IVP - Strangely Dim - Profoundly Distracting Archives

January 2, 2011

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 6:32 AM

November 2, 2010

How You Like Them Apples

I was pretty sure that my Strangely Dim coblogger Lisa was sporting the biggest apple ever this morning; her plate runneth over, as they say. But unlike me, she's unsatisfied with anecdotal evidence. Her research turned up an apple harvested by Chisato Iwasaki, from his farm in Hirosaki City, Japan. You can see a picture here. Looks like a Red Delicious.

This leads to the inevitable followup question: Where might you find the world's smallest Red Delicious?

 

 

 

 

 

Wait for it . . .

 

 

 

Minneapolis! Har har snort.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:39 AM | Comments (2) are closed

October 6, 2010

If You See a Donkey Waving . . .

What I want to know is, do any of you actually stop and go into a business or restaurant that you otherwise wouldn't have simply because of someone dressed as a dog/cardinal/Statue of Liberty/ice cream cone standing by the road waving? I have my doubts, but if it works, we at IVP might need to rethink some strategies. And find ourselves a good donkey costume.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 1:25 AM | Comments (1) are closed

September 27, 2010

The Wright Time of Year

It's that time of year again. Which is to say, it's the time of year when schools and fall sports are in full swing, apples are becoming abundantly available, the smell of leaves burning lingers in the air, and the aforementioned leaves (before they're burned) turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow (though they do, also, turn a rather brilliant orange as they're burning . . .). Also, if you're a squirrel, it's the time to gather acorns (which I've heard are falling from trees in droves this year).

Which brings me to Tom Wright (the time of year, of course, not the acorns). It was back to school for him too at the start of September when he officially started his new post as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland (so, all you seventh and eighth graders, if you want to study at St. Andrews under Tom, you better start filling out your application--and memorizing your Greek--now).

It's also an apt time of year to be talking about Tom Wright because fall is a very popular time for church small groups to start back up after a little vacation over the summer, and Tom just happens to have authored some excellent small group guides for IVP, based on his New Testament for Everyone commentary series. (I'm not a paid actor or marketer, either; I speak from actual, real, unscripted small group experience using his guide on Mark. The group I was in had great discussion!)

So, in honor of fall and IVP's longtime friendship with Tom, check out a clever (and funny) tribute of sorts to both Tom and a decidedly different kind of fall.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 2:08 PM

April 8, 2010

The Arcane Scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 12, 2010

We Interrupt Our Lenten Reflections . . .

By Lisa Rieck

As we've mentioned at Strangely Dim, we're posting old and new Lenten reflections to aid your journey through Lent, as well as thoughts from the women of Likewise in honor of Women's History Month. But March, I learned recently, is not just Women's History Month, not just a time of Lenten reflection and contemplation. It is, in fact, National Frozen Food Month.

Really.

As if we need a special month to highlight the convenience of frozen food. As if we wouldn't have thought to buy it on our own anyway. (What? Frozen food? What a good idea!)

Nevertheless, so as not to be discriminatory in our celebration and contemplation, I offer you, for your rumination and jollification, an ode to one of my favorite frozen foods, the ever-savvy, simple but satisfying Boca pattie. (You might imagine a violin playing in the background, serenading you as you read. They're that classy.)

Ode to Boca Chik'n Meatless Patties

Versatile, versatile,
easy and quick,
of frozen food options
these are my top pick!

They're tasty, and healthy,
and kind to the chicks
(not a feather was harmed
when these patties were mixed!).

They go well on salad,
in wraps or on bread.
Add dressing and cheeses,
or mustard instead.

Packed full of good soy,
then breaded and cooked,
just one taste of these and
I bet you'll be hooked.

Ninety seconds on high
in a good microwave
and you're ready to eat--
oh the time you will save!

So rush out and buy some
they're worth every buck.
(If I beat you there,
you might be out of luck.)

Try them with couscous,
make one for a friend,
the options are endless.
Soon you will depend

on Boca's fine patties
for dinner each night.
Even if you can't cook
they'll turn out just right!

I'm confident soon
with me you'll agree
they're simply fantastic--
just try them and see!

So there you have it, friends. Happy National Frozen Food Month. Let me know what you think of the Boca patties. Or leave us a comment (an ode, even!) letting us know what your favorite frozen food is.

But (you'll be relieved to know) we now return you to our thoughtfully oriented, fascinatingly interesting (though not quite so mouth-watering) posts on Lent and the women of Likewise . . .
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 4:33 PM

An Open Letter to the Makers of the Wii

From time to time I try to use my bully pulpit, here at Strangely Dim and elswhere, to direct the course of human events. Hence the following open letter, which I hope will open new vistas for home entertainment, as well as aid you in your Lenten journey this year. You're welcome, America.

Dear Wii Makers:

You have taken over my life. There was a time that I sat on my couch most nights, watching TV, updating my Facebook status and/or reading a book--sometimes even reading the Holy Bible. No longer. Now most nights I stand on a little board enduring the ridicule of the digital dominatrix known as Wii Fit. Or I jump forward and backward and side to side to Ric Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" on the Wii Dance Dance Revolution footpad. Or I sling a replica Hofner bass around my neck and belt out "Oh Darlin'" at the top of my lungs while Beatle avatars prance around the Rock Band screen in front of me and my cats wail their complaint. Or I sit at my fake drumkit, trying to keep up with the monstrous tattooed avatar shredding the digital snare and double-pedal bass drum as the lyrics to Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me" scroll across the Band Hero screen. Or I sing "Beat It" a capella on Guitar Hero because the Rock Band guitars aren't compatible. Or I plummet repeatedly to my death trying to get Logan across a dilapidated bridge in the opening sequence of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. You have taken over my life, Wii--at least my evenings--and I love you for it.

One thing you still lack, however. Something that combines the best features of all of the above--the ruthless rivalry of Wolverine, the audacity of Guitar Hero, the light and happy poppiness of Band Hero, the classic rock homages of Rock Band, the awkward contortions and regular humiliations of DDR and Wii Fit. So I would like to formally request a new game to further your colonization of my imagination: Glee for Wii. You could call it Glii.

Glee, the fanatically popular telemusical from Fox, is a show for adults and adolescents alike about high school in all its comic melodrama. On Glee we see people stab one another in the back and hug one another in the front. We watch them fall in love while indulging separate lusts. We wait expectantly for the anchor scenes of each episode, in which the cast breaks out in song and dance. Some of them even whip out their axes or start pounding on their skins. Sniff sniff: smell that? It's a video game waiting to be made.

When I "dance" for DDR, one of the things that distracts me is my desire to sing along to the music. When I "sing" for Rock Band or Band or Guitar Hero, I can't help wanting to move my feet. When I slice and dice people for Wolverine, I want to know whom I'm slicing and dicing. For all the gratification I experience playing these various games, I still leave slightly unsatisfied.

Of course, I could take a dance class at the community center on Monday nights. I could sign up for guitar or drum lessons on Tuesdays. I could attend choir rehearsals on Wednesday. I could join a Thursday-night fight club. But all of those things would take time away from my precious Wii and require that I interact with real human beings. And I can't abide by that. My home is my castle, and my Wii is my bastion of self-entertainment, the clearing house for so many of my innate desires and self-delusions. Glii could easily satisfy a number of the more mundane desires in one fell swoop. Is that so much to ask?

Of course, I could take a class to learn computer programming and create my own Glee game, but who has time or energy for that? So I'm asking you for your help: Here we are, Wii; entertain us. Again. There's no I in Glee--yet; I'm counting on you to remedy that.

Sincerely,

David A. Zimmerman

P.S. Your games are too expensive.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:15 AM | Comments (1) are closed

October 27, 2009

There once was a girl who missed blogging . . .

Hello Strangely Dim friends! I've missed you. And I've missed your brilliant reflections and coments. And I've missed my fellow bloggers. I've also missed my space heater.

In honor of Dave's walk down memory lane through our limerick fun, I thought it would be fitting to try to convey my grief over missing you and my joy at being back through that same timeless, witty yet poignant rhyme form (though I'll have to use a different first line than the title of this post. What, after all, rhymes with "blogging"?? Slogging? You see the problem.):

Good readers, I want you to know
I've missed your bright comments, your glow.
I cried for a while
I missed your great style
and my heart was filled with much woe.

But joy fills my heart up today
and beams out like a soft sunny ray (which, I might add, we haven't seen here in a while)
Yes, I can't wait to read
your own rhymes, for I need
to know what you all have to say!


Okay, readers, it's your turn: Let us know how you've been in a limericky comment!





Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:53 AM | Comments (2) are closed

September 28, 2009

Holy Haiku, Batman

This nugget of dim strangeness brought to you by David A. Zimmerman.

You think you have a great idea, only to find that someone had it first. That's what happened with the bicycle, the telephone, allegedly the bra and now Christian haiku. Our big idea for Strangely Dim, it seems, is already a popular account on Twitter.

"Holy Haiku" is the Twitter account of Diane Neumann, who lives and writes somewhere in Minnesota. This seems to be a devotional exercise for her--as well as a ministry of sorts, seeing as she's got nearly a thousand people tracking her tweets. I found it by accident, thanks to the status of a Facebook(tm) friend:

RT @holyhaiku God can fill you up / but there's still always room for / that post-church donut. #haiku.

Dave likes this. But this supposedly retweeted haiku from Diane doesn't show up in her archives, and it's quite a bit cheekier than what seems to be her standard fare. And on closer examination I note that Diane's username includes an underscore: "Holy_Haiku," not--as the retweet indicates--"holyhaiku," an account that doesn't seem to exist, so far as I can tell. I wrote my own poem to convey my confusion:

Help! (And please retweet!)
Lost in social media!
Need guide for perplexed.

This haiku is, of course, a reference to the twelfth-century philosophical treatise by Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, which attempted to reconcile Jewish theology to contemporary philosophy. That makes this haiku--to my way of thinking at least--holy enough.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 6:03 AM

September 24, 2009

Haiku Flu

You've heard of the ideavirus? A theme or concept travels organically and informally from person to person until it pervades and exerts unusual influence on a culture. Given recent discoveries by my cobloggers Rebecca and Christa, it's clear that haiku flu is making the rounds these days. I like to think of Strangely Dim as this particular outbreak's equivalent of Typhoid Mary, and that happily the poetic pandemic we find ourselves in has no immediate cure.

As only the latest evidence of this admittedly audacious contention, I point to Mike Stavlund, a friend of Likewise whom I esteem greatly. Mike attended a recent Emergent conversation with theologian Jurgen* Moltmann, and has been so ebullient in his enthusiasm about it that his friends are putting constraints on how he talks about it. You can read the creative impact of those constraints--theological haiku--by visiting his blog. Haiku flu--catch it! Spread it!

 

 

*My apologies to Dr. Moltmann; I don't know how to make an umlaut over the "u" in his first name. 

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:10 AM | Comments (2) are closed

September 15, 2009

Haiku a Go Go

This bit of dim strangeness brought to you by David A. Zimmerman.

If you work in a publishing environment, you've probably come across more than your fair share of word magnets. You know what I'm talking about--random words, some Shakespearean, some borderline inappropriate, some necessarily mundane, that you arrange and rearrange on your refrigerator or some other metallic surface. IVP has two refrigerators in its corporate kitchen, and consequently we have two sets of word magnets in common use. That's the nature of publishing: our entertainment can tend toward the nerdy.

But wait--you don't know the half of it. The editorial department--the "nerdy of nerdies," you might say--meets every week for a popcorn break, and each time someone selects a random "word of the day" to listen for in conversation. The person who uses the word (unwittingly, as it's kept secret) wins a candy bar. If no one uses the word, the treat goes to the person who came up with it. Demented and sad, but social.

This summer we archived our entries--which is a good thing, since we're now four people fewer than we were at the start of the summer. Two interns have come and gone since then, and two of our colleagues have left for new jobs in allegedly greener pastures. All we have left of these four are wistful memories and randomly selected words--both of which are good grist, in my estimation, for haiku.

So, since we're in the midst of haiku-palooza here at Strangely Dim, I'd like to invite you to take a stab at crafting a haiku using as many as possible of the words listed below. Since apparently our editorial department doesn't like verbs, I'm afraid you'll probably need to draw from outside this mix to craft anything coherent.

Here's the list of words, followed in parentheses by the people who picked them. You may find you identify with one or two of us more than others. Remember that haiku are constructed in three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. Or something like that.

  • anyways (Nathan Baker-Lutz)
  • multivitamin (Elaina Whittenhall)
  • obelisk (Christa Countryman)
  • addiction (Jim Hoover)
  • utterly (Kasey Durbin)
  • camping (Lisa Rieck)
  • purple (Rachael Hubin)
  • au revoir (Rachael Hubin)
  • pinto (Jeff Reimer)
  • bulbous (Mike Gibson)
  • castles (Gary Deddo)
  • international (Allison Rieck)
  • anniversary (David Zimmerman)
  • potter, potting, pot (Andy Le Peau)
  • fingernail (Ellen Hsu)
  • Kennedy (Jeff Reimer)
  • political (Ryan Peterson)

 

Go get 'em, partners.
I am fully confident
that you'll be clever.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:06 AM | Comments (1) are closed

April 1, 2009

The Devil Is in the Deodorant

I tend to think of myself as a connoisseur of deodorant. I won't get into the whys and wherefores, but I have been around the block a few times with a variety of brands and formulas, and I like to think I've learned a thing or two along the way. That being said, one of the main things that attracts me to particular products is not their effectiveness but their packaging.

For whatever reason, for example, deodorant manufacturers like stickers--stickers that conveniently peel off the product without tearing, stickers that communicate messages that make no sense whatsoever out of the context of their product. I've blogged about such stickers before, actually (a sticker that read "The Unscented Leader" shaped my understanding of what it means to offer leadership to a group without succumbing to self-congratulation). Some stickers aren't so insightful but are entertaining nonetheless. I currently have the sticker "Powered by Baking Soda" affixed to my phone, and it makes me laugh every time I look at it. Like now--ha ha.

Mitchum is my default deodorant--or should I say the deodorant my wife encourages me to use. We assign different values to Mitchum. She thinks it makes me smell less repulsive, while I find its identity crisis entertaining: the container says one thing; the cap, another.

My current Mitchum cap reads, "If your favorite vegetable is a corn dog, you're a Mitchum(R) man." Who could say no to that? Someone went to the trouble of coming up with something nonsensical and macho as an acknowledgment that many men make purchasing decisions the way I do: they're looking for a laugh wherever they can find one.

(More humorous to me than the joke itself, incidentally, is its context. I associate such silliness with certain themes--the colors and characters, say, of a Captain Morgan rum bottle--not with the austere green and silver, the strong lines and magisterial fonts of a Mitchum container. If Mitchum really wants to win over the unrepentant juvenile, it needs to worry less about creating online armpit orchestras and more about redesigning its logo and signature product. But I digress.)

In my research, I've noticed that if you want to get to know Mitchum, you'd better put on your reading glasses first. They're pretty wordy over there. My current Mitchum product--Smart Solid(TM)--brags about its formula: "With the maximum level of active ingredient." Seven words tucked between the formula name and the scent. Add that to the corn dog joke on the cap and you very nearly run out of fingers and toes to count words with. I suppose, in Mitchum's defense, it's fair to say that if you entertain yourself by doing word counts of deodorant containers, you're probably not a Mitchum man.

Nevertheless, the converse is true: if you're a Mitchum man, you probably don't want to have to read a lot before donning your deodorant. Mitchum, I'd like to suggest, needs an editor. So, how to whittle away at that word count? And how to match the tone on the container that they achieve on their cap?

Here's what I might do. By "maximum level" they probably mean that higher levels would require a prescription, that they would no longer be able to sell their product over the counter if they went any higher, that adding any more active ingredient would violate some law on the books. I can think of two words that communicate that message in significantly edgier terms: "Barely legal."

Titillating, no? I certainly hope that Mitchum doesn't take my advice, but I fear that they might. Nothing captures the unrepentant juvenile imagination quite like the offer of something that is technically not forbidden but the spirit of which clearly is. If I'm reading the powers that be at Mitchum correctly, I suspect they'd agree: if you like being titillated, you're a Mitchum man.

"Barely legal" hardly seems like a value that a Christian sweater such as myself ought to embrace. Really, though, where else could I turn for my hygienic needs? I heard a joke once about a Christian deodorant: "Aglow--the Holy Roll-on." With Aglow you could raise your hands in worship without causing your pewmate to mutter "Pee-ewww." Ha ha. But just using Christian nomenclature doesn't make roll-on holy any more than using the maximum active ingredient makes Mitchum borderline contraband. I think the deodorant that is truly Christian would be distinctly distinct: a Christian deodorant would live in the truth, wouldn't encourage such inane self-identification ("I love corn dogs; this must be the deodorant for me") or make arcane, extreme pronouncements about itself ("Oooh, barely legal; I gotta smear this on my pits"). A truly Christian deodorant would let its "Yes" be "Yes" and its "No" be "No." Any other deodorant is from the devil.

***

Of course I know deodorant is soulless and so can't be Christian. And I'm not making any pronouncements. It's a joke, people. Ha ha. Oh, and congratulations to Mark Eddy Smith for winning this month's "Rabbit" competition, honoring his craft, and acknowledging April Fool's Day all in one pop. You can read his poem at the Rabbit Uber Alles! Facebook group.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:24 AM | Comments (1) are closed

November 25, 2008

Good News for Short Attention Spans

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM

September 15, 2008

Periods They Work

There's a church by my house that has created quite a stir--at least among area churches with streetside signboards. They've started using letters that are twice the size of every other church's lettering, and they now even occasionally add a dash of color (red) for emphasis. I'm sure they're attracting new members by the thousands.

As a consequence of this larger font strategy I take much more immediate notice of what that church has to say. Good thing they're situated on the corner of an intersection with a four-way stop; otherwise I'm sure they'd be causing traffic accidents by the thousands. They don't change their messages any more often than they used to, but what they do have to say is like a shout from the rooftops. And this month they're saying "Pray it works."

I think they mean "Pray. It works." Maybe they don't have giant periods yet.

Of course, they may actually mean "Pray it works," but we're left to imagine what we're praying for. It's been raining a lot; maybe they're praying that the roof holds out. It's been really muggy with all the humidity; maybe they'd like us to lay hands on their air conditioner. Maybe they're taking the youth group to some camp in Wisconsin and are worried that their ancient, repainted school bus won't survive the trip.

Who knows? Not me. I'm praying that the next time I drive by they'll have added an antecedent. Or a couple of giant periods--maybe even red ones.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:01 AM

September 5, 2008

The Great Wrong Song

Last week several of us around Likewise Books participated in a little experiment, inspired by the fine folks at Word Made Flesh. Each of us would pick a song that we would listen to exclusively for an entire workday and then blog about the experience. Intriguing, right? Well, I should tell you first that I didn't pick the perfect song for our mini music marathon. But the imperfection of it might be the point.


The sweet sounds drifting out of my cubicle last Tuesday were Over the Rhine's "The Trumpet Child." I picked the song for two simple reasons: (1) I like it musically and (2) I needed a hopeful song.


Don't get me wrong--I love melancholy music. Especially when it's raining. Or when it's sunny and I'm tired. Or on cool fall days. Or in the winter, when I'm sitting in my living room with a steaming mug of chai. Or when I'm doing dishes in the summer. But I was afraid that listening to, say, "Rain" by Patty Griffin all day would seriously affect my long-term perspective on life or, at the very least, had me weeping all over my keyboard. And, again, I really like the people I work with and near, so why put them through that?


So I went with the hopeful song. That part of my choice was perfect. The combination of the lyrics and the music reminds us of the kind of hope we have as followers of Christ: not trite, paste-a-smile-on-your-face-because-you're-going-to-heaven hope, but the real, solid reality of full redemption of people and the earth. The song does have an almost mournful tune that seems to be acknowledging the sinfulness of this world, but it's converted into longing for the deliverance that's surely coming.


Unfortunately, though I listened to the song all day at work, I didn't actually hear much. There are two reasons for this. (1) Muscially, much of the song is, surprisingly, muted. The piano starts out softly, with lead singer Karin Detweiler's rich, soulful voice entering in a way that very much contradicts the opening verse: "The trumpet child will blow his horn / Will blast the sky till it's reborn." The gentle yet urgent piano notes and Karin's powerful, dripping vocals--which are so beautiful you do sometimes want to cry to express your gratitude that God gave someone that voice--continue somewhat subdued, until two verses where the music swells to an appropriately passionate level and drums join the piano as Karin belts out "The trumpet child will banquet here / . . . A thousand days, a thousand years / Nobody knows for sure how long" and "His final aim to fill with joy / The earth that man all but destroyed."


Those are the two parts I actually heard, over and over again. The song then ends quietly, with the trumpet finally making its entry into the music, but not at all with a blast. Rather, it tapers off into silence. I kept the volume low so that the louder parts wouldn't disturb those around me, but this meant that I mostly missed all the quieter parts. Which, of course, is most of the song.


Which leads to the second reason I didn't hear much: (2) I wasn't willing to do the work required to hear the quieter parts (turning up the volume, then turning it down where the music builds, then turning it up, then down, then up). Call me crazy and lazy, but I didn't need to hear it that badly. Oh--and I was at work to, well, work.


So, to be honest, after noticing that same small section of the song over and over for most of the day, I found myself eager to turn it off. A small sense of relief actually went through me when I did. And I didn't listen to any music on my drive home; I savored the silence.


Hear me out here: "The Trumpet Child" is a great song. Listen to it in your car. Turn it up loud when you're home alone and you can hear the rain drumming against the windows. Put it on repeat (although don't miss out on the rest of The Trumpet Child CD). But if you find yourself participating in an experiment that involves playing a song over and over in a cubicle next to busy neighbors, do yourself a favor and pick a different song. It was just the wrong song for the experiment. As I've reflected on it though, the incompleteness of my experience and my own flawed choosing has reinforced the point, because incompleteness is actually the point.


In this imperfect world, we see glimpses of the full redemption that's coming and long for it, but the glimpses we see are such a small piece, and the noise of the world is so loud and the sin is so messy and the work we have to put in to hear the music of redemption feels like too much some days. We get frustrated by how small that glimpse is. We get tired of not seeing the whole picture. The hope of Christ's banquet here becomes more like a song playing in the background that I don't notice most of the time, something that I can't grasp, can't wrap my hands around, can't feel around me when I cry.


Those glimpses we do see are impossible to ignore though. We have to notice. I have to notice. Because they're so much more passionate and beautiful and utterly different from the rest of what's here that we can't help but notice them, over and over again. And they keep telling me what a perfect world is like: "The rich forget about their gold / The meek and mild are strangely bold / A lion lies beside a lamb / And licks a murderer's outstretched hand." They keep reminding me what God is like: "The trumpet child will lift a glass / His bride now leaning in at last / His final aim to fill with joy."


So even the small taste that I got of the wistful lament and solid hope of "The Trumpet Child" was enough to remind me what's true about what's here and what's true about hope. It's a song I hope my life reflects: mourning over sin, but even more, noticeable, powerful glimpses of the kingdom that's coming in fullness and that's here in pieces now, for those who have ears to hear.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 11:43 AM

September 4, 2008

What Color Is Your Experiment?

Last week several of us around Likewise Books participated in a little experiment, inspired by the fine folks at Word Made Flesh. Each of us would pick a song that we would listen to exclusively for an entire workday. Then we would blog about the experience--what, if anything, we discovered about the song, our workplace, our coworkers or ourselves. Keep an eye out here for those posts. This one is Stacey's.

When Dave sent around the challenge to listen to the same song for eight hours, I thought, Sure, I want to be part of the cool kids Likewise crowd. Why not? I quickly told Dave that I was in.

 

Then the panic set in. What could I possibly listen to all day without going insane? A quick perusal through my iTunes gave me an answer. The one album that has consistently stayed in my collection for years without growing tiresome is Rich Mullins's A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. My favorite song from the album is "The Color Green."

 

Why does this album never grow old to me? Perhaps it's because Mullins was an incredible musician and a Christian writer who actually understood poetry and never used tired biblical phrases. Perhaps it's because during Rich's last two years of life, I lived thirty miles away from him on the Navajo reservation. His album sustained me through long lonely drives across the red desert, reminding me that God really was good and not abandoning me in a thirsty land.

 

So I expected that listening to "The Color Green" all day would be an uplifting spiritual experience. And the first couple of listens were. The song starts with a sustained note on the keyboard and Rich's voice hauntingly floating in saying:

 

And the moon is a sliver of silver

Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter's shop

Every house must have its builder

And I awoke in the house of God.

 

From there the song builds into a jig and a dancing chorus praising God for the beauty of his creation, and asking him to "look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that you have made/ blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise." Every time I hear those phrases (and I mean every one of the 125 times I listened to them this last week), they make my heart sing and dance. I feel warmth at being in the Lord's workshop, and I see the cornfields of Indiana where Rich Mullins grew up (right next to where I live now).

 

However, as the day went on, I developed an incredible ability not to notice that the song was playing. At the risk of overspiritualizing, it struck me that I'm often like that in respect to my spiritual life. It's horribly easy to simply tune out the music of my Lord and go about the business of my day-to-day tasks. But the poetry of those phrases caught me periodically for just a moment and reminded me to wonder and lift up my "arms in a blessing for being born again." (Really, the lyrics are amazing.)

 

While I started to be barely cognizant of the song playing on my computer, I had several coworkers float in and out of my office. It seemed to be a challenging, emotional day for several of them, and I found myself offering to pray with them on the spot. That isn't something I usually do in my workday; I might say I will pray but am rarely prompted to do it immediately. I finally had to attribute it to the fact that I was being bathed in music that was causing my heart to be softened and moldable and ready to enter into the dance of the penny whistle and bodhran of "The Color Green."

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:34 AM | Comments (1) are closed

September 2, 2008

I Got the Music in Me

Last week several of us around Likewise Books participated in a little experiment, inspired by the fine folks at Word Made Flesh. Each of us would pick a song that we would listen to exclusively for an entire workday. Then we would blog about the experience--what, if anything, we discovered about the song, our workplace, our coworkers or ourselves. Keep an eye out here for those posts. This one is mine.

I chose the song "The Transfiguration," from the album Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens. I've come to think of myself, culturally if not doctrinally, as a "Sufjangelical," a term which I'm proud to say appears only once (probably now twice) on the entire Internet. Sufjan, you're welcome; please drop the restraining order now.

A Sufjangelical, as I define it, is an otherwise orthodox Christian who likes his or her faith the same way avant-garde pop musician Sufjan Stevens likes his music: quirky, multi-textured, playful yet melancholy. An example of Sufjan's complexity shrouded in simplicity comes from the song "Kasmir Pulaski Day": "Tuesday night at the Bible study, we lift our hands and pray over your body. But nothing ever happens." One- or two-syllable words paint a simple picture that evokes sadness and perplexity, disillusionment and yet hope. And that doesn't even take into account the music.

But that song is not this song. In "The Transfiguration" Sufjan is more arcane, more ethereal, as he recounts the story of "when [Jesus] took the two disciples to the mountainside to pray; his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame." This scene from the Gospels is a seminal moment in Jesus' earthly ministry, when the curtain was pulled all the way back and Christ revealed his glory and the fulfillment of the Scriptures that was taking place in him. The disciples were dumbstruck and comforted only when the transfiguration ended. Then they went down the mountain and everything, for a time at least, returned to normal.

But that story is not this story. "The Transfiguration" is captivating, a fitting song to listen to for eight hours straight. It's a simple rhythm--cyclical, really--that builds by instrumentation and voice as the story progresses. The melody has no real resting point, so that the end blends nicely into the beginning; the first word, when, sung on the third tone of the scale, carries the feel of an interruption, something overheard unexpectedly.

The song is in a waltz rhythm, strummed on a banjo at the start as an indication of an everyman out for an everywalk with a couple of everyfriends. Gradually, as the mystical event unfolds, voices and instruments are added, all of which carry a youthful, minstrel quality. One tinny horn plays a repeated riff; several childlike voices sing along in a unison chorus that dances back and forth between lyrics: "Lost in the cloud, a voice [a sign]: Have no fear! Turn your ear [we draw near]!" Jesus is identified in the chorus as Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, in case the onlookers and overhearers weren't aware of his identity.

The song is like a dance, and--especially when played in an eight-hour loop--the song is like an eternity. Often we hear or even sing the words of "Amazing Grace"--"When we've been there ten-thousand years bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun"--and the faintest hint of a distressing thought might creep into our consciousness: Oh, I hope not! That sounds dreadful! But when we overhear eternity sung, when we look on while mourning is turned into dancing, the thought of ceaseless praise starts to make sense and even entice the imagination.  

I hereby apologize to my coworkers for repeating the same 3-4 minutes of music some 135 times last week. Fortunately for them, "The Transfiguration" is not a whistling song, or someone might have lost it. This song won a friend and (now former) colleague of mine over to Sufjangelicalism when he first heard it, and he now counts it among the quintessential examples of what Christian music ought to resemble, and for good reason: here is theology faithfully presented, grounded in Scripture, presented in story, intended for dance. Here is a moment in time that transcended time, some two thousand years later set to a rhythm that doesn't constrain it but sets it free. Eight hours later, I still love it, and I still love Jesus. Not bad for a banjo, a tinny horn and some quirky musicians.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:00 AM

August 26, 2008

Cacophony from the Cubicles

I would like to speak for the cubicles. Well, not the actual cubicles themselves, but those of us working in them. Today, of course, is what I am affectionately calling (since he essentially did first) "Dave's Rip-Off Music Experiment". I've chosen my song (it's playing now; I'll reveal what it is in my reflection post), but, being a cubicle-dweller, I'm approaching the day with a bit of trepidation. For those of you who've never had the privilege (and there are advantages, believe me; you hear very useful things sometimes as you are innocently working away) of working "free" of doors and windows and your own ceiling, I'll explain a few of the added considerations in choosing a song for the experiment.

1. I wanted to choose a song that wouldn't drive my neighbors crazy. I like them. I want them to still like me at the end of the day.

2. I wanted a song with enough musical variation that it wouldn't drive me crazy, but one that doesn't have so much variation that I have to turn it up (during, say, the piano parts) and down (during, say, the trumpets or electric guitars) every few minutes. I could, of course, simply leave it at the same volume, but--see number one.

3. Headphones are good for neighbor relations in cubicles, and would solve the problems of numbers one and two, but, unfortunately, there are a number of parts of my job that I can't concentrate on listening to a song with words with headphones on. And, even more than wanting my neighbors to like me at the end of the day, I want my supervisor to still like me. And I don't want to find out what happens to people when they get kicked out of their cubicles. (Do they get relegated to bathroom stalls? An outdoor table next to the geese, even in the rain? A cleaning-supply closet? It's never happened here, but you hear stories from other workplaces . . .)

So, have I picked the perfect song? We'll see. I'll either end the day not having heard it most of the day because I had it turned down too low, or with deep insight over the song's meaning, but fewer friends at work. I suspect other cubiclers are in the same quandary I'm in, however, so for better or for worse, let the cacophony begin.
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:04 AM | Comments (1) are closed

August 21, 2008

You Can Tell Everybody This Is My Song

And now, for a bit of prognostication.

Ahem.

In the future the world will be organized not by nation-states but by corporations. We will speak not different languages but different jargons. We will carry not passports but branded gift and credit cards. We will salute not flags but T-shirts. And when we find ourselves in need of political asylum, we will run not to our embassies but to our local franchises. I, for example, in moments of political turmoil will most likely be found cowering behind the fry pit at the nearest Taco John's.

I'm not finished. In the future the Christian church will be organized not by denominations but by songwriters. Rumblings from the pews will erupt into shouts of "I follow Chris Tomlin!" and "I follow Tommy Walker!" All our debates over doctrine will rhyme, to the point where theological conferences will resemble scenes from West Side Story or Grease. There will be bitter divisions over ordination of musicians versus the use of tambourines by the laity, and the relative merits of guitars versus pianos and electrics versus acoustics--not to mention the loud shouts of "organ only!" from the fundamentalist fringe.

Oh wait, that's already the case. Music defines our faith and practice more than we might think. In recent months I've read and even edited a number of books written by what I've started to call "Cockburn Christians." They are linked by their appreciation for and even devotion to the music of West Coast singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. I happen to like Cockburn Christians a lot. They're worldly wise, burdened but not broken, lovers of the Word and lovers of the world. They're poetic, artistic, humanistic, pietistic. They demand more from their music than the average consumer, and likewise they demand more from their faith than the average Christian.

I am, however, not a Cockburn Christian. I am closer to what I'll henceforth call "Sufjangelicals." These are people who hold to the basic tenets of the Christian faith but are linked more closely to one another by their fondness for the music of avant-garde musician Sufjan Stevens, who blew people's minds a few years ago with the second of his fifty-state concept album projects: Come on Feel the Illinoise.

Sufjan's spirituality is embedded in his music, and his music is embedded in his spirituality. He plays with the scriptures in a way that retains an appropriate reverence, and he plays just as deftly with the theology that has sprung from the Bible and with what you might call the psychology of faith. His music is quirky, textured, innocent, melancholy, playful, humble, introspective and odd--just like my faith, if I do say so myself.

So next week as part of the social experiment we announced in "I Am Trying to Rip You Off," I'll spend a day listening to "The Transfiguration" off Sufjan's Seven Swans album, a song that occasionally causes my friend and colleague Joel to burst into my office saying, "This is what Christian music should be!" And in the world of my dystopian future, this is in fact what at least some Christian music will be.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:23 AM | Comments (2) are closed

August 20, 2008

I Am Trying to Rip You Off

One of the nice things about working for a publisher is that you get a sneak peek at books--and by extension, creative reflections and stimulating ideas and even the occasional hot controversy. And sometimes, not only do you get to read something before anyone else, you also get to rip that book's author off.

This aspect of any job is particularly attractive to me: I worked for a couple of summers at a movie theater in part so that I could attend midnight showings of blockbuster films prior to their release. To be a geek is, at least in part, to strive after insider knowledge, and if a geek can simultaneously fulfill his or her gnostic impulse and pay the bills, so much the better.

Not all the insider stuff comes from the books. Some of it comes directly from the author--or, in this emerging context, the author's intentional community. Earlier this year I crashed a party being thrown by Word Made Flesh, the organization led by Simple Spirituality author Chris Heuertz; he and his friends on staff there were having a contest to see who could listen to a song of their choosing the most consecutive times for the longest period of time. I chose the song "When Your Mind's Made Up" from the soundtrack to the movie Once. You can read my reflections on the experience at my other blog. I didn't win, but I participated, which in this emerging context is all that really matters.

Probably because I didn't win, I would prefer to think of the contest as a social experiment. How do we experience songs differently when we listen to them repeatedly? What kind of life does a song take on? What kind of song can handle that level of scrutiny? What does our choice of song or even our decision to participate in such an experiment say about us?

So later this month I'll be unabashedly ripping Word Made Flesh off. Several folks here at Likewise Books are going to give this idea a shot. Each of us will select a song, using the rationale of our choosing (we'll share the various songs and rationales here), and listen to it exclusively for an entire workday. We won't be bound to our desk, but while we're at our desk we'll have the song as our soundtrack for the day. We will then reflect on the experience, reported to you on Strangely Dim as the reflections pour in.

I invite you to conduct your own experiment and let us know why you chose the song you chose and what the experience was like for you. This is an experiment--not a contest--so unlike Word Made Flesh's competition there will be no winners, and unlike most of my experiences as a lifelong geek, there will be no losers.

To prime your pump here are two song choices with brief rationale included:

From Stacey: "I think I want to listen to Rich Mullins's 'The Color Green,' which is one of my favorites--and I want to listen to a song that would be uplifting, something that encourages me to 'think on these things.' He is also the best poet in Christian music so it should be rich (pun intended - ha ha)."

From Kristie: "I choose Bob Dylan's 'Not Dark Yet'--one of my favorite songs ever."

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:16 AM

July 16, 2008

Limerick-ick-ick-ick-ick-ick

Lisa's birthday generated a melee of limericks, if you can imagine such a thing. Here's what our precocious intern Tait offered with a corresponding "Boo yah!"

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

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

***

Then there were my two weak entries:

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

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

***

And then Lisa counterattacked:

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


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

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

IVP has an editor, Dave,
Who works hard in an effort to save
An author's good name.
Dave will increase their fame
As each day on their book he does slave
 
***
Any other takers? It's like the name game, only different. Keep it clean; that's all we ask.
 
There once was a genre called "limerick"
That plagued the strange-witted and dimly quick.
To rhyme stringy surnames--
Both his-names and her-names--
Proved not to be everyone's bailywick.
 
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:38 PM | Comments (9) are closed

July 14, 2008

Le Jour de Gloire Est Arrivé

I don't remember much from French class, but I remember this: On July 14, 1789, French populists stormed the Bastille prison, a warehouse for military arms and penal institution for political dissidents, as an act of protest against the authoritarian rule of the French monarchy. Bastille Day thus set the French Revolution in motion and became a symbolic equivalent of the Boston Tea Party for the American Revolution.

Contemporary democracy is many things, but one such thing is a thumbing of the nose when the powers that be fail those they govern. So happy Bastille Day, everybody! Fight the power responsibly.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:39 AM

June 27, 2008

Safety First

Congratulate me. I'm sure I've earned it. Not just because I actually renewed my license early enough to do it by mail and therefore didn't have to drive through a torrential storm to the Secretary of State's Office the day before my license expired and arrive to find the power out at the Office (which is what happened when I renewed my license plate sticker). While I know that's impressive, there's an even bigger reason for you to send your cheers my way. Upon opening the envelope containing my license renewal sticker from the Secretary of State's Office, I found they had sent me an award as well! Imagine that! So friendly. Allow me to recount it for you:

[Seal of the State of Illinois goes here]

SAFETY CITATION

IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION TO SAFE DRIVING BY DRIVING FOR FOUR YEARS WITHOUT A MOVING VIOLATION, YOU ARE HEREBY AWARDED THIS SAFETY CITATION.

Jesse White
Secretary of State


Well. Touching, yes? I wonder what kind of conversation took place to arrive at this mode of  congratulations. In my mind I picture it going something like this:

Person A: The driving in Chicago is terrible! We need to do something to really reward our safe drivers.

Person B: Yeah! Something really big! Make them feel like their safe driving is contributing to world peace, cutting down gang violence, saving the geese--this is important stuff!

Person C: Okay, how about giving away cars? Put all the names of the safe drivers in a pot, draw a name out once a year and give that person a car. A hybrid, of course, to cut down on emissions.

Person B: Oh, everyone does that. Every time you turn around someone is winning a car. We need something more original.

Person A: Chocolate?

Person C: Well I think that's pretty insensitive to all the lactose-intolerant people out there who can't eat chocolate! Thanks for bringing it up.

Person B: Okay. I got it. And this is perfect.

(Pause for effect.)

Person B: We'll type up a one-sentence congratulatory remark, photocopy our state seal on it and type Jesse White's name on the bottom. What do you think?

Person A: Should we at least stamp his signature at the bottom?

Person B: Who do you think will have to do the stamping, huh?

Person A: Okay. Maybe we can just use a nice font. Like bold italics.

***

However it came about, now that I have the award I'm thinking of hanging it in my car window, or maybe getting it framed. Though it might be hard to find a 4 1/4" x 3 1/2" frame. Those are kind of specialized numbers.

To all of you other safe drivers, my congratulations to you. Some days, especially here in the Chicago suburbs, it feels like there aren't very many of us. Our numbers may be shrinking. But don't lose heart! Someone has noticed! Press on! Keep wearing your seatbelt! And for Pete's sake, honk if you love SAFETY CITATIONS!!

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 1:47 PM | Comments (2) are closed

May 23, 2008

Choose Your Weird

First, for a topic that has nothing to do with the title: Congrats to Dave, whose latest book, Deliver Us from Me-Ville, has arrived, hot off the presses! I know I need to read it--and I know, because of who my fellow blogger is, it will be honest, challenging, well-written and very funny. Order your copy; then we can dialogue about it here at Strangely Dim.

On an entirely different note, I've been reflecting on the near-perfect weirdness I experienced in our office last Friday afternoon.

You know the kind of afternoon I'm talking about. Colleagues are out of the office. It's a perfect day outside. You're sitting at the cusp of a new weekend in which you're free to sleep, read, be with friends and family, organize your spice rack--whatever you enjoy.

That was last Friday in the editorial department here at IVP. My fellow ETF member (that's Editorial Task Force) Jeff, who happens to have impeccable taste in Friday-afternoon outings, suggested a Starbucks run with the following e-mail:

"ETF unite: We shall gather at 2:00, leave for Starbucks shortly thereafter, consume highly caffeinated beverages, and then come back to work! I'm feeling so adventuresome and rebellious! The exclamation points! The serial comma! Lord help us all!" [The way proofreaders rebel, if you didn't know, is by using capitalization and exclamation points with abandon.]

which was greeted with such e-mail responses as:

"Yaaaayyyyyyyy Starbucks! And Caffeine! (I'm Feeling REBELLIOUS Too.)"

"Mid-afternoon legal addictive stimulants . . . I could climb mountains, swim oceans, run through the desert . . ."

which was followed up by an e-mail from another ETF member (who shall remain nameless):

"You're all a little weird, I think. But I'm in!"

Now in case you're tempted to canonize this last ETF member as the voice of reason in our cacophony of weirdness, you should know that she has decorated her cubicle in Alias action figures and photos and frequently mentions her desire to be Sydney Bristow.

Which brings me to my point: Everyone's weird. You're weird. I'm weird. Might as well accept it.

Here at IVP, aside from the Alias action figures, we all have our own weird that we exhibit. I like to name plants and cars (as you know). Dave has been spotted in superhero tights. We say "rabbit" on the first day of the month. And some of us get a little excited about outings to select caffeinated-beverage locations.

So, on the cusp of this Memorial Day Weekend, I offer three small words for your three-day weekend: Choose your weird.

As for me on this Friday, the office is quiet again, our department head is out, my car Luci is calling my name, and Dave's book coming in is cause for celebration . . .

STARBUCKS, ANYONE????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 10:30 AM | Comments (1) are closed

February 28, 2008

What I Dithcovered in Theattle, Day One

I recently traveled to Seattle for the New Conspirators conference, sponsored by Mustard Seed Associates and inspired by the new Likewise book The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Here are some of the observations and insights I gained over the course of my first twenty-four hours there.

* A person's anxiety level can be determined by a complex equation involving (a) the size of the vehicle he is driving in comparison to his normal vehicle, and (b) the narrowness of traffic lanes he is driving on in comparison to his normal lane sizes.
* Said anxiety level is increased exponentially by the number of one-way streets along the route to the driver's destination.
* Seattle has a lot of one-way streets.
* Seattle drivers park in ways that make one-way streets look like two-way streets, and vice versa.
* There are places in the world where green, not white, is the color of late February.
* Rock and roll music and science fiction are two great tastes that go great together.
* There are major cities in the United States that have managed to build up and out without paving over every green space and chopping down every tall tree.
* Split pea soup is best enjoyed with gluten-free bread and new friends.
* Thpeaking with a lithp, while juvenile, ith alwayth funny. Ethpecially in Theattle.
* Every man over the age of thirty in Seattle (and perhaps even some of the women), regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin or habits of exercise and diet, looks almost exactly like IVP Academic senior reference editor Dan Reid.
* I could live here, I think.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:46 PM

February 18, 2008

You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Comments

Christine A. Scheller posted the following comment on an earlier post about six-word memoirs:

"How does a writer express laughter in words?"

I of course started typing, "Ha ha ha" but stopped myself. This is a much more intriguing question than can be answered in three iterations of the same word.

The biblical Sarah and Abraham recorded their laughter by naming their son Isaac, which translates roughly to "he laughs" or more generally "laughter." That's one way of doing it, I suppose, but then again it creates its own problems.

Something I keep meaning to write about but keep blowing off is a phrase used by biblical patriarch Jacob to describe God: "the Fear of Isaac," which then translates roughly to "the fear of laughter." I like the tension of that phrase--that God somehow brings such disparate experiences as fear and mirth together. Generally, however, I try to avoid tension. I'm uncomfortable associating the word fear with God, and I still get just a wee bit nervous picturing the gathered-together people of God laughing before the Lord of Hosts. So I'm left, I don't know, a little tense trying to imagine two such nerve-wracking emotions coalescing in a coherent description of God. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, and now, thanks to Christine, I don't know how to write what I'm feeling in either case.

So I open it to you, the countless dozens of Strangely Dim readers: How do you record your laughter?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 3:25 PM | Comments (6) are closed

December 10, 2007

The Most Sexiest Time of the Year

This time of year all thoughts turn toward an annual tradition that inspires as much controversy as joy. That tradition, of course, is the naming of People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." This year we send our congratulations to Matt Damon, although the crown is tarnished somewhat by the reception Damon and some of his formerly sexy friends are giving it. From Ben Affleck to Tom Brady to Jimmy Kimmel to George Clooney to Matt Damon himself, this year's announcement has been acknowledged with an ironic wink and a sarcastic salutation. Ladies and gentlemen, the day may have come when sexy is finally subverted.

Four years ago I reflected on the social construction of sexy here at Strangely Dim. It remains one of my favorite posts of all time. So I reprint it here for your amusement. Merry Christmas early, everybody.

The Social Construction of Sexy
Originally posted November 21, 2003.
Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, George Clooney and Benjamin Bratt should, by all rights, be dead.

I do not draw this conclusion because my wife nearly loses consciousness when the camera settles on their faces. I'm not so petty. Nevertheless, they should be dead. After all, they were each (at least once) voted "sexiest man alive" by People magazine. And since being voted "sexiest man alive," each has been tossed to the curb to make way for another "sexy" man's ascendancy. And with the possible exception of Brad Pitt, these guys don't look much different now from how they looked the day before the "sexiest ballots alive" were cast.

Maybe I don't have an eye for that sort of thing, but I still find it alarming that the world is, apparently, swarming with superlatively sexy men--one of which I, sadly, am not. These men don't look much like one another, nor do they look much like the sexy interlopers who have taken their place--Sean Connery, for example, or Johnny Depp. What is sexy in America is a moving target, and no sooner have you received guidance on the "sexiest haircut alive" or the "sexiest use of chest hair alive" than some sexy-come-lately turns the national head, and you have to start over again.

No, sexiness is linked to newness in America; it's difficult to be familiar and sexy at the same time. And our ability to come to widespread agreement about what is temporarily sexy on a consistent basis is testimony to the social construction of sexiness. It's not so much that we become aware of, say, Ben Affleck's sexiness; it's more so that we agree to think of Ben Affleck and not, say, Ben Franklin as sexy.

Issues can be as sexy as humans, which is to say that our infatuation with issues can be as fickle and fleeting as our infatuation with Pierce Brosnan's rock-hard abs. This poses a problem for book publishers, even magazine publishers, even increasingly Internet publishers, since the time it takes to fully address an issue from every angle often exceeds the time it takes to get distracted by some other, more flashy topic. It's the same kind of group decision making as the knowing glances between women when, say, Freddie Prinze Jr. walks into a room, followed shortly thereafter by, say, Denzel Washington.

But maybe it's good that our answer to the question "What is sexy?" is so fleeting and temporary. After all, it's hardly all that important. My relationship with George Clooney didn't change all that much once he was voted "sexiest man alive," nor did it change when his reign as "sexiest man alive" ended just 365 sexy days later. If once a year we can settle the "Who is the sexiest man of all?" question, I will waste less time asking it of my magic mirror and get back to work making the world a better place for everyone, sexy or not.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:14 AM | Comments (1) are closed

November 2, 2007

Who Doesn't Love a Spoon?

In light of Dave's last entry lauding forks, I would like to speak for the spoons. It's true, you can't play games with other people's photos like you can with forks (a spoon, after all, makes a better door than a window), but Spoons as a game has, of course, provided hours of diving, arm-flailing entertainment at many a youth event, sleepover and small-group get-together through the years. And it's infinitely useful as a utensil. How else can you get the right amount sugar in your tea or coffee, or get your cereal (mmm . . . cereal) and milk out of the bowl, or get those last few grapes off your plate of fruit salad? A knife and fork, let's face it, just don't cut it.

Fond as I am of spoons, though, Dave's post and the Fun with Forks(TM) that inspired it came at a perfect time for me, as I'll be spending fourteen hours on a flight to Cambodia next week. (Did you know I'm going to Cambodia? I'm going to Cambodia next Thursday with a team from my church that includes IVP Likewise author and my cubicle-wall-sharer Elaina Whittenhall.) Fun with Forks(TM) strikes me as a better option for a plane game than, say, the aforementioned Spoons. I don't, after all, want to accidentally knock a few packages of peanuts out of passengers' hands and find myself having to spend the last eight hours sitting in the overhead luggage compartments for bad behavior.

Long flights aside, this trip--even before actually leaving--has been a gift to me. Elaina and I will be coleading editing seminars for Cambodians in publishing, so I get to use my love for words and books and the knowledge I've gained from my education and job to help others in their work of providing resources to help God's people grow. And in the months and weeks leading up to the trip, I've seen God's goodness in the clear, abundant ways he's provided what I need and more than I expected, not the least of which is his peace. In a year in which the spoons running low in the kitchen at work is enough to make me anxious and stressed out, I have felt excited about going instead of anxious about the details of the trip.

I'd love your prayers for my me and for my team--for God to have his way in us and through us and in Cambodia. And I'm sure I'll have stories to share when I return, so stay tuned and get ready to raise your cereal spoons in celebration of God's work. If you start to miss me too much while I'm gone, you can try out Fun with Forks(TM) to occupy yourself. (If you have a picture of me and a fork you can see what I look like in a Cambodian prison . . .)

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 8:00 AM | Comments (3) are closed

October 30, 2007

Thumbnails in Jail

Some of the best discoveries are accidents. My best recent discovery happened just so, as I waited for my lunch to complete its microwave cycle. Who knew how much fun you could have with forks?

I had a fork in hand, dangling loosely over the counter, on which I had laid a magazine. (I guess you'd call that a working lunch.) I noticed that the tines of the fork were obscuring parts of the contributor's face, much like the bars of a prison cell obscure the face of a prisoner. So now I will spend the rest of my afternoon having Fun with Forks(TM), envisioning what various IVP authors and countless bloggers would look like in jail. You can try it yourself on J. I. Packer, author of the IVP classic Knowing God, or Karen Sloan, author of Flirting with Monasticism. Fork not provided.

Fun with Forks(TM) reminds me of another inane game I played in college. My friends and I would randomly append sentences with the phrase "In jail!" using an obnoxious, cartooney voice. For example: "Hey Dave, what are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, I'm going to visit my grandparents--in jail!" Hours of senseless entertainment. Try it; you'll hate yourself for loving it.

Doing my part to make InterVarsity Press the leading publisher of thoughtful Christian books that make a difference in the kingdom of God, I remain

your humble servant,

David A. Zimmerman

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:28 AM | Comments (1) are closed

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Behind the Strangeness

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

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

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

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

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

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