January 4, 2013
Reflections and a mild rant from David A. Zimmerman
Well, good riddance, 2012. We're still here and you're not.
We're just back from the triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, and while it will take us a good three years to recover, a fickle blogosphere demands constant refreshing of content. So this seems like as good a time as any to look back on the year just ended and celebrate or mourn as appropriate.
Several new Likewise books were released this past year, including
Four of these books were designated as Urbana Books of the Day, which should give you a sense both of how long Urbana is and how significant Likewise Books is to Christian students and the missional church. You're welcome, global evangelicalism.
While at Urbana, I had the pleasure of interviewing three Likewise authors (plus Christianity Today Book of the Year award winner Amy Sherman) for the bookstore team. Amy, Phileena Heuertz, Leroy Barber and Alexia Salvatierra (whose book Faith-Rooted Organizing will release late 2013) were all delightful conversation partners and made me look very smart in front of many of my coworkers.
I would be remiss if I didn't invite and encourage you to review these books yourself. You would be helping these authors and book publishing in general a great deal by posting your thoughts (about these and other books you've enjoyed) at GoodReads, on Amazon, on your blog and other places you have influence.
In sadder news, the band of contributors to Strangely Dim went from a trio to a duet when Lisa Rieck left InterVarsity Press to work for, um, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. You can track her new blogging here. We're hoping to continue to have new posts from her at Strangely Dim, or at least reposts of what she's writing for InterVarsity.
We began our year with a new sister line of books when Biblica International transferred their books program to IVP. We added another line mid-year with the launch of Praxis, a line of books for church and ministry leaders. And in December we sent off to the printer four books that will launch our next line, IVP Crescendo, which showcases women authors. Keep an eye out for that (as if we won't be bothering you about it in the weeks and months to come).
So, that's our year in review. How was your year? Feel free to post your reflections on the last twelve months below. Otherwise, please enjoy "My Year in Review," by the great Bill Mallonee.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:18 AM
December 16, 2012
here, and the prefatory post here.
Advent is an act of faith. In the weeks that lead up to Christmas we declare that God is, that God sees, that God reaches toward a people in profound need of God's touch. "O Come, Emmanuel," we sing, "and ransom captive Israel." We long for this Emmanuel--this "God with us"--to intervene in the desperate condition of every Israel among us--each of us who "strives with God."
The amazing thing is, God does in fact come to be with us, and the God with whom we so often strive makes equally forceful commitments to us. "Surely I am with you always," Jesus tells his followers at the moment he departs from the earth, "to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). It's not unusual to cry out to God for deliverance; it's life- and world-changing when God actually does it.
So, if our lives and our world are changed by this intervention from God, then our attitudes, perspectives and approach to life need to change as well. Jesus recognized this during his time on earth, and while we might anticipate that a great and cosmic God would invest his one and only incarnation in magisterial, majestic, world-altering acts, we find in the Scriptures that instead Jesus consistently started remarkably, frustratingly small.
Whatever Jesus was starting, it would be unlike the movements and institutions it would be set against. It would, in fact, serve as a prophetic symbol against those movements and institutions. Everything that made sense to the world would be overturned by Jesus, from the merchandise tables at the temple to the presumption of power at the governor's residence. Even the presumed finality of death would be turned on its head, as Jesus emerged from a grave and declared himself the resurrection and the life.
This radical reordering of reality would blow anyone's mind. So Jesus invested himself not simply in restructuring the world but in training the people who followed him to live in the way of his counter-cultural kingdom.
Time after time Jesus drilled into the minds of his followers principles that would sound absurd if they didn't feel so true. In Jesus the intuitive logic of the world God created came to the surface and confronted the imposed logic of the ways of the world. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear were confronted with a choice--the same choice that confronted Moses' followers on the mountain and which confronts us still today: Will we choose the ways that seem so sensible to us but which lead inevitably to death, or will we choose the ways that defy conventional wisdom but lead us steadily into life?
One of Jesus' more perceptive followers--we're not told which one--once said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus taught them gladly, and he teaches us gladly today, as an act of service to the world, so that it might be set right in us and among us. Jesus taught and teaches his followers in joyful anticipation of an earth and everything in it recalibrated to be as it is in heaven. And even as he left earth for heaven and turned over the administration of his kingdom to us, he encouraged us to go and do likewise. So let's go do it.
Read chapter four of What Jesus Started, and work through sessions seven and eight in the implementation guide. You can get the book here.
Get together with a friend or two, pick one of Jesus' provocative, counter-cultural teachings, and develop a plan for trying to live it out. See the experiments at the Jesus Dojo for some examples of what you might try.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:10 AM
December 9, 2012
The season of Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. As the world around the church winds its year down, the church is starting its year up. This is appropriate, since Advent culminates in Christmas, where we remember the birth of our Lord and the inauguration of the Christian epoch.
It can be difficult, however, for the church to remember that Advent and Christmas are seasons of beginning. Ironically, the ways of the world encroach on the church at Christmastime in painfully evident ways. Rampant busyness, chronic materialism and corresponding consumerism subvert the sacred nature of the holiday. Remembering that Christ is born on Christmas day is tricky enough; remembering that Christ's birth symbolizes the beginning of Jesus' world-changing and history-changing movement is trickier still.
So this Advent season it's worth remembering that Jesus brought a message with him to the world.
The New Testament springs from these pronouncements, fulfilling each in the story of Jesus. As an adult Jesus traveled the towns and villages and highways and byways, illuminating the scriptures and refocusing the faith of the people he encountered. He made promises to people and delivered on them. He demonstrated by his words and his acts that he had come for the people he encountered.
In previous posts in this Advent series we've considered that the movement that is Christianity would be nothing had God not first looked closely on the world he created. Every movement begins with a kind of seeing, and the movement Jesus started is no different. We've also considered that merely seeing something accomplishes nothing; the move toward the Other is what sets a movement in motion. But no movement sustains itself without a kind of mutuality, a shared life and vision that extends beyond the act of seeing and the moment of connection.
Movements are ever-expanding shared experiences: what was true for the instigators is embraced as true by more and more people further and further removed from the point of inception. What the angel declared to Mary as Jesus gestated in her womb, what the heavenly host pronounced to shepherds up the hill from the manger where baby Jesus lay, what Jesus announced to his friends and neighbors and disciples and enemies--these are affirmed two thousand years later by people of every tribe and tongue and nation as an act of faith and a pledge of commitment: Our God who is with us is for us.
This enduring allegiance is one miracle of the Christian movement. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, "Christ is Christ, not just for himself, but in relation to me. His being Christ is his being for me." Christianity is a shared faith from the beginning; we share our faith freely and broadly because our movement's founder, Jesus, shared himself.
This sharing was not just lip service, nor was it simply random acts of kindness. From birth to death to resurrection Jesus was giving himself to us as merciful Savior and righteous King. This remains our task today: to share what has been shared with us, to invite others to share in the good news we have heard, in the goodness of God that we have seen and tasted and touched. Only by sharing will the world be set right.
Read chapter three of What Jesus Started, as well as sessions five and six in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)
This week look for opportunities--whether by word or by deed--to share with others what in Christ God has shared with you.
Read the songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1. Reflect on the character of God demonstrated in those songs. Try singing each of them yourself.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:00 AM
October 31, 2012
My friend Jon Boyd turned me on to the following story from a recent IVP publication.
You might reasonably assume that this story would be found in one of our Likewise books, which has as its theme Jesus' punctuation of the parable of the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise." It's actually from a recent release in our IVP Academic line--The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name, by Michael P. Knowles. I suppose it's worth reiterating that Likewise Books has not trademarked the phrase "Go and do likewise"; the more in the public domain the phrase is (along with its allusions to loving your neighbor), the better, I always say. (I've never actually said that.)
Here we see the phrase attributed not to Jesus in the first century but to the voice of Yahweh, in conversation with Abraham, the original patriarch. Knowles traces the provenance of the story, quoting t from a 1657 book by an Anglican cleric, who had apparently lifted it from a 1651 publication by a Jewish writer in Amsterdam, Solomon Ibn Verga. He in turn had borrowed the story from Muslim poet Saadi, who lived and wrote in the thirteenth century. The broad utility of the story demonstrates the common lineage of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Father Abraham, it seems, did in fact have many sons.
Jon thought I would like the story because of Likewise, and I do. But I was also a little bummed, because I really wanted the story to trace back to the Franciscans, so that I could tie it in to my campaign to get St. Francis of Assisi elected president next week (#francisforpresident). But what is a campaign without a little spinning of facts? Change the name Abraham to Friar Angelo, perhaps, and change God to St. Francis, and the whole story would fit quite comfortably in Little Flowers.
Such deception is a tactic with considerable precedent in presidential campaigns. But I don't suppose we have to resort to it. The truth is, the spirit of the story is transcendent: as we've already seen, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike have repeated it approvingly, and it certainly aligns comfortably with Francis' approach to hospitality. I alluded to it in an earlier post, but here's Jamie Arpin-Ricci's full retelling from The Cost of Community.
So, attribute it to St. Francis and call it a Christian story. Or attribute it to God and call it a Christian story. Or a Jewish story. Or a Muslim story. It really doesn't matter: the point is to read a nice little story of loving your neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be, and then go and do likewise.
July 3, 2012
A quick thought from David A. Zimmerman.
My power's out at home. Current estimates for restored power are 11 pm, July 4, 2012. That's still thirty-four 100-degree hours from the time of this writing. I've never been so happy to go to work, where the air conditioning is free flowing and you can open the refrigerator whenever you like. But eventually my bosses kick me out of the building, and it's back to my house, where it's currently hot as Hades.
I'm reminded of a passage in Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle by Kent Annan, one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure to edit. The book recounts Kent's early experience living and working and building a home in Haiti. Having grown up in the air-conditioned United States, Kent had to adjust not only to the abject poverty, the political corruption and the woeful public education system that he went hoping to help improve, but also to the heat. Here's an excerpt that made my wife and me laugh last night as we simmered in our own sweat.
***It's mid-afternoon--very hot outside and even hotter inside, with no windows, as the heat radiates down in palpable waves from the tin roof. Dough on our little table would turn to bread. I'm sick. I lie on the bed, sweating profusely, reading a book, searching vainly for sleep, hoping to tap a yet-undiscovered source of energy. Shelly comes in. We've already spent a good seven hours together during the day. She lies down right next to me on the bed. . . . I mutter just loud enough, not with meanness but not with tender loving care, "Get away from me."
I wasn't being hostile. It was just too hot already, and her being close made it hotter. I had the energy to muster a maximum of four words, and "Get away from me" was the most efficient way to express "Leave me alone and take your body heat with you." . . .
Being pushed to my limits in every way brings back Jesus' question to the rich young man. I've answered in part but still feel like I'm being asked, "What are you willing to give up?"
So you gain everything by losing everything. What does that mean in real life?
There are plenty of people peddling definitive theoretical, self-help and theological answers. It's the personal answers that are more interesting--and demanding--though. Really personal. What am I willing to give up to follow Jesus and to help others? Things that make life comfortable. The little and big lies (mostly to self and some to others) that make getting through the day easier. There's money, of course, and all it buys. There's being successful, being hip, being right, being good, being respected. There are ambitions and lust.
These days, whether living around the corner from a Burger King or living here, where the nearest bacon double cheeseburger seems a million miles away, I think part of the answer is another pair of questions: What is in the way of my loving more? And what am I going to do now to starve this desire--so I can hunger for something better?
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:58 PM
May 25, 2012
Today's post is from David A. Zimmerman.
When I was a kid I'd go to mass on Sundays and hope that this week's eucharistic hymn would be my favorite:
Our shared memory in the mass was indirect; no one in the room had actually been present at the crucifixion of Christ. But we remembered it nonetheless, because we had (or our parents had) joined ourselves to a faith tradition built on that central event: a living God, sacrificing himself on our behalf, never lost to us but willing to be lost for us. With that sung we would take communion, the body and blood of our Lord, and return to our pews.
Probably because this sacrificial act at the heart of Christianity has so pervaded Western culture, we prize and celebrate sacrifice, regularly and creatively remembering those who have "made the ultimate sacrifice." We don't celebrate military exploits in the way that ancient Greek and Roman poets did; rather we mark moments such as Veteran's Day (in November) and Memorial Day (this weekend) by taking our hats off our heads and putting our hands to our hearts, standing in sober silence at the thought of someone taking bullets for us, firing weapons for us, paying the ultimate price for us. There's the Savior of the world, in the cultural imagination of the West, and then there's the Soldier by whose stripes our freedoms and rights are vouchsafed.
I don't have a military background. I have some uncles who long ago fought overseas, but I have an equal number of extended family members who fought against American military actions all over the world. My dad spent some time at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which captured my imagination for a while as a kid (Edgar Allan Poe spent some time there too, in case you were wondering), but I never seriously considered military service or dedicated serious time to reflecting on the military. Memorial Day has never meant all that much to me, to be honest.
I feel a little differently anymore. That's due in part to the fact that my country has been at war for more than a decade, much of that time on more than one front, and seems to keep a running list of future targets, just in case. As far away as the U.S. military travels, it's never not close to home anymore. I'm particularly conscious of the state of war and the challenges faced by military personnel and veterans thanks to Logan Mehl-Laituri, whose book Reborn on the Fourth of July is now in print. Logan served in Iraq during our most recent war there, and sought to return for a second tour as a noncombatant conscientious objector, thanks to a conversion of conviction along the way. His request to return to Iraq as an NCO soldier was denied, and he was later honorably discharged. Now he advocates for veterans and speaks broadly on issues of faith and nationalism and militarism. I edited Logan's book, which opened my eyes in new ways not only to the cost of war but to the cost of conviction. I may pray and even fight for peace (whatever that looks like), but the greater commandment from the Prince of Peace is to dignify every person (whether enemies foreign and domestic, or ideological opponent) as created in the image of God, and to love our neighbor (whether across the trenches on the battlefield or in military hospitals or on picket lines outside of a NATO summit) as ourselves.
We love our neighbors best, perhaps, when we remember them; I daresay that remembering is the first act of love toward a person. Remembering literally means to piece them back together, to reattach them to ourselves and ourselves to them. Soldiers, fallen and discharged and active alike, are first and foremost our neighbors; whatever your convictions about war in general or particular wars in particular, soldiers have, by entering into our conflicts on our behalf, loved us as themselves. Along the way some of them have been dismembered; some of them have been lost. This Memorial Day let's rediscover and re-member them, even as we pray for the Prince of Peace to deliver us from our enemies and, I daresay, ourselves.
See Logan discussing his book here.
Learn about Logan's organization, The Centurion's Guild, here.
Read or contribute to the Wall of Remembrance here.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:20 AM
April 27, 2012
We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. This is Lisa's entry. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).
I've got brides on my mind. Three in particular. One is a friend whose wedding is in a few weeks. About a year ago, while she was unassumedly going about her life, teaching college students and writing and singing in her church choir, God completely surprised her with a new relationship. I love to think about God's delight in getting to delight her and her soon-to-be husband in that way. Two weeks ago I got to see her in her wedding dress (and learned to bustle it--no small task, let me tell you!). Beautiful on ordinary days, she was stunning in the layers of white and beads and lace. I'm excited to celebrate at her wedding.
The second bride on my mind was seemingly surprised by God too. After many years of being on her own, she--a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and surrogate grandmother to many--will be married in June. And her beauty also seems to have an added glow if you look closely.
The third bride I'm thinking of is us. You and me, the church. I know--it's not easy to picture ourselves as radiant and beautiful, dressed in white, in the midst of the muck and sadness and failure and shame and sin that we live in. Most days we do not feel very bride-like. At the very least, I think most of us would say we have a lot of scrubbing and cleaning up to do before we'd even think about showing up at someone else's wedding as a guest--much less as the bride.
But that's not what Jesus says (and, him being the groom and all, who are we to argue?). Jesus looks at us, sees all of our mess and the beauty it's hiding, and says "You are loved, you are loved, you are loved."
Our job, sweet Church, is not to clean ourselves up but rather to believe Jesus' words and accept his love. When we do that, crazy things begin happening. Jesus himself starts to clean us up, wiping away the dirt and grime, the lies and abuse, the lines on our face from fatigue and stress. And slowly, the beauty he has seen all along becomes visible to others, and we start to look more and more like what we are: a radiant bride on her wedding day.
If you've ever watched someone fall in love or observed someone starved for love begin to receive it, you know how love changes someone. You know that it changes everything. Which is why Jesus so badly wants us to accept his love for us, and live out of that place of security. In Show Me the Way, Henri Nouwen explains, "When Jesus talks about faith, he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved." Why? Nouwen's answer is simply this: "So that you can abandon every false way of obtaining love." When we know and believe we are loved, we're set free to live and love fully, without reservation. Jealousy, judgment, objectification of others, perfectionism, materialism are all curbed because we feel affirmed and secure in God's love. Addictions, and all our unhealthy ways of coping with pain, are healed because we trust ourselves to the love and care of the One who created us, and who himself was "a man of suffering, and familiar with pain" (Isaiah 53:3). Knowing we're loved allows us to serve, celebrate, encourage and help others joyfully; there's no need to compete with them to prove our value, gossip about them or belittle them to make ourselves feel stronger, or lash out at them in anger when they disappoint us. Rooted in love, we live out that love toward others. True love makes us beautiful.
It should, of course, be the easiest thing in the world to accept how deeply and unconditionally we're loved by God. We want to be loved, after all; we crave it. To be told that we're loved as we are, right now, should cause us to sit in wonder in the "just-got-engaged-to-the-love-of-my-life" glow for the rest of our lives.
Yet somehow we've almost convinced ourselves that it can't be true that Jesus has chosen us as his bride, that he's making us clean and pure and white even as he sees our sin and filth. And it definitely can't be true that his love is unconditional--that there's nothing we can do to earn it or lose it. That kind of love doesn't fit into our finite, fallen framework. So we keep flailing our arms, floundering in the mud to find something that makes us feel valued. We rage against those who don't agree with us, feeling threatened by their beliefs. We exhaust ourselves, at the expense of our family, by serving in every ministry available to earn God's favor, or we work all day every day, at the expense of community, to earn our parents' (or boss's or neighbors' or children's) approval. We throw ourselves into codependent relationships or accept abuse as the price of love.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps loving, keeps inviting us to come to him and rest in his love. I envision him weeping over us, sometimes, as he wept over Jerusalem because his chosen ones didn't realize or wouldn't accept the fact that Love, and the life that knowing we're loved brings, was right there among them, just waiting for them to take hold of his offer.
Love is in your midst too, Church, as near and accessible now as he was to the Jews in the first century. And I want you to know that he thinks you're beautiful. So do I. I have observed you and been part of you my whole life. As a pastor's kid, I saw much of your dirty sinfulness--the ugly anger and unforgiveness--and much of your beauty--the sacrificial acts of faith, the wobbly steps of growth. I still see those in you (myself included) today. But I also see you being transformed by love, slowly and steadily. I see the glow, the sparkle in your eyes, the beads and lace and yards of white being woven for your wedding day.
Until then, take every opportunity you have to be with your groom. Let him whisper words of love to your heart. Let them sink down deeply into the tired, shameful, sinful places of your soul. Let him show you the ways you're trying to obtain love apart from him. And let yourself consider the truth that he loves you. That truth will transform you--and the world.
With much love,
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:57 AM
April 18, 2012
We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).
In the Introduction to Letters of a Future Church, Andy Crouch observes that
Pausing. Contemplating. Stopping.
Not the kind of thoughtful reflection most of us multi-tasking Americans are known for, but without which matters worthy of significant consideration--like the future of the church--simply pass us by.
In case you haven't been following along, in Letters to a Future Church, editor Chris Lewis and his friends pose a simple yet significant question: If you had one thing to say to the church, what would it be? We here at Strangely Dim are tipping our hand at actually answering it.
At first, the best I could come up with was this:
But when I took Andy's words into consideration, I was surprised where my musings took me.
Stick with me here for just a moment. Back up twenty years to a high school gym. I was swapping sweat with a handful of girls whose skin color was virtually nonexistent in my small rural community when I was accused of spitting out a racial slur (which I didn't say) and was temporarily ejected from the game. My coach (who happened to be my dad) came to my defense; he knew that the accusation was completely out of character with who I actually was. While the incident was ultimately resolved, I was left with the sting of being falsely accused, reminding me in a small way (a very small way) of the pain Jesus endured when he "was killed even though he hadn't harmed anyone" (Isaiah 53:9 NIRV). It's the same prick I feel when people hurl insults at the church.
And so, my mind fresh off this consideration, my letter would start something like this:
March 27, 2012
A few months ago my husband, Eric, and I were standing in line at a new restaurant across the street from the IVP offices (a favorite lunch spot for many of my colleagues, in case you're ever looking to accost an editor or pilfer social media tips from a marketer extraordinaire). Without taking my eyes from the menu board, I leaned into his shoulder. "What sounds good to you?" I asked. "Wanna split a pizza?"
It was a ridiculous suggestion. In fifteen years of marriage, we'd negotiated some pretty rough waters, but never once had we agreed on the toppings that would adorn a communal pizza. So when he stepped out of line toward the restroom and casually tossed "Order whatever you want" over his shoulder, I was momentarily paralyzed. Then elated. Spinach and mushroom with goat cheese. Mmmmm.
But then I thought of Mother Teresa and the quote that had been worming its way through my brain for the last several months.
I hadn't fully read Margot Starbuck's third release, Small Things with Great Love, but the title (which stems from Mother Teresa's famous words, "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love") had infiltrated much of my day. The idea of counting small things as valuable in the midst of a hectic life season was deliciously appealing. Maybe I couldn't volunteer in the mentoring program in downtown Chicago like I wanted to or jet off to teach leadership development in Rwanda with my church, but loving people in small ways? Now that I could handle.
Small things, I thought.
But it's just a pizza.
With great love,it echoed. Seriously Suanne, it's just a pizza.
Dangnabbit. Before I could change my mind, I stepped to the counter and, in one dying-to-self breath, I ordered the barbeque chicken pizza smothered with caramelized onions, to the shock and delight of my husband when he came back to our booth.
I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back. For weeks. Then one afternoon I was sitting in my office, cozied up with Margot's book, and I blushed at how drastically I missed the point.
In chapter four (titled "Our Own"), Margot shares her own passionate amore for her husband and kids, but then she adds what should be obvious: "Sacrificing for my own isn't really so noble. . . . I'm not knocking it," she says, "I just don't think it's the end of the story."
Hmph. I guess my pizza thing wasn't such a big deal after all.
"It ain't so hard at all to sacrifice for these, our own. The real kicker is that when we are entirely identified with the triune God, the ones who are God's own become our own. The orphan, wherever he is found, becomes our own in exactly the same way that he is God's own. The widow, the one who's been left alone, becomes our own just the way that she is God's own. The hungry neighbor, across town and across the globe, becomes our own in the same way that he or she is God's own. The sick, the ones who suffer, become our own in the same way that they are God's own. The prisoner, the one who has been forgotten, becomes our own in exactly the same manner that he is God's own."
Reading Margot's words left me with the same prickly conviction I feel anytime I read Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount: "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even the pagans do that." What I love about Small Things with Great Love is that Margot challenges our complacency at the same time she extends us grace. She recognizes the unique and varying stages of life we find ourselves in and encourages us to love our neighbors from wherever we are. In a world that's obsessed with the big and the grand, Margot, like Mother Teresa, encourages us to do the small things that display God's extravagant love to those we encounter (or maybe need to encounter) every day.
But not just to the ones we naturally consider our own -- and this really is the point-- the ones we uncomfortably consider as well. The ones that Jesus moved towards and lived among and feasted amidst and healed from within -- the poor, the prisoner and the brokenhearted. The ones, as Margot points out, that dwelled in the center of his Father's heart. "In this," says Margot, "his Father's own became his own."
May it be true of us as well.
March 6, 2012
Who would you say is the IVP employee you know best? Some iconic names come to mind:
You might say these folks, but you'd be wrong. The IVP employee you know best is Rebecca Larson, web content and community manager, occasional cover designer and Mad Lib guru. You know Rebecca because she's behind a big chunk of the stuff about IVP that you find yourself coming into contact with.
Rebecca oversees our social media presence and writes our Likewise Notebook (the occasional e-newsletter you would receive if you would only click here and sign up for it). She's managed many of our reader surveys over the years and designed, among other things, the cover for the fourth edition of Jim Sire's The Universe Next Door (see above) and the logo for a currently gestating line of books. (More on that to come.) She's been the face of our occasional Whiteboard video communiques and a regular anonymous player in our occasional in-house-generated book promotional videos. And maybe most importantly, she's been contributing to Strangely Dim for two and half years. And now she's leaving.
Rebecca's been with IVP for thirteen years, which is hard to believe. We've been coworkers and friends through any number of life transitions, from her wedding (my first and last failed attempt at DJing) to her move across the country and eventual return to Chicago, to the birth last year of her son, who through an accident of timing became the first visitor in IVP's history to be required to sign in and wear a nametag. Rebecca is as iconic an IVP employee as all those folks you thought you knew so well. She's proven herself omnicompetent and omnipleasant(tm), to the point that it's hard to imagine IVP without her.
Turns out she's taken a job just down the road apiece, which is nice for the occasional lunch or whatnot, but as pertains to ad hoc Mad Libs and shared playlists on iTunes, we're all out of luck. Please pray for us, and please add your comments below to wish Rebecca the best.
February 15, 2012
As I type these words, I can’t help feeling like some Christian Carrie Bradshaw, inviting readers into the details of my day-to-day existence as it relates to love. With Valentine’s Day just on our heels, please don’t assume I’m talking about romantic love. No, this episode of “Justice In the City” (or the Suburbs or Wherever You Find Yourself) concerns itself with something much broader, and in many ways more difficult, than eros.
In the almost two years we’ve been in our condo, my husband and I have gotten to know our three neighbors pretty well. There’s Judy, an elderly woman who lives with her miniature poodle and sometimes shares her small space with her divorced son and his two children. And there’s Jon, who’s in his fifties and has cerebral palsy. Despite his disability he lives a very independent life, working for the county convalescence home and creating elaborate landscapes for his extensive model train collection. And then there’s Christa. She’s also living alone (her faithful dog, Joey, died last fall) and in her seventies. She still loves to paint and sculpt, and she’s full of fascinating stories of her youth in Germany, where she played in the Black Forest, took boat cruises down the Rhine river and lost her brother in World War II (he fought on the German side).
Lately I’ve been reading two books that have been shaping the way I view my relationship to these neighbors: The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck. The first asks us to consider the power of staying in one place. The second challenges us to consider the power of doing small, manageable things to show God’s love. Here’s a video of Margot talking about the concept.
So what does that look like in my life? I work full time, and currently my husband is working out of town and coming home on the weekends, so I have my hands full taking care of my nine-month-old son (you single parents out there deserve a medal for what you do each day!), doing laundry, paying bills, making food, shopping for groceries and generally keeping the home fires burning. In this busy season of life, it’s easy to get bogged down by all my responsibilities and feel as though doing anything to show God’s love to a world in need is simply beyond my abilities, much less my inclinations. How can I possibly show love to anyone, and does anything I can do really matter?
As I’ve prayed over these questions, Margot’s encouragement has been so refreshing. Instead of making me feel guilty because I can’t run off and solve all the world’s problems, she has empowered me to look for ways I can give to those around me in the life he’s given me. God has reminded me that I don’t have to go far to find people who need his love—in fact there are three of them living less than twenty feet from me who I see on an almost daily basis. Together we’ve already gone through a major flooding of our neighborhood, losing power and huddling by an emergency lamp under the staircase during a storm and fighting three feet of snow last winter.
In these times and smaller daily interactions, God has already been bringing along opportunities to do small things to show love like:
• Hugging Christa and praying with her when we met in the hall on the day after her sister died in Germany. She was so sad that she couldn’t afford to return home for the funeral.
Sometimes I wonder what impact these small things have on our neighbors’ lives, really. I mean, I’m not helping Christa with her financial stresses. I can’t pay for her to go back to Germany. I don’t have more room to offer Judy when she’s got her son and his kids crammed into her place with her. I can’t do any heavy lifting for Jon or somehow take away his disability.
Recently we thought we might have to move again, and we let our “community” know about our impending change. That’s when I realized that all these little things do add up to something. Christa’s eyes filled with tears at the news. “Oh, I really wish you didn’t have to move,” she said looking away. “It means so much to me, knowing you’re here …”
I will admit that there are plenty of times I don’t feel like even doing small things for these folks. I have a lot on my plate, and it takes energy to think of others after I’ve already thought of myself, much less to put them first! But when I remember the look on Christa’s face, I know why I do it. Because showing her love is a way of communicating the love I receive from Christ. Because being a friend to an older person who is lonely is one way I can give just a bit of that love back to Jesus. Because maybe one day I’ll have built enough trust and relationship capital to share directly with Jon, Judy or Christa about the God I know and love, and invite them to come further into his agape. It’s my small way of working to bring about God’s kingdom of love on earth.
It looks like we won’t be moving anytime soon after all, thankfully, so there’s still time to cultivate these relationships. I think I’ll take a bowl of chili down to Christa tonight. In one way it’s not much. In another, it’s everything.
What about you? How can you do a small thing with great love for those God has placed in your life?
January 12, 2012
Two years ago today IVP was still celebrating the successful December launch of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, Kent Annan's mission memoir of his time living and working in Haiti. We had introduced Kent to the world at the Urbana Student Missions Conference and launched a contest for a small group to win a trip with Kent to see the work of his organization, Haiti Partners, up close and personal. And then the earth shook.
Early estimates put Haiti's death toll at 230,001 (Kent adds the one as a reminder that these were people, not estimates), and while those estimates have since been revised lower, more than a half-million people are still living without homes amid the rubble two years later.
Kent wrote his second book, After Shock, to wrestle with the goodness of God in the shadow of this already-struggling country, now defined in the global imagination by death and dislocation. To contribute to Haiti Partners' work in rebuilding the country and specifically the education of its children, click here. To grapple with Kent's insightful witness, read on.
Then there's posttraumatic stress disorder. . . . Part of the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (the standard guide on these things) is that a person faces a physical trauma (themselves or as witnesses) and that their response involves "intense fear, helplessness, or horror." . . . Not to minimize the extreme nature of what people in Haiti (or soldiers coming back from combat, for another example), are facing, but I'm struck by how, in a less acute way, this definition applies to almost everyone alive. Granted, some people can experience traumas and, through the difficulty, flourish. But others are crushed. Suffering becomes the sole arbiter of truth. And many of us, I think, are tempted to respond by walling off our hearts or ideals.
. . . Being shell-shocked by the traumas of life is a right response. Guilt is often a right response to being alive too, when we fail to love as generously as we should. But guilt and trauma shouldn't close us down. Being open to life is also the right response to life. It's what survivors should do as long as we can.
The church is a pile of rubble. Nothing left. The school beside it is damaged but standing. Nobody had been in the church when it collapsed, but one teacher died in the church school when the roof partially collapsed in his classroom. . . .
Andre pulls out the Communion wafers. The only part of the building or furniture in the church that wasn't smashed to pieces, which I hadn't noticed when I'd been here before, was where they kept the Communion wafers. . . . We line up to go forward and receive. In front of me is a grandmother. She's lost everything and sees her family and community devastated. She's frail. She moves forward without hesitation in the line. A young man behind me. What dreams can he dream now? He keeps moving forward for the bread.
"This is my body broken for you."
I arrive and the jagged Communion wafer--Christ's presence, yes, Christ's presence that did not stop the church from falling, that did not protect the teacher in the school or the dad on the porch, but Christ's presence here in the pile of rubble and here in this group of people in a sun-struck yard--is placed on my tongue.
For the rest of the service I sit on some rocks, still without shade, next to Jean, whose legs are atrophied and folded under him. He can't walk. He's led a tough life with his disability. Before the earthquake, he always sat on the aisle in one of the front rows. When the first chord of the Communion song was struck, the song signaling we could come up front to receive the bread, the song whose chorus is "Vinn jwenn Jezi, Vinn jwenn Jezi," Come find Jesus, Come find Jesus, Jean would swing out and, using his hands and arms to propel himself, be first in line. He was always the first to come find Jesus.
And here in the rubble, come find Jesus. . . .
Here, week after week, people come to find Jesus. The rubble may make him harder to find, but maybe, like the wafers in the center of this leveled church, he never left and never will.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:02 AM
January 4, 2012
I'm generally reluctant to call any one book I've edited the best. To do so feels more like a betrayal than a compliment. Designating one book as "best" is, after all, implicitly designating all the books I worked on (minus one) as "not the best." That makes this month's theme here at Strangely Dim, "Favorite Books of 2011," a little problematic for me.
Besides, one of the things that distinguishes a publisher from, say, an instant oatmeal maker is that each of our products is entirely distinct from every other. When we compare books to one another, we're comparing apples and oranges, not apple-cinnamon-flavored and "Shrektastic(TM)-Flavored" packets of otherwise identical dust and flakes. We wouldn't have contracted a book--or gone through all the trouble of editing, designing, marketing, manufacturing and selling it--if we didn't hold it and its author in high regard from the outset. So the short answer to the question "What was the best IVP book of 2011?" is perhaps frustratingly evasive: "Every book is the best in its category, which happens to be a category of one." See what I did there?
Nevertheless, the assignment persists. But I'm an oily little devil; I've refashioned the assignment as "my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011." Sneaky, no? Just try and stop me . . .
Anyway, for me, 2011 began and very nearly ended with the release of two books that had special personal significance: After Shock, by Kent Annan, which came out in January, and The Cost of Community, by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, a November release. Both books remind me of my 2010 visit to Haiti, and specifically of my celebration of the Feast of Pentecost on the floor of a leveled church.
The connection between After Shock and Haiti is painfully obvious. Its author, Kent Annan, is the codirector of Haiti Partners, a ministry dedicated to education in a country where public education is woefully underdeveloped. Less than 30 percent of Haitian children actually get schooling past the sixth grade. A seemingly insurmountable task of educating particularly rural Haitian children falls to NGOs and other nonprofits, like Haiti Partners. Their work wasn't helped by a devastating earthquake, one of the most destructive in history and the subject of After Shock.
My trip to Haiti was planned before the 2010 earthquake. We were celebrating the release of Kent's first book, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, by sponsoring a small group of contest winners to spend five days with Haiti Partners staff. I had invited myself along and raised funds from some very gracious friends and loved ones to get me there. The earthquake just punctuated the poignancy of our experience, as we watched communities try to recover even as Haiti Partners helped get their schools back up and running.
Kent was writing After Shock even as he was taking us from town to town, introducing us to teachers and other friends, and helping us process what we were seeing. At one point he and I hopped out of our truck so I could take the book's cover photo; it was intended to be a placeholder till we found a more appropriate picture to take its place, but we never did. Eventually the book was even a finalist for an award for book cover design.
We celebrated Pentecost down the road from the church that graces the book's cover. The only things left standing where we worshiped were some support beams and the tabernacle where the elements of communion were stored. We shared communion that Pentecost Sunday, in commemoration of the birth of the church, as described in Acts 2. On that first Christian Pentecost tongues of fire descended on gathered believers till they started preaching the gospel in a great variety of languages, till they started sharing all they owned with each other and so tying their fates together.
I was in the midst of my own ecclesial earthquake in the spring of 2010, having left a church after a somewhat bitter experience and still trying to figure out what a church ought to mean to me, and what I ought to mean to a church. Sharing communion with people who had lost everything and who were yet able to eat the Lord's Supper together with glad and sincere hearts renewed my commitment to practicing my faith in communion with others and restored my hope that even a fundamentally broken church can be an instrument of God's grace and peace.
One of the people who traveled to Haiti with me was Jamie Arpin-Ricci. He had submitted a book proposal sometime between when we selected him as a winner of the contest and when we boarded the plane; I brought his book contract with me for him to sign, because I get a little giddy over that sort of thing. Jamie got terribly sick while we were in Haiti, so we weren't together often, but our every interaction reinforced for me that he was going to write a really meaningful book.
Jamie's community in urban Winnipeg (the coldest city on earth, in contrast to the unearthly heat of late-spring Port-au-Prince) is rooted in the teachings of Francis of Assisi, whose mission was rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest recorded sermon and a good distillation of his ethic. Jamie's insight into the demands of the gospel not just on the individual but on gatherings of people was helpful to me as I processed my Pentecost experience. Our conversations in the many months between contracting and publishing his Cost of Community helped me continue to wrestle with my relationship to the church. Francis, the Sermon on the Mount and Jamie's community in Winnipeg, all their radical circumstances notwithstanding, are good guides for following Jesus.
While we were between appointments in Darbonne, Haiti, a fellow walked by with a donkey in tow. A man leading a donkey, for the uninitiated, is the logo for Likewise Books, the line that houses both Jamie and Kent's books. So they and I grabbed the rope and pulled it tight, and someone snapped a picture. I'm told that I almost got kicked in the face by the donkey for the privilege, but it was totally worth it.
It was an honor to walk alongside Kent and Jamie as they brought their books to life, to sit at their feet as they wrestled with the problem of pain and the cost of discipleship. Buy and read both their books, but read them slowly; they're meant to be chewed, not devoured.
I would be remiss in recounting my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011 if I didn't mention an author dinner at the first-ever Wild Goose Festival. Seeing so many authors eating together with glad and sincere hearts was a kind of validation of the several years now that we've spent teasing out the role of a publisher in Jesus' command to "go and do likewise." In many ways any effort to publish in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, Jesus' parable that inspires the Likewise line, is deconstructive. To parse such a simple story, such a simple command, into a regularly replenishing supply of new books is perhaps to spin it into hopeless abstraction. We're protected from such accidental subversion, however, by the authors we work with, who are doggedly concrete in their discipleship. To go and do likewise is, for them, first and foremost not just to mull over an idea but to go out and put it to the test--to take Jesus seriously enough to act on what he said.
Two of the authors on hand for that dinner had books come out this year that cut straight to that chase: Mark Scandrette, whose Practicing the Way of Jesus both demands and demonstrates that our discipleship cannot be not merely private and intellectual but must be communal and embodied; and Margot Starbuck, whose enthusiastic Small Things with Great Love makes loving your neighbor as you love yourself seem less like a burden and more like a great adventure. Those two books were only about 2 percent of the total output of IVP's publishing program in 2011. But as a favorite editorial experience, being with them--and the twenty-some other folks around the table who were likewise committed to making the gospel undeniable and unavoidable--is right up there with remembering the birth of the church in a building without walls in Haiti.
That's my best of 2011, as effusive as it is evasive. Editors can't do much, but we can do at least that.
November 23, 2011
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.I 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,
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
August 15, 2011
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."
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:
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:
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
June 21, 2011
Dave has explained, we at Strangely Dim are blogging our way through Mark Scandrette's Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Truth be told, I'm a little behind in my reading. But, as it turns out, I might be a little ahead in my experimenting. About a year-and-a-half ahead, actually. Here's how.
Mark's approach to discipleship is as much about life together as it is about practicing the way. One of his first experiments (called Have2Give1, in which he and a group of others committed to sell or give away half their possessions and give the money to global poverty relief) was born out of a desire for "a context that would encourage honesty, invite us into community and move us from information into shared actions and practices." And one of the (many) powerful results was the connection that formed as the group practiced and learned together. "We were surprised at the depth of connection we felt with a diverse group of people we barely knew when the experiment started," he writes. "Working on an intensive project seemed to produce an accelerated sense of intimacy. Rather than merely trafficking in ideas or rituals, we now had a common story to tell."
My experiment in community over the past year or so has been just like Mark's (without that bit about giving away half my possessions). Which is to say, I've moved toward community much more intentionally in the past year than I have in a long time, in some normal and some unusual ways, and I've seen God's work in growing intimacy and connection among his people as a result.
For an introvert like me, almost any move toward community is risky. And anxiety-producing. However much I might want it, it takes a pretty good pep talk from myself to get up the gumption to meet new people. And sometimes, as you can imagine, my pep talks are less than convincing.
This past fall, though, out of a desire for more community, I started to think and pray about leading a small group at my church. It's a relatively small and normal step in relationship-building, but I was nervous about it on a few levels:
In May, I took another risk in community. After living with my sister for several years (read: very low risk) and then a good friend for a year and a half (read: still very low on the risk spectrum), I found myself needing to find a new living situation. The introvert/control freak in me was shouting (well, at least speaking loudly; introverts don't tend to shout too much), "Be on your own! Find your own space! Retreat, retreat, retreat!" (The more practical side of me was shouting, "You can't afford it!" but that's a different story for another time and place. Like when gas here hits five dollars a gallon.)
I explored some options; I prayed; I listened. And I sensed God leading me to move in with a family . . . whom I'd only met once . . . with four kids under the age of ten. In case you're not an introvert, let me just say that moving in with six people you don't know and sharing all the living spaces except for your bedroom and bathroom is right up there on the terror scale with swimming with sharks or having to dance on national television as a guest on So You Think You Can Dance. I was afraid I might get a little overwhelmed.
Not to mention the fact that, because the family had agreed to rent the bedroom/bathroom suite to someone else for the summer, living with them would require three (count 'em, 3) moves over the summer: moving out of my apartment and into their house, moving out of their house and into someone else's place for the summer, and then moving out of that pIace and back into their house.
But I moved in anyway, because I wanted to intentionally move toward community, instead of away from it (which living on my own would have done). And that step toward deeper "life together" with others, of all different ages, has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. The chance to live with a family--to observe marriage and parenting up close, to develop relationships and hang out with great kids, to build new friendships with their parents, to observe hospitality, to learn healthy boundaries, to share living spaces--has been invaluable.
Just last week, I made my second move into my "summer home"--the house of a coworker-friend (and IVP author!) and her husband, who also belong to my church. This is a new kind of community for all of us, but one that I've already been grateful for in many ways.
So what's my point? Here at Strangely Dim, we'll each--and together--be choosing experiments in faith to try. We hope you'll join us in that and tell us about it; we'd love the chance to do "life together" with you, even in that long-distance kind of way. I hope, though, in the practice part, that we intentionally pursue community as we go. Choosing to fast from all media for a week is one thing, but asking someone else to do it with you might be a little scarier. I'm guessing, though, it will be that much more meaningful, and grow you in ways a solo-media fast can't.
As for me, having completed my second of three moves, I'm thinking of giving away half my possessions. Anyone want to join me?
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 11:19 AM
June 15, 2011
In response to the recent release of Mark Scandrette's remarkable Practicing the Way of Jesus, we at Strangely Dim are trying our hands at "experiments in the kingdom of love" built around five categories of primal need, alluded to in the Lord's Prayer:
Good experiments, according to Mark, are based on the real, lived experience of the disciples in question and stretch them into uncomfortable (yet ultimately transformative) realms of experience. My first experiment has been seven days of daily reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5--7). I chose this experiment for a whole variety of reasons, principally because a verse from the Sermon on the Mount was the first part of the Bible I ever memorized:
I memorized that a looooooong time ago, when I was an angst-ridden college student, and the memory of it has survived all the high-falutin theology and low-brow culture I've crammed into my brain since. A person could do worse than to remind himself those words of Jesus every day or so, but it's been a loooooong time since I went to the trouble of doing just that.
Beyond this nostalgic motivation, the Sermon on the Mount is the subject of another Likewise book I'm really excited about--Jamie Arpin-Ricci's Cost of Community, releasing this winter. Jamie wrestles with the sermon from the vantage point of his urban monastic community in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with guiding insights from the life and teachings of Francis of Assisi. Jamie's a deep soul doing good work, and I could do worse than emulate him in my ongoing faith formation.
The sermon is also the high point of Jesus' teachings in the Gospel of Matthew, which is the subject of yet another Likewise book releasing this winter. This second volume in the Resonate series is written by Matt Woodley, whom I came to admire as I edited his Folly of Prayer. He's a great, wise writer, and the sermon is a focal point of his latest work.
As if all that weren't enough, I've been reading Eric Metaxas's massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which includes a pivotal moment in 1934, during the rise of the Nazis and the apostatization of the German Church, when Bonhoeffer wrote the following to his brother Karl-Friedrich:
All this to say, a week in the Sermon on the Mount seemed appropriate, to say the least.
Over the past seven days I've read the Sermon in various translations, from the archaic to the folksy/contemporary, from the Roman Catholic to the flaming fundamentalist. At the suggestion of my friend Mark I "read" it aurally, using the audio feature provided by the You Version. A few things have jumped out to me as I've simmered in the sermon.
For example, Jesus talks about reward a lot. The poor in spirit and the righteous persecuted "get" the kingdom of heaven; the meek "get" the earth; the pure in heart "get" to see God; those who are persecuted for Jesus' sake "get" the reward of the prophets. And on and on and on.
Reward isn't the only topic, of course; there's also judgment--against the angry and spiteful, the lecherous and lustful, the cold and the calculating. There's a way of reading the Sermon on the Mount that is decidedly "do this, don't do that." In this way I suppose it recalls another sermon on another mount--Moses' reiteration of the Law to the people of Israel from Sinai in Deuteronomy 28--30, where he sets before his people life and death, and encourages them to choose life. Jesus is doing something similar, but ironically, he's encouraging people not to choose life but rather to choose him: we are blessed when we suffer persecution in his name, and we are wise to sacrifice our bodies in an effort to protect our fidelity to him.
If everyone practiced the lifestyle outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, the world would be a better place. But what if everyone practiced it except for one person? How handily could Hitler have trampled over a world of the meek waiting to inherit the earth? Arguably, as I'm learning from Bonhoeffer's story, a collective, steadfast turning of the other cheek in the face of evil merely allows evil to continue unchecked. We may be storing up treasures in heaven, but we're capitulating to evil on earth.
And yet the great justice movements of the past century have been characterized by exactly this turning of the cheek, this refusal to repay evil for evil. I don't know fully what to make of it, but I note that Jesus' sermon is directed not to all the onlookers, who nevertheless heard every word and marveled at it, but rather to the disciples--called out ones whose resoluteness in the face of suffering and persecution by the powers that be would gradually convert the world.
It could be that the world can only learn to distinguish good from evil, to choose life over death, by watching evil and good in action. "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" (Matthew 7:17). There are any number of people, it seems, willing to play the part of the bad tree; playing the good tree, it turns out, is harder than it looks, and its rewards are generally deferred far beyond our preferred timeline. But as Bonhoeffer put it as he held out against the rise of the Nazis, "here alone lies the force that can blow all of this idiocy sky-high."
Anyway, these are the thoughts that have gone through my brain as I've undertaken this experiment, as I've read and reread the Sermon on the Mount. There's something undeniably appealing about blowing all the idiocy of the world sky-high. So here's to the audacious aspiration to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. No seven-day experiment can accomplish that, but as a lifelong commitment, it's something that on my more self-confident days I'm willing to undertake.
May 23, 2011
For the record, I scheduled this post before May 21, the day Harold Camping has predicted will usher in the rapture. So for all I know, I may no longer exist on this plane of reality. But I still care about you, my dear apostate readers, and I know summer is coming. So here I offer you a brief summer reading list, for your post-apocalyptic pleasure.
After Shock. Kent Annan writes this book in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, drawing from the experiences of friends, family, coworkers and other loved ones who wrestled with the problem of suffering and hung on tightly to hope in the aftermath of one of history's worst natural disasters. A little light reading, in other words.
Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem. On another front, Tamara Park writes with an infectious enthusiasm about the people she met, and the image of God she recognized in them, as she reenacted the pilgrimage of Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.
God on Campus. Trent Sheppard tells tales about students at campus after campus, in era after era, praying to find their place in the great changes sweeping their world.
Pilgrimage of a Soul. Phileena Heuertz draws on her trek on the Camino de Santiago, and a sabbatical rest that followed it, to explore the constructive tension between the desire to see the world set right and the soul's desire to be at peace with God.
Wisdom Chaser. Nathan Foster breathes thin air in the Rocky Mountains with his famous dad, and together they try to figure out themselves, God and one another.
Pure Scum. Mike Sares tells the inspiring, improbable story of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, along the way pointing out what we ought to think about as we think about ourselves in relation to God and everybody around us.
The Girl in the Orange Dress. Margot Starbuck searches for a Father who will not fail, amid various father-figures who can't seem to succeed. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and I mean it.
The Story of God, the Story of Us. Sean Gladding retells the story of the Bible from three vivid scenes, offering fresh insights into who God is and who we are, what comes next. (Should the Lord tarry, a companion DVD is coming this winter.)
The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. I wrote this. Assuming there's anyone left at IVP to press "print," it'll be out in September. It's short--which is good, since what's left of the world (according to Harold Camping) will be obliterated in October.
That's it for now. Happy reading!
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:14 AM
February 28, 2011
There's nothing quite so quirky about the Likewise line of books at InterVarsity Press as its logo: a man leading a resistant donkey, in silhouette. What does it mean?!? we're often asked and occasionally tempted to ask ourselves. Still, when you get right down to it, it's pretty adorable, pretty versatile, pretty memorable. We (and many of our authors) find ourselves identifying with it in an iconic sort of way; Jamie Arpin-Ricci, whose forthcoming Cost of Community will bear the logo, even riffed on the vibe of the logo in his proposal.
Early in the life of the line, Karen Sloan (who wrote the Likewise book Flirting with Monasticism) and Emily Sloan (who had joined us for a line brainstorming weekend with several culture-makers we admire, including Likewise authors Don Everts, Mike Sares and Sean Gladding) presented us with a Likewise-inspired gift: three Gund stuffed donkeys, which when wound up sway back and forth to a tinkly rendition of "Amazing Grace." They stitched the word "Likewise" onto the donkeys' fluffy sweaters, in case we missed the connection. They brought the donkeys to the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Conference, where we were making a big to-do about the line. We loved them.I'm not sure what happened to one of the donkeys, quite honestly. It may be in Andrew Bronson's family room (that's him in the photo above), or someone may have absconded with it. Another of the donkeys was vandalized--taken from my office and deposited on a rock somewhere on IVP's campus to brave the elements. It didn't fare so well.
I consoled myself by acknowledging that there is truly a ministry of iconoclasm, in which the things we gradually place our confidence in (sometimes to the point of idolatry) get put through the ringer so we can see them more accurately. A haggard donkey is no less inspiring, and in some ways even more inspiring, than a pristine, well-tended donkey; sometimes the best way of listening to a tinkly rendition of "Amazing Grace" is by silently recalling the sober verse "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come . . ."
Byron has been a generous reviewer and promoter of Likewise Books from the very beginning, but many of us associated with the line have not had the pleasure of meeting him face to face. Well, now one more of us has, and whenever he feels like it, he can wind that thing up and do a little dance, confident that as much as he likes reading and selling our books, we like publishing them and putting them in the mail to him.
Donkeys--they bring people together. It just needed to be said.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:16 AM
February 3, 2011
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:
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:
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM
December 10, 2010
Lots of IVP's authors know each other. A few of them attend the same churches. But there's probably no odder mashup among our author list than Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of six IVP books (including two of the acclaimed New Studies in Biblical Theology), and Mike Sares, author of the Likewise book Pure Scum and pastor of Scum of the Earth. Here (understandably over the course of three posts) Craig explains the divine logic behind his odd journey to membership at a church called Scum. Enjoy this refreshing story of how God brings diverse people together and uses them to bless the world.
After consulting with Mike Sares, I experimented for two years with an after-service time, once a month, for those who wanted to hang around in the small lounge adjacent to the auditorium and discuss issues in a "Bible Answer Man"-like format.
I was stunned that we would gather up to forty people, sometimes for up to a couple of hours. Skeptics and seekers alike attended. If a question was more an opinion than a factual one, I clarified and explained the range of Christian opinions as well as my own. Where I was dissatisfied with conventional evangelical views on a topic, I did not feel obligated to uphold them. Where there was truth in non-Christian or nonevangelical views on a topic, I affirmed it. All that seemed greatly appreciated. I thought of how often I had tried to create something like this kind of forum in other churches, even on my seminary campus, but people were always too busy or didn't feel they had the need for it. My wife also began to mentor--first one, then two, then three young women. Soon she was co-leading a Bible study.
During those two years we got hooked. After nine years as missions pastor in our suburban church (except that the church changed the title from pastor to director whenever a woman held the position--even though the job description remained unchanged), my wife realized it was time to move on. Our suburban church had voted to embark on a $33 million relocation and building program, only three years after the previous elder board on which I had served (now all rotated off) had unanimously voted that they believed God's will was for us to stay on our current property and maximize the growth of our facility there (subject to local zoning regulations). The new board discovered that those regulations wouldn't allow them to build everything they wanted, and "God's will" was, equally unanimously, redefined.
Scum, by contrast, got its first building of its own two years ago for $650,000, thanks to generous gifts from friends. A two-year internal capital campaign had netted only $100,000, which was actually extraordinary given the resources of the congregation. Average monthly offerings are about $7,000, of which $2,000 or so goes to benevolence and $2,000 goes to mission. Mike and the other, largely very part-time, younger pastoral staff all raise their own support. Despite all its dysfunction and dysfunctional people, Scum is a wonderful place to serve. The people there are more interested in keeping in touch with us outside of church than our suburban Sunday School class ever was.
The contrasts couldn't have been clearer. My heart was broken. I don't leave places or institutions easily. I cherish long-held friendships. But God's call became increasingly clear. We were to join Scum.
Please pray for us. Please read Pure Scum. And then ask God if there might be even a few small ways, as a result, that he's leading you to help change your church somehow.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:40 PM
December 2, 2010
Lots of IVP's authors know each other. A few of them attend the same churches. But there's probably no odder mashup among our author list than Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of six IVP books (including two of the acclaimed New Studies in Biblical Theology), and Mike Sares, author of the Likewise book Pure Scum and pastor of Scum of the Earth. Here (in the second of three posts) Craig explains the divine logic behind his odd journey to membership at a church called Scum. Enjoy this refreshing story of how God brings diverse people together and uses them to bless the world.
Why do I appear in Pure Scum? Why did an evangelical New Testament professor and his wife, happily ensconced in suburban church life a decade ago, begin to visit Scum of the Earth Church five years later on Sunday nights, when their services were held, without any intention of leaving their "morning church"? Why did they make the transition two-and-a-half years later from trying to juggle participation in two churches to full involvement with Scum?
I knew Mike Sares from his years as a student at Denver Seminary. Raised in a culture remarkably similar to the Greek Orthodox world and family life depicted in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mike is a large, strong, former blue-collar worker who became a pastor because of his equally large, strong heart for young adults in the city from dysfunctional backgrounds who need Jesus. As much as just about anybody I've ever known, Mike is a "what you see is what you get" type of person. He speaks his mind, shoots from the hip, apologizes when he blows it, dreams big dreams, loves to delegate responsibility to others so that they can grow, can come down strong when he has to but tolerates others trying to push him around a fair bit when he knows they are well-intentioned--and occasionally even when they are not. And he passionately wants people to come to Jesus and grow in him.
Scum was looking for mentors. Apart from the dozen or so homeless people that attended Scum, there were probably less than a dozen of the 150 or so attenders in 2005 who were over 40. Most weren't over 30. I was asked if I would consider mentoring a young African American man who was a very gifted Christian rapper. The commitment was only to meet for an hour once every couple of weeks for a year.
I chuckled to myself. Could they have picked anyone I had less in common with? There aren't very many African Americans at Scum. There are a few. There are a few Hispanics, a few Asians. But overall Scum is pretty white. As for rap music, I had heard of Eminem, been turned off by his lyrics, and that's about all I knew of it. This young African American man dressed creatively, groomed creatively, but was extremely talented and artistic. He wasn't the least bit intimidated by my position as a New Testament professor at a seminary. In fact, I had to overcome the stereotypes associated with such an individual in his mind.
If there's one thing Scum has touted, it's authenticity, genuineness. Be yourself. Not your sinful self, of course, but in all neutral matters related to subcultures. So I decided to test the waters. I dressed down to attend church and to meet with my new friend, but I didn't wear anything or act any way I wouldn't when I was at my most casual in public elsewhere. Sometimes subcultures tout authenticity but they mean only via their definition of it. My new friend was different. Scum is different. If you come dressed just to try to impress someone, it doesn't matter what you wear, they'll see through you. If you're being yourself, no amount of jewelry, body piercing, hairstyle or color or clothing (so long as the key body parts are covered) can lead to rejection.
What most of Scum's attenders can spot and dislike a mile away is being fake. Artificial flowers in the sanctuary will turn them off as fast as anything. Exaggerated stage "performance" where everybody stares intently at the musician being featured with sappy grins on their faces will do the same. So, too, with people sneaking about quietly to be ready for what's coming next when in fact everybody is supposed to be praying. People getting bent out of shape because the projector didn't work, the microphone battery went dead or the temperature was too cold or too hot are all sure-fire turn offs. They long for genuine worship where the focus is on God and not on the people up front, so the lights are usually dimmed. The preaching is almost always expository, more often than not working through books of the Bible, seldom slick or polished, but the illustrations and applications are more relevant, transparent, and true-to-the lives of the people who come than in most congregations.
I hit it off with the man I mentored in ways I couldn't have dreamed. One of my most precious tributes in writing, in fact, is not in one of the books by friends who have quoted me because of my scholarship but because I am thanked on the back cover of one of this young man's CDs.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 4:34 AM
November 23, 2010
Lots of IVP's authors know each other. A few of them attend the same churches. But there's probably no odder mash-up among our author list than Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of six IVP books (including two of the acclaimed New Studies in Biblical Theology), and Mike Sares, author of the Likewise book Pure Scum and pastor of Scum of the Earth. Here (over the course of three posts) Craig explains the divine logic behind his odd journey to membership at a church called Scum.
It was the last church move I would ever have predicted I would make. I am disproportionately left-brained. I live in the suburbs. In general, I relate better to people closer to my age than to those of entirely different generations, either older or younger. I have more in common with professionals than with blue-collar workers or the unemployed. I have comparatively little experience throughout my life of relating to the homeless. So if a decade ago you had given me the profiles of ten churches (each very different from the thriving, suburban megachurch we were attending, with both my wife and me in leadership roles and our two daughters thriving in student ministries), and if you had told me that we'd be joining one of those different churches a few years later, the tenth and last option I'd have guessed you meant was Scum of the Earth Church.
Scum, as it is abbreviated, was founded in 2000. The first thing that piques people's interest is its name--chosen from 1 Corinthians 4:13 and Paul's self-description by the young adults who dreamed of the congregation. At the heart of those founders were a Christian ska rock band named Five Iron Frenzy and a middle-aged Presbyterian pastor, Mike Sares. Early on, they developed a motto, or slogan, that encapsulated a lot of what was happening and what they prayed would continue to happen: reaching "the right-brained and the left-out."
Pure Scum: The Left-Out, the Right-Brained and the Grace of God is the story of the church and its ministry after a decade of existence. Mike Sares writes in a fun, easy-to-read style. The book is comparatively short; you can read it rapidly in an evening. But the vignettes Mike has chosen to include, to characterize key episodes, stages and people in Scum's short history, are riveting. They provoke reflection. They incite critique and second-guessing. They show God at work in very unpredictable ways, at least as often in spite of the plans and strategies employed as because of them.
The book is not one more how-to manual for a new kind of church; it's a celebration of God's grace that cannot be manufactured, formulated, packaged or imitated. But there are attitudes of the heart, kinds of decisions, and approaches to people and to God that should be emulated, even if the results in other contexts might turn out to be radically different.
Check back soon for part two.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:16 PM
November 15, 2010
My job puts me in touch with a lot of crazy people--crazy enough to try to change entrenched patterns of behavior and societal standards. Likewise publishes a lot of activists; in fact some of the most notable books in our history have been the sustained reflections of people who spend most of their days pushing hard for more justice, more mercy, more shalom in their given contexts. I get a little envious sometimes, I can admit: while they're saving people, I'm condemning commas.
When I'm feeling particularly inadequate--usually after a phone conversation with one of these people (I should add that not once has one of my authors told me anything like "Why don't you get off your butt and do something significant for a change?"--even the ones who are well aware of the enormous amounts of free time I spend on my butt doing something insignificant)--I try to console myself by imagining the role of publishing in the greater effort of what I suppose we could call "cultural discipleship": how does what I do join with what they do to better represent the kingdom of God throughout the earth?
Or something like that. It's a self-serving exercise, to be sure, but I think generally it's helpful to me and to our authors; and really, what's wrong with imagining yourself in the kingdom of God?
The bible of most activists at a grass-roots level (apart from the actual Bible, for the folks I work with) is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, published in 1971 as an attempt to channel the chaotic rage of 1960s revolutionaries into more effective, sustainable social change. In this book Alinsky lays out some of the essential qualities of a community organizer, the things he needs to see in a person before he will trust them with the real needs of a community. You can train on tactics, but these are temperamental values that can only be acknowledged and encouraged. I'd say we look for them in authors too, as well as in publishing professionals such as myself. Ahem.
That strikes me as a pretty good description of a good book: "power for others to use." A book--particularly the type of book we publish--is an author's proxy, a way for the author's insights to be present when the author herself (see what I did there?) can't be present. It's a distillation of a person's embodied ideas and ideals, to be considered and adapted for another context. Maybe it's my ego talking, but that makes publishing a creative process--which makes me, as a publishing professional, a creative person.
Ahem. How you like me now, activists?
October 29, 2010
Kent Annan, author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle and the forthcoming After Shock, passed along a link to a video his organization, Haiti Partners, put together recently; it's really good footage of life on the ground in Haiti, with commentary from the people who Likewise Books sent to Haiti last spring. Hope you enjoy it.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 4:17 PM
September 24, 2010
Conferences in Chicago, where I live (OK, you got me, the suburbs of Chicago), are a mixed blessing. No flight costs? Blessing. No hotel costs (not to mention no roommates from the office blurring your boundaries)? Blessing. Some sense of confidence about where you're going and how to get there? Blessing. However, I'm finding that conference schedules don't mesh well with office- or homelife schedules; meanwhile, guilt sensations have an easier time finding me in Chicago than, say, in St. Louis, so I agonize more acutely over the work left undone at the office, and the life left unlived (and chores left unchored) at my house.
On balance, though, the right conference on the home front is worth the guilt feelings and complex coordination. I've been to three such right conferences lately: a retreat for editors; the twentieth annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association; and this week, the Story Conference--a conference for the creative class. (One more next week, then I'll mow the lawn. I promise.)
The Story Conference pulls together people in arts ministry, innovative church planters and leaders, and lay Christians in arts industries for encouragement and expansion of the imagination. The speakers have ranged from wildly successful novelists and filmmakers, to culture leaders among right-brained evangelicals, to pastors and activists. Two of our authors--Sean Gladding (The Story of God, the Story of Us) and Princess Kasune Zulu (Warrior Princess) are on the bill.
I'm struck by how often arts and justice work among evangelicals are commingled. The exhibitors here oscillate, almost booth by booth, between creative expression and justice/mercy ministry. IVP, as usual, sits somewhere in the middle: Princess is an AIDS activist; Sean is a storyteller. Each of them regularly feeds and acts on both their creative and their justice impulses. Out of everyone at this conference (I include myself in this) they're probably the two people easiest to pick out of a crowd.
I don't have much insight into this apparent collusion of the arts and social conscience. Maybe you do. I do know that as I look around at Story, I think we came to the right place, and there are probably folks here who appreciate that we came. Almost makes me forget that I owe my boss some paperwork.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 6:11 AM
September 2, 2010
"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
July 22, 2010
I love shoes. Tall shoes, especially. But I've always felt that in the area of shopping and fashion I was a pretty late bloomer; and having always been rather tall, wearing shoes that drew attention to this uncomfortable fact made me . . . uncomfortable. So I was in my twenties before I got over my height issues and started wearing more than a one-inch heel. It may seem trivial, but it was significant for me to realize that being tall is, really, just fine.
So now every time I see the cover of Margot Starbuck's Unsqueezed, the first thought in my head is often, Oooh, I really want that shoe! And then, even though the thought of wearing a stiletto is, shall we say, a bit over the top for me, I run through in my head all the places I might possibly go to procure such a lovely, sexy, impossibly-angled pair of shiny red stilettos at a reasonable price. I even had, for a while, this annoying sing-song phrase running through my head (like the McDonald's "Filet-o-Fish" ad): give-me-that-sti-let-to-heel / give-me-that-heel.
As you can see, I've come a long way.
The shoe on the cover of Unsqueezed gets to me because in one sweeping blow it identifies something that I really love and then tells me that I need to be free of it. And it's not just the shoe that it tells me I need freedom from, but everything the shoe represents--which is, according to Starbuck, our culture's "ill-fitting," "death-dealing" concept of beauty. Says Starbuck, "Enlightened women like us know better. . . . we're aware of our culture's distorted perception of beauty. . . . [But] dissatisfied with our bodies . . . and against our better judgment--many of us still buy into it all." Preach it, Margot!
Honestly, though, I want to argue with the shoe on the cover: Really, wearing high-heeled shoes is proof of how accepting I've become of my height. What's so bad about that? Or, Would not wearing these awesome shimmery purple pumps really mean that I have a healthy self-image? No. I like them, I'm wearing them, and I don't care what anyone says--including you, silly red-shoe-bedecked book cover! Never mind the fact that my toes go numb after standing in them for twenty minutes; or that my back swells and aches from compensating for the unnatural position it must adopt to accommodate my otherwise impeccable taste in shoes; or how hugely impractical these contraptions are when your car breaks down in a blizzard five miles from help. (Though they smite me, yet will I wear them . . .)
Yes, when it comes to how we present ourselves, women (and men, too) take far more drastic steps than wearing tall shoes, to be sure. But why do we insist upon making our bodies billboards of self-awareness? Starbuck has honed in on some reasons--lies, marketing, greed, shame. And she helps us redirect our self-obsession toward an understanding of what our bodies are really for--worship, mission, movement, relationship, service, justice--and how we can use them for the good of others and the world around us. (And she accomplishes all this while being really funny. Seriously.)
Here's Margot's take on how to step out of the mold:
--The very brilliant cover of Unsqueezed was impeccably designed by Cindy Kiple.
--Excerpt taken from chapter eight, "Self-Preoccupation."
June 28, 2010
Here's the final entry in our conversation with Phileena Heuertz about her recently released Likewise book, Pilgrimage of a Soul.
(SD) How's it feel to have your first book coming out? What are you most excited about? Most anxious about?
(PH) It feels satisfying and terrifying at the same time. Satisfying because I've been true to myself in what I've written and furthermore in how I've lived. It feels terrifying because I'm offering myself to a large audience in a new way. Some of my friends, family and coworkers don't even know some of the things I've written in this book about myself, my life and my experiences. In putting my experiences--some of which are very vulnerable--and my voice out there in this way, I am subject to the response of others. Will my book offer healthy influence, stimulate positive change, encourage people to deepen their faith and relationship with God? Or will it bring criticism and judgment to my message, my life? Probably both.
I think publishing this book is a new experience for me of living into Jesus' exhortation to "count the cost and take up the cross." When we acknowledge the work of God in us and offer that witness to the world, we are subject to both: glory and shame, praise and ridicule. The life of Jesus demonstrates that so well, and as a Christian I want to follow him. As I attempt to follow him, what I find is that regardless of what others say or think about me (for the good or bad), I remain a beloved daughter of God--more and more I am convinced that nothing I do and nothing anyone else does to me or says about me can change that.
Christianity is not the moral achievement contest we tend to make it out to be. If it is, none of us will win. Easy to believe but hard to live. The test comes when we experience criticism and judgment. But the true self isn't swayed by the opinions of others. It's the false self that is tossed back and forth by praise and ridicule. This is what I'm learning.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:00 AM
June 21, 2010
Third in our series of discussions with Phileena Heuertz, author of the new Likewise book Pilgrimage of a Soul.
(SD) Can you give a quick glimpse into the seven movements you describe in Pilgrimage of a Soul? How do they intersect, and how do we recognize them as we're moving through them?
(PH) Awakening, longing, darkness, death, transformation, intimacy and union are seven movements that I've experienced in my personal spiritual journey. I believe these movements of the soul are universal to those who are attentive to them, and they support ongoing Christian conversion and growth. These movements can certainly be found in the Scriptures, but when they are personally acknowledged and experienced, we are on our way toward living the abundant life of which Jesus so often spoke. Though we can know about these movements, the better is to experience them. Experiential knowledge is the greatest knowledge. We can argue and debate head knowledge. But who can dismiss what one experiences? Pilgrimage of a Soul attempts to help us connect our head to our heart that we might be more aware of and experience more of the living God.
These seven movements or signposts in the journey are not really linear but more circular in nature. We could be in and out of one movement in almost any order. The spiritual journey is not so much about progressing from one point to another as it is about surrendering to ongoing transformation and union with God. These seven movements support us in that objective; and though these experiences are quite internal and symbolic, they have very concrete, external expressions in our daily life--this is the place where contemplation meets action.
To try and summarize these, "awakening" is the point in our journey when we see more clearly particular illusions in our life--more specifically, parts of our false self that we had previously been asleep to. "Longing" symbolizes the discontentment in us that desires more--more connection to God, self, others and the world in which we live.
Ancient Christian mysticism has always affirmed the gift of "darkness," which essentially clouds our senses of the consoling presence of God that we might be purified and grow in the spiritual faculties that relate to God on a deeper level. "Death" is the experience of final surrender to the illusion(s) we've awakened to. Though the illusory false self is just that--an illusion--our identity clings to it all the same. To let go of it is frightening because it's all we've known and we are less acquainted (if acquainted at all) with the true self. So there is no comfort in what is coming--it is too unknown to us. Death (in the spiritual journey and the final material death when our body dies) is the ultimate act of faith because it is a final gesture of trust and love in the One who is greater than us and knows us better than we know ourselves. By surrendering to the death of our illusions, we trust that new life--resurrection--will come, though we have no concrete guarantee of it.
"Transformation," then, is that long-hoped-for new life. Transformation is the period of living into greater truth--into greater awareness of the true self. "Intimacy" is the experience of growing deeper in love with God, self, others and the world. Anxieties, turmoil, defense mechanisms, pretensions and pathologies that previously plagued us have been settled--healed--and we are freer to know (God, self, others, the world) and be known (by God, self, others, the world).
"Union" is the experience of the fragmented parts of ourselves (identity, confused perceptions of God, broken relationships, misaligned vocation) coming together. In union we experience these previously broken places now restored, redeemed, made whole. We experience greater centeredness in the love of God--which permeates all of our life actions.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:55 PM
June 18, 2010
Months, donkeys, friends. And books, of course. In this post we're celebrating books and an actual holiday (can you handle that much partying all at once?). Yes, kiddos, this Sunday is Father's Day. I for one would like to say thanks to my dad--for his love, support and wisdom. Also for reading my blog posts. And I would like to say to all you readers: if you haven't bought a card yet, there's still time. But you should go soon, because if you wait till Saturday night or Sunday morning, the only cards left will be the ones that whistle "Yankee Doodle Dandy" when you open them. If you haven't bought a gift yet--no problem. We just happen to have a suggestion.
Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet is a book about fathers and sons, about the struggle to love and be loved, about the struggle to accept ourselves as we are. And it's written by Nathan Foster, son of spiritual formation leader and bestselling author Richard Foster--a designation Nathan would not have appreciated a few years ago. Though known and revered by many for years, Richard was largely a mystery--and even a source of anger and bitterness--to Nathan, who couldn't understand what the big deal was about his father, and who resented the work that kept him from their family. Nathan writes:
For the first two decades of my life, I didn't really know my father. He was like a serious, silent ghost. . . . The world seemed to know more of the man I grew up with than I did. . . . As I became a young adult, my father and I seemed to have no time or interest in getting to know one each other. We had nothing in common.
But then, on a whim of Nathan's, they started to climb mountains together. Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains--the Fourteeners--to be exact. In the process, Nathan navigated his twenties, including marriage, career choices and some major pitfalls, and learned a lot about himself and his father. Here's a peek:
The whole notion of pacing myself was so simple, yet it sparked a revolution, a cosmic shift in the way in which I attempted to love my life. My string of failures was about to end. I was learning how to hike. I was learning how to live from a man I had determined had nothing to teach me.Wisdom Chaser celebrates the unique (read: sometimes awkward, sometimes tumultuous but powerful and loving) relationship between fathers and their children, and Nathan's funny, brutally honest writing makes it an inspiring read. It's a great gift to say thanks to your dad for the wisdom he's given, and apologize for all the times you failed to appreciate that wisdom. (Unless, of course, your dad hates to read. Then this is probably not a good gift idea. In that case, I suggest a set of steak knives.)
Of course, while we do love to celebrate at Strangely Dim, and while we are big fans of dads, we also recognize that in this broken world, Father's Day is not always a happy day. For those of you grieving an unreconciled or abusive relationship, or mourning the death of a really wonderful father, we are so sorry for your pain. I'm particularly reminded of this this week, as a friend of mine passed away; Father's Day comes just eleven days after her death, and will no doubt be a day of sadness for her dad, instead of celebration.
For those who are hurting, and for all of us, Father's Day can ultimately point us to our true, perfect Father: the one who is always for us, who teaches us with perfect wisdom, who never fails. Margot Starbuck, Likewise author and one for whom Father's Day has not always been the happiest of days, gives us some good perspective in The Girl in the Orange Dress:
Like Israel, I had deduced from my difficult human circumstances that my Father had forsaken me. Hopeless, I had cried out with Zion, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14).
So whether you're celebrating or grieving on this Father's Day, know that you are loved by the Father of us all. In that sense, happy Father's Day, from all of us at Strangely Dim.
June 10, 2010
Here's the second of our posts discussing Pilgrimage of a Soul, the new Likewise book by Word Made Flesh codirector Phileena Heuertz.
(SD) Activists aren't necessarily known for their contemplative spirituality, but you've managed to keep spiritual formation at the center of Word Made Flesh. How did you swing that? What are some of the hallmarks of that active-contemplation/contemplative activism dynamic at WMF?
(PH) I'd say we've learned the hard way. Seems like hardship is often the best teacher. Young twenty-somethings, fresh out of college, tend to have an honorable zeal and imperviousness. That was me, my husband and the few of us who dared to go against the tides of the time and give ourselves in service among the poor--not street evangelism and church planting, which were the mainstream focus of the evangelical church at that time. In the 1990s mission strategy was focused on the "10/40 Window" and "unreached people groups." We were finding a different way to be faithful to the gospel in a world of poverty, trying to orient ourselves theologically and spiritually rather than strategically. We faced a lot of doubters and critics in those early days. But we were compelled by the love of God and the love of our friends in poverty to press on. So activism very much took the main stage of our vocation.
Activism was our teacher, and through that dimension I believe we received spiritual formation. Mother Teresa's life encouraged us as we witnessed her "praying the work." We were being spiritually formed by our service. We were actively eager to pursue justice and reconciliation among the poor, and we gave ourselves tirelessly to that end. And in this way we were learning about the aspects of God as one who is active and in pursuit of us--a God of justice, peace and reconciliation. Our reading and prayer life reflected this dimension of God. Scripture and study reinforced our active posture in the world.
But after about seven or eight years of a rigorous pace, some of us started to come to terms with our limitations. Activism and engagement with a suffering world certainly offered formation and transformation in our lives. Conversely, limitations have a way of opening space within us for formation and transformation as well. Though we had readily responded to Mother's admonishment to "pray the work," we had not understood at the time her equal commitment to detach and withdraw regularly from service in adoration of Jesus through prayer and contemplation. Through the example and teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating, the Christian contemplative tradition started to inform our activism. Thus began a posture of learning what it means to rest in God and abide in God.
The Christian contemplative tradition literally arrested me in my tracks. I was gripped by the notion that there really is a way to rest in God--regularly--and that this too is honorable to God. As I pursued contemplative practices, balance to the active-contemplative continuum started to emerge in my life, and a deeper work of spiritual formation began to take place within me.
Contemplative practices create space within our crowded lives to be attentive to and surrender to the action of God within us. Made in the image and likeness of God, we bear the divine imprint. As Christians we affirm the doctrine of the divine indwelling, meaning we believe in the immanent presence as well as the transcendent presence of God. But much of modern Christianity is divorced from practices that emphasize the immanent presence, focusing primarily on the transcendent nature of God. Contemplative practices bring equilibrium to this imbalance. In so doing, our illusions of self, God, others and the world are more likely to be dismantled, freeing us to participate more fully in the life of Christ.
In WMF today we are growing toward making space for various contemplative prayer practices, like lectio divina, the prayer of examen, the breath prayer, centering prayer and the labyrinth prayer. In Omaha, where we are based, some of us practice two periods of centering prayer per day--one during workday, in the afternoon. This deliberate pulling away, detaching and surrendering serves as a reminder to us that the work is God's, and we are only an instrument in God's hands. This offers perspective for the enormity of very real and desperate needs of the world that can weigh so heavily on us. In addition, this practice allows space for our service to be purified, re-orienting us to serve from our true self, rather than the false self with its never-ending ego demands. Though we all work tirelessly on behalf of our friends in poverty, we have established and emphasize regular, weekly sabbath; regular personal retreats for longer periods of rest, prayer, study and reflection; and sabbatical every seventh year.
Over time, when bringing balance to the active-contemplative continuum, it really is possible to experience Jesus' promise that "the yoke is easy and the burden is light." For years I wondered how it was possible to experience that. And it seems that many Christians live with a very heavy burden of service or else put service aside--many Christians just live with a heaviness, period. The Christian life often looks less like the abundant life Jesus promised and more like that of an oppressed, slave-driven kind of life marked by guilt, fear and shame. Contemplative practices help free us into the divine life, marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:45 AM
June 3, 2010
We asked Phileena Heuertz--codirector of the international advocacy mission Word Made Flesh and author of the newly released Likewise book Pilgrimage of a Soul--a series of questions about her experiences that led to writing her book, as well as the experience of writing itself. Here's the first question, along with her response. More to come.
(SD) You've been doing advocacy work through Word Made Flesh for more than a decade. What drew you into that work in the first place?
(PH) In a few words, it was my love of God and compassion for the vulnerable that drew me in. After meeting some of the most courageous children, women and men living and dying in poverty, my life was changed. I could do nothing else but give myself for them. I had, in essence, discovered Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and I have never been the same since.
From a young age I've had a passion and desire to serve the most vulnerable. I've always been drawn with compassion to those in need. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two, I traveled to India, Nepal and Africa to serve for the summer with Word Made Flesh. It was my first experience outside the United States. I engaged abandoned babies living in over-crowded orphanages, children living on the streets, and men and women of all ages dying from malnutrition and preventable diseases.
I joined Word Made Flesh (WMF) in 1996 with the intention of serving in Chennai, India with the newly established WMF children's home for AIDS-affected children. However, through a series of events, my plans changed when the WMF-USA board asked my husband (Chris) and me to oversee the administrative offices in the States.
In addition to my husband, Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in India and Jackie Pullinger from Hong Kong were probably the most influential people in my life at that time who were bearing witness to hope among the poor. They set a high standard for service and advocacy, and I attempted to learn from their example.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:31 PM
May 10, 2010
May is Mental Health Awareness Month--a fact that I was, ironically, unaware of. Mental health as a social issue often takes a back seat to more pressing concerns--oil leaks, volcanic eruptions, televised performances by Lady Gaga and the like. It also often gets shoved to the side for more romantic health epidemics; not to take anything away from breast cancer or the AIDS pandemic, but the World Health Organization, the World Bank and Harvard University discovered in their Global Burden of Disease study that "mental illness, including suicide, accounts for over 15 percent of the burden of disease in established market economies, such as the United States. This is more than the disease burden caused by all cancers." Mental health, its bad press notwithstanding, is a problem that could use a little more attention.
Matt Rogers is honoring Mental Health Awareness Month by trying to springboard a conversation, using his Likewise book Losing God as a case study. In that book Matt tells his own story of the interplay of theological doubt (How can I be assured of salvation? How can I experience a relationship with an invisible and sometimes apparently distant God?) with what is ultimately identified as depression. The book is enough of a memoir to make for good beach or book club reading, enough of an extended essay on doubt and depression to spur some rigorous thought, enough of a confession (in the self-disclosing, not the self-blaming meaning of the term) to aid your attentiveness to someone you love who is wrestling with this far too common and far too underreported illness. Who knows--you may even find yourself in the story of Losing God.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM
April 14, 2010
This may be news to you, but Strangely Dim is the semi-official blog of Likewise Books, a line of books from InterVarsity Press. And Likewise books just turned three--and a half!
In our short life (thirty-two new books since the line's launch) we've managed to make our mark in a number of ways. Among many other things,
Our favorite thing about the line, however, has been the relationships it's generated--those of us who work here with those who are writing books for us, our authors with one another, our authors and their readers, even their critics, and even us and our readers. Speaking of which, if you're not in touch with us on a regular basis, please consider this your invitation: join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter, the Likewise Notebook. (One of our friends in South Africa recently told us "I read every word! I always find them informative and humorous." You might too; you might even win a book every now and then.)
Our agenda from the beginning has been, in response to the constantly changing culture we inhabit but inspired by the biblical vision of a better world, to be a different kind of publishing program--to be not only for but with our readers, and together to be different and make a difference. So far, we think, so good; here's to keeping it going for the next leg of the journey!
April 4, 2010
Likewise author Kimberlee Conway Ireton has been a gift to us here at Strangely Dim, reminding us that Christianity is a faith practiced in time and space. The subject of her book Circle of Seasons is the church calendar--not the one on the back of your Sunday bulletin but the one that infuses our days and weeks and seasons with meaning. Reposted from last year, here's an excerpt from her chapter on Easter, which, apparently, goes on . . .
The closest I've come to the astonishment of the disciples when they heard the good news of Jesus' resurrection occurred the Easter my son was two. Jack's Sunday school teacher had brought a huge bouquet of helium balloons and let each child choose one to take home. Jack chose red. Proudly and joyfully, he carried his bobbing balloon down the church hallway to the Fellowship Hall, where Doug and I stopped to chat with our associate pastor, Steve, and his wife about our recent visit to Steve's hometown. A few minutes into our conversation, Jack let out a piercing wail. He had let go of his balloon, and it had floated to the top of the Fellowship Hall, some twelve feet above our heads."Oh sweetie." I picked Jack up as he began to sob. "That's so sad."
Steve said to Jack, "Hey, pal, don't worry. I'll go get a ladder. We'll get it down."
"No, please," I said. "Please don't. We believe in letting him experience the consequences of his actions."
But Steve had already headed across the Fellowship Hall in search of a ladder. He turned around. "It's Easter, Kimberlee. There are no consequences."
I stared after him, my mouth half-open to voice an objection that died on my lips. Steve got Jack's balloon down, and I hope and pray that deep in his being, my son now knows something it will take me the rest of my life to believe: the resurrection changes everything. Everything. The reality of Easter--Christ risen, death defeated, sins forgiven, evil overcome, no consequences--is so incredible, in the original sense of the word, that it's beyond believable.
This is why I need more than just Easter Day. If Easter were only a single day, I would never have time to let its incredible reality settle over me, settle into me. I would trudge through my life with a disconnect between what I say I believe about resurrection and how I live (or fail to live) my life in light of it. Thanks be to God, our forebears in faith had people like me in mind when they decided we simply cannot celebrate Easter in a single day, or even a single week. No, they decided, we need fifty days, seven Sundays, to even begin to plumb the depths of this event.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:52 AM
March 28, 2010
About this time last year Shane Claiborne (coauthor of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers and a few other books you might have heard of) introduced the inaugural issue of Conspire magazine by telling the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, carried by the foal of a donkey, on the first day of the last week of his life. It seems a fitting way to begin Passion Week here at Strangely Dim as well.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:02 AM
March 24, 2010
Tamara Park, author of Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem. (Have I said recently that this is a wonderful book? It's a really wonderful book.) In North Carolina and Africa, in grief and hope, in fulfilled dreams and unfulfilled longings, she drinks deeply of life and of God's love in the midst of it all.
Strangely Dim: What have you been up to since Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem came out?
Tamara: Life has taken some significant twists since I wrote Sacred Encounters. Last spring I ended my job as pastor of community at my church, Warehouse 242. I loved my church community but thought it might be time to move to this fabulous little wild-west of a country called Burundi. I hoped to learn from the people there and eventually share their stories with those back in the States.
Well . . . that didn't work out exactly. I ended up getting a job as a TV producer and trekking from Mozambique to Morocco to discover what the West can learn from Africa. Now a coproducer and I are currently putting together the TV series Noble Exchange Africa and preparing for a second season in South America.
While the trip to Africa was my most challenging one I've ever taken, the whole project has been the resurrection of a dream. Since I was a teenager I dreamt of being a foreign correspondent. In my early twenties I felt that dream died. My father told me growing up that God often gives you a dream and lets it die only to resurrect it in a more beautiful form. I feel I'm in the midst of a resurrection.
SD: Could you tell us about a "sacred encounter" you've had in the past year?
Tamara: I met Africans who are literally transforming their communities and countries--from Erik Charas, a social entrepreneur in Mozambique who started a free newspaper that is now being read by his nation's top business leaders and the newly literate; to Jolly Okot, a former child soldier who is now the Uganda Country Director for Invisible Children; to Liberate, the first Twa/Pigmy woman member of Burundi's Parliament, who has twenty kids, including Hutus, Tutsis and Twas, she's adopted. I was so humbled by the opportunity to meet such sturdy and inspiring souls.
I prayed for sacred encounters, and expected incredible interviews. However, what I didn't expect was to make a true friend, an anam cara (soul friend), en route. I met a South African woman named Tracey Webster on my trek. She's a creative genius, an extraordinary leader and a true advocate of the marginalized. While we've had quite varied experiences--her growing up in the throes of apartheid and I in the midst of the U.S. Bible Belt--in many ways our deepest desires and thorniest questions are the same. We are both in our late thirties, single, and long to live passionately and authentically for God and with others. We both can't believe our fortunes to have the opportunities we are getting and yet are curious if we will ever get the husbands and children we thought might come our way. It's been such a gift to happen upon a new friend sharing a similar plot line in this stage of life. A surprising sacred encounter, indeed.
SD: Are there any books or films that have been meaningful or formative for you recently?
Tamara: I name my years, and this is my Year of Story. So I am focusing on God's story, learning from others' stories, along with desiring to better understand story structure.
I'm going through the Mosaic Bible this year and savoring it!
And I can't shake a quote by Robert McKee, screenwriter and author of Story. He said, "Stories are equipment for living." So I've enjoyed reading and watching some soulful stories. Here are a couple I've encountered in the past month or so:
I recently read Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. This book captures a young Burundian's journey--from surviving war, to being dropped off in NYC with only $200 cash, to studying at Columbia, to investing back in Burundi. I was moved by the young guy's moxie and brilliance, but also by the compassionate people who entwined themselves into his story.
Invictus--I loved how this film showed one of Nelson Mandela's ingenious efforts to build a new country based on reconciliation versus revenge. Mandela said: "Forgiveness liberates the soul. It frees you of fear."
The Blind Side--I found the story line inspiring and the characters engaging. It reminded me of why I desire to write a compelling screenplay one day. I was grateful for how the film left me with a winsome challenge: how can I more intentionally contribute to those in need?
SD: What new facets of God's character have you seen or experienced recently?
Tamara: I'm focusing on hearing God's voice of love . . . and trusting that love. I know, focusing on God's love is nothing novel, but it's curious how often I have to be reminded of it.
SD: Are there any practices, in addition to meditating on the prayer of Sir Francis Drake, that have been stretching or helpful to you this Lent?
Tamara: Yes. While I am still eating stacks of chocolate during Lent, I've given up doubt for the season (there's a back story, of course). I am asking to embrace greater hope and hear God's voice of love.
SD: Is there anything specific you are mourning over or grieving right now?
Tamara: While I guess I tried to be all evolved and strong last year when a romantic relationship ended, I suspect I'm still mourning the loss of that daily connection to another . . . oh--and the sauciness it brought out in me . . . and the permission to care deeply for another . . . and now that I think about it--that momentary opportunity to be in "the couple's club" since most of friends are married or on the brink of it. Just that.
You know, the tricky thing with both grieving and desire is to own up to it but not be consumed by it. Tricky indeed.
SD: What most often reminds you of the hope we have in Christ as you go through your days?
Tamara: I love feeling the sun on my cheeks as I sally around my favorite neighborhood park. And . . . reading Scripture and doing Zumba are definite ways I feel hope and utter aliveness.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 8:48 AM
March 23, 2010
Tamara Park, author of Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem (a really wonderful book). Tomorrow you'll find out what Tamara's been up to since she wrote Sacred Encounters, why she'll be heading to South America, and what books and movies have inspired her lately. Today, though, we offer you a prayer, attributed to Sir Francis Drake in 1577, that Tamara's been ruminating on during Lent:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 8:21 AM
March 1, 2010
Today's post is provided by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of the lovely Likewise book The Circle of Seasons. Here Kimberlee does what she does best--writes brilliantly, boldly, about the intersection of the great realities of the Christian faith with the daily challenges of life on earth.
This year I was ready for Lent. I was even eager for it. That's not usually the case. Usually Lent sneaks up on me and is halfway over before I even begin to feel my way into it.
But two weeks before Ash Wednesday, a dear friend's four-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. I was stunned. We'd had a playdate with this little girl the day before her diagnosis. She'd had a slight tummy ache and a lingering cold--nothing to indicate she was seriously ill.
Suddenly, life seemed precarious, fragile, ephemeral. I looked at my own children and wept--knowing, as I rarely allow myself to know, that their lives are not in my hands, not in my control, not in my power. I looked at my own self, at the bump in my tummy that shows new life, and I wept. So much can go wrong. Life, health, breath--none of these are givens. They are all gifts, each day. And one day, we will not receive these gifts.
So yes, I was ready for Lent. Even before Ash Wednesday, I was weeping over the fragility of life, I was weeping because I knew the truth of the words my pastor would speak over us: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return."
Marked with the sign of the cross in ashes, we returned to our seats. My daughter was crying. She wanted to receive communion, and my husband would not let her. We decided years ago that our children must wait to receive communion till they are able to articulate what it means. For the first time I questioned that choice. It's cruel, really, to mark them with that horrible cross and then not let them eat the body and drink the blood. The body and the blood are all that make the cross bearable.
The body and blood are all that make life bearable in months like this, when all around me people I love are in pain, when I myself am in pain. The body and blood proclaim God's presence in brokenness, proclaim God's brokenness to a broken world, to a broken me.
I confess, sometimes I do not want a God who humbly meets me in brokenness. I want, in the words of Tim Dearborn, "a God who exercises enemy-annihilating power." I want God to obliterate the cancer that is eating Michaela's bone marrow. I want God to eradicate my pregnancy-induced queasiness--both physical and emotional. I want God to show up with power and might. I want God to raise his victorious right hand and for all to be well.
But God chooses a different way. In Jesus, God chooses the way of suffering, the way of sorrow.
This Lent, I am learning once more to look for God in the midst of pain, in the midst of fear, in the midst of sorrow.
I am learning again to be comforted by the tears of Jesus, those tears like drops of blood, shed for me.
I am learning that my own tears for my friend, for her daughter, for mothers everywhere who must watch their children suffer--these tears are prayer.
I am learning that these tears are the tears Jesus drank when he tipped the cup of suffering to his lips and drank it to the very dregs.
And I am learning to allow my tears to be a place where Jesus meets me, a place where I cling to him, a place where he takes even my fear that I cannot trust him and transforms it into love.
This Lent, when I eat the body and drink the blood, I remember that Jesus "drank the cup of my tears so that I might drink His cup of life."
All quotes are from a sermon by Tim Dearborn, "In the Garden," delivered February 21, 2010, at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington. You can listen to this sermon here.
To keep tabs on Kimberlee, visit her website.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:19 PM
OK, first things first: "Rabbit." With that one word I win this month's installment in an ongoing competition here at Strangely Dim: Be the first to say or write "Rabbit" on the first of the month. To be honest, we tried to pull the plug on this game months ago, but every time we think we're out, someone pulls us back in. So if you can't beat em, join em.
In other news, we find ourselves here at Strangely Dim with a collision of significant events. We're smack in the midst of Lent, that annual season of preparation in the Christian calendar that culminates in Resurrection Sunday, aka Easter. In addition, today marks the beginning of Women's History Month, an opportunity each year to acknowledge the particular contribution of women to the history of the universe. In previous years we've not attempted so audacious a task as taking on both Lent and Women's History Month at the same time, but this year we think we're up to the challenge.
So for the month of March you can expect to see new and revisited posts from the Strangely Dim archives, selected for their relevance to the traditional disciplines and thought experiments associated with Lent. You can also expect to be introduced or reintroduced to the women who through their writings have helped us shape Likewise Books over the past several years. You'll hear what these authors are up to, what inspired them to write their books, and what's going through their minds as they navigate this content-rich March in the year of our Lord 2010.
January 13, 2010
Haiti has been on our minds a lot lately here at Strangely Dim. A recent release in the Likewise line of books, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, introduces the reader to Kent Annan's first perplexing years living and working on education issues in Haiti before major political upheaval forced him and his wife to relocate to Miami. Kent now lives in Miami, jetting back and forth regularly to Port-au-Prince to continue the work of his organization, Haiti Partners. To celebrate the launch of his book, we launched a contest, with the prize being a five-day trip to Haiti, guided by Kent, to see up close the work God is doing among the people there. So yeah, Haiti has been on our minds a lot.
So when we heard about the earthquake that toppled the presidential palace, a hospital and countless other buildings in Port-au-Prince yesterday, we were perhaps more concerned than we, safely far removed from such an exotic place, might otherwise have been. We've since heard from Kent that he's in Miami this week and is thus OK, but his codirector at Haiti Partners was in the midst of the earthquake, though it sounds as though he and his family are OK. We have yet to hear about Enel and Edvard, two new friends of ours who joined Kent on his trip to the Urbana Student Missions Conference just before the new year. So while we're praying generally for the people affected by this earthquake, we find our prayers focused particularly on the people we know there, which I suppose is the nature of praying.
What will best help the people of Haiti in the aftermath of this quake has yet to be determined, although there's some effort to get water, clothes and trained emergency responders to the roughly three million people directly affected. But the recovery will take a long time. Toward that end, Kent has set up an emergency fund through Haiti Partners. You can donate to the fund by going to haitipartners.org and clicking on "Donate Now."
December 16, 2009
This nugget of strange dimness brought to you by David A. Zimmerman.
If you are related to Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver and author of the forthcoming Likewise Book Pure Scum, I have three words for you: Watch your back. Mike may give someone the coat off of it.
That's what happened to me during my visit a couple of weeks ago. Because I'm a reasonably ignorant traveler, I packed a windbreaker to help me stave off the winter weather. Because Mike knows Denver well, he quickly surmised that a windbreaker wouldn't be enough. So he dipped into his son's closet (his son, incidentally, is in Brazil, blissfully unaware) and gave me--not loaned me; gave me--what his assistant later told me was "probably a $200 coat."
It's awesome. I'd be wearing it right now if my coworkers would promise not to look at me funny.
I would have counted it a great visit even without the free coat. I've been eager to get a look at Scum of the Earth since I first heard of the church, and now that they've moved into their new, permanent location, the timing seemed perfect. A wildly creative church with a longstanding relationship with the Denver homeless community, Scum has always struck me as both innovative and orthodox, a combination that many churches struggle to master--as much as anything, because attempts at both innovation and orthodoxy are so often met with contempt from outsiders.
Case in point. The new building Scum finds itself in, formerly a church-turned-residence for a mosaic artist, is smack-dab in the middle of a Denver neighborhood gradually being transformed from cosmopolitan crevice to arts district. As such, the church's creative streak is for the most part (one holdout notwithstanding) welcomed by its new neighbors, but the homeless community the church attracts is not. It can be tough to be orthodox sometimes.
Similarly, the name of the church (taken from a passage in 1 Corinthians 4) draws as much ire from church purists on the right and left as it does praise from the "left-out and right-brained" it seeks to serve, and curiosity from ambivalent onlookers. Like I said, it's not easy being orthodox.
And yet the people from across the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy who get it, get it. I attended a year-end banquet for the church, a sort of Christmas celebration of all the good news Scum has experienced in 2009. Also in attendance were students, alumni and faculty from Denver Seminary, pastors and congregants from a number of other Denver churches, and longtime friends and supporters of various members of Scum's staff team, who count on such supporters for their salaries. We enjoyed a dinner of homemade Greek food and the company of this eclectic mix of people, set against a backdrop of good music and a slideshow of the church's activity over the past year--which included acquisition of the new building, which includes what friend of Likewise Margaret Feinberg has called "the coolest bathrooms in Christendom," or words to that effect.
Seriously, you should see the bathrooms at this church. Same goes for the kitchen, the "nursery" and the cross. It's only fitting that a church made up of so many artists and craftspeople would house itself in the former home of an artist who considered every wall, ceiling, floor and counter as creative space.
If you're intrigued by the prospect of visiting such a church, I have two words for you: sensory overload. Still, I'd recommend a visit to anyone and everyone. Mike tells the story of the church in Pure Scum, but you won't have the whole story till you've walked through the foyer and stood before the cross--not to mention used the bathroom.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:45 AM
December 1, 2009
Reposted by David A. Zimmerman
Today is the birthday of longtime friend and icon of Likewise Books, Don Everts (his friends call him Donaldo). Two years ago we were in the throes of a fit of creativity here at Strangely Dim, and Don's birthday (which is today--occasioned the following, one of my all-time favorite posts. I re-present it here for your amusement. Celebrate Don's birthday by buying one or several of his books--they make great stocking stuffers. (Some of them actually do fit in socks; some of them are even about feet!)
Today is the first of the month, which means that once again we're participating in our friendly <a href="Rabbit'>http://strangelydim.ivpress.com/rabbit/">Rabbit competition.</a> Today also, however, falls within our Fortnight of Odes, so that ups the ante a bit. And to top it off, today is the birthday of <a href="Don'>http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=1029">Don Everts,</a> author of four-soon-to-be-nine books. So I hope you'll forgive my infelicities as I try to marry these three phenomena together in today's post.
Ode to a Rabbit Named Don Everts
He hops in beauty as the knight
He's heard everything in his short little life--
Into his laptop, where he mines all his senses
So here's to Don Everts, our favorite bunny;
Happy birthday to you,
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:22 AM
November 25, 2009
By David A. Zimmerman
This time every year I start feeling quite thankful, thank you very much, for the authors I have the opportunity to work with. (You'll find the most recent ones listed here.) It's a pretty trippy life you're living when random people ask you if you think someone you've started to call a friend is a heretic, or when people casually mention how their life has been changed by reading a book written by an author you just had breakfast with. So as usual, this year I'm thankful for all sorts of things, but among them are the friends I've made while bringing their books to print.
One such friend is Kimberlee Conway Ireton, who recently invited me to wax geeky on her blog about one of my favorite books, and whose own book has been really instructive for me over the past couple of years in how I might tether my personal faith to the way the church navigates through each calendar year. For Christians, the new year starts this weekend with the first week of Advent. This time last year I posted the following excerpt from Kimberlee's book The Circle of Seasons; I post it again here for your edifitainment.
The book goes on to offer really lovely experiential insights into the various seasons of the Christian calendar, from Christmas to Easter to Ordinary time, and all points in between. But for now it's a nice reminder at the end of a calendar year that the year of Emmanuel--God with us--is only just beginning.
October 12, 2009
I'm still processing a seminal event I attended this weekend, Jopa Productions' Christianity 21 conference in idyllic Edina, Minnesota. I'm sure people are blogging this week about the event, but you can also get a sense of the conference by reading the Twitter feed, which is organized under the hashtag #C21. The event was noteworthy for any number of reasons, but three stand out for me:
The conference was equal parts reunion and showcase. Both were a draw for me. I got to catch up with a number of people I don't often get the opportunity to see, including Mark Van Steenwyk, who blogs at The Jesus Manifesto, and who gave me a recipe for pumpkin spice syrup for homemade lattes. Laci Scott reminded me of my early Emergent misadventures with yoga in dress socks. Anthony Smith and I endured unapologetically dirty dishes as we noshed over a buffet breakfast. I watched Doug Pagitt negotiate better food service from a hotel that was crowded with Christian hippies and bearded collies. Spencer Burke and I talked about a conference I didn't even go to. Mark Scandrette and I joked around about narcissism and comic books. Mike Stavlund and I bonded over haiku and other writing styles. And Shane Claiborne, notorious anticapitalist (or something like that), swiped my credit card so that I could gain entry to the event. For whatever reason, that makes me laugh.
Beyond the reunion, I was introduced to some prodigious thinkers and practitioners. Nadia Bolz-Weber, who blogs as the Sarcastic Lutheran and whom I'm a nerdy fan of, facilitated a great conversation with Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence. Julie Clawson represented Likewise Books well as she discussed Everyday Justice. Alise Barrymore, a pastor-scholar from the south side of Chicago, brought the house to its feet as she talked about growing down. Jenell Paris addressed the thorny issue of how important we should consider our sexuality, with implications for how we talk about homosexuality and Christianity together. Mimi Haddad asserted the equality of women to men in the eyes of God, a sentiment that pretty much everyone in the room shared but which needed to be said, and it was said eloquently, nonetheless. Debbie Blue celebrated the incarnation with a meditation on roadkill, which sounds gross (and is no way to lead into lunch) but was brilliant. Alyce McKenzie had a running theme of returning the products of our culture--self-sufficiency and self-absorption among them--in exchange for the values of the kingdom of God. On and on and on the speakers went, with perhaps the focal point coming from Lauren Winner, who forecasted what she hopes will be the twenty-one things people think of a hundred years from now when they think of Christians.
I can't imagine that everyone agreed with everything, but it was fun, and it was substantive, and it was seminal. And I got a killer syrup recipe out of it. And be warned, Shane Claiborne: I will be watching my credit card invoice carefully, and if anything looks hinky, I'm coming for you.
June 24, 2009
It seems presumptuous and even a bit preachy to pre-empt our summer of escapist fantasy by appealing to the church calendar, but as I thought about this writing experiment my mind kept going back to Kimberlee Conway Ireton's second chapter on Ordinary Time in The Circle of Seasons. Turns out she takes on pretty bold-facedly the longing for what lies beyond our immediate grasp:
I wanted to experience that glimpse of the transcendent, to be thrilled with the momentary parting of the veil between heaven and earth.
What I have since realized is that I do have these glimpses of the glory beyond and that they are a mixed blessing. The parting of the veil fills me with awe and delights my soul, but it also opens in me a yearning, a deep and almost painful desire. . . . In the past, I have grasped at whatever ushered me into the enchanted realm beyond the veil--the sleeve of my husband's crisply striped shirt, the roses fresh-cut from my rosebushes and sitting in a bowl on the counter, the crescendo of the organ as we sing the name of Jesus in church--in an attempt to replicate the experience and so quench my desire to live in moments of mystery. This never works.
Summer may be the time when our escape impulse is most intense; it may even be the time when escape seems most sensible and achievable. This is summer, after all, where everything flourishes and even blazes with life. But for the church, summer means Ordinary Time.
Starting a mere week after Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the miraculous anointing of the church, and lasting till Advent, when our longing for the return of God becomes so acute that we can no longer ignore it--Ordinary Time is the longest season in the church calendar. Ordinary Time is so ordinary that according to many traditions it happens twice each year: from barely summer to nearly winter, and between Epiphany and Lent.
It strikes me that the Scriptures prepare the church for this prolonged ordinariness. Pentecost is marked in the early verses of Acts 2 with a big bang--fire and wind and dynamic preaching and mass conversion and all that stuff. But it very quickly gives way to the later verses of Acts 2, which are profound in their plainness. Here the Scriptures describe teaching and eating and praying (oh my). Even miracles are described in the passive voice. If you want to get your church all riled up, read them Acts 2:1-41. If you're brushing up on your bureaucracy, read 42-47.
Of course, there's awfully cool stuff happening in the ordinary days of the Church of Latter Acts 2. Passive or not, wonders and miraculous signs were done. Meals were shared. Property was redistributed according to need. The people's favor was enjoyed. And daily, the chapter ends by observing, people were being saved.
Kimberlee notes that the veil separating us from a more wondrous view of God is not really ours to pull back.
Instead, when we embrace Ordinary Time as part of whole gift of our existence, we sometimes find ourselves pleasantly surprised by how thin the space we occupy actually is. The veil itself drops long enough to give us a sideways glance behind it at ultimate reality. We're reminded that even the most ordinary time is undergirded by something extraordinary.
We live the bulk of our lives in the daily, doing the same tasks again and again--preparing food, showering, dressing, checking voicemail or email, doing dishes or laundry, commuting to work--and it can come to feel like a grind, pointless and redundant. But it is precisely because these tasks are daily that they have such transformative potential. . . .
In sharpening our physical senses to be more aware of this world, we are also quickening our spirits, opening them to the earthly beauty that surrounds us so that we will be more ready to receive visions of the unearthly beauty that lies just beyond our senses on the other side of the veil. As with any grace, we cannot force or demand such a vision. We can only wait for it, attentively and hopefully, as we engage in the relationships and work that constitute our lives.
The most extraordinary moments, it seems, come not when we run away from the ordinary but when we walk by faith right through it.
June 4, 2009
Maybe it's because I'm a frustrated musician, but I frequently compare the publishing industry to the music industry. It's often a helpful comparison: both industries are creative enterprises with content and personality both being critical ingredients for each new product's success; both have struggled to redefine themselves in the digital era. But I'm starting to wonder if my industry is less like the music industry than it is like its own arch-nemesis: television.
I had this proto-epiphany in a movie theater during the pre-previews portion of the evening's entertainment. On the screen was an extended commercial for (or "behind-the-scenes look at") the new Jada Pinkett-Smith medical drama Hawthorne. Punctuating the preview--I mean advertisement--was "TNT: We Know Drama." And I thought to myself, Well, yes, they do know drama.
TNT is a basic-cable enterprise out of the mind and wallet of Turner Broadcasting. They know lots of stuff, if you take them at their word--drama and comedy being their main areas of expertise. I don't regularly watch the content they broadcast, but I accept the identity they've claimed for themselves for a variety of reasons:
So when TNT says they know something, they can point to things that back their claim up.
The other thing that strikes me, however, is that while each show is actually in a sense its own independent entity--producers shop programs around before landing a deal with TNT--each show is unavoidably tethered to the network. Episodes air on the network channel or stream on the network website. For better or worse, the individual programs are banking on the premise that TNT knows what they're doing, and that their audience believes it.
Of course, the dependence is mutual. TNT's reputation is more than, but not less than, the sum of its parts. It relies on the consistent quality and appeal of its contracted original programs and the actors who perform and promote them to sustain its reputation as a source of compelling drama, progressive comedy and innovative broadcasting. The moniker "TNT" is both an endorsement and an extrapolation of the network's contractual relationships.
So is the donkey that graces every Likewise book. As a line within InterVarsity Press's publishing program, we try to work with creative, compelling authors on significant books produced and promoted in interesting ways. Our publishing partners benefit from our sixty-plus year reputation, but that reputation is itself an aggregate of sixty-plus years' worth of publishing partnerships. What we know as a publisher, you might say, is more than but not less than the collective wisdom of our authors and the people who populate their acknowledgments page.
So what does Likewise Books know? If you base it on our authors to date, you might say we know the complexity of Christian faith, discipleship and mission twenty-one centuries into the life of the church. We know what resources are available to God's people, and we know what challenges God's people face. We know that there is wisdom to be found and embraced beyond the walls of the church, and that the church itself has wisdom to contribute beyond its own walls. And we know more than anything that we need to be there for one another. For Likewise that means bringing writers and readers into conversation with each other to explore the contours of acting thoughtfully and thinking actively--and above all, as our donkey reminds us, going and doing.
Of course, that's just my take on our publishing project. What do I know? Or maybe a more constructive question would be, what do you think?
February 23, 2009
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
It's a service that called us to name our sin, to sit for a little while in the raw, ugly fact that we are sinners who have turned from God, doing what we want to do instead of what we know he wants us to do. It felt awkward, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, sitting with others I know, pondering my own sin, identifying with each other for a while not as the friends and ministry partners and small group members we are, the roles that usually define our interactions with each other--but as fellow sinners.
This, however, was not a wallowing service. It was solemn, yes, because it was serious, because sin is serious. But after we sat with our sin, after we asked Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for mercy--then we received that mercy anew. We shared in Communion, celebrating Christ's painful death and victorious resurrection on our behalf, taking it in as the free gift of God that it is. And we recommitted ourselves to living as the people of God--as sinners redeemed, as new creations in whom Christ dwells--in a hurting, broken, sinful world.
Lent, which begins on Wednesday, has become a significant time of year for me. Yet it can often feel unfamiliar or mysterious, depending on the tradition you've grown up in or depending on where you're at in your faith. Indeed, it is unfamiliar because it's so countercultural; it goes against our efforts to appear good, our perfectionistic tendencies, our desires to keep our minds on happy, uplifting topics. Lament and sin are not on any "conversation-starter lists" for first dates or parties. We don't discuss them in the hallways at work or on the train during our morning commute. We don't like to feel bad about ourselves and recognize our sinfulness, both of which usually occur during Lenten services like the one I attended last night.
But Lent as I am coming to see it is not about judging ourselves, grinding ourselves down into the dirt until we can't even get off the floor for the shame of the sins we've committed. It is, rather, a time set aside to give us perspective, to correct our vision of ourselves and the world that may have tilted to the "we can't help it that we sin" side through the year, to remind us that the world is not as it was meant to be and not as it will always be, and, above all, to help us better celebrate and understand what Christ has done. We can't really feel grateful for Christ's suffering until we understand that we are the ones who deserved to suffer. We can't understand the significance of his sacrifice until we accept the seriousness of our own sin.
In this context, then, Lent becomes not just about sin, but about the juxtaposition of sin and mercy: a confession of lust is forgiven with love; an acknowledgment of anger is answered with grace; a group of deserters has their feet washed by the One who knows they'll desert him.
So, whether you've been observing Lent for years or haven't heard of it till today, I invite you to do something to observe it, beginning on Wednesday. You might consider simply giving up something that keeps you from spending time with God, or that keeps you from seeing the truth of who he is.
You could also observe Lent with us at Likewise books. Tamara Park, author of Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem and relatively new to observing Lent herself, will send out a short email each week with a reflection and questions as well as a song, Scripture and image to keep in mind as you go through your days. These emails can help you take stock of your spiritual state and give you space for sacred encounters of your own. If you want to receive Tamara's emails during Lent, simply email us at email@example.com and put "Lenten Sacred Encounter" on the subject line.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons, can serve as a Lent guide for you too. She explains the background and practices of Lent for you in chapter five of her book, as well as gives simple suggestions for Lenten observances that can make it a significant period of discovery for you. In addition, she's written and posted family devotions for each day of Lent at her website. Just click on "Resources" to find the guide.
Yet another option (aren't we helpful??) is to join Dave on his personal blog where, starting Wednesday, he'll be posting daily readings from his latest book, Deliver Us from Me-Ville--a particularly apt topic for the season.
Lent, admittedly, takes work. But it's work that is so necessary for our growth in Christ. As I walked from the parking lot to my office building this morning, the sidewalk gave me a clear--though unglamorous--picture of the essence of this season of the church year. There, alongside the white, unmarred snow that fell this weekend, lay a pile of geese poop. The juxtaposition of Lent is that stark as well: we see our ugly, unglamorous sin next to Christ's saving grace, our embarrassing messiness beside God's deep mercy. Starting Wednesday, let's name and sit in and walk through our sin together--that we might know in even deeper ways the gift of having that dirty sin become clean like untouched snow.
January 28, 2009
Ooh la la! One of my authors, writing of a freak encounter with an unwashed rodent, let slip a naughty word. I'm blushing, I think. We may be edgy over here at Likewise Books, but we're not typically that edgy.
Normally our policy on vulgarities follows the policy of magazines, such as Time and others: either edit around it so it's no longer necessary, or strike the damning characters so that no one's virgin eyes are deflowered. So, for example, Lady Macbeth might be edited to the more family-friendly "Out, d*** spot!" Or, to keep it interesting, "Out, d*** s***"--in the event that I was feeling a little naughty myself. On the rare occasion when such edits will actually subvert the intent of the author, we will soberly leave the word unobscured.
The first time this problem came across my desk, it was assigned to me. An author had used a careless word, and his editor had failed to sniff it out. During a final review the word caught the attention of my sharp-eyed boss, and he commissioned me to review the entire book for other instances. I spent the better part of an hour giggling like a seventh grader as I typed every four-letter word I'd ever been spanked over into the search field in Microsoft Word. I felt like the George Carlin of the Christian publishing industry. (Google it.) An hour in my hot little hands and that manuscript earned itself a G rating, thank you very much.
So I'm accustomed to editing out the bad language of authors. But here I'm presented with a curious dilemma: the offending word is written in French.
This isn't the author trying to get around my puritanical editing; given the context, it's actually appropriate--a French epithet employed in a conversation that actually happened. The pottymouth in question is a Francophone. (Google it.)
Most of the author's audience are likely not Francophones, so only a percentage of the book's readers will know they're being sworn at. But I'll know, and the publishers in Francophone countries who are interested in translating the book for their audience will know. And my boss, with his annoyingly French surname, will also know. And when he reads the book, the m**** will hit the fan, if you catch my meaning.
So I'm editing the word out of the book. That is, perhaps, what Jesus would do, if Jesus were a twenty-first-century editor of Christian books for the American marketplace. Right?
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:31 AM
January 22, 2009
You can't judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can judge the cover. The forthcoming book The Girl in the Orange Dress needed a jacket design appropriate to both its contents and its audience. We found ourselves with two great cover options, so we asked you to vote. You can read the full details here.
While the contest was heated, with four hundred people voting and contacting us to elaborate on their vote, ultimately one cover clearly dominated. So feast your eyes on the winning cover here; in a few months you'll be able to feast your eyes on the whole book.
By the way, we haven't forgotten that we promised a free copy of the book to five random responders. The winners will be announced in a forthcoming Likewise Notebook, an occasional e-mailed update on the goings and doings of Likewise Books by InterVarsity Press, and at the Likewise Facebook group. Good luck! May the orange dress be with you.
January 9, 2009
Thanks to all who participated in our cover survey for The Girl in the Orange Dress. We're closing the polls now. We'll take a little time to tally the results and announce the winning cover (and the winners of the random drawing) in the near future here and elsewhere. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the book's author, Margot Starbuck, click here. If you're wondering what other funky books are in the hopper or in our warehouse, click here. If you want to get updates and be in the running for other book giveaways, click here. If you want to do nothing whatsoever, click here.
Ha ha, that last one was a joke.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:58 PM
January 6, 2009
We need your help as we bring this book to publication. We have two very different cover designs under consideration. Which would you take home and read? Which tells you what you need to know about the book? Click here to vote at Survey Monkey. Five respondents will be selected randomly to get a copy of the book when it releases in July 2009! (If you work for InterVarsity Press, please don't vote. It's not that we don't care, it's just . . .)
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:20 AM
December 19, 2008
Better late than never, here's a nice meditation on Advent from The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I like to describe it as "a life in the year of the church."
The book goes on to offer really lovely experiential insights into the various seasons of the Christian calendar, from Christmas to Easter to Ordinary time, and all points in between. But for now it's a nice reminder at the end of a calendar year that the year of Emmanuel--God with us--is only just beginning.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 4:21 PM
December 12, 2008
The latest in our ongoing lunchtime series of topical discussions related to Likewise Books, the Donkey Congress, involved a conversation about the tension between cynicism and earnestness, and the appropriate balance between the two. I left the meeting and stumbled upon the following comments from President Theodore Roosevelt, who presided over the social progressive movement in early twentieth-century America and the parallel movement of "muckraking" exposé journalism.
So maybe between Bunyan and Roosevelt we have the appropriate caution for an otherwise healthy cynicism: every once in a while, for your own sake and for the sake of everyone else, you gotta look up.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:49 AM
October 4, 2008
Every time we stumble upon a topic here at Strangely Dim that stimulates our imagination enough to generate an entire fortnight's worth of material, I get really excited. So you might imagine how excited I am to announce that Lisa and I are going to attempt the virtually impossible: two back-to-back fortnights on the theme of donkey tales from the Bible.
This project has been a modest dream of mine since the unveiling of the Likewise Books logo:
And in fact we toyed with the idea in a line description that accompanies every Likewise book. That line description inaugurated the first fortnight of donkey tales; I thought it would be appropriate for this second fortnight to draw from the two samplers we created for the line.
The first sampler featured five books--Flirting with Monasticism, Practical Justice, Sacred Travels, The New Friars and Blessed Are the Uncool. The latest sampler features one book that's now in print--Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers--and two books that are forthcoming: The Green Revolution and Love Is an Orientation. The introduction tethers these various books on diverse topics to the overarching idea of our publishing program: that striving to live like Jesus in our everyday going and doing is a discipline of seeking wisdom in real time, something that we rely on one another to accomplish. Without further ado, then, here's the inaugural post to our second fortnight of donkey tales:
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:42 AM
August 22, 2008
Yesterday a group of us associated with Likewise Books met over lunch in our bimonthly Donkey Congress to discuss the runaway bestselling novel/theological treatise The Shack. We didn't publish it, but we read it anyway, because we're not particularly provincial. Anyway, I could write a summary of the nature and tone of our discussion, but I don't have to, because my friend Al Hsu already did. You can read his very thoughtful post over at his blog.
The thing about group discussions is that every one is different, even if they all involve the same book. I actually attended another discussion about The Shack earlier this week populated not by publishing professionals such as myself but by people involved in lay or vocational ministry. The conversation was slightly different and perhaps less critical theologically than the in-office Donkey Congress, but again people saw great potential in a book that Eugene Peterson called this generation's Pilgrim's Progress, Al Hsu called this generation's Disappointment with God and I'll call, I guess, this millennium's Confessions. Or this month's The Secret. Take your pick.
Our next Donkey Congress will be in late October, where we'll discuss the forthcoming book by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers. If you're interested in hosting a Donkey Congress in your very own time zone, give us a shout.
June 20, 2008
Today at Likewise Books, base camp for Strangely Dim, we held our bimonthly Donkey Congress, where we discuss a publication (sometimes one of ours, sometimes another publisher's) that has even the most dubious bearing on our publishing program. Today's discussion was on I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus, written by Likewise poster-child Don Everts and InterVarsity's regional director for campus ministries in Southern California, Doug Schaupp. (Pause for breath.)
I Once Was Lost is not technically a Likewise book, but neither is it a book by some random other publisher. It bears the imprint of IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, the book-publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, a member organization in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. IVP Books for short.
Despite the absence of the Likewise donkey (we like to call him "Jack") from the book's cover, I Once Was Lost struck us as particularly appropriate for an hour-long conversation. As it turns out, it was appropriate for an hour and a half, and honestly, we probably could have gone longer. (I can be pretty long-winded.) We had two guests from outside Likewise Books, both serving as pastors in our area, both of whom offered helpful insights to our discussion. It strikes me that there might be others out there who could spare an hour to talk about how faith is shared in postmodernity, so what follows is a script for your very own do-it-yourself Donkey Congress. Please feel free to buy the book (sneaky, huh?) and use or deconstruct what follows as a framework for your discussion.
Five Thresholds of the Postmodern Path to Christ
· What are the contributing factors that make "distrust" the default posture toward Christianity among postmoderns?
· What makes Jesus compelling in a post-Christian culture? How do we present Jesus as compelling without commodifying him in some way?
· On the television show In Treatment, a therapist characterizes the New Testament thesis as "God good, people bad," and the intrinsic appeal of self-loathing as the principal reason Christianity spread so quickly. What makes "life change" a particular value of Christianity? If "life change" as a value is unique to Christianity, how is it made compelling to non-Christians?
· Is a focused search for Jesus a realistic expectation of people in a frenetic, multitasking culture with constant ambient noise? How so or why not?
· How ought our posture change toward a person who has entered the kingdom of God?
The Farmer Versus the Friend
· What does it mean to be different in a pluralistic culture? What do you suppose our non-Christian friends want for us?
· How does the movement of the church from the center to the periphery of culture affect our relationship to non-Christians? Is there such a thing as "Christian privilege" (similar to white privilege) that we should give up expecting or even repent from? If so, how would you characterize Christian privilege?
· What complications emerge from the dual relationship of "farmer/soil" and "friend/friend" described in this book? To what degree is an evangelist unavoidably unfriendly?
The Thresholds of the Evangelist
· It's become a cliché that short term missions changes the missionary. Does evangelism change the evangelist? In what ways?
· Much methodology associated with evangelism presumes that the evangelist is interesting. That is, frankly, not always the case. How does one become intriguing? And to what degree does this refashioning of your personality reinforce distrust?
· What thresholds does an evangelist need to pass through to have an authentic, redemptive relationship with a non-Christian?
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:02 AM
April 1, 2008
Dave was away from his desk for awhile this morning (no one's talking about it, but there are suspicions that he and Andy had "a talk" about Dave's post, and what frustrations are appropriate to share on a corporate site. The word rabbits angrily spoken might have been heard coming from Andy's office earlier today) so he may not have had a chance to respond to your angry outbursts over the ending of our rabbit game, but I wanted to give you my two cents on the whole thing, and provide a few more details about the intense conversations going on here at IVP surrounding rabbits and donkeys.
The fact of the matter is, the rabbit game and the ensuing friction it's caused has, simultaneously, helped everyone face the cold, hard truth: We picked the wrong animal to represent the Likewise line. We're proud of our Likewise books; they're noble, thought-provoking, authentic and honest. And the donkey is, let's face it, an ignoble, inelegant, not-so-bright animal. Sure, one of the donkeys in the Bible could talk, but we can't go around basing our whole line on an exception. Every other donkey on the earth has only ever been able to make a braying noise that, if heard for too long at one time, has been known to cause depression in children, not to mention compulsive furniture rearrangement and increased reports of Pin the Tail on the Donkey using large nails and heavy hammers instead of stickers--and on days when it's not even someone's birthday. (Shocking, I know.) Our Likewise donkey-bearing books are for people who lead, not for burdensome, whining beasts who have to be dragged around by bit and bridle. You see the problem.
Given the recent unpleasantness, one might be tempted to simply swap out the current donkey for the silhouette of a rabbit. But while rabbits are far more endearing, generally, than donkeys, they have almost no societal impact. They simply hop around foraging for food and keeping to themselves. And while they are much easier to find in the stuffed or chocolate variety than, say, donkeys (just try finding a peanut-butter-filled chocolate donkey--just try, I dare you!), in real life, they are scared as blades of grass in lawn-mowing season, and run away before you even have a chance to admire the length of their feet. Not to mention the fact that they occasionally cause damage to lawns and gardens--which has caused one editor here at IVP (who shall remain nameless, for protection) to express desires involving shotguns and rabbits. And we certainly don't want our Likewise animal invoking violent thoughts!
So--we thought we'd put it to you, the Likewise audience. Which animal should take the place of the donkey in our logo? We would also of course invite you to make a case for keeping the donkey. I don't want to influence your opinion or skew the vote by suggesting animals you should vote for, but while I'm writing I would like to speak for the llamas, which happen to be very intelligent and social animals, and which I might have mentioned casually when we first started discussing an animal to represent our Likewise line. Not that I'm bitter we didn't go with the llama. I just wanted to put it out there as an option. So don't be a scared rabbit (or a donkey's fool, for that matter)--give us your comments!
March 2, 2008
I'm in Seattle for the New Conspirators Conference. Here's round four of what I learned.
* Jesus wants to know whether I am a sheep or a goat.
March 1, 2008
I'm in Seattle for the New Conspirators conference. Here's what I'm learning.
* The least are the new most.
What I Dithcovered in Theattle: Thecond in a Therieth
I'm now done with day two in Seattle, where I'm attending the New Conspirators conference. Here's what I've learned:
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:41 AM
February 25, 2008
My friend and colleague Jeff Crosby reads the New York Times. I do not. Jeff, therefore, is more hip than I am to all the news that's fit to print, including a recent article about a guy traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Patagonia, South America, with a donkey in tow.
Jonathan Dunham is, apparently, an unassuming guy with virtually no attachments, save the donkey given to him by Mexican farmers. The donkey goes by the name Whothey, which is pronounced "Judas," which sets the mind a-wondering.
People, especially reporters, are among those awondering and have been assigning various motivations to Jonathan--from world peace to a world record and even world evangelization. But what will ultimately be a four-year journey for Jonathan probably most closely resembles the ancient practice of pilgrimage. He has a destination in mind, and he's living simply and quirkily along the way. And while one can only guess at why he's doing what he's doing, he seems to be a likeable guy and has in fact done a little bit for world peace and perhaps even world evangelization along the way. The jury's still out about the world record.
This story appeals to us at Likewise Books for obvious reasons, the most obvious of which is that it features a guy and a donkey, which--if you haven't noticed--is our logo. The lifestyle Jonathan has embraced for himself appeals to us as well, albeit in a more mystical, enigmatic sense: he's living what some of our authors have lived and profiled along the way, from the discipline of pilgrimage practiced by Christian George to the simple and just living articulated by Scott Bessenecker and Kevin Blue, to the embodied spirituality championed by Chris Heuertz, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (two books in our very near future; keep your eyes out for them), and even the evocative imagery employed in books by Don Everts and Rick Richardson. Jonathan is going and doing, and we here at Likewise can get behind that.
If you think of it, pray for Jonathan and Judas--for safe travels, for warm receptions, for occasional epiphanies. Pray for us if you think of it as well--that we'd publish what needs publishing and that our authors would grow through the experience of helping others grow. And then, if you think of it, pray for yourself--that you'd know when it's time, as Jesus suggests, for you to go and do likewise, and that you'd have the sheer moxie to do it.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:32 AM
February 12, 2008
Strangely Dim isn't just a dumping ground for the random thoughts that occasionally come to Lisa and me; it's also the official blog of Likewise Books, a line of books from InterVarsity Press. And as an official blog, it's our official duty to officially inform you that the Likewise Books website is up and at em.
Soon enough Strangely Dim will actually be relocating to likewisebooks.com, complete with a funky facelift. But you should go to the website now anyway, because it's really cool. There's regularly refreshing content on the home page: a featured interview with a Likewise author, excerpts from Likewise books, a link to this blog and, in perhaps the site's most quirky feature, profiles of people who lived Likewise before they were dead.
You can, of course, also look through our list of books and authors, even peeking into the near future for what's coming next. You can find out where our authors are headed and jump from our site to sites that at least one of us has found interesting at one point or another. It's frightening, really, just how much stuff we've crammed into one little website.
OK. Consider yourselves officially informed. Now, back to the strange and the dim . . .
October 26, 2007
Yesterday at an all-InterVarsity Press meeting we got a sneak peek at the revamped Likewise Books website. It's going to be, I daresay, nifty, with new content (including original artwork and a brand new blog), interviews with authors, and links to books and other interesting stuff. You can get a taste (and I mean just a taste, like those little spoons they give you at the ice cream shop, not like those shot glasses they give you at an olive oil tasting) at likewisebooks.com. Probably when it launches the Strangely Dim URL will change, so be ready.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:58 AM
August 15, 2007
We were apparently in a grandiose mood when we titled this season’s Likewise books. Coming soon to bookstores (and bookshelves, one might hope) everywhere are two books making bold statements about some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith.
First up is Jesus Without Religion, by Rick James, the king of faith-filled funk. Rick wrote his book as an attempt to look at Jesus through the text of the Bible and the culture of Jesus’ era, rather than through the institutional constructs put in place by centuries of church. Not that he has anything against church; Rick simply wants to get down to the nitty gritty: What did Jesus say, what did he do, and what was the point?
The only thing standing in the way between you and Jesus now is Rick’s Robin-Williams-esque sense of humor, which peppers each page and salts each assertion:
Genre is everything. The merit of the phrase “eggs, chili powder, prune juice and Captain Crunch” can only be assessed by learning whether the genre is that of a grocery list, a poem or a recipe. It’s a coherent grocery list, a lousy poem and a vile recipe.
To understand a particular section of the Bible, you simply must identify the genre. . . . Jesus’ . . . explanation for speaking in parables . . . is similar to the rationale behind a poem. The shocking truth is that Jesus doesn’t want everyone to understand him. Yes, that’s what I said, “Jesus did not want everyone to understand him.” . . .
In cloaking the truth in parables, Jesus allowed for people to be in a process, to be on a spiritual journey, to remain neutral if they chose. The parables are a dog whistle, piercing to the faithful but muted to the masses, graciously allowing the unready to avoid an out-and-out, final confrontation with the truth.
Pretty clever, huh? We see Jesus being controversial, then we see why. Add a little Captain Crunch and everybody’s happy.
On the heels of Rick’s book comes Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians by Brian Sanders. Brian is, and is writing about being, a leaver: in love with Jesus but dubious about the institution that carries his banner. Brian’s point is that many “churches” haven’t earned the title, or they’ve lost their way over time. It’s time to be honest, he challenges, and make lucid the hope that God calls us to as the church.
This isn’t, of course, some blanket permission to sleep in late on Sundays or to slander pastors and denominations or to sanctify your stool at the local bar. Brian’s helping us to understand what church really is and then pushing us to live into that understanding. You can do that where you are, within an existing church, or you can begin something new and revolutionary; either way, it needs to be done.
Try to be the church. Pray and serve and organize and dream and plan and give and welcome and sacrifice and form community and have conflict and reconcile and lead and share Jesus and behold and study and pray and teach and baptize and love and be a neighbor and meet needs and know people, all kinds of people. Be the church. Don’t be a victim of the structure you were born into; be a leader. Treasure Jesus, know him, study him, and then you will know yourself, who you were meant to be; then you will know the church and what it is meant to be. The vision God has for his bride is the same as the vision he had for his Son. It is the redemption of the world and the ushering in of the kingdom of God.
Brian’s book is a manifesto of sorts, a call to vital faith for people who feel their faith being gradually eroded.
These are only the latest books to emerge from our Likewise line. Plenty more where that came from, so keep us in your sights.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:32 AM
June 11, 2007
Today marks my tenth anniversary at InterVarsity Press. On June 11, 1997, I walked into my swanky corner office for the first time and formally requested two weeks off.
In my defense, I requested the time off for a youth group trip to the Navajo reservation that I had been planning for a long time. My supervisor decided it would be good for me to get in a couple of weeks training time before my predecessor left, so I started early. The timing of my start date didn't matter much to me, to be honest; I was more concerned that my new job wouldn't get in the way of my living my life.
I don't know if my boss knows this, but InterVarsity Press was supposed to be a temp job for me. I had run out of money while working as a fundraiser for a startup youth ministry, so I took the job at the Press. I figured that I ought to at least enjoy what I was doing while I dug myself out of debt. But time gets away from you, especially when you're enjoying it and seeing the immediate fruits of your labor.
A book is, in a sense, the inevitable destiny of an idea, and so I dwell daily among ideas moving inevitably toward their destiny, making sure that those ideas are well-spelled and adequately punctuated. Then again, a book is often the incubator for new ideas--and not only new ideas but new ways of living. A hallmark of InterVarsity Press's publishing program is a high value of transformation, the thoughtful integration of life. And so in our finest moments to edit an IVP Book is to midwife a midwife, so to speak: to help bring about the means for a person or a community to transform into something better, something new and fresh and more fully alive.
Of course, books aren't the only harbinger of transformation. Whatever growth I've experienced over the past ten years is due only in part to what I've read. I'd attribute perhaps a greater part to the interactions I've had with my friends and colleagues over the years, and to the opportunities that my supervisors and authors have afforded me. I wouldn't have four years of blogging under my belt if it weren't for my boss inviting me to write for the company website, and without this blog I wouldn't have come across some of the remarkable people I've met along the way. Likewise, in my interactions with authors and coworkers I've been challenged to broaden my vision of the church, to reconsider the extent of my discipleship. Given the isolating nature of the work that editors find themselves so often buried under, I've been fortunate to have a distinctly communal experience.
When I first started working at InterVarsity Press I would politely decline every invitation to lunch from my peers--not because I didn't want to lay down roots but because I was that broke. I regret it now, because over ten years you see a lot of people come, and a lot of people go. But I'm on a better financial footing now, and I'm well-rooted in the purpose and values of the Press, and I'm regularly in the mood for lunch. So today I raise a peanut-butter cookie in gratitude to InterVarsity Press. If only I had a glass of milk in which to dip it.
May 24, 2007
Yesterday, apparently, was Mix It Up Day at InterVarsity Press. (It was also Sarcastic Wednesday, according to Hallmark's Hoops and YoYo.) Yesterday I parked in the parking spot normally taken by the director of production and fulfillment (gasp!). Yesterday the associate editorial director led a meeting normally led by the editorial director (wow!). Yesterday the director of sales and marketing sat in the seat normally occupied by the senior marketing manager (huh?!?). Yesterday the editorial intern took the favorite lunch spot of Craver VII. And yesterday the editorial department cancelled its weekly popcorn meeting in favor of a Thursday bagel meeting. I even switched stalls.
We were all mixin' it up yesterday. This post even mixed it up; I scheduled it to go online yesterday afternoon, but here it is, one day late. We didn't plan Mix It Up Day, but in all sorts of ways we honored it.
It's good, I think, to mix it up on occasion. It's far too easy to settle into habits and routines that once were refreshing and innovative for us but have become regimented, subconscious, automatic.
Some things, of course, lend themselves to becoming regimented, either by their nature or by design: our bodies require regular rhythms of sleeping, eating, whatnot; we discover the most efficient path to a repeated outcome, and we repeat it because to do otherwise would be silly, wasteful. Those things notwithstanding, I think there often comes a time when we need to look squarely at what we've become accustomed to, in order to determine whether we've become enslaved to it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (my favorite Dietrich) gave at least one example in his book Life Together:
"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community."
I'm struck by this pairing of statements both because they caution us against the type of settling we're vulnerable to--when we seek out community or solitude by default, we miss out on the benefits and responsibilities of their opposites--and because the paradox itself mixes it up for me. Every time I read these statements together, my initial reaction is "Huh? . . . Wait a minute . . . Huh?"
So for a time at least I get interrupted from my presumptions about what it means to be in community or in solitude, and I revisit my own understandings of what I need from others, and what they need from me. What happens next is unpredictable, which is, I suppose, why we don't often like to mix it up.
Nevertheless, I welcome you to make your own Mix It Up Day. Share your favorite memory of mixing it up (or getting mixed up) here. Then go, as they say, and do likewise.
April 17, 2007
Karen Sloan, author of Flirting with Monasticism, came through Chicago this past week to take part in the Wheaton Theology Conference, this year discussing ancient-future Christian theology--just the sort of place where monasticism is actively flirted with.
Because of the apocalyptic weather systems we've been experiencing lately, Karen's flight to Chicago was delayed, so she missed the scintillating conversation that takes place every Wednesday afternoon when our editorial department gets together to eat popcorn and catch up. There's nothing quite like the anthropological experience of sitting with editors in our natural habitat, chewing with our mouths open so we can talk with our mouths full. I know it's a meager substitute, incidentally, but starting this week you can have a similar virtual experience at any one of our three new editorial blogs: Behind the Books, Addenda & Errata, and our fearless leader's recurring diatribe, Andy Unedited. Seriously, it's like an editorial smorgasbord around here.
But I digress. Karen was able to make it over here Thursday instead. For her trouble she got an up-close and personal view of my office, which is a total disaster area because I lack the common courtesy to clean up for my guests. She also got to meet some of her e-mail correspondents face to face, and she had lunch with a scintillating colleague of mine. From there she went to the conference, and from there she came to a play I was in, where she saw me dressed in a tunic and heard me singing poorly about my--make that Peter's--denial of Jesus.
I think by now it's well-established that I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself in front of virtually anyone, but while I've had authors sing to me, this was the first time I've sung to an author. Fortunately, her book already came out, so for the time being at least, she's stuck with me for an editor.
I mention all of this not only as a public thanks to Karen for her visit but as a way of communicating (read that "confessing") that editors are human. We do weird stuff--but that's not because we're editors, it's because we're human. We get anxious about what other people think of us--but that's not because we're editors, it's because we're human. My authors have learned that firsthand; it's part of the demystifying process of getting published.
One of the nice things about working for a publisher such as InterVarsity Press is that we learn while we're working--about God, about ourselves. In my case, I learned the following from David Benner as he wrote The Gift of Being Yourself:
People who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God. For such persons, ideas about God provide a substitute for direct experience of God. . . . Paradoxically, we come to know God best not by looking at God exclusively, but by looking at God and then looking at ourselves--then looking at God, and then again looking at ourselves.
I learned a lot--about God, about myself--from Karen Sloan too, and I'm learning as I go from the other authors floating around this place these days. Yep, editors are people too, and people, I think it's fair to say, need one another.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:55 AM
March 23, 2007
This week I visited Chris Heuertz, international director of Word Made Flesh and forthcoming Likewise author (I'll tell you the title when we make up our minds). After being well-fed and hydrated by him and his wife Phileena (below) and well-entertained by the good people of WMF for several days, I treated them to lunch at Taco John's, because I know how to treat people right. I wore my extra-large jeans in anticipation of all the Potato Ole's I ate. Yummy.
The U.S. office for Word Made Flesh is based in Omaha, Nebraska, but they have like-minded people befriending the poorest of the poor all over the world. If you've read the Likewise book The New Friars, Chris probably looks and sounds familiar. Keep an eye out for his book; it's gonna be a good one for shizzle.
January 11, 2007
December 7, 2006
One of the joys of working for a publisher is playing midwife. Be sure to congratulate Paul on his new baby, and remember: uncool is the new cool.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 4:12 PM
October 31, 2006
Wired Magazine has run a feature article on the New Atheists. The new breed are more zealous, more militant, than your friendly neighborhood atheist. Here's the lowdown:
The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.
The New Atheists argue, for all practical purposes, that there is no real meeting between belief and unbelief. There are blue states of consciousness, and there are red states of consciousness; there can be no purple. The author of the article strikes a militant tone with the "atheist's prayer":
that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.
The chief hurdle in the New Atheist agenda--taking over the world, or something like that--is the fact that they sound so smug about it. Atheist activist Clark Adams claims that they are "predominant among the upper 5 percent" of the population--they're the best of the best. They're the navy seals of the cosmos, the philospher-kings of the new republic; why don't the rest of us get our heads out of the clouds and bow down to them?
Not all atheists are so self-assured, of course. An episode in the most recent season of Thirty Days required an avowed atheist to live among devoutly evangelistic evangelicals for a month, and exposed the sociological complications of life as a 5 percent minority. In a democracy, strength is found in numbers, which makes a democracy perhaps inherently uncomfortable: the majority must respect the rights, but not necessarily anything else, of those who believe otherwise.
But to be honest, it's difficult to respect the beliefs of the New Atheism if you're among the lower 95 percent. Chief among their contentions is that religion is not just not good for you, it's actually bad for you--and for them, and for everybody else. Mere semantics and social controls separate your friendly neighborhood evangelical, for instance, from Osama bin Laden: adherence to an extrasensory, unprovable and illogical system of beliefs is dangerous; indoctrinating children into such a system of beliefs is immoral.
The very first book in the Likewise line involves a conversation between a friendly neighborhood evangelical and the lead singer of the New Atheists: Greg Graffin. He's profiled in the Wired article as an evolutionary biologist and lead singer of Bad Religion. History professor Preston Jones takes up an extended e-mailed conversation with him in Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? It's a nice venture into purple territory, where New Atheists and evangelicals alike show themselves to be fundamentally human. I guess we're just wired that way.
October 23, 2006
October 11, 2006
The Catalyst Conference was held in a large arena in Gwinnett; attenders were shuttled to the red carpet by SUV limos, where they were greated to a soundtrack by the Killers ("Comin' out of my cage--you know I'm feeling just fine!"), freshly prepared omelets, ice sculptures and paparazzi.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:06 AM
The Catalyst Conference took place in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta, in a town called Gwinnett. They have two watertowers, which probably explains why they feel justified in making the bold claims "Success Lives Here" and "Gwinnett Is Great!"
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:01 AM
October 9, 2006
I went to Atlanta for the Catalyst conference last week. It was quite possibly the worst travel day ever: all the stoplights between my home and the airport had stopped working, so we got to the airport late and missed our flight. Fortunately we got on to another flight that left an hour later, but when we arrived in Atlanta we couldn't find the rental cars. Fortunately we wandered around confusedly long enough that we found ourselves in the shadow of a Budget shuttle, so we were able to get to our car. But when we arrived at our hotel, we found out that (1) our room was booked for only two nights instead of three, (b) our room had only one bed instead of two, and thirdly, there were no rooms at our inn or all the other inns surrounding us. Fortunately we were put in touch with a hotel some distance away that could put us up Thursday night, and they gave me a rollaway bed so I didn't have to get all biblical with my coworker.
But the really funny thing is that we had Friday's for lunch and Ruby Tuesday's for dinner. I wanted sundaes for dessert, but that joke will have to wait for another day.
We had a great time at Catalyst. We had a little reunion with some of our Likewise Gathering friends, and I had a little reunion with Andy Crouch, whom I've met twice but who's rapidly becoming an idol of mine. Shame on him. He's actually working on a book for InterVarsity Press, which I expect to read eagerly and underline prolifically.
Likewise sponsored the preconference labs at Catalyst, so everybody there got a sneak peek at five Likewise books. Incidentally, it's now been recommended to me by two different people that we name the Likewise donkey Hotey. (Like Don Quixote, get it?!?) Pretty clever; one of them elaborated on the suggestion as follows:
dictionary.com defines quixotic as "extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable" or "impulsive and often rashly unpredictable.". I think that either of these works. Huh, almost food for thought. Kudos to IVP for really stretching into new avenues.
I like that. It reminds me of a novel I read last year: Quixote, by Michael Oeming and Bryan Glass, an extention of the Don Quixote mythology into a present-day context. One man's justice is another man's impulsive impracticality, so to speak. Anyway, so far Donkey Hotey leads the pack in the pin-the-name-on-the-donkey game, so if you don't like it, better come up with something better. Photos from Catalyst will show up just as soon as we digitize the film from our disposable camera--ah, modernity. Come back McSoon.
September 20, 2006
IVP Books is just about to launch the extra-special Likewise website, likewisebooks.com, which will serve as a gathering hole for Likewise authors, readers and wannabes. You're all invited, of course. And if you're even more interested, we're going to be keeping in touch with our Likewise friends by e-mail, in a fun little newsletter we like to call the Likewise Notebook.
Of course, we don't want the Likewise Notebook to be lame, because we want you to love us. So we're playing around with the feel of the thing, and we'd like your feedback: If the following arrived in your in-box, what would you do? Would you run away? Would you point and laugh? Would you point and click? In the historic words of the Spice Girls: "Tell me what you want--what you really, really want."
Inside the Likewise Notebook
Welcome to Likewise
Likewise is about the challenges of living with faith and integrity in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Our authors are plugging along on that road, just as you are, just as we are. Keep checking in to find out what they've found out along the way, and we'll try to keep one another up to speed on what lies ahead. Sound good?
Doing the Dishes
Learn to be at peace, and thousands all around you will be saved. --Seraphim of Sarov
The Grass Is Always Greener
Name That Donkey
If I am an experiment, am I the whole of it? No, I think not; I think the rest of it is part of it. I am the main part of it, but I think the rest of it has its share in the matter. --Mark Twain, Eve's Diary (Translated from the Original)
That's it! Tell your friends, and stop by and see us sometime!
August 22, 2006
It must be August, because august Christian thinker Charles Colson has been caught reading a book by august Christian publisher InterVarsity Press. The book just so happens to be Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant, the inaugural book in the Likewise line. The donkey is in the hizzle, so to speak.
The book collects the e-mailed correspondence between Preston Jones, a Christian historian, and Greg Graffin, the lead singer of the punk band Bad Religion. Graffin has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, so he's eminently qualified to front a punk band.
To be frank, Chuck Colson isn't the core audience for Likewise books; he's about three times the age of our typical Likewise reader, actually. But I'm certainly glad he found it, nevertheless; we're tickled that he's given the book a reading and, by extension, a hearing. His description of the book, both its content and its tone, is apt and a good indicator of what's to come in the line. You could say that he's pinned the tail on the donkey, if you wanted to be corny like me.
Read (or listen to) Colson's review here. There's a link to the book from there.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:22 PM
July 14, 2006
July 14 is Bastille Day, the French equivalent of the American Independence Day. I learned of Bastille Day in high school, both in French class and in world history class, and being a would-be revolutionary I glommed onto it. On July 14, 1789, French commoners stormed the Bastille prison, freeing political prisoners, stealing government armaments, and launching the French Revolution. I celebrate by indulging myself with all things French.
Today, for example, I downloaded the song "Dominique," by the Singing Nun. This French Dominican nun wrote the song as a tribute to the Spanish priest who founded her order, St. Dominic. I used to prance around my house like an idiot to this song, while my roommates tried to put as much distance between them and me as possible.
Coincidentally, I just finished editing the book Flirting with Monasticism, coming soon to the Likewise line, in which author Karen Sloan learns about monastic spirituality over the course of a year in regular interaction with several Dominican communities. I met Karen when she was leading Lauds (morning prayer) at a conference, and the more she told me about her year with these friars-in-training, the more I wanted to hear.
The monastic world is full of mystery for evangelicals, as much because we have no equivalent for our faith tradition as because monks aren't the chattiest people in the world (some of them take temporary vows of silence), and so they don't tend to share much about their lifestyle. The result is that evangelicals know less than they should about the monastic practices that would encourage their faith development, and Dominicans in general suffer from bad press: I was taught that "Dominique" tells the story of St. Dominic traveling through Europe killing Protestants. Needless to say, that's not a word-for-word translation from the French.
Check out Karen Sloan's weblog Wonder. And if you're in the mood to prance around like an idiot, you can download "Dominique" from i-Tunes for 99 cents. Bon chance!
June 13, 2006
So we had this Likewise Gathering over the weekend. Nineteen guests of InterVarsity Press came in to discuss the faith + publishing needs of people in their twenties and early thirties. Among the things I learned: "young adults," in the ears of most people, means "adolescents." I wonder what "old adults" means, but I fear that it would mean me.
But the word that kept coming up was tension. The tension of enjoying your youth but being taken seriously as an adult, the tension of living in a consumer culture while knowing that children are being victimized around the world by consumer practices, the tension of making ethical decisions in real time, the tension of navigating adulthood when the primary adults in your life checked out years previous, the tension of living up to the life handed you as a child of promise, the tension of bearing someone else's legacy as your lineage. My nails are getting shorter by the minute.
Add to that the tension of a faith rooted and established in paradox: Jesus the fully human and fully divine, one God in three Persons, the now and the not yet, and on and on and on. The rallying cry of the weekend seemed to be the concept statement of Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz: faith, like life, doesn't resolve.
As a publisher we face our own tensions. Do we publish books for the mind or the heart? Do we publish to social-justice activists or pop culture gluttons? Are we a ministry or a business? And on and on and on.
In a culture characterized by tension, the misery index is going to be pretty high, but it's only aggravated by the fact that we've been, in the words of Sam Phillips, "raised on promises." I certainly expected to be president of the United States by now, but instead I can't decide which pile of work I need to do first, which denomination I should invest my energy in, and on and on and on.
So perhaps the job of a publisher is to find and produce books that train people to tolerate tension--and beyond that, perhaps, to even embrace the tension. If God, after all, is paradoxical, then even our happy ending will have a fair bit of tension built into it.
The logo for Likewise displays some tension; a man leads a donkey, with a taut rope between them. An earlier draft, believe it or not, was even more tense: the donkey's legs were locked tight. Our designer hinted at motion by bending the donkey's leg. Clever, huh?
I can't imagine that selling tension is an easy task; good thing I'm in editorial.
June 7, 2006
This week IVP Books is gathering seventeen people to discuss the direction of our Likewise line, which I've posted on previously both here and at Loud Time. In case you don't like to link to stuff, Likewise is a line of books geared toward young adult discipleship. The logo is a farmer leading a donkey; the tagline is "Go and Do." You can see the logo here. I wrote a limerick to celebrate the line (so to speak):
There once was a donkey named Ferdinand
As you can see, I've named the donkey Ferdinand, and I certainly have my reasons, but you're welcome to offer up your own name for both the donkey and the farmer, whom I've named Tony. Anyway, I'm looking forward to a fun time with some interesting people over the next few days. I'll blog about it when it's all over.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:53 AM