Friday, August 30, 2013

Hug an Author Day Is Coming! This Is Why We Write

I wrote the following shortly after last year's inaugural Hug an Author Day. Still true today.

***

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

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

***

Some Ways You Can Celebrate Hug an Author Day

* Take an author to work--invite some coworkers to start a lunchtime book discussion group.

* Write a review of a book you enjoyed as a kid or more recently on Goodreads or some other social media outlet.

* Change your profile picture to the book cover of a favorite book.

* Like a favorite author's Facebook page.

* Find a book signing event happening in or near your community, and go to it.

* Or, you know, hug an author.

What ideas do you have for celebrating Hug an Author Day? Figure it out soon--Hug an Author Day is coming quick! Mark your calendar for September 15!
One last idea ... My book Deliver Us from Me-Ville is available as an ebook for 99 cents for another week or so. If you haven't gotten the book yet, you can get it for a song right now. (Seriously; it's cheaper than "Good Girl" by Robin Thicke.) One reader called it "a joyfully sarcastic look at our own self-absorption from a Christian perspective." That reminds me: if you post a review of the book during the sale, send me a link and your mailing address, and I'll send you a free copy of my booklet Parable of the Unexpected Guest.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Not an End, But a Beginning: The March on Washington Fifty Years Later

No less a luminary than Martin Luther King Jr. called it "the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation." He opened his comments by celebrating the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Lincoln ended slavery in the states that made up the Southern Confederacy that had seceded from the Union. "But one hundred years later," King lamented, "the Negro still is not free."

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
Fifty years have since passed. The question still haunts: are there yet Americans who are crippled by segregation and discrimination? Is the "lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity" still demarcated by race? Is the United States truly united, or is the African American experience, by and large, still fundamentally different from that of white America?

Those are rhetorical questions. The answers are as haunting as the questions.

Every year, on Martin Luther King Day, I read his fabulous Letter from Birmingham Jail. You can hear in that letter the tested patience of this Nobel Peace Prize winner, the exasperation that was nearer to the surface than our history books and national monuments acknowledge. And yet the Civil Rights Movement under his leadership was characterized not only by nonviolence but by hope--hope that stood in open defiance of the status quo and the forces dedicated to its preservation. King encouraged his audience that day to "forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. . . . Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

It's that soul force that propelled the movement forward--a consciousness of the inherent dignity of the cause and its champions, and a confidence that though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends inevitably toward justice.
We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
This hope was not naive, not pollyanic. It was disciplined and defiant, living in a stark truth while not allowing its vision to be constrained by the starkness of the truth of the moment. King was not ignorant of the tension of the time, and he was quick to alert the hegemonic forces of the status quo to the mess they'd made for themselves:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
Until that day, Dr. King assured his audience, "We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

The quarter of a million people gathered that day heard this message from Dr. King--"We shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back"--even as he called on his audience to go back where they came from:

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
All this came before Dr. King mentioned his dream, the dream we all associate with this march on Washington. And all Dr. King's comments came after seventeen others--including future congressman John Lewis and NAACP leader Roy Wilkins--made similar remarks about economic and racial disparity in the United States. Taking nothing from Dr. King's contribution to the long arc of moral history, this day was about more than his dream.

And, in the grand scheme of things--in the long arc of moral history--the day isn't over yet. Poverty rates for African American and Latino populations are twice those of white and Asian populations. As of 2008, one in every 106 prisoners in America was a white man over the age of eighteen, compared with one in every thirty-six for Hispanic men and one in fifteen for African American men. The unemployment rate among black people in the United States is almost exactly double that of white people.

So, fifty years after the march on Washington--and 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation--we still have a long way to go. "Now," Dr. King told his audience--and now, fifty years later, more than ever--"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
That's the dream that Dr. King articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial a half-century ago. It's a dream inspired by the prophetic words of the Scriptures--"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together"--and it's a dream propelled forward by hope that defies the cynicism of the status quo.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
That day isn't here yet, but this day isn't over yet.

***

Read more about the roots and early years of the Civil Rights Movement in volume one of Rep. John Lewis's graphic-novel memoir, March. Find my review here.

Read the ebook Remembering Birmingham by Ed Gilbreath to get a fuller understanding of the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hug an Author Day Is Coming! Notes from Last Year's Inaugural Event

I wrote the following post for Hug an Author Day 2012. It still rings true today.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** So, which author would you like to give a hug on Hug an Author Day? Post their names and why you want to hug them here!

On the off chance that it's me ... My book Deliver Us from Me-Ville is available as an ebook for 99 cents for a couple more weeks. If you haven't gotten the book yet, you can get it for a song right now. (Seriously; it's cheaper than "The One That Got Away" by the Civil Wars.) One reader called it "a joyfully sarcastic look at our own self-absorption from a Christian perspective." That reminds me: if you post a review of the book during the sale, send me a link and your mailing address, and I'll send you a free copy of my booklet Parable of the Unexpected Guest.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"This Is the Way Out": My Review of March: Book One

March (Book One)March by John Robert Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was stopped in my tracks at the Nerd-vana known as the San Diego Comic Convention when I noticed a man handing out short, yellowed copies of a fifty-plus-year-old comic book emblazoned with the face of Martin Luther King Jr. I had to stop. I struck up a conversation with Nate Powell, the graphic artist behind March: Book One, a graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and speaker six at the March on Washington, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year (King was speaker ten). This black-and-white graphic novel tells the story of his early life, culminating in the desegregation of lunch counters in downtown Nashville. Two future volumes will round out Lewis's story with the march on Washington and other seminal events in the history of civil rights in America.

I hadn't known that a comic book had featured prominently (and been used strategically) in the mobilization of youth for the civil rights movement. That comic, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, shows up midway through March and introduces the concepts of passive resistance and nonviolent action. Being a comic book geek of sorts, and a student of the movement after a fashion, I found this quite heartening; it makes much more sense of the decision to retell Rep. Lewis's story in a graphic novel, which struck me as odd at first blush.

You forget, every once in a while as you read March, that you're sitting in on the story of a legend. That's partly because of the congressman's approachability even in print, and the structure of the storytelling, which floats between Lewis's interior memories and his telling stories to student visitors to his congressional office. But it's also partly because of the lead-up to other legends whose stories intersect Lewis's.

We meet Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall--from a distance, since they weren't known personally by the congressman--and we see their faces: Parks as she defies the order to give up her seat, Marshall (in a moment of disillusionment) as he appeals to protestors to give up their protest. The most disarming moments come when we meet Jim Lawson (always in shadow, but orchestrating the congressman's epiphany about nonviolence) and Martin Luther King Jr.

King's sequence is particularly effective: we follow Lewis (with few words, mostly pictures) from his parents' home in Pike County, Alabama, to the bus station, to the home of civil rights attorney Fred Gray, to the doors of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and down a hall and down a flight of stairs and down another hall and around a corner into the office of one of the great moral leaders of all time. There he is, Dr. King, rising from his desk to greet "the boy from Troy," to incite him toward a vocation of justice even as he warned him to count the cost of engagement.

Ultimately Rep. Lewis is unable to follow through on this initial exchange with Dr. King; because (at this point) he is still a minor, he needs the approval of his parents, and they are unwilling to take the risks along with him. But the epiphany of recruitment is effectively conveyed in the art and the sparse dialogue, and it is no surprise to the reader how quickly the story moves from that encounter to the scenes with Lawson and ultimately to the successful confrontation of segregation in downtown Nashville.

March is designed as a trilogy; the remaining two volumes will be released over the next couple of years. I'm eager to read them.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inane Ramblings of a Middle-Aged Publishing Professional

Here, reposted from the Young Professionals page at the High Calling, are excerpts from a conversation I had recently with Sam Van Eman about stewarding influence over the course of your career. I enjoyed the conversation; I thought you might as well.

***

SVE: YPs [young professionals] are hot off the education press and want to know that they matter in the workplace. Give us a story from your twenties when your voice shaped something at work.

DZ: I remember this time we were brainstorming a new corporate tagline. (I should mention here that IVP is remarkably flat in its hierarchy and wildly collaborative in its strategic planning.) Sally Craft, then leading our publicity team, floated the Wesleyan Quadrilateral—Scripture, tradition, reason, experience—a grid by which we make responsible decisions. We liked the flow of it, but our audience, we thought, is much broader than Methodists. I threw out the language of the Shema, which Jesus identified as the greatest of God's commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength" (Mark 12:30)

“Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.” resonated with everyone, and I developed a reputation as a bit of a wordsmith.

Of course, when we announced our new tagline in our next catalog, we screwed up the order of the terms on the cover: "Heart. Mind. Soul. Strength." Sigh.

SVE: At IVP, you work with Likewise, an imprint which focuses on making a difference in the world. The name itself comes from Jesus’ words to the lawyer after telling the Good Samaritan story: “Go and do likewise.” So Likewise has a voice; it has influence. How much of that voice is Dave Zimmerman’s?

DZ: I'd say that even given the "all-in" collaborative culture of IVP, it's safe to say I've been the primary curator of Likewise's voice. I’ve served as the editorial liaison for the line (my colleague, Andrew Bronson, is our marketing liaison). Andrew likes to stay a bit behind the scenes; me, I like the attention. So I blogged fairly regularly about a “Likewise ethos,” and I wrote regular newsletters trumpeting the line to Likewise authors and readers. We’d also often gather together people who matched our "psychographic" within larger events and conferences, so we could commingle with them and reinforce what we saw as the core values of the line.

There's a reverse process in there, of course; the books we've determined along the way to be Likewise books have shaped my worldview and informed my values, even messed with my voice. So I suppose it'd also be appropriate to ask, "Dave has a voice. How much of it is Likewise's?"

SVE: Touché. I read a mystic who said the things we build “are outward manifestations of inward realities.” You’re implying that this goes both ways. Something to ponder.

DZ: Thanks for that. I won’t be sleeping for a few days.

SVE: How much "Dave" would we see in Likewise 10 years from now if you were to stick around?

DZ: Likewise has always had a strong countercultural bent—for example, The Unkingdom of God by Mark Van Steenwyk calls for a posture of repentance as the basis for our discipleship, an orientation he arrives at by thinking of Christianity in anarchist terms. Given that, it's ironic that I'm the editor. I live in a single-family house in the suburbs. No one looking at me would think Who let that anarchist hippie in the building?

The authors I acquire and develop, and the character of the line I've tried to cultivate—I think these are reflective of my aspirations for myself: I want to be someone who's thoughtful, passionate, who doesn't settle for abstractions and isolation. I want to be led by my authors, to be taught by them, to be transformed as I edit their stuff.

Ten years from now the world will look quite different, I'll look quite different, the publishing industry will look quite different. I hope that taken together we'll all look more like Likewise looked on its best days: thoughtful, active, hopeful, realistic, humble, audacious, all that and more.

SVE: Do you have a superhero power when you’re at work?

DZ: I take possession of the authors I edit. I take a little credit for their ideas. I see myself less clearly because I cloak myself in the best of what I see in them. Take Mark Van Steenwyk, for example: I see him as a moral genius, and I see myself as a moral genius for recognizing that genius in him. And I see myself as heroic for having made space for him to share his vision.

SVE: Your talent and his, joining to create something more than the sum of the two. I like it. What’s at stake when it comes to having influence?

DZ: The let-down. I tell people that their idea doesn't merit publication all the time. That's not how I put it, and that's not even always what I mean—I often mean that we're the wrong publisher or medium for their work—but I've sought publication enough on my own to know that what gets heard is "You're not good enough."

That unintended message gets heard even by authors I do acquire for publication; they hear it when I call on them to revise their draft, when I critique their assertions, when I make casual jokes that I thought would strengthen our relationship. I once edited a book that, in one passage, went into more detail than I thought was needed about some particular plot point in some particular sci-fi or fantasy film. I wrote in my comments, "Nerd alert!" I thought I was being funny, but in that one comment I eroded nearly all the trust we'd built together to that point. Writing is an act of vulnerability, and editing very easily becomes an act of tyranny, of colonization, of violence.

SVE: We’re fragile people, and I’ve seen this interplay in many places: between managers and cooks, teachers and students ... between me and my kids! What’s the tension like for you?

DZ: It's weird: editors are both behind the curtain and up on a pedestal. Writers want to hear from us, they want to talk to us, they want to be around us. We have a lot of power. But we're also standing behind our authors, whispering in their ears, steering some of their steps. It's a private, arcane, almost secret work, and yet we get sought out and crowded around when we are out and about in any kind of official capacity.

SVE: It’s clear that you have an influential voice—even power—in others’ lives. Give us another story that makes you proud to don your cape.

DZ: I recently had lunch with a woman who, by virtue of her vocation (and her gender, unfortunately) has developed a tragic lack of self-confidence in her ability to communicate truly life-changing messages in her writing. I've watched people get moved to tears when she talks; I've been similarly moved myself. I've seen people go through paradigm shifts in her audience. She's, like, a dream author. But she's been forced into this artificial mold, and she struggles to find her writing voice. So my challenge with her will be to help her cut free of the constraints that have been placed on her, to help her write like she talks instead of writing like she's being judged for it. It can be a terribly traumatic experience, but it can also be incredibly freeing and empowering.

The editor-author relationship, I'm convinced, is built almost entirely on trust: the author must feel safe and secure with the editor, the editor must help the author find their footing in this new realm. On the days when I get to participate in that, I feel pretty dang good about my job.

SVE: I would too. You’re helping people find their way. What’s the best advice you´ve received on developing influence?

DZ: Well, "Be not afraid" is always a good one. And Frederick Buechner wrote a book whose title was Speak What We Feel, not What We Ought to Say. I always thought that was a good one, too. You have to own your influence and your message—own your voice and the words that take shape in it—while also recognizing that you're not infallible.

Another thing that's been helpful to me: If something's worth doing, it's worth doing for free. It's also worth getting paid to do, of course, but don't let money and all it represents—security, prosperity, etc.—tyrannize you.

***

Don't forget: My book Deliver Us from Me-Ville is available as an ebook for 99 cents for a few more weeks. If you haven't gotten the book yet, you can get it for a song right now. (Seriously; it's cheaper than "Come a Little Closer" by Cage the Elephant.) One reader called it "a joyfully sarcastic look at our own self-absorption from a Christian perspective." That reminds me: if you post a review of the book in the next three weeks, send me a link and your mailing address, and I'll send you a free copy of my booklet Parable of the Unexpected Guest.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hug an Author Day Is Coming! September 15

It was sometime last September that I found myself simmering in the latest frustrating news from the front about the publishing industry: maybe it was declining reading rates, maybe it was the notable failure of an expected bestseller, maybe it was a conversation with an author who was having a hard time of it. Whatever it was, I needed to think about it, which meant I needed to write about it.

What I ended up doing was establishing, for myself and all my author friends, National Hug an Author Day. It was a joke, a lark, but it proved resonant with a number of my author friends, and a number of my nonauthor friends got inspired by it and sought out their own authors to hug, either literally (side hugs count) or metaphorically (by buying a book). So, I decided that we should make it an annual thing.

Therefore, I hereby invite you to prepare yourself for this year's Hug an Author Day!

Hug an Author Day always falls on September 15. That means you have a month to think about, talk about, write about, or otherwise act on your good will toward the author or authors in your life who need a little pick me up. And trust me, they probably do: writing is a lonely, vulnerable thing to do; submitting your proposal (and later your manuscript) to a publisher is an act filled with angst; promoting your finished product makes you feel embarrassed and obnoxious. And don't even get me started on the money stuff.

We have National Record Store Day. We even have an International Cassette Store Day. Don't you think it's time we dedicated a day to acknowledge authors?

Spread the news! Tell your friends and alert your social media that Hug an Author Day is coming. It'll be a good day, I promise.

***

Speaking of hugging an author ... My book Deliver Us from Me-Ville is available as an ebook for 99 cents for a few more weeks. If you haven't gotten the book yet, you can get it for a song right now. (Seriously; it's cheaper than "Pusher Love Girl" by Justin Timberlake.) One reader called it "a joyfully sarcastic look at our own self-absorption from a Christian perspective." That reminds me: if you post a review of the book in the next three weeks, send me a link and your mailing address, and I'll send you a free copy of my booklet Parable of the Unexpected Guest.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Free for Now, Cheap for a While

Today's the last day that David C. Cook, publisher of my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville, is making the ebook free for download.

Never fear though! From August 7 through September 7, the ebook will be sold for only 99 cents.

Here's another review from Goodreads:

Building on the teachings of Thomas Merton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, David Zimmerman outlines the journey from Me-Ville to God's Kingdom that all Christians must travel (and often, re-travel). The good news is, Jesus is the one who comes to Me-Ville to lead the way out!

Each chapter includes ways that the journey changes us, practices we actively engage in as willing participants on the trip (we aren't just along for the ride, after all), and "Escape Routes" or spiritual practices to try when you find yourself back (or headed back) to Me-Ville.

As an added bonus, the book includes discussion guides for each chapter, making it suitable for both individuals and groups to read together.
Just go to David C. Cook's website, click on the book, then click on the link for your preferred ebook platform (e.g., amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook).

Please spread the word! And if you've read the book, please consider writing a review on Goodreads, or your blog, or send your friends an email about it. Message me on Facebook with a link to your review and your address, and I'll mail you a copy of my booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest (see the sidebar) as thanks.

Monday, August 05, 2013

We Shape Our Tools, and Then Our Tools Shape Us...Into Tools

Father John Culkin, friend and student of the great Marshall McLuhan, once wrote, "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." Once we have created a car, for example, our society evolves to make the car normal, and our behavior adapts to accommodate this new normal. Where we once walked, we now drive. We become assimilated to the tools of our own invention.

We are, I fear, in the midst of this process of normalization-assimilation with regard to social media. Having made room in our psyches for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest, we are now experiencing life through Valencia and LoFi filters.

It's not enough for us to like something; we need people to know that we like it.

But we don't feel the need to wax rhapsodic about how much we like something; our reasons for liking it are irrelevant.

At the moment we become conscious of what we're doing, we feel a sudden compulsion to tell someone--anyone--what we're doing. We don't go on and on about it, of course, and we don't feel compelled to demonstrate to that special someone why they were singled out to learn about this recent accomplishment. We just say it so we can say it's been said.

I'm not typically one to complain about social media. I'm not one of those naysayers who thinks Google makes us stupid or Twitter makes us twits. And I'm not really even complaining about social media here. I'm complaining about what we're becoming in what the kids used to call "meatspace"--the real, physical space we actually occupy, with all its commensurate relational responsibility.

If someone walked up to me every few minutes and gave me a 140-character report on what they've been doing since the last time they gave me an update, they'd get about ten minutes out of me before I locked them out of my life. That's the reason some people offer for why they're not on Twitter. I think it's a facile argument and I get annoyed by it. But here's the problem: now, in real life, in meatspace, people are coming up to me on a fairly regular basis and telling me what they're doing.

I don't care. Stop telling me this stuff. Save it for Twitter.

Likewise, here on terra firma the mere fact that you like something is meaningless to me. I get why you might "like" a corporate page on Facebook; they've offered you incentives to earn your like. I get why you might "like" one of my status updates; besides the fact that it's simultaneously profound and hilarious, it's a bid on my part to connect, and you've honored our relationship by offering a brief and modest acknowledgment.

The like button on Facebook is our virtual gift to one another: I have been liked, therefore I am. But in the real world bids to connect take a different shape. If my wife told me, at the end of the day, that her meetings with her clients had gone really well, and I responded simply by saying, "Like," she would not feel loved; she would not even feel acknowledged. She most definitely would not feel liked. She would feel ignored and neglected and even belittled, because she wants me to share in the details of her life, and I've jumped right to my final answer.

So, here's my fear: rather than retaining our relational responsibility to honor people's bids to connect in contextually appropriate ways--to discern the difference between virtual and local relationship--we are becoming zombified by social media, and we're failing one another in our responsibility to love. Our neighbors may have avatars in any number of virtual environments, but they themselves are not avatars; they are real, flesh-and-blood people, and we need to treat them as such when we encounter them as our own real, flesh-and-blood selves.

How do we do that? I don't know. I know how we don't do it--by saying something like "I don't care. Stop telling me this stuff. Save it for Twitter." Apart from that, I'm open to your suggestions.

***

Good News: David C. Cook, publisher of my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville, is making the ebook free for download for two days--August 5-6, 2013. Then from August 7 through September 7, the ebook will be sold for only 99 cents. Just go to their page, click on the book, then click on the link for your preferred ebook platform (e.g., amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook).

Please spread the word! And if you've read the book, please consider writing a review on Goodreads, or your blog, or send your friends an email about it. Message me on Facebook with a link to your review and your address, and I'll mail you a copy of my booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest as thanks.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Good News for People Who Like Old Ebooks

Good News: David C. Cook, publisher of my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville, is making the ebook free for download for two days--August 5-6, 2013.

Then, from August 7 through September 7, the ebook will be sold for only 99 cents.

Here's what one fellow has written about the book on Goodreads:

A book about how Jesus can displace us from the center of our self-involved lives. It's tough to do in America, but Zimmerman, aided by abundant quotes from the spiritually wise, especially Bonhoeffer, provides a route. It includes spiritual practice and the church and focuses centrally on Jesus. I liked his humorous, self-deprecating tone and found the "escape routes" or exercises at the end of each chapter especially useful. God knows I can use all the help I can get getting over me.
Just go to David C. Cook's website, click on the book, then click on the link for your preferred ebook platform (e.g., amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook).

Please spread the word! And if you've read the book, please consider writing a review on Goodreads, or your blog, or send your friends an email about it. Message me on Facebook with a link to your review and your address, and I'll mail you a copy of my booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest (see the sidebar) as thanks.