IVP - Strangely Dim - Hospitality Archives

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

November 23, 2011

The Beauty of Being Present

In case you haven't noticed, we have a little hospitality theme cooking here at Strangely Dim. To be honest, I've struggled for more than a month to come up with something (okay, anything) that I thought might enhance the theme. Last week, I scribbled two lousy first drafts, drummed my fingers on my keyboard to "Wheels on the Bus," chewed on my bottom lip for a while as joggers and dog-walkers passed by my office window, and waited--and hoped--for a moment of inspiration. Almost absently, I glanced at the copy of The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley sitting on my desk, and I started thumbing through. When I hit the subtitle of Matthew 8 ("The Beauty of Being Present"), I chastised myself.

9780830836420.jpgI should have known that Matt--both of them--would come through. My soul exhaled. (You might even say it resonated). I finally had my thing.

In today's over-scheduled, over-stimulated, over-industrious, over-distracted culture, being present with people is a monumental accomplishment. I mean, most of us are with people all of the time, but how often would we describe the presence we offer as beautiful? The kind in which our minds don't wander, our eyes don't flutter, our hearts don't waver and in which we never have to say, "Now, tell me your name again?" The sad truth is, we have to work pretty dang hard at being present with people.

In "The Beauty of Being Present" Matt recalls a time when he spent ten hours a week for thirty weeks visiting chronically sick hospital patients. His most memorable patient, an amputee named "Bill," had spent 160 days in the hospital without diagnosis or cure, "listening to doctors and residents endlessly discuss his case" right in front of him. Bill ultimately landed under the care of a psychiatrist who, in a nutshell, told him he was grumpy. 

"After completing my three hundred hours of visitation," Matt writes,  

I concluded that our modern hospitals--efficient, bright and sterilized--qualify as one of the loneliest places on earth. Health care professionals could discuss diagnoses, prognoses, medications and treatment options, but they almost never engaged a patient's sense of agony or abandonment. For all of our disease-curing efficiency, we usually don't know how to provide healing presence.

Healing presence. Maybe it's not often something we consider ourselves conduits of, but as followers of Jesus, we probably should.

Last Saturday night, I had just nestled my head into the pillow when I heard my phone buzz on the kitchen counter. A friend of mine had been admitted to the hospital. She was physically okay but shaken and lying in a hospital bed nonetheless, so I was dressed and walking out the door before I hung up the phone. Halfway to the hospital, I wondered if it was silly that I go. Had she known that I was on my way, I'm certain she would have pointed a stern finger in the opposite direction. But when I stepped around the curtain and stood at the end of her bed, watching her tears flow openly at the sight of my face, I knew I had my answer. There is no substitute for the beauty of being present.

Midnight phone calls are one thing, but often the more difficult task is to provide healing presence in the midst of our everyday lives, stopping our "doing" long enough to be present in the brokenness of the world. And not only in the parts that are so obviously broken, but those that look like the state-of-the-art hospital Matt describes--efficient, bright and sterilized. And in desperate need of an undivided touch.

"As those who are connected to Jesus, trusting him in our spiritual poverty, we can offer others the personal presence of Jesus," Matt says. "By touching others we offer them the touch of Jesus. In our impersonal culture marked by deep loneliness, this ministry of presence--offering the presence of Christ, God with us, to others in their isolation and pain--is an amazing privilege and calling."

Hospitality is often associated with doing--entertaining, opening, welcoming--but I wonder about the healing touch we could provide others if we'd stop doing for them and simply start being with them.

When I think of the best dinner parties I've hosted, for example, I think of the ones that were rich in conversation: where politics, religion and money were all fair game, where surface-level was a bore, where the TV remained off, where dishes sat dirty in the sink, where wine turned into coffee and back into wine again. Where people engaged one another free from distraction and provided a healing presence by simply being themselves. I think the beauty of being present might just be the most beautiful kind of hospitality there is.

I had lunch with Matt last spring. I often ask authors about their experience writing their book; answers vary from "challenging" to "exhilarating" to "never again." But like his memorable time with "Bill" in the hospital, Matt's answer to my question stood out above the rest. After four years of delving deep into the book of Matthew--after being in the healing presence of Jesus--Matt couldn't help but walk away changed. It's fitting then, that the full title of the book is The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us. After experiencing the beauty of being present with Jesus--God with us--none of us, not one, can walk away unchanged.

In less than a week, we'll settle into Advent, perhaps the most poignant season of "God with Us." We're looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you and hope to hear from you as well. Until then, we hope your turkey is juicy, your football teams victorious, your hospitality undistracted and your heart overflowing. But most of all, we pray the beauty of God's presence in and through your life.

Happy Thanksgiving . . . from our house to yours!

Posted by Suanne Camfield at 8:20 AM

October 28, 2011

The Hospitality of Openness

Hospitality has been on our minds here at Strangely Dim this month, and I'm guessing it's been on some of your minds recently too. Especially with Halloween coming, and with it the pressure to figure out what candy will make you the most popular house on the block (which is really what it's all about, right--being the most popular??). Here's a little tip that might help us all out in our attempts to be hospitable (as people in general--as Christa explained so well for us--and as candy-passer-outers): Open your door.

Open, in fact, is what I might name my year (as Likewise author Tamara Park likes to do)--a year that's been full of me thinking about--and experiencing--hospitality. The concept of opening captures for me the essence of hospitality: open ears ready to listen to others; open eyes that notice and truly see others; an open heart ready to respond to others with compassion, grace and truth; an openness about who I am that enables others to be authentic as well.

But hospitality and openness, I'm learning more and more, don't just apply to our relationships with others; they're also an important piece in our relationship with God. Our bestselling booklet, My Heart--Christ's Home, gives a picture of this. Dave's new booklet, The Parable of the Unexpected Guest, offers an even more specific look at hospitality to Jesus. In the past month or so, a Sara Groves song titled "Open My Hands" has been particularly powerful for me in this arena. Part of the chorus, which has become a sort of daily declaration for me, says
I will open my hands, open my heart
I will open my hands, open my heart
I am nodding my head, an emphatic yes, to all that you have for me . . .
I officially "opened my heart" to Jesus when I was five, so I suppose that's when my hospitality to him began. But there have been many moments and days since when the so-called door to my heart has been partway closed to what he has for me--or sometimes cracked open only enough for the smallest sliver of light to shine in.

Groves's song points out in the verses that pain, thirst, rain are no measure of God's faithfulness to us, and that he withholds no good thing from us. It reminds me how much hospitality is an intentional stance we choose to take toward God, much like standing by a physical door that we've just flung wide open in welcome to someone on the other side. I need to choose each day to be open to whatever he brings, open to his leading, open to the ways he's nudging me to respond to the parts of my day that aren't from him but rather come as a result of the fallen, broken, sinful state of the world.

This is hard. Especially for control freaks like me who hold every piece of our lives with a death grip. (Beware when you shake hands with us. We have been known to crush a few fingers accidentally with our strong hands.) I have, however, through the Spirit's work, felt a slow loosening of my clenched fingers, a small widening of the crack in the doorway. Just in time for him to show me another, even harder, aspect of hospitality: being open to his timing and the ways he works.

It's one thing to start to be open to the events that might happen in a day--an unexpected phone call from a friend in pain, a delayed flight, a new project in an already full workday. It's a whole other thing to be open to the "speed" at which God works in me--a pace that seems neither efficient nor necessary from my limited, finite perspective (as in, OK God, I know it took me six or seven years to adjust to living in the Chicago suburbs, but I am totally ready to move to Cambodia and do aftercare with victims of sex-trafficking if that's where you want me. Should I book my flight now?). But being patient, trusting in God's timing, welcoming his seemingly slow pace and the opportunities it gives us to reflect, process, adjust and grow at a rate we can handle are all part of having a hospitable heart for God.

Being open not just to what God is doing but also to how and when he works is really hard. My "emphatic yes" can easily and often turn into a nod that's so slow it's hard to tell if I'm actually nodding or if I'm just doing a little T'ai chi at my desk. But here's something else I'm learning about God and hospitality: though we don't know what situation, circumstance, risk, calling or time frame will be waiting for us when we swing open the door and say yes to his work and ways, we do know who we're welcoming: "him who fulfills all his promises, who holds out for you nothing but good, and who wants for himself nothing more than to share his goodness with you" (Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands). Maybe Nouwen was thinking of James's words: "Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession" (1:17-18 NLT). Hospitality to God means welcoming--intentionally, daily--One who is good and absolutely trustworthy. One who gave up his life out of hospitality to us, that we might be welcomed in to his family. And One who waits eagerly for us to say yes so that he can transform us more and more into the image of his Son.

So open up, people, open up! Doors and hearts and bulk bags of candy (if you want). And while I don't know who or what will be on the other side of your door on Monday (princesses? ninjas ready to attack--read: whine--if you don't have candy they like? pirates and bumblebees?), when I let Nouwen's and James's words settle in to me, opening myself wider and wider to God's work and timing doesn't seem quite so scary.

October 13, 2011

The Unexpected Guest

About six months ago someone moved in with me and my husband. He's not really the ideal guest. In fact, his presence is quite disruptive to our lives. He's short, sort of bald and kind of chubby. He's very demanding and not very productive. Basically he just eats, sleeps and lays around a lot. He doesn't pick up after himself, do laundry or put away his dirty dishes. He tends to whine when he doesn't get his way. He's all about his own needs. And I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon.

He's the best thing that's ever happened to us.

When we had our first child back in May, we knew that it would mean some big changes. Everyone warned us. "You'll never go out again." "You won't feel rested for the next twenty years." "You'll never have your own life."

Some of those predictions were rather exaggerated, but the kernel of truth is there. When a baby comes, your life is forever altered and never again your own in the way it was before. Bringing a baby home is truly an act of radical hospitality. You open your home to a complete stranger who is more needy and demanding than anyone you've ever known. Beyond an evening meal or a few nights' visit, this person is with you all the time. You're not just opening your home. You're opening your entire life.


My friend and colleague David Zimmerman recently wrote a booklet for IVP titled The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. In it we hear the story of a woman who gets an unexpected visit from Jesus, a house guest who has this off-putting way of just hanging around all the time, poking his nose into things, asking questions and generally wanting to have input on every area of her life.

Like having a baby or getting married, we don't really have any clue what we're getting into when we "invite Jesus into our lives." It's only after Jr. has come home from the hospital and  life is now orbiting around a new axis that you realize, wow, this is big. And it's only after you begin to understand that Jesus really does expect you to lose your life to save it that you realize, wow, this is game-changing big.


Extending true hospitality to Jesus means allowing his agenda to change my agenda, digging through and cleaning out the junk, and opening myself to the risky proposition that he will likely require more of me than I'd ever thought I'd want to give. Through the experience of having my son, I'm learning that extending hospitality to Jesus often happens through extending hospitality to people. And people are real life, baby. Wiping bums, cleaning spit-up or staying home with a sick, cranky boy instead of going out for a night with friends is just so much grittier, so much less romantic than sitting in my prayer closet, quietly assuring Jesus I've cleared out a room somewhere in the back of my heart where he can crash for a while.

As much as I'm training our new little bundle of joy, he's really training me. Dirty diapers are the crowbars God is using to pry open my neatly buttoned-up life. And those training sessions are helping me move from showing hospitality here and there to being a hospitable person, open to loving and serving each one who crosses my path. For as Mother Teresa says, "Each one of them is Jesus in disguise."

Continue reading "The Unexpected Guest"
Posted by Rebecca Larson at 1:55 PM | Comments (1) are closed | TrackBack (0)

October 4, 2011

Hospitality: It's Not Just for Dinner Parties Anymore

October is hospitality month--at least here at Strangely Dim. In various posts (including a guest blogger or two) we'll be exploring the notion of hospitality from all angles.


When I think about hospitality, what usually comes to mind is a dinner party at someone else's house, where I benefit from another person's generosity by enjoying their delicious food and company. They do all the work. I reap all the benefits. Or I think of friends in Kenya who, despite meager resources, treated me and my friends like family when we visited, in part by giving us delicious food to eat. I think we can all agree that this is a pretty selfish, minimalist understanding of hospitality.

Many spiritual gift and personality assessments tend to assume that hospitality is the particular gift of a special class of people. The sad result of seeing hospitality as something that only some people possess as a divinely bestowed character trait is the polarizing of our understanding of it: some people have hospitality, others receive it. If one is not naturally inclined to be hospitable, then there's no reason to pretend, because "that's not how God made me."

Perhaps like many others, then, I have only rarely thought of hospitality as anything like a discipline, a verb, a gift from one person to another, a Christian duty--all of which are categories under which hospitality should fall. I think we can all see the striking difference here: one understanding of hospitality is selfish; the others are markedly less so. The beautiful thing about hospitality as a discipline, when all of the polarization is done away with, is that it starts to look a lot less like an obligation, compulsion, mandate or opportunism, and begins to look much more like love.

For me, the most astounding biblical example of hospitality is that of Christ's incarnation. Not only did this gift require the hospitality of Mary and Joseph as they welcomed Jesus into their home as part of their family, but it opened the door for all of humanity to draw near to God in renewed relationship to him. God, in his love, graciously gave his most precious gift to humankind so that we could know him better, draw near to him and enjoy his presence. Sacrifice, hospitality, love--all together.

If hospitality is like love, then every encounter with another person is an opportunity to give it
and receive it. This means that our own kitchen, the grocery store, and yes, even in traffic--in all the places we love to be, and in all the occasions which try our patience, we have the opportunity to be utterly hospitable to one another.

Examples of unhospitality:

  • A person in a hurry berates an employee new at his job for seeming slow to process an order.
  •  Crew members of an airline make fun of passengers struggling to stow their belongings in overhead compartments, even pantomiming them and threatening to delay the flight.
  • A visitor to a church is ignored and not invited to join in conversation with regular attendees.
  • In an effort to evangelize, a person is aggressive, condescending and rude, unwilling to hear others' perspectives.

Examples of hospitality:

  • A person in line at the grocery store at the end of a long and frustrating day is pleasant to other customers and to store personnel.
  • In a road construction zone, someone lets you merge into traffic when it would be very easy to ignore your attempt to merge in front of them.
  •  In a theological discussion between members of different religions, each person considerately hears the other's thoughts, comments and arguments, and relates their own in a respectful manner.

I think most of us can relate to these examples, because if we're honest, we've been at the receiving and giving end of at least some of them. In fact, all of these examples are from actual events that I've either observed or been directly involved in. I'm not saying practicing hospitality is easy. In fact, it's sometimes the last thing that crosses my mind (in a traffic jam, when I'm late for work . . . as an example). But it's something to shoot for as we all navigate this world together. Thankfully, we have an expert in hospitality to help us along the way. I think he might simply say, "Go, and do likewise."


Posted by Christa Countryman at 11:47 AM | Comments (1) are closed | TrackBack (0)

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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