with one coauthor while on conference call with the other coauthor. I felt mildly wicked, like we had just tee-peed the coauthor's house. I like this line from their website: "We omit the use of MSG." Sounds like a good line for an editor.

Portillo's. A family-owned franchise in the Chicago area, Portillo's is famous for its Italian beef sandwiches. But I usually get the Italian sausage sandwich. At the launch of Likewise Books, we took about sixteen prospective authors here, including Sean Gladding, Mike Sares, Heather Zempel and Amena Brown, who graced us with an impromptu slam poetry performance. (I snuck some of her fries while she wasn't looking; her book comes out next February, so I'll probably buy her some new fries then.)

Zaza's. I go to Zaza's if I'm trying hard to impress someone. They have a lot of wine, but that would be inappropriate during a working lunch. Good bread.

There are, of course, lots of other places to eat around here. This is America, after all. But these are some of the IVP hotspots. How about you--where would you make me take you if I was trying to squeeze a book contract out of you?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:50 PM | Comments (3) are closed

June 20, 2012

What I'm Editing: Pidgin Miracles

By David A. Zimmerman

When I'm bored in church, I often switch my Bible reader from displaying the New International Version (our pastor's Bible translation of choice) to Da Jesus Book, a Bible delivered in Hawaiian pidgin. Sometimes I tweet key verses because they strike me, and people poke fun at my tweets: "Who talks like that?" they share, sometimes in texting shorthand ("Who tks lk tht?").

Duh. Apparently Hawaiians do. What part of "Hawaiian pidgin" didn't you understand?

Pidgin languages are found all over the world, wherever the need of communication demands it. They are typically mashups of two distinct languages, combined to allow for rudimentary commerce: say, for example, when a Hawaiian native wants to trade goods with a European marauder. They need to understand each other to do business, so they work something out. Pidgin languages are mostly verbal/aural, though they eventually get written down because we can't help ourselves, plus we need to teach them to our young, plus we need to diversify our Bible portfolio.

Anyway, I like pidgin languages. I think they're interesting; they feel closer to the ground than the hifalutin language people so often resort to when they're writing books, which I spend my days reading and sometimes suffering through. For all their quirkiness, pidgin languages are almost by definition as plainspoken as people get.


I feel more justified in scratching this itch today as I make my final pass through a forthcoming book: The Gospel of Christmas, by Patty Kirk. Among the best-written books I've ever had occasion to edit, it is slated for release in September, in time for stores to become aware of it and stock/promote it for the Christmas season. It's strange to read about Christmas in June--even "Christmas in July" would make more sense--but such are the demands of the marketplace, which we editors dutifully accommodate.

Patty bypasses the glittery, tinselly cutesiness of Christmas in this book, opting instead to dive into the dirt that surrounds the modest accommodations of the newborn King that Christmas glories in. That means, among other things, taking a down-to-earth look at the manger scene. It helps that she's a farmer, as well as a professor of English; she can get you into the moment like nobody's business. To do so she quotes poets like Edmund Spenser: "Beginne from first, where he encradeled was / In simple cratch, wrapt in a wad of hay."

Poets get a bad reputation for being opaque and otherworldly, but read them and you see that they use words like wad and cratch, and you realize that it's we, not they, who have become addicted to abstraction.

Cratch, I learned from Patty, is a Middle English rendition of the French word crèche, which is where we lay baby Jesus in the manger scene on our piano or credenza or our front lawn. Cratch was the vernacular "back in the days when there were no spelling rules," Patty tells us. It appears in a slightly different spelling in the fourteenth-century Wycliffe translation of Luke 2:7:

And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.

Slightly less than half the words of that verse are marked as misspellings by my word processor, but you can figure it out pretty well. If I had written this on my iPhone, on the other hand, it would have autocorrected into something inscrutable:

And sche bare hit first boring some, and wlappide gym in clothis, and leide gym in a cratche, for ther was no place to gym in no chaumbir.

Here's how Da Jesus Book puts it:

An she wen born her numba one boy, an wrap him up inside some cloths, an lay him down inside one ting fo hold da cows food, cuz no mo room fo dem inside da small hotel.

Two of these renditions of Luke 2:7 make sense; the dignified, digitized third, brought to you by my "smart phone," does not. Not only, then, is Luke 2:7 an indictment of autocorrect; it's also a demonstration of the inherent value of plain speech, which does not trouble itself with such abstractions as rules of spelling but focuses on getting the point across, making the connection, sealing the deal. There was a time when English itself was a pidgin language, connecting disparate people groups one to another, allowing for trade and cross-pollination and ultimately peace. There was a time as well when the Word was made flesh, the ultimate pidgin expression of a fundamental truth of the universe: that God so loves the world that he gave his only son.

On the day of his dedication at the temple, two pigeons were offered up, which we've since remembered as the cleaner, more abstract "two turtle doves" and so, to a degree, stripped the Son of God of a little bit of his down-to-earthy humanity. But that's OK; Jesus has been stripped and worse by the arbiters of appropriateness before, and while it was degrading and scandalous and part of our history that we grieve, it was forgiven and ultimately redeemed at the cross and the resurrection. He still bears the scars, because he's fully human, but he's also fully divine, so that by those scars we are healed.

Keep an eye out for Patty's Gospel of Christmas; it's a soulful book that will get you right and ready to recall that pidgin miracle when God became man, when Word became flesh, when our earth became the cratche that held the Son of God.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:01 PM

April 1, 2012

The Folly of Writing Scripture: #letters2afuturechurch

It seems appropriate that we here at Strangely Dim would pick April Fool's Day to begin writing letters to a future church. Only a fool would undertake a letter-writing campaign modeled after the work of the apostles of the first-century, right? John the Revelator, for example, wrote seven letters from his exile on the Isle of Patmos, so there's ample precedent for our project. But then again, John saw Jesus with his eyes, and touched Jesus with his hands; meanwhile, who are we?

And yet the idea of taking up pen or pixel and the apostolic task is an intriguing exercise. What would you write, given the chance, to set the table for future fellowship? What convictions have you cultivated in your own discipleship, what lessons learned, that warrant bequeathing them to a future generation? As Annie Dillard put it in The Writing Life, "What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

9780830836383.jpgJohn's letters from exile inspired the 2010 Eighth Letter conference, where people from all walks of life and levels of notoriety picked up where John left off and wrote to people of faith who will come after them. The Epiphaneia Network, who convened that conference, went on to collect several of those letters (along with some new ones) into the book Letters to a Future Church, recently published in our Likewise line. Such an undertaking shows moxie, and we respect moxie. So we thought we'd honor their effort by trying our own hands at it.

Over the next few weeks we'll be drafting our letters and posting them here, for your enjoyment and response. We hope you will respond, and if the muse strikes you to draft your own letters, we hope you'll share them with us by posting your links in our comments. If you're so inclined, you can even tweet links to our letters and yours with the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch. If nothing else, tweets and hashtags will remind us that we're not actually writing Scripture or anything crazy like that. It's been done: John's letters--not to mention Peter's, James's, Paul's and whoever wrote Hebrews--have served the church well over millennia, and they don't need any supplementing from us. But that doesn't invalidate our campaign; it simply puts our effort in a proper context. Who knows, after all, how God might use our words, our letters, to transform his church for the sake of the world he loves?

I guess we'll find out.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:13 AM

October 10, 2011

A Countryman Without a Country: Farewell to Christa

I remember the time when Lisa Rieck and Christa Countryman shot around the corner into my office. They made me a little nervous, standing there together, blocking my exit, with that conspiratorial gleam in their eyes. I wondered what they wanted and hazarded a guess to myself: I wonder if Lisa has recruited Christa to write for Strangely Dim . . .

That wasn't it. They both wanted to get involved with an organization run by an author-friend of mine. So I set them up with him, then I recruited Christa myself.

Now Christa is leaving us, after five years at IVP and two-and-a-half years at Strangely Dim. She took a great position writing and editing for Opportunity International, a Christian microfinancing enterprise based just around the corner from us. This is a natural next step for Christa, as she's had a heart for the developing world forever. Her seasonal jewelry sales to benefit an orphanage in Kenya have been a fixture on the IVP calendar for almost her entire tenure here, and her first job for IVP was helping to organize the bookstore at the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Convention. When we decided to write about hospitality during the month of October, her first impulse was to contact Matt Soerens, author of Welcoming the Stranger, to write a guest-post about immigration as a matter of Christian hospitality. She is, as they say, a global Christian par excellence. Add to that her skills both as a writer and as an editor, and you have a clear win-win for Christa and Opportunity International. Win-loss, on the other hand, for Christa and IVP.

Here are some links to some of my favorite Christa posts. I'm grateful to Christa for introducing me to Battlestar Galactica and Florence + the Machine, and I'm hopeful for the work ahead of her at OI. But before they get her, let's show her some love as she heads out the IVP door, folks.



Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:55 AM | Comments (4) are closed

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."

catholic worker.jpg

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 2:17 PM

August 12, 2011

Behind the Booklet: The Parable of the Unexpected Guest

PUG cover.jpgJust this month I released my latest publication, The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. I wrote it on a lark, and then IVP agreed to publish it. Darn decent of them-I-mean-us. IVP publishes lots of booklets such as this one, and has done so for lots of years, starting in the 1950s and continuing to today. IVP booklets generally run about five thousand words; mine originally ran about six thousand, one thousand of which were an admittedly self-indulgent pulling back of the curtain on the writing process. My editor wouldn't let me leave it in, but he very insightfully suggested I post it to my admittedly self-indulgent blog. So here it is. Read it and retweet.


Once upon a time I was bored, so I decided to write something. I had been reading Frank Viola's From Eternity to Here, in which the author suggests that all of history is three interwoven stories: God searching for a home, Jesus searching for a bride, the Holy Spirit searching for a body. Or something like that; it's been a while now since I read that book.

   Anyway, the bride and the home stuff reminded me of a little booklet that has been in print more than half a century. Published by my employer, InterVarsity Press, My Heart--Christ's Home by Robert Boyd Munger goes through the occasional new iteration or refreshed design every few years or so. But the basic story remains the same: Jesus shows up at the narrator's door, moves in to the narrator's house, changes the narrator's life. I suppose you might say my booklet is an homage to that booklet, a reminder that of all the ways we might think of a relationship with God, one of the most endearing (and most intimidating) is welcoming him as a guest into our everyday experience.

   As much of a fan of My Heart--Christ's Home as I've been over the years, the story has shown itself over time to be an artifact of its era. The home described there sounds like the home you might see on the blackest-and-whitest shows on TV Land or Nick At Night. How we inhabit our personal space and occupy our time has changed dramatically in the intervening decades. So with all due respect to My Heart--Christ's Home, I set out trying to write an artifact of my own era, a story that presents Jesus as our current context might best understand him, how we might most likely be endeared and intimidated by him. What if, I wondered, Jesus wasn't in our heart but in our face?

   For me, that meant, among other things, confronting the sense of isolationism that in many ways characterizes contemporary Western culture. I wrote about it in my earlier book Deliver Us from Me-Ville; it's something we're born into and swept along by, and only an intervention by a savior with a broader vision for us can deliver us--often kicking and screaming--into a fuller life now and forever.

   That's my contention anyway. The result was The Parable of the Unexpected Guest, a "thought experiment" for evangelism and discipleship. (I should acknowledge here that I stole the idea of a "thought experiment" from Scott Adams, best known for his comic strip Dilbert but who also speculated about the origins of pain and suffering in the world in his book God's Debris. My friend Dan turned me on to that book, and it's stuck in my head since. "Thought experiment" is a good characterization of the purpose for that book and my booklet.)

   Some might flip through The Parable of the Unexpected Guest and wonder, "Where's the atonement?" They're right to ask: Jesus' redemptive act to contend with our sinfulness and restore us to wholeness is the heart of Jesus' story. Jesus without atonement is just a guru, one might argue. And Jesus is no mere guru; the history of the world has borne that out. That being said, there is no central atoning act in this story. In my defense I'd only argue that there's a tone of atonement that pervades. "Jesus honors us and threatens us with his visit," I wrote in Deliver Us from Me-Ville, a play on a concept by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer that Jesus is both our deliverer and our judge at one and the same time. The intersection of Jesus and our world is thus inherently cruciform--cross-shaped. So ask me where the cross is in this story and I'll tell you: it starts at the beginning and ends at the end.

   The beauty of My Heart--Christ's Home is that it showcases simple disciplines that a Christian could put into practice that would more consistently align their heart to God's purposes: Bible study, devotional time, prayer, avoiding strong drink, stuff like that. (I may have made that last part up; I did, however, once see a dramatic interpretation of My Heart--Christ's Home in which the main character got drunk, and then Jesus made him feel bad about it.) Sadly, those clear suggested practices are only hinted at in The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. My main goal has been to present the Christian life as an embodied faith--one that is not characterized solely or even primarily by extremely private, internal practices (the just-me-and-Jesus sort of disciplines) but by relationship--with Jesus (through conversation, which is essentially prayer, and through wrestling with the Word of God, which is essentially Bible study), with those we work with and neighbor (through acts of compassion and willful engagement), with the strangers among us (through Christ, our brothers and sisters).

   In this regard, I find the motto of the Benedictine Confederation to be a helpful summation of the Christian life: ora et labora, or, "worship and work." Jesus himself characterized it this way: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. By the grace of God, this is life to the full. To the degree that this parable has given light and texture to that idea, it has served its purpose. To the degree it falls short, well, I'll just have to live with that.

   A lot of people are asking me about my "nom de plume," which is different from how I've referred to myself in previous books. Some wonder whether I'm paying homage to scholar D. A. Carson. Others wonder if by writing a story I'm thinking I'm something special, like C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. Some may even wonder if I'm trying to create distance between this publication and other stuff I've written. The reason is far more simple: the main character, the narrator, of the parable is a girl, and I'm a boy, and that was confusing for some of my friends who read early drafts. So it's my act of sacrificial service to you, dear reader, that I'm willing to let you imagine "Doris Avery Zimmerman" or "Deanna Anna Zimmerman" as the author instead of me. You're welcome.

   That's it. I hope you enjoy the parable. As for what to do once you've read it, I can only suggest that when there's a knock at your door, you answer it. By the grace of God, may you live happily ever after.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:55 AM | Comments (1) are closed

February 11, 2011

You Will Know Us by the Trail of Editors

A friend of mine read an article in USA Today about self-publishing, and because he's worried about me (since conventional publishing, as we all know, is on its deathbed), he asked me if there's an untapped market for freelance editors. Here's my response:

There's certainly a need for editors; whether there's a perceived need among self-publishing authors (it's more painfully obvious to the readers of self-publishing) is a separate question.

An enterprising freelance editor could, I suppose, pitch "second editions" to already self-published authors. The trick is justifying their fee, which would likely have to come with some guarantee of improved sales, which likely means the editor would have to function more as agent than as mere editor, and would need to take on some marketing/publicity efforts as well. I've been trying to do that for my friend Tony (in addition to my doing a quick edit of his book, see my interview with him here and my review of his book here), but it's a lot easier to to do that for free than to get paid for it, particularly if an author has already accomplished their major goal: getting published. Sometimes the money is not the main motivator.

I actually think self-publishing is the way to go for a lot of people. A conventional publisher necessarily filters the types of books (and authors) for its existing audience and along the lines of its existing channels. Anything that goes off the grid of traditional publishing, to any extent whatsoever, increases the risk considerably to the publisher, which has its own context into which it comfortably publishes, its own bills to pay, its own sanity to protect. An author with direct access to a ready audience that's not easily accessible to a conventional publisher isn't just afforded a second-best option in self-publishing; in some cases the author is actually better off.

Nevertheless, by self-publishing an author is in fact going off grid, with all the challenges and limitations that going off grid entails. Some self-published books do break through to become blockbusters, but they are still wild exceptions, and their exceptionalism likely indicates that there's more to the story than comes across in how the story is reported. It's not simply this woman's "aggressive self-promotion" that led to her success, but also who she aggressively promoted herself to, who else aggressively promoted her, and who was willing to be aggressively promoted to by someone out of left field. It's not exactly alchemy, although it resembles alchemy; it's just the logic that applies to all effective networking.

 It's worth noting, incidentally, that the vast majority of the "20 million people" who "read e-books last year" weren't reading self-published books but rather bestsellers they could get on Kindle for $10 instead of $22. The article sort of obscures that notion, and Amazon's VP of Kindle Content certainly (and fairly, I suppose) capitalizes on the mythology that any one person is just one lucky break away from being the next great American novelist. (That mythology is part of the alchemy of the "culture of narcissism" I write about in Deliver Us from Me-Ville, what inspires the odd auditions on American Idol, among other things.)

For the record, I do sometimes recommend self-publishing to prospective authors, not as a critique of their ideas or their writing but because for them it's a more viable path than conventional publishing. It's roughly equivalent to my directing an author to a different conventional publisher whose program fits the author better than ours. Sometimes, of course, it's because the writing and ideas aren't particularly good, and the person is merely infatuated with the idea of publishing. I had an unusual experience recently where I was the only editor at a gathering of writers, and one of them very intentionally pursued self-publishing rather than the possibility of publishing with a publisher like us. You can read a bit of his rationale here. Good on Jimmy for having a plan and sticking to it.

Feel free to push back on my characterization of conventional and/or self-publishing, my interpretation of the article and its profiled author's experience, or whatever. The self-published, the conventionally published and the blogging editor have this in common: we love to have people interact with what we've written.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:46 AM

February 3, 2011

A Blizzard of Good Books

I don't know about you all, but having now dug my way out of a blizzard that terrorized as much as a third of the United States, all I really want to do is dig my way back in. Jars of Clay has an adorable little song called "Hibernation Day" that captures some of my well-chilled emotions:

I don't want to get out of bed
You don't want to go out in the snow
(It's so cold outside)
Let's have a hibernation day

What do you do when you're holed up in your home, riding out an abominable snowstorm? Well, you can certainly use your imagination, but one thing I highly recommend, as an employee of a book publisher, is that you read lots and lots of books.

What to read, you ask? You could do a lot worse than just working your way down a list of the "best of 2010" provided by bookstore owner par excellence Byron Borger. His Pennsylvania bookstore Hearts & Minds is a leader among independent booksellers and has everything thoughtful readers of Christian literature could wish for--and he's helpfully free and open with his opinions.

Byron's list from 2010 features books that many of us here have been ogling, some of which we occasionally smack our foreheads and lament "Why didn't we publish that?!?" Two that I've had my eye on are Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography and James Davison Hunter's To Change the World. My big boss Andy Le Peau blogged his way through that book; read those posts starting here.

Byron has been a great supporter of InterVarsity Press over the years. The fruits of our efforts here show up nicely on his list, including a revised edition of one of my wife's favorite books, Richard Mouw's Uncommon Decency; Friendship at the Margins by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl (part of our collaboration with the Duke Center for Reconciliation); The Art of Dying by Rob Moll; Mark Labberton's The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor; James Bryan Smith's third volume in his Apprentice Series trilogy, The Good and Beautiful Community; the Veritas Forum collection A Place for Truth; Mack Stiles's passionate Marks of the Messenger; and Wayne Rice's memoir/manifesto Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again).

Whenever I'm feeling anxious or road-weary in developing our Likewise line, I dig up little comments Byron has made in various reviews he's written of Likewise books. This year's best-of list is no exception; consider this little snippet filed away: "Kudos to the 'Likewise' imprint for their consistently innovative, contemporary, and faithful books." Here's Byron on Likewise books released in 2010:

Living Mission: "Powerful, inspiring, challenging, and very important. What a strong bit of hefty wisdom! What an indication of the emerging tone in missiology. Spectacular."

Unsqueezed: "The kind of 'Christian self-help book' that redeems the phrase, and is a standard for the sorts of contemporary, practical, insightful books that we need to see on the market."

The Story of God, the Story of Us: "It is hard not to applaud too loudly for this one-of-a kind book. . . . Nothing like it that we know of; highly recommended, happily honored." 

The Gospel of John (Resonate): "Any gospel commentary that takes a song from Rattle & Hum--a duet between Bono and B.B. King--has got to be great! Resonate. Indeed. It deserves a special commendation of one of the best ideas in the Christian publishing world of 2010."

Wisdom Chaser: "A book I couldn't stop talking about for weeks."

I'll toot my own horn just a bit and admit that I contributed to one book in Byron's list, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create a Christian Culture. Byron contributed as well, so there's pimping all around, I guess; unless Byron struck a deal I didn't, neither of us is making any money off it. Anyway, the book is what the title suggests: one hundred books that are worth knowing, reading and responding to. IVP showed well in that list as well (I blogged about that here), but in his review Byron takes the opportunity to make a brief case for reading as an act of faith, which is itself worth quoting here:

Christ calls us disciples, you know, which means learner. You wouldn't be reading this (and I surely wouldn't be writing it) if we didn't believe that reading widely is an act of spiritual formation, and that learning what to read is a key skill for maturing faith. . . . We need to honor God with our minds, we need to be fluent in the culture around us, and we can celebrate the good role of the best books in our culture, glad for the common grace of good words and good ideas and good art in the finest literature.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM

January 2, 2011

P. J. O'Rourke on the Writer as Lollygagger

This came to me by way of friend of Likewise Tabitha Pleudemann. It's a confession from the great P. J. O'Rourke on what writers really do when they say they're writing.

Usually, writers will do anything to avoid writing. For instance, the previous sentence was written at one o'clock this afternoon. It is now a quarter to four. I have spent the past two hours and forty-five minutes sorting my neckties by width, looking up the word "paisly" in three dictionaries, attempting to find the town of that name on The New York Times Atlas of the World map of Scotland, sorting my reference books by width, trying to get the bookcase to stop wobbling by stuffing a matchbook cover under its corner, dialing the telephone number on the matchbook cover to see if I should take computer courses at night, looking at the computer ads in the newspaper and deciding to buy a computer because writing seems to be so difficult on my old Remington, reading an interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay that was in the newspaper next to the computer ads, cutting that and other interesting articles out of the newspaper, sorting--by width--all the interesting articles I've cut out of newspapers recently, fastening them neatly together with paper clips and making a very attractive paper clip necklace and bracelet set, which I will present to my girlfriend as soon as she comes home from the three-hour low-impact aerobic workout that I made her go to so I could have some time alone to write.

Happy new year, writers. Now get back to work.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 6:32 AM

September 2, 2010

Defining the Relationship--An Editor's Perspective

"You don't expect your editor to become your friend." I was a little embarrassed, a little impressed with myself, when Adam Taylor (his book Mobilizing Hope is just back from the printer) mentioned that in passing to a group of my coworkers. I was also, I can admit now, a little offended.

Why in the world wouldn't you expect your editor to become your friend?!? Do editors have that bad a reputation? I mean . . . OK, I know we can be a bit nerdy, and we are in the habit of telling people what they've done wrong and how we think they should do it better. I know we sit in little cells passing judgment day in and day out on the quality of other people's ideas, their capacity to communicate, their ability to engage an audience. So yeah . . . sure . . . editors can be awful, awful people--truly horrid--and not the ones you'd hole up with in a corner at a party, forsaking all others to hang out with. (OK, now I'm a little depressed.)

But friendship isn't just a matter of assessing compatibilities. Friendship is a trust, and trust is inherent to the editorial process. I seek out authors whom I can trust with my own faith and character and intellect; these folks have ideas and insights about things I'm willing to invest the next year or two learning, because that really is what the editorial process is for me. I seek out authors whom I will be proud to affiliate myself with, because for better or for worse, their life's work becomes part of my portfolio--part of how I understand and represent myself to the world. I attach myself to authors the way remoras attach themselves to sharks--hopefully not dragging them down or leeching their lifesource, but undeniably poaching their passion and borrowing liberally from their wisdom. When I go looking for an author, that's what I'm looking for, and when I find it, I befriend it. Sorry if that creeps you out.

Hopefully I'm able to offer some trust in exchange. An author's manuscript is in many ways his or her baby: something that's slowly gestated in the mind, demanding nourishment and special attention, resembling the parent at the most essential levels, carrying immediately--by virtue of its existence--a portion of the parent's legacy. You hand your baby to a stranger or an acquaintance as a nicety, because they love babies; when you're looking for the truth about your baby, you take it to a doctor; when you want to hear the truth enveloped in love, or love that is committed to truth, you turn to a friend.

I'm overstating it, of course, and many authors have managed to shake free of these intense exaggerations of the publishing process. (That's what agents are for--OMG! JK!) The editorial process for those authors remains largely transactional--contracts signed, services rendered, money exchanged. And that's entirely appropriate, I suppose. But the game changes entirely when you open yourself to the possibility that this isn't just a transaction but a relationship you've entered into; this isn't just a mechanical process you've undertaken but a potentially quixotic mission you've set out on, with your editor happily serving as your nerdy Sancho Panza.

On the way home from dinner with Adam and my coworkers, I checked my voicemail (sorry, Oprah) to find a message from another author-friend, Sean Gladding, whose book The Story of God, the Story of Us returned from the printer the same day as Adam's. Sean was on his way out with some friends, and he and I hadn't talked in a while, so he wanted to just say hi. Like a friend would.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:03 AM

April 8, 2010

The Arcane Scrutiny

Earlier this week, in a bit of correspondence, I crafted what we in the biz call a "homonym substitution." On purpose. That's how clever a wordsmith.I.am.

For the uninitiated among you, a homonym substitution is a word that sounds like, but has an entirely different meaning from, another word or phrase. Mine, for example, was "That's like comparing tangerines to oranges. Both have appeal." See what I did there? "Appeal" sounds like "a peel." Please, save your applause till the end . . .

Anyway, I recount this example of wordy-nerdiness as an introduction to a little survey I heard about today via a network of editors I'm apart of. (See what I did there?) Here's the text of the e-mail:

There are two kinds of words we'd love to get your feedback on:

1. What words peculiar to Christian books seem to get mispronounced a lot (in sermons, conversation, and audio books)? For instance, I occasionally hear Frederick Buechner's name pronounced "BUKE-ner" (first syllable rhyming with FLUKE) instead of "BEEK-ner." One time I even insisted to the recording engineer that Simone Weil's name was pronoucned "VEY"--but they didn't believe me and recorded it as "WHILE" anyway. It doesn't have to be just proper names--are there other theological or religious words you hear mispronounced frequently?

2. General pet peeves about common words (non-religious) that get mispronounced. For instance, for me the word "err" is correctly pronounced "UR" (rhymes with SPUR) not "AIR." (Although Webster's gives "AIR" as a secondary pronunciation.) Some studios provide whole books of pronunciations for their voice talent, but that doesn't mean they necessarily read them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what editors do. A lot. We scrutinize not only the English language but people's use (and abuse) of it. This isn't mere self-indulgence, however; we're providing a good service to society--protecting the language from its mishandlers, preserving a literary history unmarred by careless diction. You may not appreciate it, but your great-great-great-great grandchildren . . . well, they probably won't appreciate it either. Sad, I no. (See what I did there?)

Anyway, please feel free to post your suggestions here; I'll make sure they get into the write hands. (Ha! I can't stop!)

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:05 PM | Comments (4) are closed

October 27, 2009

Spam Attack, and Lisa's Back

Two events coincided this morning:

1. Lisa Rieck, our esteemed fellow blogger, returned to the office from some well-deserved time off.

B. Strangely Dim was besieged by spammers.

I don't link the two, except that one of the spam attacks was on a post from shortly after Lisa's birthday last year, which yielded the following multiple-contributor adventure in limericks.

From Tait Chamberlain, former intern:

There once was a woman named Lisa
Who just like the Tower of Pisa
despite all her faults
such as half-tilted vaults
was loved just like Mother Theresa

There once was a poem about "Rieck"
whose poetry some thought did reek
But the rest they knew better
He'd been forced to a fetter
for the rhymings were awe-ful-ly bleak


From Dave:

There once was a woman named Lisa
whose bank card was branded with Visa.
She enjoys when she thinks just as much as hot drinks
Her Secretary of State's name is Condaleeza.

There once was a last name of "Rieck"
Whose pronunciation was quite a trick.
Pick one vowel or the other, but if I had my druthers,
With the family's first names I would stick.


From Lisa:

There once was a guy folks called Chamberlain
Who interned until others came for him
They needed his skills;
They paid him in bills
And their workplace was never the same again.

You may have heard of our friend Zimmerman
Once a year he'd take pretzels and simmer them
In chocolate so sweet,
And then offer the treat
To his friends--whose waists weren't any trimmer then.

I knew of a fellow named Tait.
New macros he liked to create.
When he set a decree
British us would all flee,
Leaving books in a much cleaner state.

IVP has an editor, Dave,
Who works hard in an effort to save
An author's good name.
Dave will increase their fame
As each day on their book he does slave
Feel free to contribute your own limerick, in celebration of today's strange convergence of events. Keep it clean; that's all we ask.
There once was a genre called "limerick"
That plagued the strange-witted and dimly quick.
To rhyme stringy surnames--
Both his-names and her-names--
Proved not to be everyone's bailywick.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:50 AM

November 25, 2008

Good News for Short Attention Spans

Pity the poor seminarian, forced to articulate the totality of Christianity in a carefully worded, highly scrutinized document. I occasionally go to a regional meeting for my denomination where candidates for ordination have to stand there while a room full of people read their faith statements and then saunter up to a central microphone to tell them what's wrong with it. The lines of each faith statement are numbered for the convenience of reading and, more important, confronting: "I think it's wonderful that on line seven you speak so movingly of the love of God, but can you help me understand how, on line eight, you contend that this loving God willfully punishes people eternally for something so minor as failing to believe in his Son?" This litany of back-handed compliments and theological posturing is sufferable only because it's so perfunctory; I've yet to attend such a meeting where the doctrinal hazing wasn't followed immediately by unanimous approval of ordination.

The statement of faith is, some might say, an artifact of modernity. They're inheritors of the creedal tradition, when communities of faith would gather and come to consensus about what God had revealed about himself, his creation and his purposes. Such creeds would then be returned to the faith communities, where they would be declared in unison as part of the service. I grew up reciting the Nicene Creed week after week after week, and never once did someone saunter up to a microphone and argue for or against including a comma in line four.

But statements of faith have served as much to distinguish communities of faith as to unite them. They're invitations to an argument, a shot across the bow of other denominations or organizations to confront perceived slippage in the integrity of the Christian faith. They get longer and longer, with more and more numbers for ease of reading and, more important, for ease of shredding. And they're required for seminary graduation, the theological equivalent of requiring someone to stand on a firing range wearing a T-shirt with a bull's-eye on it.

One countertrend to such carefully crafted documents as the statement of faith is Twitter, a forum for communicating random information in 140 characters or less. A few theologians in the Presbymergent community, most notably Adam Walker Cleaveland and Shawn Coons, have taken up the challenge of twittering their faith: stating clearly and concisely how they perceive the heart of Christianity. You can check out the growing pool of entries here.

I like the idea of twittering your faith; it's not only a good challenge to say what you believe in as few words possible, it's a good exercise to do so and then get on with your day, which presumably is an outworking of what you've just twittered. And even beyond that, to declare your faith in a forum that is necessarily ephemeral--each Twitter entry will soon enough be replaced by the next, potentially something as mundane as "stuck in traffic"--is to acknowledge that we are finite and incomplete, that we're still growing in our appreciation of a faith that precedes us by millennia and will extend far beyond us, even to the end of the age.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM

June 16, 2008

You Are the Marketing Plan

One of our authors sent me a link to a funny video about book promotion by Dennis Cass:


I watched this video not long after sitting down for coffee with another author about his plans to promote his book and not long before sitting down with someone else to explain why unknown authors struggle so much to get book contracts. I'm reminded what a friend of mine--herself an accomplished author--says repeatedly: "You are the marketing plan."

That, frankly, sounds awful. Imagine, for example, my own current plight: promoting a book on escaping the culture of narcissism and representing myself as an expert on the same. Add to that the common temperament of writers--withdrawn, quiet, bookish, occasionally indolent--and you have a recipe for futility.

It's a tricky business to show your enthusiasm for a book--especially your own book--without becoming obnoxious. I know of at least one person whose efforts at book promotion have earned him a reputation as a pest. In the case of books having to do with Christian virtue or discipleship or worldview, it's even more difficult to avoid seeming or even being condescending, paternalistic, self-congratulatory and a host of other onerous vices of the personality.

I've come to think that most efforts at self-promotion are inherently absurd and, as such, inherently funny. That in itself takes the pressure off. So sin boldly, first-time authors, obscure ethicists and armchair theologians. Spread your unique insights and cleverly themed cultural prescriptions, your own little idea virus, with the brazenness of Typhoid Mary. Enjoy yourself while you do it, and don't forget to occasionally giggle at the silliness of it all, because when it's all said and done we're all on balance saying and doing what we think is best, and hoping that the rest of our universe will fall in line.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:23 AM

February 13, 2008

The Clock Still Seems to Tick

Today, courtesy of Very Short List, I learned of the book Not Quite What I Was Expecting: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Obscure and Famous. The book collects "ADD autobiographies" submitted to Smith Magazine.

Memoir as a literary form is never uncontroversial; even celebrated Christian memoirist and Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller declared the genre dead--adding wryly that its death means that it still has ten good years left in Christian publishing. Memoir as a genre walks a fine line between stories that transcend the memoirist and edify a broader audience, on the one hand, and stories that act as a release valve for the memoirist's emotional reserves. To say yes as a publisher to the one is to become vulnerable to the other.

I was accosted once at a writers conference by a lovely little old lady who ecstatically recounted a tale of mild woe to me, ending on the happy note of a meagerly miraculous, apparently divine intervention that busted all the dust of her trying experience. I asked her what central idea her story would offer a reading audience, to which she responded, "That God is good." Now, I'm not denying that "God is good" is not a conclusion easily reached by everyone, and a good memoir may reach such a simple conclusion and leave the reader in awe of its profundity. But in the case of the proposal in front of me, the payoff was not worth the story.

With that in mind, I want to thank Smith for giving writers a place to lay their tales of woe to rest, and for enforcing the six-word limit as a writing discipline. As their archives prove, six words can tell a pretty transcendent story.

I'd also invite you, all our Strangely Dim friends, to take a stab at posting your own six-word memoir here. No vulgarities, please. Let me get you started:

"What was I thinking? Now what?"
"I let the dogs out--me."
"Never tell a memoirist your secrets."

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:24 AM | Comments (9) are closed

June 18, 2007

Coming Soon: A Fortnight of Cliches

You know what they say . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We're about to embark on a grand collective adventure, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Prepare yourself for Strangely Dim's first Fortnight of Cliches!

You may be thinking, What's a fortnight of cliches? or perhaps even What's a fortnight? I can answer the second question, but the first is, as Momma used to say, a bridge we'll cross when we come to it. A fortnight is fourteen successive evenings, or in layman's terms, two weeks. During the imminent fortnight we'll play fast and loose with cliches of every stripe, perhaps even making up some new ones. We'll have cliches of the day, cliche-based epic poetry, cliche-ridden worship songs. We invite you to play along, submitting your favorite cliches or your various cliche-validating life experiences. We may even figure out how to make an accent over the e in our blogging program.

So ready or not, here the cliches come!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:01 PM

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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.

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