Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Walking (Dead) in Circles

I have been a viewer of AMC-TV’s The Walking Dead since its inception. I’ve appreciated the twists on the zombie trope, and especially the deep character development of leading and subordinate players. Now in its fifth season, however, I think the show is getting a little tired. That’s not before it has had some refreshing developments in its current season—the cannibals were macabre and developed with some dark humor.

Nor is the show without its theological, or anti-theological, turns. The zombies, as within the genre as a whole, are essentially a parody of the resurrection of the body. Of course, zombies don’t possess transformed bodies (and they seem soul-less, essentially without any spiritual component). Their bodies aren’t eternal: they eventually rot away, a progression that Walking Dead has tried to portray with ever more gross makeup and puppetry. All this is a subtext, but the show now and then drifts into explicitly theological (or, again, anti-theological) comment. That occurred this season in the episode “Four Walls and a Roof.” Our protagonists lured the cannibals into an old church, and there hyper-violently  beat and crushed them to death. The priest of the church protested the carnage inside the building, saying, “But this is God’s holy house.” Maggie flatly answered, “No, it’s just four walls and a roof.”

But here’s why I say the show is getting tired: Now the heroes are simply stuck in a godless world, wandering from one place to the next, killing some zombies, wandering to another place, killing some zombies, and so on ad nauseum. We had a chance to break out of this cycle with the character Eugene, purportedly a scientist close to arriving at a cure for the zombie disease. He claimed that he needed to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet up with other scientists and there arrive at a cure. But two episodes ago we learned that Eugene was an impostor. He was no scientist, he admitted, and simply a coward under prestigious cover that might bring him some advantages.

It would have opened up a new direction for the development of the story if Eugene was for real—there would have been new possibilities as the heroes had a fresh mission or objective. But with Eugene as a fake, we are back to the same old wandering, killing some zombies, then wandering some more, killing some more zombies, rinse and repeat. The series is without an overall arc. It’s walking (dead) in circles. Best to end it soon, before it becomes altogether too tiring. But don’t bet on that happening. Zombies don’t die easily.


Will Eugene Host the 2019 World Championships?

Some time next Tuesday in Monaco, we’ll find out whether Eugene, Oregon, will become the first city in the United States ever to host the IAAF Track and Field World Championships. Track Town USA has converted me into a lover of the sport, and being able to watch the world’s greatest compete at Oregon’s storied Hayward Field would make me very, very happy.

True, Eugenians get to see many of the world’s greatest compete every year at the Prefontaine Classic. But the World Championships would be like several entire days worth of Pre Classics, and not just with some of the world’s greatest competing, but with all of them. Usain Bolt has never run at Hayward. Legendary 800 world-record holder David Rudisha hadn’t run at Hayward until last year, and he was clearly still recovering from injury. The greatest talent in the world would all be looking to peak at the same time, and that level of competition would be something to behold.

In Barcelona, Spain, and Doha, Qatar, Eugene has stiff competition. Both cities are much larger than Eugene, with much more developed hotel and stadium infrastructure. But Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated recently made a compelling case for why Eugene should get the bid. The whole piece is worth your while, but here’s a preview:

Not to drink too deeply of the TrackTown elixir here, but I’m willing to argue that when it comes to track and field, there is no place in the world quite like Eugene. You want to argue Oslo or Zurich, places that host a wonderful one-day-a-year track meet? Sorry. As Lananna likes to say, “We’re twenty-four, seven, three-sixty-five.’’ Eugene is so track-centric that it’s a little odd, in a cute sort of way. But what’s indisputable is that for four decades—with a few highs and lows—if somebody has put a major track and field competition in Hayward Field, the stands have been largely filled with passionate, knowledgeable fans. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials were positively electric. Those events were held in a stadium expanded with temporary seating to a capacity just north of 25,000. Whether Eugene can deliver a capacity crowd of 32,000 every day for nine days for the world championships is a fair question. I wouldn’t bet against it.

A Dozen Tips for New Authors Meeting with an Editor at AAR/SBL

I feel like a newbie still when it comes to working as an editor at AAR/SBL. This year will be my eighth conference in that role. There are people who have been at it a lot longer than I. I work with three of those veterans: K.C. Hanson, Rodney Clapp, and Robin Parry. These three and many other seasoned editors may tell me the following list is mostly hogwash, but I’m guessing some of these tips stand true for all editors at these conferences. The tips are aimed primarily at other newbies, that is those authors who have not run the gauntlet of book publishing yet (or very much). Some of these things I could add to my curmudgeon list.

Be prepared. Everybody’s schedule is tight. While conference goers and would-be authors fill up their schedules by hopping around from session to session, presenting papers, bumping into old friends and long-admired luminaries, we editors are meeting with currently-contracted authors, they-want-to-be authors, and we-want-them-to-be authors in back-to-back-to-back time slots. So being prepared includes planning out your schedule well enough to (1) be on time to your meeting with an editor. But it also means being prepared to (2) wait a few minutes for the editor to show up. The author meeting the editor before you may not have heeded the first tip or some of the ones to follow. You should also be prepared to (3) discuss your writing project succinctly. This tip relates to tight schedules, but it also has to do with the next tip. Leave time to (4) ask questions about the publisher. Meetings with editors are not just for them to hear about you and your writing project. You will want to learn something about the publishing company and what it is like to work with them. Does your book fit their publishing profile? Are there imprints and/or series in which your book might fit best? What is the author’s responsibilities, aside from writing the book, of course? What is the turnaround time for receiving a response to a proposal? What even constitutes a proposal? [Hint: usually, (5) the meeting itself is not a proposal submission.] What is the turnaround time from manuscript submission to book publication? There are dozens of questions you could ask the editor. You’ll want to prepare a list of those most important to you.

Keep in mind (6) you will almost certainly know a lot more about your book topic than the editor.  You’re the expert here. You are the one who has spent months or years on the subject. The editor, in the same time, has edited several dozen books on an array of topics. So while you are not necessarily presenting your project to an unknowing layperson, you may still need to “dumb” it down and tighten it up. Offer a thumbnail sketch and (7) let the editor ask questions to draw out more information if needed. These last several tips are really getting at a major tip to keep in mind: (8) these meetings are mostly a way for author and editor to feel each other out. Both of you are looking for a good fit. No definite decision will be made in the short time you have together. More times than not (9) a formal proposal should be submitted later. There are several reasons for this. For us editors at Wipf and Stock Publishers, we prefer to receive proposals electronically and in our proposal form. We have six editors with whom we need to share the proposal so we can make team decisions about what books we publish. A couple of our editors are not at the home office. Sharing a printed proposal with them is not as easy as sending an email with the proposal attached. Also, at these conferences, we have a lot of stuff to pack up and ship back. It is very easy for a proposal to get lost in the mix. I do want to be clear, however. I am not saying do not provide editors with a printed proposal or abstract or synopsis or whatever. (10) Having something to look at while meeting with authors is actually quite helpful for editors. What I am saying is that a “formal,” electronically submitted proposal may be (will be, in our case!) requested. Don’t assume the ball is out of your court if you hand some papers to the editor. And by all means, (11) do not give editors the full and printed manuscript at the meeting. I’ve mentioned before that a full manuscript submission at the proposal stage is not helpful. See #2 here. Given all the tips I’ve mentioned above, receiving a full manuscript at a large conference where we meet dozens of potential authors and pack away hundreds of books and other odds and ends is burdensome. Finally, if you are shopping around your dissertation, take some time to (12) read this and the resources therein.

If you are an editor reading this, I’d like to hear what you think about these tips and know what tips you would add to the list. If you are a potential author, I’d like to hear what tips you have for editors.

San Diego, Hurry Up!

I biked to work today in this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at [Nov 13] 8.05

This time next week I will be walking around in this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at [Nov 13] 8.06


These next seven days can’t go by fast enough!

My Cascade Highlights

Every year I get to work with some great authors and on some terrific projects. I don’t want to give short schrift to the other books I worked on this year, but I just want to highlight a few of the projects that knocked me out this time around:

Douglas E. Oakman, Jesus, Debt, and the Lord’s Prayer. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. (ISBN: 9781625647931)

Richard Horsley, Jesus and Magic: Freeing the Gospel Stories from Modern Misconceptions. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. (ISBN: 9781498201728)

James A. Sanders, The Monotheizing Process: Its Origins and Development. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. (ISBN: 9781625645272)

Everett Ferguson, The Early Church at Work and Worship, vol. 2, Catechesis, Baptism, Eschatology, and Martyrdom. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014. (ISBN: 9781608993659).

Rita Gross, Religious Diversity–What’s the Problem: Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. (ISBN: 9781620324097)

Jeff S. Anderson, The Blessing and the Curse: Trajectories in the Theology of the Old Testament. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. (ISBN: 9781620328217)

David L. Matson and K. C. Richardson, eds., One in Christ Jesus: Essays on Early Christianity and “All That Jazz,” in Honor of S. Scott Bartchy. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014. (ISBN: 9781625641748) –due out tomorrow

James H. Charlesworth, trans. The Qumran Psalter: The Thanksgiving Hymns among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (ISBN: 9781625648761) –due out tomorrow

Rethinking the tower of Babel with Paul Penley

Looking ahead to ETS in San Diego made me think of the last time it was there (2007), and a paper that I heard on the tower of Babel. It was subsequently published in the ETS journal.

Paul T, Penley, “A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1–9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty.” JETS 50.4 (2007) 693–714.

I reread the paper yesterday and was again impressed by it. The thesis is not new, but it is worth considering. In a nutshell, Penley is arguing that the Babel story is not some ahistorical primal event but a historical remembrance of cultural events that can be more or less identified. Crazy, huh! In fact, not crazy.

The story, he argues, is a summary of cultural shifts that took place over a period of two millennia! These have been compressed down into a representative story.

Penley’s thesis is that the story begins with an eastward migration in the Tigris-Euphrates basin (Gen 11:2), which matches the Ubaid period in the first half of the fourth millennium BC. This migration led to settlement in Mesopotamia and the development of urban cultures.

The tower was a ziggurat, one of the famous temples of Mesopotamia that were ritual mountains symbolically reaching down into the underworld and up to the heavens. The tower incident in Genesis 11 refers not to a single ziggurat connected with one particular city (e.g., Babylon, Ur, Uruk, Borsippa), but is representative of all the urban centers built around such artificial temple-mountains.

The story tells of the unity of the people and their ambitious building work. This links to the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the third millennium BC (c.2110–c.2000 BC). This was a period in which the land was united, great building projects were undertaken, and Sumerian was the common language. In some ways, a golden age.

However, this dynasty met its demise around 1960 BC with serious incursions into Sumer by Amorites from the Arabian desert, soon supplemented by attacks from the East by Elamites. The great unifying Sumerian culture fell, never to rise again. The unifying language was broken up too, with the introduction of new, alien languages. This, Penley sees in the climax of the biblical story with its confusion of languages, the halting of the building project, and the dispersion of the people.

This is not then a story about the origin of different languages in the world. It does not speak of “the whole earth” having one language, but of “the whole land” (eretz) having one language (11:2). This, thinks Penley, is the land of Sinar and the language is Sumerian. The focus is not global but local. Genesis is telling “a theologically charged historical summary of the rise and fall of Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia from the fourth to the third millennium BC” (p. 709).

For the author of Genesis, this was all preparation for the story of Abraham from Ur.

Interesting suggestion.


Prayer: Maintaining the Equilibrium of the World

From John Climacus, a sixth-century monk on Mount Sinai, sainted in the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic churches:

Prayer is union with God and colloquy with him.

Prayer maintains the equilibrium of the world, reconciles people to God, produces holy tears, forms a bridge over temptations, and acts as a buttress between us and affliction.

Prayer drives away the struggles of the spirit. It is the blessedness to come. It is an action that will never come to an end.

Prayer is a spring of the virtues, it is an illumination of the mind, it is a curtain to shut out despair, it is a sign of hope, it is victory over depression.

Prayer is a mirror in which we see our steps forward, it is a signpost of the route to follow, it is an unveiling of good things to come, it is a pledge of glory.

Prayer, for one who prays truly, is the soul’s tribunal, it is the Lord’s judgment on that person now, in advance of the final judgment.

Prayer is the queen of the virtues which summons us with a loud voice and says to us again: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you perfect rest! Take my yoke upon you! You will find peace for your souls and healing for your wounds! For my yoke is easy and can restore the greatest fall.”

Let your prayer be very simple. For the tax-collector and the prodigal son just one word was enough to reconcile them with God.

Meet with an Editor: AAR/SBL 2014 in San Diego


I’m busy finishing proofreads of a number of books in hopes that their authors will have time to complete the work of indexing them before they go to press and into our big shipment of books to San Diego for the joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature.

So I just want to remind readers of Running Heads and/or friends of Wipf and Stock that all five editors will be available to meet with prospective authors in San Diego. Please don’t hesitate to email me or one of my colleagues to set up a time to discuss your work. Hope to see you in San Diego soon!

New Look, New Voice, New Music

Last week we announced the launch of our new Wipf and Stock website. Responses have been positive. We hope it is a better online experience for customers, authors, and casual browsers.

As you might imagine creating a new web space for a company like ours is not easy. The project has been in the works for a good long time. This blog, however, is published using WordPress software, which comes with a standard set of templates. And it is sort of a side project for us editors. What that means is the look of the blog is pulled together with some extracurricular tinkering from one of the editors. And what that means is the blog will be pretty basic. With the new look of the website, we thought maybe the blog ought to get a makeover as well. Not much of one, mind you, but something in line with the look of the website. So I did a little tinkering yesterday and settled on the template and image you now see on the blog.

Wizard Island at Crater Lake.

Wizard Island at Crater Lake.

We have the capability to put different header images up pretty easily, so you may see different Oregon vistas from time to time.

As well as a new look to the blog, we are welcoming a new voice. Christian Amondson, previously our very capable assistant managing editor, changed positions last year to become an acquisitions editor for Cascade Books. You will find posts from Christian on the blog every now and again.

Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned new music. Two years ago alt-J’s An Awesome Wave led my list of albums of the year. They’ve come out with a new album this year, This Is All Yours. It is good and I’ve listened to it quite  bit, but it is not as accessible as their debut. Three other albums that in many ways are alt-J-like stand out:

I Forgot Where We Were by Ben Howard

Never Get Lost by Duologue

ZABA by Glass Animals

None of these albums has dethroned Sturgill Simpson‘s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, a shoo-in for my album of the year unless something surprises me in the next seven weeks. Glass Animals has come closest. There are about half a dozen songs I could highlight from their album, but I’ll leave you with the one that has the most interesting video.


“Station Eleven” and Theological Sidelights

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Knopf) is now on the best-seller lists. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories, so I was eager to check out Mandel’s tale. It’s set in the indefinite future, some fifteen years after something called the Georgia Flu has wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population. Civilization’s complex energy and transportation infrastructure has been decimated. The story centers on a troupe  of musicians and Shakespearean actors who travel the east coast of Lake Michigan, putting on plays and concerts.

Like any self-respecting post-apocalyptic novel, the story is dark. Characters often must kill or be killed. But shafts of light shine through. The troupe is dedicated to the proposition (borrowed from an old Star Trek episode) that “To survive is insufficient.” The actors and musicians are determined to bring the comforts and insights of art and culture into their audiences’ bleak world. Thus they keep alive the humanizing and elevating aspects of human creativity and invention—even while the technological wonders of the former world are now absent. Mandel suggests that even in the worst circumstances, we may still have art.

Here’s a sidelight: though Mandel sees art bringing consolation and hope into crippled civilization, she doesn’t see a similar role for religion. Instead, religion is represented by a murderous prophet who seeks his own power and self-aggrandizement. Faith is violently sectarian, something that closes a group in on itself and responds to outsiders with enmity. So Station Eleven raises questions about the viability of religion: is it inherently, at least when pushed to extremes, closed off and reactionary? Mandel doesn’t explicitly suggest answers to such questions; she simply tells her story. But the theologically minded reader is given something to ponder.


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