This book thing is starting to heat up. In the next few months, I’ll have some obligations, including radio interviews, speaking engagements, conferences, stuff like that. From a marketing standpoint, there will be website development, an email campaign, book give-away, and generally a certain amount of hype. It will be my fifteen minutes of fame.
All of these things are, of course, created to make sure people know that I am all that and a bag of chips.
I met with my Senior Pastor, Kent Carlson, about this recently, and we had a pointed discussion about this weird thing called fame. And his words have been gnawing at my brain ever since.
One of his main issues is what fame does to the soul. We are all susceptible to the lies of fame, to believe things about ourselves that are inflated and unreal. When we place ourselves around people who value our opinions—whether we deserve it or not—it is very human (i.e., sinful) to start liking the sound of one’s voice a little to much. We justify this in a variety of ways—by arguing that it is a necessary part of marketing, by attaching our identity to the success, or maybe by convincing ourselves that one’s fame is a part of furthering the cause of Christ. We may even create elaborate internal mechanisms of false humility—in the name of God of course—to justify them. There is a false artificiality to celebrity.
“Tell me,” Kent asked. “How much have you been telling people about your book? And when you tell them about it, how does it make you feel?”
Up until this point, I have been trying to get the word out to anyone who might benefit from the book. I do feel passionate about the concepts that the book has, and it is my hope that they become thought viruses which infect the Christ-following artist. It is the second question that Kent asked me that—upon later reflection—stung a little.
Truth be told, pride is my favorite sin (next to being an Oakland Raiders fan). And when I say “pride” I don’t mean the puffing out one’s chest and singing my own praises pride, the Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” pride. I mean the quiet pride that attaches identity to achievement, the pride of false identity and image management, the pride that prowls in subterranean parts of your heart and refuses to give God control. When you are nakedly honest with yourself, you must admit this to be true of yourself too.
Yes, it makes me feel good to tell people about the book. Yes, I know there is a very healthy and God-given part to that, like Eric Liddell in “Chariots of Fire,” for I have felt God’s smile upon me in many ways through this writing journey. But there is also the insidious part, the part I can’t even by definition measure, the part that is more like the sallow hand-wringing Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” who really does believe I am all that and a bag of chips.
The point is this. Having a book published doesn’t make me suddenly more wise or more spiritual or more holy. I am still the same quirky, fallible guy I have always been. And God is ultimately more concerned about my spiritual formation, my growing in Christlikeness, than He is about the success or failure of the book. Would it not be ironic if this artificiality of celebrity, the acclaim and the criticism—real or perceived—makes my heart smaller for God?
It would be more than ironic. It would be wrong.
Now I know that there are readers to my blog that have achieved some modicum of celebrity in your own circles. There are artists, musicians, writers, and painters among you. I want to challenge you to ask yourself the very same questions my pastor asked of me. And really be honest about it. I can’t tell you how tired I am of seeing Facebook requests for prayer that are really just thinly-veiled bragging. So I know that you all have these issues.
I can’t claim to have this figured out yet. But ultimately I must learn how to promote the ideas of the book while not being concerned about the popularity or sales of the book. Once again, I restate my spiritual formation mantra: To be passionate and committed to a thing, while not attaching my identity to the results of that thing. And make no mistake—I am very passionate and committed to the ideas and thoughts outlined in the book. But ultimately I know that my identity is in Christ—the author of the book that is me—and ultimately it is He who I must please.