Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wither Unity?

This past week two things happened. (1) The president gave his state of the union address, in which he acknowledged the stark divisions between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., and urged both to look past politics to "leadership." (2) A friend of mine who is a pastor sent a blanket e-mail to pastors and other Christian authority figures in our area, suggesting that they aren't competition for each other but colaborers with each other, and urging them to strive toward interchurch unity as they go about their ministries.

I suspect more than two things happened. But these two took up a lot of space in my brain. I'm a fan of unity, of course--can anyone not be? Everyone is on board with unity--at least in principle. Unity is one of those big ideas, like justice, like peace. Unity is one of the things that back in the 1970s John Lennon suggested we "imagine," one of the things Coca Cola wanted to "teach the world."

So if everyone is on the unity train, why does it never seem to leave the station? I suspect in part because as appealing as the idea of unity is, the reward it brings is almost indistinguishable. There are, I presume, people I have something approaching unity with--relationships that are marked by mutual respect and common cause, for lack of a clear definition--but those relationships just are; unity isn't an achievement that we in our small circles celebrate on a regular basis: "Look how well we're getting along! Hallelujah!" Unity, where it's achieved at some level, fades quickly into the background while we go about more pressing, more interesting business.

And then there's the cost of unity. To truly be united means a surrender, or at least a reconfiguration, of sovereignty. For me to be united to you means not only that you share my interest and values, but that I share yours and yours. When the Confederate States of America became the United States of America, individual states could no longer print their own money or levy tariffs on their neighboring states. There's a cost--a real cost--to unity that the rhetoric of unity neglects to mention.

The appeal to unity is always an indictment of the status quo. To desire unity is to acknowledge that how we've organized ourselves is causing more hurt than help, and so to appeal to unity is simultaneously to recommend that we reorganize ourselves. That means abandoning the patterns that we've fallen into, those patterns that were originally thought (and perhaps even successfully designed) "to form a more perfect union." To unify is first to deconstruct, to clear the withered foliage of our age-old imaginations and plant some new seeds.

I'm not offering a program for unity by any measure. I don't have that imaginative a brain, and besides, I only got that e-mail as a courtesy from my friend: I don't have any authority anywhere. What I am offering, I think, is a reminder that to strive for unity demands more than a nod and a hurrah, a handshake and a hug. To strive for unity means to be prepared to sacrifice those things that stand in the way, and that in and of itself means that we need to know well what we value--what we can mutually agree to give up, and what we dare not allow to wither.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pilgrimage to Nonviolence

Nonviolent resistance . . . avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.
--Martin Luther King Jr., Stride Toward Freedom

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Prayer for Haiti

Today is the birthday of my friend Kent Annan, author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle. He's in Haiti, tending to the folks who are suffering there. This prayer is taken from his book.

In you, Christ, I find my light, though it's awfully dark.

I pray for my sisters and brothers who are hurting unbearably tonight--that you would suffer with them, that you would stop their suffering, though I know you won't stop it all or even very much right now. It's more faith than I can muster, yet there's something in me that trusts you--or wants to so desperately that it resembles trust--despite it all, in the midst of it all, because of it all. I call out for you in rage and desperation and hope and doubt and tender love.

Call back to me, I ask. Call us out of our graves, like Lazarus. Weep a tear for us all again, and let us weep with you. Let's all weep together for this beauty and this mess. Then come, Lord Jesus, come and save us somehow, anyhow. And meanwhile show us how to save each other . . .


To support the ongoing efforts in Haiti, visit haitipartners.org and click on "Donate."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help for Haiti

Posted this today on my blog at work, Strangely Dim.

Haiti has been on our minds a lot lately. A recent release in the Likewise line of books, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, introduces the reader to Kent Annan's first perplexing years living and working on education issues in Haiti before major political upheaval forced him and his wife to relocate to Miami. Kent now lives in Miami, jetting back and forth regularly to Port-au-Prince to continue the work of his organization, Haiti Partners. To celebrate the launch of his book, we launched a contest, with the prize being a five-day trip to Haiti, guided by Kent, to see up close the work God is doing among the people there. So yeah, Haiti has been on our minds a lot.

So when we heard about the earthquake that toppled the presidential palace, a hospital and countless other buildings in Port-au-Prince yesterday, we were perhaps more concerned than we, safely far removed from such an exotic place, might otherwise have been. We've since heard from Kent that he's in Miami this week and is thus OK, but his codirector at Haiti Partners was in the midst of the earthquake, though it sounds as though he and his family are OK. We have yet to hear about Enel and Edvard, two new friends of ours who joined Kent on his trip to the Urbana Student Missions Conference just before the new year. So while we're praying generally for the people affected by this earthquake, we find our prayers focused particularly on the people we know there, which I suppose is the nature of praying.

What will best help the people of Haiti in the aftermath of this quake has yet to be determined, although there's some effort to get water, clothes and trained emergency responders to the roughly three million people directly affected. But the recovery will take a long time. Toward that end, Kent has set up an emergency fund through Haiti Partners. You can donate to the fund by going to haitipartners.org and clicking on "Donate Now."

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Writing Through Writer's Block

I'm finding myself at a loss for words as the new year has begun. I'm not sure what's behind that, but I do know that it presents a problem for me, because I've committed myself to a fair bit of word-manufacturing.

I blog here, and I blog at Strangely Dim, and I write a column at Burnside Writers Collective, and I write reports on how writers might improve their manuscripts. I write status updates on my Facebook account, comments on links I post there and comments on other people's status updates and links. I even write tweets--carefully crafted (in my mind, at least) sequences of 140 characters that go out to my followers on Twitter. I get paid to write the reports, but the other writing is perhaps more urgent to me--not because people are counting on me (imagine needing someone's tweet!) but because by my writing I've come to define my identity. My business card says I'm an editor, but in my heart I'm a writer.

So writer's block isn't just an inconvenience to me, it is, in some ways, a crisis. One solution is, of course, to write about not being able to write. See what I did there? I've done it before, and it's actually often a helpful exercise. But writing about not being able to write has a finite appeal. It's circumspect to the utmost. We--all of us--don't (or shouldn't) write for the sake of writing; we write to find our own way, and to point the way for others, to something on the far side of writing, some resonant idea, some observation that releases us from some paralysis, some gateway that once unlocked allows us to progress. We write not for the sake of writing but for the sake of our souls, and the souls of one another.

So, I suppose, I apologize for this post. It's embarrassingly self-indulgent; I had my own little gateway that needed unlocking. We'll see what turns up on the other side.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Have You Heard the Word?

As promised, what follows is the key to the 2009 "Year of the Beatles" Zimmerman Christmas letter. To recap: 50 Beatles references—plus two extra credit selections. Pencils down, people . . .

1. Do you want to know a secret? Do You Want to Know a Secret?
2. “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead” Two of Us
3. Tell me what you see! Tell Me What You See
4. A splendid time is guaranteed for all . . . Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
5. Happy ever after in the marketplace? Ob-la-di Ob-la-da
6. It’s all too much for me to take . . . all the world’s a birthday cake. It’s All Too Much
7. She became a legend of the silver screen. Honey Pie
8. “They’re gonna make a big star out of me!” Act Naturally
9. It felt a little like she was leaving home (bye, bye). She’s Leaving Home
10. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! She Loves You
11. “I wanna hold your hand.” I Wanna Hold Your Hand
12. “Keep your hands to yourself!” I’m Down
13. “It’s getting better all the time!” Getting Better
14. He’s been traveling here, there and everywhere. Here, There and Everywhere
15. Some days it seems he’s gone halfway across the universe. Across the Universe
EXTRA CREDIT!!! He is developing a fab new style. "Fab 4" or When We Was Fab (George Harrison)
16. “Dear Sir or Madam, could you read my book?” Paperback Writer
17. “Don’t bother me.” Don’t Bother Me
18. Soon we’ll be away from here; step on the gas. You Never Give Me Your Money
19. The world going by your window. I’m Only Sleeping
20. I should have known better. Should Have Known Better
21. Like pigs from a gun. I Am the Walrus
22. “We can work it out!” We Can Work It Out
23. Dig it! Dig It
24. Though we ran and hid our heads, we both got sick and wondered if we might as well be dead. Rain
25. La la la, la la la la la. From Me to You
26. She’d love you to. Love You To
27. In a strange (very strange) turn of events ... Penny Lane
28. Boys—what a bundle of joy! Boys
29. Your voice is soothing, but the. words aren’t clear. I’m Looking Through You
30. Paperback writer Dave ... Paperback Writer
31. I’m so proud to know that she is mine. Good Day Sunshine
32. Dave would post to Twitter and Facebook every little thing he does. Every Little Thing
33. He ... seems to think “Everybody’s trying to be my baby.” Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby
34. “I’m a loser.” I’m a Loser
35. I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in to stop my mind from wondering where it will go . . . Fixing a Hole
36. All it needs is love ... All You Need Is Love
37. But we decided to let it be. Let It Be
38. Christ, you know it ain’t easy; you know how hard it can be. Ballad of John and Yoko
39. Tomorrow never knows ... Tomorrow Never Knows
40. Get back, Loretta! Your mama’s waiting for you. Get Back
41. We ran for our lives ... Run for Your Life
42. Dave wakes up every day to Lacey shouting “Good morning! Good morning!” Good Morning, Good Morning
43. ... And gets home every afternoon to find Lucy at the door, clutching forks and knives to eat the fish medley. Little Piggies
44. It helps that there’s a place where we can go ... There’s a Place
45. You say it’s your birthday? It’s my birthday too, yeah! Birthday
46. I guess you could say we get by with a little help from our friends. With a Little Help from My Friends
47. We do appreciate your being ‘round. Help!
48. All you need is love; love is all you need. All You Need Is Love
EXTRA CREDIT!!! Happy Christmas! Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
49. Here comes the Son! Here Comes the Sun
50. Love, love, love. All You Need Is Love

That's it! If you hit If you got more than the bold, italicized headings, we'll call you a fan. If you got thirty or more, you may want to see your doctor about treatment options for Beatlemania. Hope you have enjoyed the show! Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)