Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day of Rest

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption.
--Romans 8:15

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 10

The great thing about this unapproachable God, however, is that he does approach us, and in so doing he reveals to us enough of his character that we can draw some conclusions about who he is and what he intends for us. The same God who wraps himself in light in Psalm 104 blesses all of creation by maintaining it:

These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time. . . .
And you renew the face of the earth.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 9

We gladly approach the God of Me-Ville in worship because he can’t be bothered to approach us in rebuke. Meanwhile the God of the Bible, wrapped in unapproachable light, lies outside the boundaries of Me-Ville, outside our field of vision.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 8

Has this ever happened to you? The [worship] music starts to a familiar tune, and your mind drifts along, enjoying the light, essentially noncommittal moment. Maybe there’s a little swaying going on, and in your peripheral vision you can see a hand or two in the air, waving like they just don’t care. And you decide that you don’t need to look at the song book in front of you or at the giant TV screen above you, because you’ve been singing this song for years, and you know the lyrics like the backs of your waving, noncommittal hands. So you enjoy the moment and sing right through it: “Thou, O Lord, are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship me.”

Wait! “Thee”—I meant “thee!”

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 7

ESCAPE FROM SUPERBIA

This week, keep a journal of your interactions with other people—either direct interactions, people you talk to or sit next to on the train, or indirect interactions through television or film. Pay attention to what you find yourself thinking about them, and what thoughts about yourself well up alongside them.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 6

Christ reverses the bent of our nature by leading us out of Me-Ville and into the city of God. That act ennobles and humbles us all at the same time because it admits of our need—we are unable to redirect ourselves, unable to fulfill the heroic needs of the story we find ourselves in—and it brings us to a direct encounter with the creator and sustainer of all that is seen and unseen. The way out of Me-Ville is unavoidably through Jesus.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 5

For all their complaints about the unexpected consequences of fame—the highly publicized errors in judgment, the constant press of people and the profound lack of privacy—people still strive after it as a barometer of their self-worth.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day of Rest

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love.
--2 John 3

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 4

Adam and Eve each denied their own responsibility when confronted by God because they saw themselves as too important to be wrong, to be weak, to be vulnerable to the shrewdness of a mere serpent. The dramatic increase in self-importance over the turn of the millennium, occurring alongside a steady increase in divorce, white-collar crime, morbid obesity, and high-profile falls from grace, smacks of a similar stink. We’re too important for silly rules. We can’t be expected to keep promises we made after circumstances change. Give us enough time, and we’ll figure out who’s really to blame for the trouble we find ourselves in.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 3

Little children are important because they are human beings, and human beings are important because they are made in the image of God and bear a responsibility, in keeping with their divine likeness, to the kingdom of God.

The danger comes when small children, or grown adults, say “I’m important, yo!” over and over and over again. Somewhere in that repetition their sense of significance morphs into something more sinister: self-importance. Welcome to Me-Ville.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 2

Mapping out our escape from superbia will involve coming to terms with where we are—recognizing the way that superbia has already infected our outlook and our relationships. It will involve coming to terms with who we have become, and how we have fallen short of who we could be.

Our deliverance will also involve training our eyes on God, and learning to see life unfiltered by the veneer we live under in Me-Ville.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Day 1

Superbia [pride, self-absorption] is one of the seven deadly sins not just because it has the capacity to be calamitous, as in the case of Peter, but because it can be so common, as in the case of myself. Self-absorption is a besetting sin among all God’s children, nipping at the church’s heels throughout its history, and as such it must be met by the vigilance of the people of God to hold it at bay.

***

Copyright 2008 Cook Communications Ministries. Deliver Us From Me-Ville by Dave Zimmerman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't Write in Books

I wrote the following five years ago, in the aftermath of a slew of book-signing events for my first book, Comic Book Character. For the record, I've continued to write in books--mostly my own, but occasionally others'--and my niece is now an even more precocious nearly-nine-year-old. But the unfortunate reality remains, even now that social media have become normative: the act of writing our ideas sets us at a distance from our conversation partners--our readers--and perhaps more important, sets them at a distance from us. Writers be warned: don't forget to occasionally talk to people.

***

We're not free to interact with authors; we simply accept or reject what they inject into our lives. Likewise, in most cases authors get no opportunity to hear their readers. An author casts an idea out into the world and hopes that it's given some attention, that someone somewhere will take the idea to heart and make some use of it. For all their depth, books are two-dimensional artifacts in a three-dimensional world.

My three-year-old niece offered me a strict warning at one of my signing events that continues to perplex me: "Uncle Dave, don't write in books." She's speaking from experience, having learned in her short life that librarians don't look favorably on such behavior. But if books are anything, they're written in, and for that matter, what do you do at a book signing if you don't write in books?

Perhaps a three-year-old born into a postliterate world has some ideas on the matter, but until she writes a book on the subject I'll be left in the dark, nursing my poor, carpal-tunnel threatened hand back to health.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Back by Popular Demand: Lenten Readings from Me-Ville

This year, thanks to popular demand (I demanded it), I'll be posting daily excerpts from my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville as a touchpoint for each day of Lent. Last year I did this in conjunction with a church near me that was reading the book as a communal Lenten exercise. It seemed to work well for them; maybe it'll serve you similarly this year. Here's the reading plan that church came up with for the book:

Daily Reading Plan
Week 1: The High Cost of Living in Me-Ville
 Day 1 Pages 15-19
 Day 2 Pages 19-23
 Day 3 Pages 25-30
 Day 4 Pages 30-37
 Day 5 Pages 37-41
 Day 6 Day off
 Day 7 Day off

Week 2: Jesus Visits Us in Me-Ville
 Day 8 Pages 43-47
 Day 9 Pages 47-52
 Day 10 Pages 52-57
 Day 11 Pages 58-63
 Day 12 Pages 63-67
 Day 13 Day off
 Day 14 Day off

Week 3: Jesus Displaces Us
 Day 15 Pages 69-75
 Day 16 Pages 75-78
 Day 16 Pages 78-82
 Day 18 Pages 82-87
 Day 19 Day off
 Day 20 Day off
 Day 21 Day off

Week 4: Jesus Delivers Us
 Day 22 Pages 89-93
 Day 23 Pages 93-99
 Day 24 Pages 99-102
 Day 25 Pages 103-105
 Day 26 Pages 105-113
 Day 27 Day off
 Day 28 Day off

Week 5: Jesus Binds Us Together
 Day 29 Pages 115-121
 Day 30 Pages 121-124
 Day 31 Pages 125-127
 Day 32 Pages 127-133
 Day 33 Pages 122-138
 Day 34 Day off
 Day 35 Day off

Week 6: Getting in the Way of Jesus
 Day 36 Pages 139-144
 Day 37 Pages 144-151
 Day 38 Pages 151-157
 Day 39 Pages 157-161
 Day 40 Pages 162-164
 Day 41 Pages 165-171
 Day 42 You’re done! Or are you…?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Andrew Young & the Ethics of Ambition

I've always been fond of Andrew Young--not the assistant and accessory after the fact to former presidential candidate John Edwards (not the eighteenth century pastor-theologian), but Andrew Young the former mayor of Atlanta, ambassador to the United Nations and key player in the Civil Rights Movement. I feel bad for this Andrew Young--and for Jonathan Edwards the theologian, for that matter--that events of the past two years have overshadowed their significant historic accomplishments.

Yet I must confess, I feel a little bad for the new Andrew Young as well. I heard him interviewed on the radio this week, discussing his role in attempting to cover up the new John Edwards's affair. The radio host called him "probably the sleaziest person I've ever interviewed." I don't suppose they were face to face during this interchange, but they were likely as close as radio interviews get. Maybe it's because I know how much pressure authors feel from publishers to sell their own books, but this exercise in indignity made me feel bad for the guy.

It also reminded me of something I recently read (or re-read, as I am wont to do in the case of this book). In Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose, nature's most nearly perfect book (which I rely on a great deal in Deliver Us from Me-Ville), author Brian Mahan talks about the various "bells" that ring throughout our pursuit of vocation. Some, he says, are like "the inkin, a bell used in Zen practice to announce the start of a period of silent attentiveness." Others are less reflective and more urgent, such as "the tocsin, or alarm bell, that warns of imminent danger" (p. 74).

Mahan goes on to review the curious case of John Dean (not Jimmy Dean, the sausage guy, nor John Deere, the tractor guy), former legal counsel to President Nixon. Dean was a young, up and coming attorney when he was invited to join the president's staff. He was living the high life during the events that led to Nixon's eventual downfall. At the same time, for example, that he was enjoying direct access to the leader of the free world, he was being given permission by one of the architects of the Watergate break-in, G. Gordon Liddy, to "have him shot if this would help with the cover-up." Dean was enjoying first-class flights and accommodations wherever he went at the same time he and his assistant, Fred Fielding, were deciding to put on surgical gloves "to avoid leaving fingerprints" while they "rifled through Howard Hunt's safe" (p. 75). They don't teach you that stuff in law school, so far as I know.

Mahan's intent in rehearsing Dean's story is to show how easy it is to deceive ourselves when we're caught up in something big. He doesn't excuse himself from this scrutiny; he goes on to tell the story of what great lengths he was willing to go to win a round of "hide the eraser" in grade school. Trust me, it's gross. But it's an important observation nonetheless.

Andrew Young indicated during his animus-dripping radio interview that his judgment was clouded by the thought that "what we were doing would literally change the world." He had long before decided that John Edwards was presidential material, qualified to lead the free world and for his time the best person for the job. Little indiscretions like a dalliance were scandalous enough to derail the train of history but little enough that they shouldn't be allowed to.

So in the thin air of a presidential campaign, Young became convinced that pretending to be the father of a child born to a woman his boss was having an affair with was politically expedient, if not patriotic. Life was moving too fast, with too much drama as a constant companion. Young couldn't hear the bells, Mahan might say. Only time could clear the air enough to see how absurd his patriotic impulse was, how closely his idealism resembled hubris, arrogance.

The trouble with living history is that it doesn't become history till you're dead. Till then, it's simply wading through wave after wave of urgent decision-making and murky ethical optioneering. "If you are to be armed for success in the real world," Mahan observes, "the capacity to rationalize on your feet, extemporaneously and with conviction is not optional; it is required" (p. 84). So I feel bad for Andrew Young, though my opinion of his behavior has not changed from shock and revulsion. There but for the grace of God, I suspect, go I. Till then, may we all listen for the bells as they ring their messages to each of us, and may we do as they suggest, because when it comes to the ethics of ambition, the bells are a blessing.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I Heart Paradox

Here's something funky, alluded to in Robert A. Fryling's The Leadership Ellipse but something I've never really thought about: when we are feeling abandoned or forsaken by God, we get our language of complaint from Jesus on the cross, who quoted the psalmist saying "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" So Jesus, fully God, can sympathize with our sense of betrayal by God. God accompanies us into our experiences of Godforsakenness. God is our companion even in our sense of abandonment.

Funky. I'm inclined to quote another psalm: "Such knowledge is . . . too lofty to attain."