Results matching “What Jesus Started” from Strangely Dim
March 1, 2013
A final post from David A. Zimmerman
I'm tired. So tired.
Strangely Dim has been a regular part of my week for nearly ten years now. In that time I've posted over five hundred times and deleted over twelve million spam comments (give or take a few million). I've also written two books and a booklet, started a personal blog and become a columnist at Burnside Writers Collective, with occasional articles at other outlets. Oh, and I've edited over a hundred books. That's a lot of words, and I fear I may be running out.
In the past ten years Strangely Dim has hosted a handful of guest-posters (a combination of authors and interns), and it's been a forum for five bloggers besides me: Suanne, Rebecca, Christa, Ann and Lisa. Four of the five have left InterVarsity Press in the past year and a half; I don't want to quit IVP, so I've decided it's time to quit Strangely Dim.
Strangely Dim has been great fun for me from the beginning. I tested ideas here, profiled friends and trends here, and played a lot of writing games along the way. Here are a few of my personal favorite posts:
The first post ever to Strangely Dim, posted below, reflects the outlook of a much younger me, but I can still affirm it. I like that: with all the changes, both to the world around me and the world within me, that come over the course of ten years, it's nice to see that God is still there, still not silent, still endearingly ineffable.
Thanks for hanging out with me here over the past decade; even though the blog is now part of our history, I hope we can continue to be strange and dim together far into the future--world without end, Amen.
Oh, and one more thing: Rabbit!
Why Strangely Dim?
I have two cats. Wait, I also have a point.
I mention my cats because they, like you and I, are things of earth created by a watchful, careful God. They're also cuter than I am; you wouldn't have kept reading if I had opened with "I have a wart on my third knuckle."
But back to the cats. Such divinely inspired stuff doesn't grow dim without a catfight. And yet, Christians often disregard the things of earth. Some churches even sing about it:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
The insinuation is clear: nothing else warrants a close look once we've caught a glimpse of God. Fair enough. I can't imagine what could be more compelling than the face of our Maker.
But why, then, all this stuff? Surely a world could be fashioned in which all we could see was God, with no other people, institutions, animals, plants or minerals to distract us. But that's not the reality God created.
The prophet Isaiah once turned his eyes on God in full glory.
"I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty. . . . The house filled with smoke. And I said, 'Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King.'"
Maybe we're better able to appreciate the glory of God after experiencing our failings and the failings of those around us. Prodigal creations celebrating God with clearer vision--that would be a happy ending. But Isaiah's encounter is far from an ending; in fact, it serves as a beginning for his project: "Go and say to these people . . ."
Isaiah encounters God, and God sends him back from whence he came. Something smells funny.
The apostle Paul tells us that "what can be known about God is plain. . . . His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." We see all this stuff and recognize the glory of God. But if we are anything like Isaiah, God will quickly point us back toward the things he has made--the people who rub us wrong, the institutions we support or endure, the creation we steward or pollute.
The things of earth are important to God; they ought to be important to us as well. We each have a perspective limited by our location in space and time, but given that God created each of us from scratch and placed us where we are, when we are, who knows but that we were created for such a time and place as this?
So I propose that we explore the things of earth afresh, searching for what God has for us in them, and for them in us. God has created the things of earth--from cats to kids--for a purpose, and though they occasionally dim in the light of his glory, with his help we can see them more clearly than ever.
January 4, 2013
Reflections and a mild rant from David A. Zimmerman
Well, good riddance, 2012. We're still here and you're not.
We're just back from the triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, and while it will take us a good three years to recover, a fickle blogosphere demands constant refreshing of content. So this seems like as good a time as any to look back on the year just ended and celebrate or mourn as appropriate.
Several new Likewise books were released this past year, including
Four of these books were designated as Urbana Books of the Day, which should give you a sense both of how long Urbana is and how significant Likewise Books is to Christian students and the missional church. You're welcome, global evangelicalism.
While at Urbana, I had the pleasure of interviewing three Likewise authors (plus Christianity Today Book of the Year award winner Amy Sherman) for the bookstore team. Amy, Phileena Heuertz, Leroy Barber and Alexia Salvatierra (whose book Faith-Rooted Organizing will release late 2013) were all delightful conversation partners and made me look very smart in front of many of my coworkers.
I would be remiss if I didn't invite and encourage you to review these books yourself. You would be helping these authors and book publishing in general a great deal by posting your thoughts (about these and other books you've enjoyed) at GoodReads, on Amazon, on your blog and other places you have influence.
In sadder news, the band of contributors to Strangely Dim went from a trio to a duet when Lisa Rieck left InterVarsity Press to work for, um, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. You can track her new blogging here. We're hoping to continue to have new posts from her at Strangely Dim, or at least reposts of what she's writing for InterVarsity.
We began our year with a new sister line of books when Biblica International transferred their books program to IVP. We added another line mid-year with the launch of Praxis, a line of books for church and ministry leaders. And in December we sent off to the printer four books that will launch our next line, IVP Crescendo, which showcases women authors. Keep an eye out for that (as if we won't be bothering you about it in the weeks and months to come).
So, that's our year in review. How was your year? Feel free to post your reflections on the last twelve months below. Otherwise, please enjoy "My Year in Review," by the great Bill Mallonee.
December 23, 2012
Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. While the world waits till January for its hard reboot, Christians have already moved on. Advent, which begins typically toward the end of November, ends with the beginning of Christmas, which itself is not a day but a season and carries the church over the changing of the civil calendar. By January 7 the church is in its third season, already marking Ordinary Time.
Advent is a beginning that culminates in Christmas, a time that has become a time of gathering. We travel far and wide to see and reconnect with friends and loved ones. We sing songs together and give gifts to one another. We share meals and make memories. If Christmas weren't sacred for what it marked--the incarnation of the Lord in the world--it would be sacred merely for what it elicits in us.
Of course Christmas is sacred because God was made flesh and took up residence among us. But it's a false dichotomy to say that because the one is true, the other is insignificant. In fact Christmas is marked from the first by a gathering. Having seen the need of the world, and having purposed to make meaningful connection to the world, and having developed a plan that would involve training in the ways of the kingdom of God and sharing in the life of one another--having done all this, God inaugurates his incarnational mission by gathering people to himself.
In Christ God acts singularly, without need of anyone. But God does not act in solitude. The act of incarnation is at its foundation an act of solidarity: God willfully eliminating the distance between God and the Other. In Christ God binds himself to the people he created.
God is also, however, binding us one to another: Zechariah and Elizabeth to their son, John the Baptist; Mary to Joseph; Elizabeth to her cousin Mary; John to Jesus; Jesus to Israel and, through the ceremonial action of Anna and Simeon and later John, Israel to Jesus. Once, the apostle Peter tells us, we were not a people; but in Christ we have become the people of God (1 Peter 2:10).
So now, as Advent 2012 yields the floor to Christmas, and as our anticipation of Christ's coming gives way to our celebration of Emmanuel--God with us--let us not give up gathering, as so tragically many are in the habit of doing, but rather let us gather regularly--to encourage one another, to spur one another on in the mission God has for us, to remind ourselves that we are bound together by the God who made us and who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
In this way the church is regularly birthed in the world. In this way it carries on the mission of God in the world. In this way the world, which year after year seems to turn on itself, gets set right and bound back together. Thanks be to God.
Read chapters five and six of What Jesus Started, along with the interlude "Church on the Porch." Then go through sessions nine and ten in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)
As you gather for Christmas this year, make a concerted effort to see the need of the people you've surrounded yourself with. Then seek meaningful connection with them--beyond the polite conversation that too often subverts such gatherings. Share what you've been learning about What Jesus Started and how it might impact on the lives of the people you're with. And then make plans to gather again as the year continues in January and beyond.
December 16, 2012
here, and the prefatory post here.
Advent is an act of faith. In the weeks that lead up to Christmas we declare that God is, that God sees, that God reaches toward a people in profound need of God's touch. "O Come, Emmanuel," we sing, "and ransom captive Israel." We long for this Emmanuel--this "God with us"--to intervene in the desperate condition of every Israel among us--each of us who "strives with God."
The amazing thing is, God does in fact come to be with us, and the God with whom we so often strive makes equally forceful commitments to us. "Surely I am with you always," Jesus tells his followers at the moment he departs from the earth, "to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). It's not unusual to cry out to God for deliverance; it's life- and world-changing when God actually does it.
So, if our lives and our world are changed by this intervention from God, then our attitudes, perspectives and approach to life need to change as well. Jesus recognized this during his time on earth, and while we might anticipate that a great and cosmic God would invest his one and only incarnation in magisterial, majestic, world-altering acts, we find in the Scriptures that instead Jesus consistently started remarkably, frustratingly small.
Whatever Jesus was starting, it would be unlike the movements and institutions it would be set against. It would, in fact, serve as a prophetic symbol against those movements and institutions. Everything that made sense to the world would be overturned by Jesus, from the merchandise tables at the temple to the presumption of power at the governor's residence. Even the presumed finality of death would be turned on its head, as Jesus emerged from a grave and declared himself the resurrection and the life.
This radical reordering of reality would blow anyone's mind. So Jesus invested himself not simply in restructuring the world but in training the people who followed him to live in the way of his counter-cultural kingdom.
Time after time Jesus drilled into the minds of his followers principles that would sound absurd if they didn't feel so true. In Jesus the intuitive logic of the world God created came to the surface and confronted the imposed logic of the ways of the world. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear were confronted with a choice--the same choice that confronted Moses' followers on the mountain and which confronts us still today: Will we choose the ways that seem so sensible to us but which lead inevitably to death, or will we choose the ways that defy conventional wisdom but lead us steadily into life?
One of Jesus' more perceptive followers--we're not told which one--once said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus taught them gladly, and he teaches us gladly today, as an act of service to the world, so that it might be set right in us and among us. Jesus taught and teaches his followers in joyful anticipation of an earth and everything in it recalibrated to be as it is in heaven. And even as he left earth for heaven and turned over the administration of his kingdom to us, he encouraged us to go and do likewise. So let's go do it.
Read chapter four of What Jesus Started, and work through sessions seven and eight in the implementation guide. You can get the book here.
Get together with a friend or two, pick one of Jesus' provocative, counter-cultural teachings, and develop a plan for trying to live it out. See the experiments at the Jesus Dojo for some examples of what you might try.
December 9, 2012
The season of Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. As the world around the church winds its year down, the church is starting its year up. This is appropriate, since Advent culminates in Christmas, where we remember the birth of our Lord and the inauguration of the Christian epoch.
It can be difficult, however, for the church to remember that Advent and Christmas are seasons of beginning. Ironically, the ways of the world encroach on the church at Christmastime in painfully evident ways. Rampant busyness, chronic materialism and corresponding consumerism subvert the sacred nature of the holiday. Remembering that Christ is born on Christmas day is tricky enough; remembering that Christ's birth symbolizes the beginning of Jesus' world-changing and history-changing movement is trickier still.
So this Advent season it's worth remembering that Jesus brought a message with him to the world.
The New Testament springs from these pronouncements, fulfilling each in the story of Jesus. As an adult Jesus traveled the towns and villages and highways and byways, illuminating the scriptures and refocusing the faith of the people he encountered. He made promises to people and delivered on them. He demonstrated by his words and his acts that he had come for the people he encountered.
In previous posts in this Advent series we've considered that the movement that is Christianity would be nothing had God not first looked closely on the world he created. Every movement begins with a kind of seeing, and the movement Jesus started is no different. We've also considered that merely seeing something accomplishes nothing; the move toward the Other is what sets a movement in motion. But no movement sustains itself without a kind of mutuality, a shared life and vision that extends beyond the act of seeing and the moment of connection.
Movements are ever-expanding shared experiences: what was true for the instigators is embraced as true by more and more people further and further removed from the point of inception. What the angel declared to Mary as Jesus gestated in her womb, what the heavenly host pronounced to shepherds up the hill from the manger where baby Jesus lay, what Jesus announced to his friends and neighbors and disciples and enemies--these are affirmed two thousand years later by people of every tribe and tongue and nation as an act of faith and a pledge of commitment: Our God who is with us is for us.
This enduring allegiance is one miracle of the Christian movement. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, "Christ is Christ, not just for himself, but in relation to me. His being Christ is his being for me." Christianity is a shared faith from the beginning; we share our faith freely and broadly because our movement's founder, Jesus, shared himself.
This sharing was not just lip service, nor was it simply random acts of kindness. From birth to death to resurrection Jesus was giving himself to us as merciful Savior and righteous King. This remains our task today: to share what has been shared with us, to invite others to share in the good news we have heard, in the goodness of God that we have seen and tasted and touched. Only by sharing will the world be set right.
Read chapter three of What Jesus Started, as well as sessions five and six in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)
This week look for opportunities--whether by word or by deed--to share with others what in Christ God has shared with you.
Read the songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1. Reflect on the character of God demonstrated in those songs. Try singing each of them yourself.
December 2, 2012
What Jesus Started.
Advent is a time of anticipation. Whether in joyful hope ("Hark, the Herald Angels Sing") or pleading anxiety ("O Come, Emmanuel"), we wait for the world to be set right, symbolized by the birth of the world's Savior, Jesus the Christ. The thing that Advent anticipates is affirmation of a long-held article of faith, declared by Hagar and echoed by Hannah and Mary and countless others: "You are the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13).
Steve Addison, in his book What Jesus Started, understands Jesus' incarnation as inaugurating not just a static kingdom but an expanding movement that stretches even to today. Seeing is the first incremental stage of this movement, and we are called likewise to see the world as God sees it: as a place in need of a God of love, as a drama moving steadily toward its redemptive resolution by the grace of God. But for God and us to see the world in this way is not nearly enough, even as for us to be seen by God is not enough to carry us through the challenges we face. Even pop singers affirm that God sees us, if only "from a distance." God goes further, and he calls us to go further as well. We must not only see, we must connect.
Jesus didn't just come down from heaven, take a quick look at the earth, wave a magic wand and split. Jesus attached himself to the earth--and not by way of an emperor or tribal king or temple priest or even the head of a household. He literally connected himself, umbilically, to a young, unmarried girl from a backwoods town. He was born and moved around, learning the cultural practices and worldviews of a particular people, rehearsing their history and growing in wisdom and stature over the course of decades.
When it came time for him to act on behalf of God's creation, he was baptized, fulfilling all the righteousness his culture expected of him. He became a rabbi, embracing a role that the people could understand and interact with (this despite his conviction, expressed in Matthew 23:8, that "you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers"). He confronted people of power and sought out and befriended people of peace. He recruited followers from all corners of society and made them agents in his redemptive work. This Son of God, we affirm by faith as well as by all historical accounts, was fully human, a man of a particular time and place. He saw the world because he was there, and he loved the world enough to give himself to it.
The movement Jesus started is fueled by this connection. We reach out to others not as abstractions in need of some ethereal soul-redemption but as neighbors who were created to love and be loved, and who fall short of the glory of God but do not fall out of reach of God's grasp. We connect to the world because Christ first connected himself to us, and by those connections we and the world are saved.
What Jesus started begins with seeing and continues with connecting. But even these are not the whole story. Next week we'll reflect on how Jesus shares, and how we are called to do likewise. But for this week, it will be enough to remind ourselves that we are connected, and that the world needs more and fuller expressions of its connection to us and to God.
Read chapter two of What Jesus Started, as well as sessions three and four in the implementation guide. (You can sample the book here.)
This week, pray for people who are disconnected in one way or another from God and neighbors. How is God inviting you to extend yourself toward those people?
Be on the lookout for "people of peace"--people who are open to new connections and who are themselves ports of entry into communities of people you've not interacted with before. Pray about how you might make meaningful connections with those people of peace in the days and weeks to come.
November 28, 2012
Eleven months out of the year we think of Jesus and we think of the crucifixion, the resurrection, the atonement, the propitiation for our sins. That's all well and good: Jesus shouting from the cross "It is finished" was an epochal event, a moment that lasts forever. But eleven months out of the year it's easy to forget that Jesus didn't just finish something; he also started something.
What Jesus Started, a new book by Steve Addison, tells the story of exactly that: the movement that began with Jesus' incarnation, the event we celebrate each Christmas season and anticipate each Advent. Over the next four weeks I'll be reflecting on each of the themes Steve explores in his book: seeing, connecting, sharing, training, gathering, multiplying. I'll do this with an eye toward Christmas and, shortly thereafter, the Urbana Student Missions Conference. This year's theme at Urbana is "It Starts with 12"; What Jesus Started will be featured as a "book of the day."
Advent 2012 begins on Sunday, December 2, and spans four Sundays, the last of which is Sunday, December 23. Steve's six ideas make a four-week Advent series a little challenging--though not as challenging as God taking on flesh and comporting himself to the limitations of humanity and the social restrictions of first-century cultural Judaism under the Roman empire. So we'll give it a shot. For Steve, Jesus' movement starts with seeing.
We see all the time, of course. Right now I can see my computer, my books, my coworkers, my undone work, my three empty coffee mugs. I can see a lot. So could Jesus' contemporaries: they could see all sorts of things clearly, and yet in Jesus' eyes they were wandering around befuddled, lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd. He regularly lamented the selective blindness of his people; here's just one example.
When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, "It's going to rain," and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, "It's going to be hot," and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? (Luke 12:54-56)
By contrast, God sees everything clearly, most notably the need of his creation--the need for a saving act, for a God who intervenes. In Jesus, having seen, God acted.
Jesus also saw the end of the long story of creation, with him on his throne and his creation gathered around, flourishing in peace and wholeness, and the joy of it allowed him to endure so horrifying a human invention as the cross.
Jesus' followers are called likewise to see not with eyes jaded by the ways of the world but with eyes of faith. We are not to be deceived by what we see with our eyes; we are to fix our eyes on him as the author and finisher of our faith, and to act on what we see by his light.
What we see is a world in need of a gospel that proclaims the Lord's favor, offers good news to the poor and oppressed, sets captives free and makes the blind to see. Jesus' movement starts with God seeing and acting, and continues with God's people seeing and acting in expansive, healing ways. We see because God saw; we act because God acted. And the world is better for it.
It starts with seeing; it continues as Jesus, and his followers, make meaningful connections to the world that surrounds us. That will be the subject of part two of this series and, may I propose, the first week of your Advent.
Start reading What Jesus Started by Steve Addison. You can get it in print or digital here.
Fast from speaking for a day, and just observe the world around you. What needs do you see? Where do you see God acting? Where do you see God directing you?
August 16, 2012
An Untheological Reflection on Calling by Suanne Camfield
One of my favorite moments of the 2012 Olympic Games was when Great Britain's Jessica Ennis snagged a gold medal in the heptathlon. If you didn't see it, I'm sorry you missed it. Headed into the last event of the competition--the dreaded 800 meters--all Ennis had to do was finish respectably and she'd win gold. But with an entire stadium on their feet, and an entire country's hopes pinned on her shoulders, Ennis did more than just finish respectably. She smoked the pack. Nike must have been on to something: she totally found her greatness.
I think I wept.
We've been doing a little series here at Strangely Dim on calling and I can't help but wonder how often we (and by "we" I mean "I") think the Ennis endings, as great as they are, are the only ones that matter. I once had a missionary tell me that people often think God has called them to do something great, but what they forget is that God has called them first and foremost to himself. I think there might be something to that.
As a senior in high school (a long, long, long way from the Olympics) I was recruited by my soon-to-be college of choice to compete for them in the heptathlon--the event where Ennis found her greatness this summer. One day, only a few months into my training, I was running a 400-meter sprint, only instead of crossing the finish line, I sat down on the side of the track and started crying. A few weeks later, a bone scan confirmed that I had developed stress fractures in both of my shins. I was "redshirted," suspending my eligibility to compete during my freshman year. I was devastated. Well-wishers said redshirting was a respectable way to start a career, but I didn't much care about respectability. I wanted to smoke the pack.
[Insert Identity Crisis here.]
I'd often call home and lament my "failure" to my parents. I couldn't do the thing I thought I was brought to college to do. Adding insult to injury, my team went on to win the conference championship that year (the only year they'd do so in my tenure there) and I had to sit on the side and watch--no skin in the game for me. At the end of each conversation I had with my dad, he'd leave me with the same bit of encouragement: Just keep plugging away. It will eventually pay off. Just keep plugging away.
That was nineteen years ago. Now in my mid-thirties, identity crises (mostly) resolved, I'm deeply convicted to do the things I feel God brought me to this earth to do . . . if only I knew exactly what those things were. As I've tried to draw the mystery of calling out of others, the more I've realized how infinitely mysterious calling is--few people actually know what they want to be when they grow up. Even when they are grown up.
The first time I felt what I'd describe as calling was about seven years ago. My husband, Eric, two kids and I had just moved to the western suburbs of Chicago from rural Ohio. As an at-home mom of two toddlers, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and ridiculously lonely. A few months into our move, a nasty stomach bug hit our entire crew. As luck would have it, I was the first to recover. Before anyone could stop me (and, moaning from a fetal position on the couch, they couldn't) I snagged Eric's laptop and dashed out of the house. I sat at a coffee shop and did something I hadn't done in four years--I wrote.
And something inside of me came alive. I think my soul actually lurched.
While I realize I can't exactly build a theology on "lurch," I've never looked back at that day with anything but certainty that it was a life-changing moment--the one in which God impressed upon me a sense of purpose and direction. For the next three years, I threw myself toward that direction. I started writing more and speaking quite a bit, but my freelance gigs weren't exactly paying the bills. So once my kids were in school, Eric gently "suggested" that I look for a job. I wasn't opposed to the idea, but I had been an at-home mom for eight years--quite the gap in the 'ol resumé. More to the point, though, I was afraid that the more time I spent working, the less time I'd have to speak and write. At the end of the day, working seemed like the best option so, on a wing and a prayer, at the age of thirty-five, I took an unpaid internship at IVP. Four months later, I had me a job. And it's been good.
But now life is about juggling. I work thirty-two hours a week as a publicist. My kids, now nine and ten, are physically more independent but need me more than ever. I manage meals and bills and car pools and Little League and swim team and homework until my head hurts. I try to be a good life partner to my megachurch-pastor husband who is working on his MDiv. I exercise at 5 a.m. to keep my sanity. I have friends I couldn't breathe without. And in the midst of it all, that moment in the coffee shop sits in my soul and beckons me to return to it again and again. And so I do. I write and I speak as much as I can. And each night I climb into bed so tired I could cry.
Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. Often I wouldn't be surprised if it's not. I'm pretty sure, given the scope of the world's problems, God could care less about my budding resumé. But somehow, against all odds, I believe that he does care.
And so what do I do?
I get out of bed. I fall to my knees and plead. I surrender any false notions about finding my greatness and ask Jesus to first and foremost call me to himself. I stand up and put one foot in front of the other and trust the things I know to be true--that God cares more about my character than my competency, more about redemption than my resumé. That I can only do what I'm capable of doing, that I can only give what I am capable of giving, that I can only live the story that God has given me to live. My future is not ultimately mine to script anyway.
I hold fast to bits of wisdom that people have shared with me over the years:
From my friend Ed: "We're always looking for what God calls us to do next and in the process we forget that he's called us to do whatever we're doing right now."
From Mindy: "You can ask me how I got to where I am, but the truth is I couldn't have planned it if I tried."
From Adele: "Maybe instead of asking what you want to do, you need to start asking who you want to be."
From Eric (and I really hate this one): "Moses was a shepherd for forty years before he saw the burning bush." In other words, be patient. God knows what he's doing.
And I read things from those who have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with their own calling:
Brennan Manning in The Wisdom of Tenderness: "Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus."
Michael Card in The Walk: "Behind every specific call, whether it is to teach or preach or write or encourage or comfort, there is a deeper call that gives shape to the first: the call to give ourselves away--the call to die."
I remember what Eugene Peterson so clearly shows us about calling--that it's all about a long obedience in the same direction.
And somehow I become okay with doing what my dad told me to do all those years ago--just keep plugging away--and trust that the God who has formed me, gifted me and called me will take care of the rest.
Read Dave's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who go.
Read Lisa's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who mourn with hope.
June 29, 2012
A reflection on calling by David A. Zimmerman.
"I came to get my foot out the door." I laugh every time I hear it, this off-the-cuff malaprop from a bright-eyed, ambitious attender at the 2009 Urbana Student Missions Conference. She's interviewed in a promo for this year's conference. Silly little student, I condescend to myself, I think you mean "get my foot in the door."
That, after all, is the actual idiom, which suggests that you're doing a small, undignified thing as a means to the greater end of a large, profitable thing. If you take an entry-level job at an Internet startup, for example, you've gotten your foot in the door at a ground-floor opportunity. You'll spend ungodly hours doing grunt work for little pay in the hopes of getting stock options for a billion-dollar IPO down the road. A little pain now, great gain later.
Getting a foot in the door was what aggressive salespeople would do as they traveled from town to town, house to house, physically preventing people from slamming the door as they tried to hawk vacuum cleaners or magazine subscriptions or tickets to heaven. Broken foot bones, the logic goes, are a small price to pay for a big fat commission, or a jewel in your cosmic crown.
It's no wonder students today get the words wrong on idioms (idia?) such as this one. Respect for cultural history is as lost an art as the English language, I'm afraid. But it's not entirely their fault: selling things door-to-door is itself an artifact of a pre-digital age. Besides, it's rude to slam the door on people. So maybe the idiom has run its course.
The malaprop, though, now there's a whole different kettle of fish. This student didn't get her foot in the door; she got it out the door. I'd never heard that before, and after my condescending chuckling subsided I started thinking about it, and I really, really liked it.
This is Urbana, after all, where hundreds of thousands of college students have convened over the decades in pursuit of some vocational clarity, or to start marking out the path of costly discipleship that leads to mission work overseas or in the inner city. Some undoubtedly have left the conference frustrated, with no greater sense of assurance about where they should be or be headed. But ask around and you'll meet lots and lots of people for whom Urbana set the bar, set the course. Urbana has served, over the years, to issue the same challenge issued by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship: "When Christ bids a man [or, we assume, a woman], he bids him [or her] come and die."
Some students, I'm sure, have left Urbana and entered work that led to their death. Not just in some exotic missionary outpost, either: lots of work can be hazardous to your health. But even for those whose call led to something desky and cushy, there is a death that happens in the realm of discipleship (which is in a sense the realm of vocation), the results of which we must live with.
Our vocation, when viewed from the perspective of the sacrificial mission of God that culminates in Christ's atoning work from the cross but extends to even today in the ongoing work of God's people in the church, isn't so much a matter of arriving--of getting your foot in the door and gobbling up stock options or padding your 401k--but of going. God sent Abraham from the land he knew to a land he did not yet know; God sent David from the work of a shepherd, which he knew, to the work of a king, which he could not have imagined for himself. God sent Esther, an orphaned child of a marginalized and despised ethnic minority, to become a queen and deliver her people from genocide. God sent his Son to the earth and ultimately to the cross; God sent his Son's followers from a cramped and secret upper room to the streets of Jerusalem, and Judea, and the ends of the earth. The last thing God has in mind for us, it seems, is to arrive.
Again, Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship:
It's an absolutely counterintuitive call, this vocation of a disciple that God has in mind for each of us. Each of us hears it and enacts it differently, and I suppose each of us corrupts it and compromises it in our own unique ways. But maybe part of the reason the Western church seems so adrift sometimes is because God has charted a course for us, and we keep trying to get our feet safely indoors.
Maybe this generation, this Urbana class, isn't so much manufacturing malaprops as it is flipping the false scripts we've written for ourselves. Maybe, if we turn enough of such self-serving idioms around, the world will start to be set aright.
***For more information or to register for Urbana 2012, click here.
For historical and contemporary examples of God moving people into mission and vocation, read Movements That Change the World.
For a brisk introduction to the concept of God's call on us, check out Everyday Missions.
For a thought experiment on how Jesus draws us out of ourselves and into his kingdom work, read The Parable of the Unexpected Guest.
June 13, 2012
By David A. Zimmerman
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
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.
January 4, 2012
I'm generally reluctant to call any one book I've edited the best. To do so feels more like a betrayal than a compliment. Designating one book as "best" is, after all, implicitly designating all the books I worked on (minus one) as "not the best." That makes this month's theme here at Strangely Dim, "Favorite Books of 2011," a little problematic for me.
Besides, one of the things that distinguishes a publisher from, say, an instant oatmeal maker is that each of our products is entirely distinct from every other. When we compare books to one another, we're comparing apples and oranges, not apple-cinnamon-flavored and "Shrektastic(TM)-Flavored" packets of otherwise identical dust and flakes. We wouldn't have contracted a book--or gone through all the trouble of editing, designing, marketing, manufacturing and selling it--if we didn't hold it and its author in high regard from the outset. So the short answer to the question "What was the best IVP book of 2011?" is perhaps frustratingly evasive: "Every book is the best in its category, which happens to be a category of one." See what I did there?
Nevertheless, the assignment persists. But I'm an oily little devil; I've refashioned the assignment as "my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011." Sneaky, no? Just try and stop me . . .
Anyway, for me, 2011 began and very nearly ended with the release of two books that had special personal significance: After Shock, by Kent Annan, which came out in January, and The Cost of Community, by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, a November release. Both books remind me of my 2010 visit to Haiti, and specifically of my celebration of the Feast of Pentecost on the floor of a leveled church.
The connection between After Shock and Haiti is painfully obvious. Its author, Kent Annan, is the codirector of Haiti Partners, a ministry dedicated to education in a country where public education is woefully underdeveloped. Less than 30 percent of Haitian children actually get schooling past the sixth grade. A seemingly insurmountable task of educating particularly rural Haitian children falls to NGOs and other nonprofits, like Haiti Partners. Their work wasn't helped by a devastating earthquake, one of the most destructive in history and the subject of After Shock.
My trip to Haiti was planned before the 2010 earthquake. We were celebrating the release of Kent's first book, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, by sponsoring a small group of contest winners to spend five days with Haiti Partners staff. I had invited myself along and raised funds from some very gracious friends and loved ones to get me there. The earthquake just punctuated the poignancy of our experience, as we watched communities try to recover even as Haiti Partners helped get their schools back up and running.
Kent was writing After Shock even as he was taking us from town to town, introducing us to teachers and other friends, and helping us process what we were seeing. At one point he and I hopped out of our truck so I could take the book's cover photo; it was intended to be a placeholder till we found a more appropriate picture to take its place, but we never did. Eventually the book was even a finalist for an award for book cover design.
We celebrated Pentecost down the road from the church that graces the book's cover. The only things left standing where we worshiped were some support beams and the tabernacle where the elements of communion were stored. We shared communion that Pentecost Sunday, in commemoration of the birth of the church, as described in Acts 2. On that first Christian Pentecost tongues of fire descended on gathered believers till they started preaching the gospel in a great variety of languages, till they started sharing all they owned with each other and so tying their fates together.
I was in the midst of my own ecclesial earthquake in the spring of 2010, having left a church after a somewhat bitter experience and still trying to figure out what a church ought to mean to me, and what I ought to mean to a church. Sharing communion with people who had lost everything and who were yet able to eat the Lord's Supper together with glad and sincere hearts renewed my commitment to practicing my faith in communion with others and restored my hope that even a fundamentally broken church can be an instrument of God's grace and peace.
One of the people who traveled to Haiti with me was Jamie Arpin-Ricci. He had submitted a book proposal sometime between when we selected him as a winner of the contest and when we boarded the plane; I brought his book contract with me for him to sign, because I get a little giddy over that sort of thing. Jamie got terribly sick while we were in Haiti, so we weren't together often, but our every interaction reinforced for me that he was going to write a really meaningful book.
Jamie's community in urban Winnipeg (the coldest city on earth, in contrast to the unearthly heat of late-spring Port-au-Prince) is rooted in the teachings of Francis of Assisi, whose mission was rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest recorded sermon and a good distillation of his ethic. Jamie's insight into the demands of the gospel not just on the individual but on gatherings of people was helpful to me as I processed my Pentecost experience. Our conversations in the many months between contracting and publishing his Cost of Community helped me continue to wrestle with my relationship to the church. Francis, the Sermon on the Mount and Jamie's community in Winnipeg, all their radical circumstances notwithstanding, are good guides for following Jesus.
While we were between appointments in Darbonne, Haiti, a fellow walked by with a donkey in tow. A man leading a donkey, for the uninitiated, is the logo for Likewise Books, the line that houses both Jamie and Kent's books. So they and I grabbed the rope and pulled it tight, and someone snapped a picture. I'm told that I almost got kicked in the face by the donkey for the privilege, but it was totally worth it.
It was an honor to walk alongside Kent and Jamie as they brought their books to life, to sit at their feet as they wrestled with the problem of pain and the cost of discipleship. Buy and read both their books, but read them slowly; they're meant to be chewed, not devoured.
I would be remiss in recounting my favorite editorial experience(s) of 2011 if I didn't mention an author dinner at the first-ever Wild Goose Festival. Seeing so many authors eating together with glad and sincere hearts was a kind of validation of the several years now that we've spent teasing out the role of a publisher in Jesus' command to "go and do likewise." In many ways any effort to publish in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, Jesus' parable that inspires the Likewise line, is deconstructive. To parse such a simple story, such a simple command, into a regularly replenishing supply of new books is perhaps to spin it into hopeless abstraction. We're protected from such accidental subversion, however, by the authors we work with, who are doggedly concrete in their discipleship. To go and do likewise is, for them, first and foremost not just to mull over an idea but to go out and put it to the test--to take Jesus seriously enough to act on what he said.
Two of the authors on hand for that dinner had books come out this year that cut straight to that chase: Mark Scandrette, whose Practicing the Way of Jesus both demands and demonstrates that our discipleship cannot be not merely private and intellectual but must be communal and embodied; and Margot Starbuck, whose enthusiastic Small Things with Great Love makes loving your neighbor as you love yourself seem less like a burden and more like a great adventure. Those two books were only about 2 percent of the total output of IVP's publishing program in 2011. But as a favorite editorial experience, being with them--and the twenty-some other folks around the table who were likewise committed to making the gospel undeniable and unavoidable--is right up there with remembering the birth of the church in a building without walls in Haiti.
That's my best of 2011, as effusive as it is evasive. Editors can't do much, but we can do at least that.
June 21, 2011
Dave has explained, we at Strangely Dim are blogging our way through Mark Scandrette's Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Truth be told, I'm a little behind in my reading. But, as it turns out, I might be a little ahead in my experimenting. About a year-and-a-half ahead, actually. Here's how.
Mark's approach to discipleship is as much about life together as it is about practicing the way. One of his first experiments (called Have2Give1, in which he and a group of others committed to sell or give away half their possessions and give the money to global poverty relief) was born out of a desire for "a context that would encourage honesty, invite us into community and move us from information into shared actions and practices." And one of the (many) powerful results was the connection that formed as the group practiced and learned together. "We were surprised at the depth of connection we felt with a diverse group of people we barely knew when the experiment started," he writes. "Working on an intensive project seemed to produce an accelerated sense of intimacy. Rather than merely trafficking in ideas or rituals, we now had a common story to tell."
My experiment in community over the past year or so has been just like Mark's (without that bit about giving away half my possessions). Which is to say, I've moved toward community much more intentionally in the past year than I have in a long time, in some normal and some unusual ways, and I've seen God's work in growing intimacy and connection among his people as a result.
For an introvert like me, almost any move toward community is risky. And anxiety-producing. However much I might want it, it takes a pretty good pep talk from myself to get up the gumption to meet new people. And sometimes, as you can imagine, my pep talks are less than convincing.
This past fall, though, out of a desire for more community, I started to think and pray about leading a small group at my church. It's a relatively small and normal step in relationship-building, but I was nervous about it on a few levels:
In May, I took another risk in community. After living with my sister for several years (read: very low risk) and then a good friend for a year and a half (read: still very low on the risk spectrum), I found myself needing to find a new living situation. The introvert/control freak in me was shouting (well, at least speaking loudly; introverts don't tend to shout too much), "Be on your own! Find your own space! Retreat, retreat, retreat!" (The more practical side of me was shouting, "You can't afford it!" but that's a different story for another time and place. Like when gas here hits five dollars a gallon.)
I explored some options; I prayed; I listened. And I sensed God leading me to move in with a family . . . whom I'd only met once . . . with four kids under the age of ten. In case you're not an introvert, let me just say that moving in with six people you don't know and sharing all the living spaces except for your bedroom and bathroom is right up there on the terror scale with swimming with sharks or having to dance on national television as a guest on So You Think You Can Dance. I was afraid I might get a little overwhelmed.
Not to mention the fact that, because the family had agreed to rent the bedroom/bathroom suite to someone else for the summer, living with them would require three (count 'em, 3) moves over the summer: moving out of my apartment and into their house, moving out of their house and into someone else's place for the summer, and then moving out of that pIace and back into their house.
But I moved in anyway, because I wanted to intentionally move toward community, instead of away from it (which living on my own would have done). And that step toward deeper "life together" with others, of all different ages, has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. The chance to live with a family--to observe marriage and parenting up close, to develop relationships and hang out with great kids, to build new friendships with their parents, to observe hospitality, to learn healthy boundaries, to share living spaces--has been invaluable.
Just last week, I made my second move into my "summer home"--the house of a coworker-friend (and IVP author!) and her husband, who also belong to my church. This is a new kind of community for all of us, but one that I've already been grateful for in many ways.
So what's my point? Here at Strangely Dim, we'll each--and together--be choosing experiments in faith to try. We hope you'll join us in that and tell us about it; we'd love the chance to do "life together" with you, even in that long-distance kind of way. I hope, though, in the practice part, that we intentionally pursue community as we go. Choosing to fast from all media for a week is one thing, but asking someone else to do it with you might be a little scarier. I'm guessing, though, it will be that much more meaningful, and grow you in ways a solo-media fast can't.
As for me, having completed my second of three moves, I'm thinking of giving away half my possessions. Anyone want to join me?
June 15, 2011
In response to the recent release of Mark Scandrette's remarkable Practicing the Way of Jesus, we at Strangely Dim are trying our hands at "experiments in the kingdom of love" built around five categories of primal need, alluded to in the Lord's Prayer:
Good experiments, according to Mark, are based on the real, lived experience of the disciples in question and stretch them into uncomfortable (yet ultimately transformative) realms of experience. My first experiment has been seven days of daily reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5--7). I chose this experiment for a whole variety of reasons, principally because a verse from the Sermon on the Mount was the first part of the Bible I ever memorized:
I memorized that a looooooong time ago, when I was an angst-ridden college student, and the memory of it has survived all the high-falutin theology and low-brow culture I've crammed into my brain since. A person could do worse than to remind himself those words of Jesus every day or so, but it's been a loooooong time since I went to the trouble of doing just that.
Beyond this nostalgic motivation, the Sermon on the Mount is the subject of another Likewise book I'm really excited about--Jamie Arpin-Ricci's Cost of Community, releasing this winter. Jamie wrestles with the sermon from the vantage point of his urban monastic community in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with guiding insights from the life and teachings of Francis of Assisi. Jamie's a deep soul doing good work, and I could do worse than emulate him in my ongoing faith formation.
The sermon is also the high point of Jesus' teachings in the Gospel of Matthew, which is the subject of yet another Likewise book releasing this winter. This second volume in the Resonate series is written by Matt Woodley, whom I came to admire as I edited his Folly of Prayer. He's a great, wise writer, and the sermon is a focal point of his latest work.
As if all that weren't enough, I've been reading Eric Metaxas's massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which includes a pivotal moment in 1934, during the rise of the Nazis and the apostatization of the German Church, when Bonhoeffer wrote the following to his brother Karl-Friedrich:
All this to say, a week in the Sermon on the Mount seemed appropriate, to say the least.
Over the past seven days I've read the Sermon in various translations, from the archaic to the folksy/contemporary, from the Roman Catholic to the flaming fundamentalist. At the suggestion of my friend Mark I "read" it aurally, using the audio feature provided by the You Version. A few things have jumped out to me as I've simmered in the sermon.
For example, Jesus talks about reward a lot. The poor in spirit and the righteous persecuted "get" the kingdom of heaven; the meek "get" the earth; the pure in heart "get" to see God; those who are persecuted for Jesus' sake "get" the reward of the prophets. And on and on and on.
Reward isn't the only topic, of course; there's also judgment--against the angry and spiteful, the lecherous and lustful, the cold and the calculating. There's a way of reading the Sermon on the Mount that is decidedly "do this, don't do that." In this way I suppose it recalls another sermon on another mount--Moses' reiteration of the Law to the people of Israel from Sinai in Deuteronomy 28--30, where he sets before his people life and death, and encourages them to choose life. Jesus is doing something similar, but ironically, he's encouraging people not to choose life but rather to choose him: we are blessed when we suffer persecution in his name, and we are wise to sacrifice our bodies in an effort to protect our fidelity to him.
If everyone practiced the lifestyle outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, the world would be a better place. But what if everyone practiced it except for one person? How handily could Hitler have trampled over a world of the meek waiting to inherit the earth? Arguably, as I'm learning from Bonhoeffer's story, a collective, steadfast turning of the other cheek in the face of evil merely allows evil to continue unchecked. We may be storing up treasures in heaven, but we're capitulating to evil on earth.
And yet the great justice movements of the past century have been characterized by exactly this turning of the cheek, this refusal to repay evil for evil. I don't know fully what to make of it, but I note that Jesus' sermon is directed not to all the onlookers, who nevertheless heard every word and marveled at it, but rather to the disciples--called out ones whose resoluteness in the face of suffering and persecution by the powers that be would gradually convert the world.
It could be that the world can only learn to distinguish good from evil, to choose life over death, by watching evil and good in action. "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" (Matthew 7:17). There are any number of people, it seems, willing to play the part of the bad tree; playing the good tree, it turns out, is harder than it looks, and its rewards are generally deferred far beyond our preferred timeline. But as Bonhoeffer put it as he held out against the rise of the Nazis, "here alone lies the force that can blow all of this idiocy sky-high."
Anyway, these are the thoughts that have gone through my brain as I've undertaken this experiment, as I've read and reread the Sermon on the Mount. There's something undeniably appealing about blowing all the idiocy of the world sky-high. So here's to the audacious aspiration to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. No seven-day experiment can accomplish that, but as a lifelong commitment, it's something that on my more self-confident days I'm willing to undertake.
June 7, 2011
I have long held that Mark Scandrette, author of the new Likewise book Practicing the Way of Jesus, is the coolest guy in the room, regardless of the room. Bono, Bonhoeffer and Bon Jovi could all be playing euchre together, but if Mark walked up and asked to join the game, they'd all start feeling giddy and self-conscious. I'm sure of it.
Anyway, Mark is now part of the Likewise family, which makes all of us cooler by association. Congratulations to all of us. In celebration of his book's release, we've decided to try his book on for size, and report on our experiences to you, our devoted and decidedly cool readers.
Mark has been described by my colleagues in marketing as what you get when you put Dallas Willard (intellectual champion of embodied, kingdom spirituality) and Shane Claiborne (soulful activist who makes his own clothes) into a blender. Not that we'd ever do that, but you have to admit that a Scandrette SmoothieTM is a pretty cool mental image. But I digress. The gist of Mark's book is that the spiritual formation that we've come to accept for ourselves--largely informational and taken in relatively passively, maybe best visualized by a lecture hall or a museum--is more a reflection of our contemporary culture than the model of discipleship put forth in the Gospels. Jesus didn't call a class to order or send his followers on a self-guided tour to read the captions of untouchable works of art; rather he invited followers into a tactile, three-dimensional experience of God and community.
A better image of for discipleship, Mark argues, is a workshop or an art studio, where scraps and flickers and stains surround works in progress, where people are perpetually honing their craft. Discipleship, according to Mark's vision, is less like a lecture hall and more like a dojo, where people learn by moving their bodies, by taking action, by going and doing.
You can perhaps imagine how disorienting such a thesis can be to people who work with books for a living. So much of Christian publishing is intellectual exercise--and appropriately so, for reading is a discipline of the mind, and discipleship of the mind is as important as discipleship of the body. We are, remember, commanded to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. But for a few weeks at least, we'd like to consider how following Jesus changes when you--as Mark advised me the first time we met--"get out of your mind and into your body." (He prefaced that statement by calling me "Dude," something I imagine Dallas Willard rarely says.)
After setting up the premise of his model, in Practicing the Way of Jesus Mark offers "experiments" of varying lengths of time organized around five primal needs he observes in the Lord's Prayer: identity ("Our Father in heaven . . ."); purpose ("Your kingdom come, your will be done . . ."); security ("Give us this day . . ."); community ("Forgive us . . . as we forgive"); and freedom and peace ("Lead us not into temptation . . ."). The experiments in the book are intended to help people get started, but they're not a checklist: the ideal experiment is not parroted but discerned, based on the context and particular struggles of the community gathered. In fact, Mark has set up a website to allow groups to share stories of experiments they've come up with, and the first fifty groups to sign up at the site will be able to meet privately with Mark via live video chat to get started crafting their own exercises.
With that in mind, our Strangely Dim community is discerning experiments for us individually (and perhaps collectively) to take on. Some of us may do more than one; I, for example, am starting with a seven-day experiment of reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) every day. I'll talk about the why behind this experiment in my next post, but given that "reading" is a far cry from "getting out of your head and into your body," I'm already trying to discern what more experiential experiment will be on my to-do list this summer.
We invite you to experiment with Practicing the Way of Jesus this summer as well. And let us know how it's going! This is a kingdom of love we're experimenting with, after all, and--as with every portrait of the kingdom Jesus paints--the more, the merrier.
April 11, 2011
All this talk about rabbits--as well as numerous signs all over these western Chicago suburbs about where and when the Easter Bunny will be appearing (it appears he has a very full schedule in the next couple weeks)--has me thinking about the first poem I remember writing. I was in second grade, and in my best cursive, with all the creative force I could muster, I wrote a touching (at least, my mom thought so) account of a particular rabbit and her habit. (Lest you get the wrong picture in your mind and then later feel disappointed, my poem was not the tale of a Catholic hare garbed in black and white, like Maria in The Sound of Music, though that, no doubt, would have been a much more interesting poem than the one I actually wrote.) Budding wordsmith that I was, I'm pretty sure the poem started very originally with "There once was a rabbit that had a habit." And I'm pretty sure the next two lines went something like this:
Unfortunately, I don't remember the rest of the poem (though I'm sure it was scintillating), so I'll have to leave you in suspense about what actually happened to the rabbit and its habit. But those few lines are enough to make me think that, even if my poetry skills were lacking a certain something, my theology may have been relatively advanced. Because, after all these years of thinking that the only two lines I remember don't even really make sense (though the rhyme scheme has a nice ring to it, you have to admit), it's struck me lately that they encapsulate Lent pretty well.
In Lent, we often name a habit that's bothering us by keeping us from God in some way. The habit might be a characteristic like our tendency toward anger or bitterness, or a propensity to lie. Or maybe it's an addiction: to food, exercise, television or affirmation from others, for example--things that can be good and healthy (and necessary) in moderation but that easily become idols, habits that hold a higher place in our lives than God.
Once we name the habit, Lent offers a built-in period of time during which we can intentionally engage in disciplines that "bother" that habit (though we can, and hopefully do, do this at other times of the year too). Essentially, Lent stirs things up; the disciplines we engage in upset the evil one's plans, and parry attacks from the likes of Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters. Moreover, facing, naming, mourning our bothersome, sinful habits as we ponder Christ's suffering can allow us to receive and experience his forgiveness and freedom. The writer of Hebrews offers us encouragement toward this end:
This is the hope of Lent that moves us forward toward Easter--the hope of his continued work in us that helps us persevere when we're tempted to believe that freedom from a particular sin [read: hindering habit] is impossible.
In second-grade-rabbit-poetry terms, I imagine the exhortation would sound something like this:
December 22, 2010
I fully realize that some of you who love a challenge might just need--or thrive on--that last-minute pressure. Others of you may be experiencing unexpected stress that has taken up time you might have spent shopping. Still others may have been given a lottery ticket for your birthday in the past week and won a million dollars and are now waiting for the check so that you can buy your friends and family not just any old set of steak knives, but top-of-the-line ones. (That's sweet.) Or maybe you're planning to make "stop procrastinating" your New Year's resolution. Whatever the case, we hope that our guide to more justice-oriented, somewhat countercultural gift ideas and Advent practices has made these twelve days before Christmas richer for you, and has focused your thoughts on Christ and the nature of his kingdom.
My gift suggestion for this, the third day before Christmas, will be particularly helpful for those of you feeling pressed for time, because you don't have to go very far (in fact, we hope you can walk instead of drive to buy these gifts). Why not support a local business--the businesses probably hardest hit by our recent economic decline--by buying products or gift certificates from independently owned shops and restaurants in your town?
I did this for some of the gifts I bought this year, and it was definitely a win-win-win: I found some really fun, unique presents; I got to support the community I live in; and I got to wander through some great stores and interact with great employees. Buying local can be an especially great option if you're not sure what you're looking for; employees at smaller, independently owned stores tend to know really well what's in their store, and they're usually very personally invested in it (more than most big-box store employees, which is not a knock against those workers; it's more a comment on chain stores themselves). It's like going to a restaurant where the waiters and waitresses have tried everything on the menu and can give you very informed and enthusiastic recommendations based on what you're in the mood for. Shopping at local stores and products also gives you a chance to get to know more people in your community, whether it's store owners or neighbors of yours who might be shopping there.
Even beyond all those great benefits, though, shopping locally reminds us of the nature of Christ. At Christmas, we celebrate the Savior who is Immanuel, God with us; the Savior who left his throne and came near to us--as near as a baby to his mother when he's in her womb; the Savior who, as The Message version says in John 1, "became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." That is the God we celebrate and worship--who gave up his very life so that we could come near, and whose Spirit dwells in us still when we surrender ourselves to him in faith. Christmas reminds us of his deep love for us that sent Jesus from heaven to earth, to the middle of a bustling, Middle Eastern town where he was born, and to a small village where he grew, learned a trade from his earthly father and knew his neighbors.
In this small gesture of shopping locally, then, we have one more opportunity to imitate him in our daily lives. And, as we buy gifts that support the community, we'll be reminded even more to praise him for his great gift to us: the gift of his Son, born in a town out of love for us, to save us from our sins.
August 4, 2010
This week we say goodbye to Deborah Gonzalez, our summer editorial intern. She's been a great help to us--not least in her willingness to write three posts for Strangely Dim. She's also offered a refreshing reminder about the difference between knowing about and knowing--an all too obvious blind spot for people in the publishing business, where authors' humanity is commodified into brand and platform, their stories squished from three dimensions to two. Read Deborah's first two posts here and here, then come back and complete the trilogy. Feel free to Google her while you're at it; the stalker becomes the stalkee . . .
For those who have tuned in to my last two posts, you know that the common theme has been about knowing people. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, probably because I am doing a temporary internship where getting to know people is slightly difficult. Not because people aren't friendly (they are!), but because it takes time to get to know someone, and unfortunately, my time here is limited.
To make up for lost time, so to speak, I read up on people before I got here and connected with them while I was here (through Facebook, Twitter, etc.). I am amazed at what I've been able to learn about people without spending a whole lot of time with them. Call this my confession of all my stalkerish tendencies--but c'mon, you know you have them too. The Internet--combined with people's willingness to be transparent about their lives--makes it surprisingly easy to learn things about people without really knowing them.
The more I think about this phenomenon, the more I think we have a similar dynamic with God. In a culture like ours--one with freedom of speech and vast amounts of information at our disposal--it is pretty likely that everyone knows a little something about Jesus. If you grew up in a Christian environment, it is likely that you know a lot about Jesus. Many of us have read the Bible's account of what Jesus said and did. We've even read Christian books and commentaries to learn how other people interpret Jesus' words and actions. If asked Jesus trivia, some (you know who you are) may get a perfect score.
However, knowing a lot about Jesus doesn't necessarily mean I know Jesus--just like knowing about a person doesn't mean I really know them, even if I feel like I do.
Truly knowing Jesus involves more than just knowing about him or reading what other people have to say about him. It requires meeting him, sitting down with him and having a conversation. Truly knowing Jesus entails a mutual relationship, one in which he reveals the truth about himself to us, and we do the same to him--confessing our mess and allowing him to work in us.
Jesus wasn't just a good teacher dispensing information; he claimed that if we come to him, he will forgive our sins, heal us from physical and emotional pain, and reconcile our broken relationships. With the information available to us, we know this about Jesus, but what do we do with this information? Do we take it to heart, or do we go on living as if we didn't know? Do we keep the information to ourselves or share it with others? Do we keep Jesus at arm's length, or do we go deeper? What we know about Jesus can either lead to monumental blessings or a life of complacency--but it rests on whether we move from knowing about to truly knowing.
I am continually amazed by how analogous our relationships with others are to our relationship with God. It's almost as if God gave us one another for practice: if we can master intimacy with each other, intimacy with God will come easy. If we don't allow ourselves to open up with each other, it is likely we won't want to be vulnerable with God either. This is what makes our digital culture so challenging: it is easy to gain a false sense of intimacy. We are more connected than ever before, yet in some ways more distant that we've ever been.
When I first started my internship at IVP, I felt like I knew people, but I really didn't. So what did I do? I got to know them to the best of my ability in the short time that I had, and I plan on maintaining my relationships after I leave. When it comes to knowing God, the reality is that we don't know how much time left we have in this life. Yet there is so much to know about God, and it can be known only by welcoming his presence on a regular basis. Don't settle for knowing what you know, but dig deeper, and you'll be surprised by what else you will discover.
June 15, 2010
Last night I was shopping at Target for some mundane items like dish detergent and a mouth guard (yes, I grind my teeth at night). I had purposed to walk straight over to the "pharmacy" and "cleaning" aisles, pick up my stuff and march directly out. But of course the clever marketing mavens (of which I am one) know that it is much harder to make a beeline to the practical items when you have to walk past all the newest fashions and toys.
I succumbed to the siren song of the new, starchy, clothes department, even though I know Target's clothes are likely made in sweatshops across Asia, usually sized too small for me and generally don't last more than three washes. And yet, there it was. The poster of the happy girls whose lives seemed so full now that they had that cute shrug and skinny jeans. Maybe my life would be better with these things. . .
And here's the scary part of my story: I started hearing a voice in my head. It said things to me like, "There's no harm in looking," and "You might as well try a few things on." Then once I was in the changing room it said, "Wow, that looks absolutely horrible on you. You need to lose weight so you can buy cute clothes like this and feel good about yourself." Then it said, "Maybe if you try on something else on you'll feel better. How 'bout you go get a different size/color/style." And so I did. I thought long and hard about spending my savings on a sweater. And I wondered, am I the only one who hears these kinds of voices? Then I remembered a book that does what most good books do--reminds me I'm not alone in my struggles (or perhaps in my insanity).
A few nights ago I was reading from Margot Starbuck's new book, Unsqueezed, where she reminds us of how insane our culture is and how backward it is to value our bodies for what they look like instead of how they function in service to God and others. In it she says:
I shook myself from my stupor, put down the sweater and headed for the cash register to buy my detergent and mouth guard. On the way out, I had to pass by the jewelry counter, and the voice tried one more time. "Well, okay, maybe you don't need that dress, but you should get yourself some jewelry. After all, you deserve it."
With all the 'get thee behind me satan' resolve I could muster, I pressed on and found my place in line.
June 10, 2010
Here's the second of our posts discussing Pilgrimage of a Soul, the new Likewise book by Word Made Flesh codirector Phileena Heuertz.
(SD) Activists aren't necessarily known for their contemplative spirituality, but you've managed to keep spiritual formation at the center of Word Made Flesh. How did you swing that? What are some of the hallmarks of that active-contemplation/contemplative activism dynamic at WMF?
(PH) I'd say we've learned the hard way. Seems like hardship is often the best teacher. Young twenty-somethings, fresh out of college, tend to have an honorable zeal and imperviousness. That was me, my husband and the few of us who dared to go against the tides of the time and give ourselves in service among the poor--not street evangelism and church planting, which were the mainstream focus of the evangelical church at that time. In the 1990s mission strategy was focused on the "10/40 Window" and "unreached people groups." We were finding a different way to be faithful to the gospel in a world of poverty, trying to orient ourselves theologically and spiritually rather than strategically. We faced a lot of doubters and critics in those early days. But we were compelled by the love of God and the love of our friends in poverty to press on. So activism very much took the main stage of our vocation.
Activism was our teacher, and through that dimension I believe we received spiritual formation. Mother Teresa's life encouraged us as we witnessed her "praying the work." We were being spiritually formed by our service. We were actively eager to pursue justice and reconciliation among the poor, and we gave ourselves tirelessly to that end. And in this way we were learning about the aspects of God as one who is active and in pursuit of us--a God of justice, peace and reconciliation. Our reading and prayer life reflected this dimension of God. Scripture and study reinforced our active posture in the world.
But after about seven or eight years of a rigorous pace, some of us started to come to terms with our limitations. Activism and engagement with a suffering world certainly offered formation and transformation in our lives. Conversely, limitations have a way of opening space within us for formation and transformation as well. Though we had readily responded to Mother's admonishment to "pray the work," we had not understood at the time her equal commitment to detach and withdraw regularly from service in adoration of Jesus through prayer and contemplation. Through the example and teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating, the Christian contemplative tradition started to inform our activism. Thus began a posture of learning what it means to rest in God and abide in God.
The Christian contemplative tradition literally arrested me in my tracks. I was gripped by the notion that there really is a way to rest in God--regularly--and that this too is honorable to God. As I pursued contemplative practices, balance to the active-contemplative continuum started to emerge in my life, and a deeper work of spiritual formation began to take place within me.
Contemplative practices create space within our crowded lives to be attentive to and surrender to the action of God within us. Made in the image and likeness of God, we bear the divine imprint. As Christians we affirm the doctrine of the divine indwelling, meaning we believe in the immanent presence as well as the transcendent presence of God. But much of modern Christianity is divorced from practices that emphasize the immanent presence, focusing primarily on the transcendent nature of God. Contemplative practices bring equilibrium to this imbalance. In so doing, our illusions of self, God, others and the world are more likely to be dismantled, freeing us to participate more fully in the life of Christ.
In WMF today we are growing toward making space for various contemplative prayer practices, like lectio divina, the prayer of examen, the breath prayer, centering prayer and the labyrinth prayer. In Omaha, where we are based, some of us practice two periods of centering prayer per day--one during workday, in the afternoon. This deliberate pulling away, detaching and surrendering serves as a reminder to us that the work is God's, and we are only an instrument in God's hands. This offers perspective for the enormity of very real and desperate needs of the world that can weigh so heavily on us. In addition, this practice allows space for our service to be purified, re-orienting us to serve from our true self, rather than the false self with its never-ending ego demands. Though we all work tirelessly on behalf of our friends in poverty, we have established and emphasize regular, weekly sabbath; regular personal retreats for longer periods of rest, prayer, study and reflection; and sabbatical every seventh year.
Over time, when bringing balance to the active-contemplative continuum, it really is possible to experience Jesus' promise that "the yoke is easy and the burden is light." For years I wondered how it was possible to experience that. And it seems that many Christians live with a very heavy burden of service or else put service aside--many Christians just live with a heaviness, period. The Christian life often looks less like the abundant life Jesus promised and more like that of an oppressed, slave-driven kind of life marked by guilt, fear and shame. Contemplative practices help free us into the divine life, marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
March 28, 2010
About this time last year Shane Claiborne (coauthor of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers and a few other books you might have heard of) introduced the inaugural issue of Conspire magazine by telling the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, carried by the foal of a donkey, on the first day of the last week of his life. It seems a fitting way to begin Passion Week here at Strangely Dim as well.