IVP - Strangely Dim - Quick Thoughts Archives

January 21, 2013

Remembering Birmingham

A quick thought from Dave.

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

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On the Blemished and Scarred Body of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:10 AM

September 24, 2012

Snubbed Again: Who Are You Reading?

By David A. Zimmerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2012

Hug an Author Day: A Recap

By David A. Zimmerman

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:24 AM

September 12, 2012

Hug an Author Day

By David A. Zimmerman

I should really probably start keeping a gratitude journal. I think I learned about such things from Oprah--indirectly, of course, via my wife. Write down what you're thankful for in life on a regular basis, and magically your thoughts will be transformed from paranoia and bitterness to gladness and a general openness to the world. In the third millennium of the church, it seems, God uses gratitude journals as much as anything to take people's hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.

I could list any number of reasons I need to start keeping a gratitude journal. An ingratitude journal would be easier for me, quite frankly; I've been called Eeyore by more than one person in my life. But to preface my gratitude journal with a list of laments seems somehow counterproductive. Light a candle, they say, and there will be little darkness left to curse. So I'll just start with gratitude, and in so doing I'll start with authors.

Ah, authors. They are the wingnuts that hold the whole publishing enterprise together. I publish people, not books, I regularly remind myself, because books don't wish me happy birthday on my birthday or graciously include me in their acknowledgments even after I've dropped the ball more than once on their precious project. Authors do that. 

Before there is a book, there is an author. Books are not an end in and of themselves but a means to both the author's and the publisher's end: in IVP's case, to equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of life. That's a lofty ambition, and you don't get there just by assembling random words on a page and mass-producing it; you need authors with hearts, souls, minds and strengths to put forward such audacious ideas and give them life. I appreciate book authors for that.

I appreciate book authors because unlike communicators who look directly into the eyes of their audience or who write with the assurance of a subscription base putting eyes on their words, or who have access to analytics that help them gauge and react quickly to reader response, book authors publish into a void and wait--sometimes months and even years--to learn the impact of their words. As glamorous as being an author appears, in many ways it's actually quite thankless.

Worse than thankless, sometimes being a book author seems to be more trouble than it's worth. Once a book is out, its author has to cash in favors, chase an audience, move units, all in coordination with a publishing house biting its nails and tapping its feet to see if the potential audience takes the bait. Even more pressure descends on the self-published author, who faces the same demand with ewer resources (and less moral support) to draw from in their effort to get their message out. Authors wait anxiously for the first and then the next review, and thanks to an increasingly uncivil and combative cultural context, it's reasonable to expect as many negative reviews as positive.

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And then there's the conventional wisdom that assumes the last thing anyone wants to do is to read a book. Books are too long, too wordy, too linear, too monochrome, too, too, too. Some ideas can't be crystallized into a sound bite or conveyed in an image--everyone knows that--and yet the notion of giving an idea adequate space to make its case is considered among many as quaint at best, stupid at worst. "Great minds discuss ideas," Eleanor Roosevelt said, and yet book-length attempts to discuss ideas in a format that allows them to be considered in full scope are out of vogue. It's hard out there being an author, I tell you.

Hey, look at that. My gratitude journal has become a list of laments. I really am quite good at that, aren't I? OK, so maybe instead of a gratitude journal, I'll just start a new tradition: Hug an Author Day.

Seriously, given the portrait I've painted above, don't you think an author could use a hug? So let's do it. Let's say September 15. Why not? Don't be creepy or anything--a side hug counts as a hug in my book. But let the authors you know know that you love them, that you get that it's hard, that you still appreciate the hard work of giving an idea its due. Give them a hug, people!

Or, better yet, buy their book and read it.

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So, which author would you like to give a hug on Hug an Author Day?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:23 PM | Comments (3) are closed

June 13, 2012

Quick Thoughts: Names Will Never Hurt Me

By David A. Zimmerman

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Earlier this year I got a post to my wall: "What did you do to piss Al Sharpton off?!?"

As it happens, Rev. Sharpton had grown frustrated with slow and seemingly disparate law enforcement, and he began publicly pressuring police in Florida to arrest George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin to death
--allegedly in self-defense but with ample reasons for many people to think otherwise.

When Zimmerman surrendered himself to police, I had hoped the story would pass out of vogue. But then it came out that in making the case for bail Zimmerman and his wife misled the court regarding their finances and their inexplicable possession of multiple passports. So now he's back in prison with bail revoked, and headlines earlier this week read "Zimmerman's wife arrested." She's out on bail now, but the whole thing gave my wife a temporary case of the willies.

I've written elsewhere about this case and my inner angst about hearing my name associated with a possibly racially motivated crime. Suffice it to say, it's no fun these days being a Zimmerman. Back in the day, it was a point of pride: people would ask me if I was related to Bob Dylan, whose given name was Robert Zimmerman. I wouldn't say "No"; I'd say, "Not that I'm aware of," which left open the possibility that I shared a molecular connection to musical genius. These days people don't ask me about Bob Dylan; they ask what I did to cause Al Sharpton such distress.

I had a similar problem a few years back when my first book was released. When I googled myself (don't judge me) using "Zimmerman Comic Book Character," I learned that comic book writer Ron Zimmerman had recently reinvented a classic Western comic hero, the Rawhide Kid, as a gay cowboy. I had written precious little in my book about gay culture (even less about cowboys), so I was worried about confusing potential readers. (Turns out you have to have readers first before you can confuse them, so all that worry was for nothing.)

Names are interesting things: people put as much energy into selecting a name for their child as they do making their home child-ready. For centuries women surrendered their name and took another name when they got married; that happens less often now, but an interesting twist on the tradition is when both parties to a marriage join their names together, a hyphenated acknowledgment of a one-flesh union. Names are significant, covenantal, in some traditions almost sacramental.

But on a more day-to-day level, names are not so much sacred trust as they are personal brand. When my Facebook account was hacked, the hacker changed the base identity on the account to "Marlo A. Bacuz," and while I was able to recover most of the functionality of the account, thanks to the inner workings of Facebook I can never change that base identity back. That's a problem when people are googling me, which in my vain imaginations I am convinced happens all the time. It was a problem as well when Marlo A. Bacuz started trying to sell high-end hip-hop high-top shoes to all my Facebook friends. My brand took a hit that day.

Personal brand management is as interesting as names, actually, in that managing a personal brand is inherently paradoxical: it's simultaneously both all-consuming and dreadfully boring. The emotional energy I expend fretting over whether people wonder if I'm related to an alleged murdering racist is largely escapist fantasy; the more likely scenario is that most people are too preoccupied by their own emotional distractions to research my genealogy. And all the effort I put into recapturing my Facebook profile taught me more than anything that Facebook is not all that important. (Sorry, day-traders.) To the extent that my name is my brand, I think I could be convinced in most circumstances to go generic.

Ah, but name as sacrament. That's more interesting, with a greater promise. To the extent that my name is a sacrament, it is thus a sacred trust. People might think of me and remember that God is good and loving and just, or they might think of me and imagine that God is uncaring and unjust and not good. My name, to the extent that it is sacramental, carries weight. To bear it requires a kind of ordination, an embrace of the covenant implied in it.

At the fulfillment of all things, the book of Revelation tells us, Jesus whispers secret names to each of us, telling us fully and finally who we really are. In the end the sacrament is finally fulfilled and we will all dwell in grace. Till then, I suppose, we bear the burden of the names we've been given, and in so doing fulfill the will of Christ.

 

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:23 PM

May 9, 2012

Quick Thoughts: These Are the Rebeccas We Know

If you believe Wikipedia, then you'll believe--despite no external corroborating evidence--that May is "National Rebecca Appreciation Month." The whole notion of it seems pretty contrived; my best guess is that some hormone-and-moxie-charged high school senior (probably in band or AP English) wanted to ask some girl named Rebecca to prom. I note, much to my irritation, that no one has declared a "National Dave Appreciation Month," although the Kids in the Hall came close.

But I digress. I'm supposed to be appreciating Rebecca. So I'll start by introducing you to Rebecca Carhart, a former editorial intern here at InterVarsity Press who recently joined the staff as a part-time editorial assistant while she completes her graduate degree. She blogs here; you'll like her stuff.

She's not the only Rebecca in the vicinity of Strangely Dim, of course; until very recently we had a Rebecca among our cobloggers: Rebecca Larson, who served as IVP's web content and community manager for several years. She left IVP for a new job in March; fortunately for us, she works just down the road apiece, so we still get to see her every now and then. But you probably don't. So to make your National Rebecca Appreciation Month plans a little easier, here are some of Rebecca's greatest hits from Strangely Dim.

"The Unexpected Guest," a post about becoming a parent.

"Love Gets Smaller," a post about being a neighbor.

"Summer Madlib," a quick, playful diversion.

"The Gospel in Glee," a riff on how choir singing can be a spiritual practice.

And finally, "Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie," our bittersweet farewell to Rebecca post from a couple of months ago.

So, those are the Rebeccas we know. We hope you like them; National Rebecca Appreciation Month is as good an excuse as any to show them (and all the other Rebeccas, and really anyone who needs it) some love.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:00 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

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

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

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

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

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