Idealistic Great Expectations? (by Becky Garrison)
Here’s a question I posed on Facebook after blogger John Shore reminded me that when talking up my books, I have two choices as an author:
1. Kiss up and act nicey-nicey so I can get myself strategically positioned on the Christian author/speaker circuit as the latest holy hipster type dealie or
2. Say what I feel needs to be said but then accept the fact that I will be shut out out of many Christian circles, a move that does impact one’s ability on a short-term basis to sell one’s stuff.
Is it too idealistic to expect people not to morph into religious rock stars and become partisan progressives once they start landing book deals and get on the Xn author/speaking circuit? Am I expecting too much from those I thought were friends on the journey in deconstructing the religious right and talking about new ways of being church? Or is it human nature to look after oneself first and foremost?
This sparked a lively discussion on Facebook, and I thought I’d share with with TheOOZE readers a summary of the reflections and subsequent emails I received regarding question.
From Greg Garrett, Professor of English at Baylor and author of The Other Jesus:
Does this come back to the branding conversation we’ve been having? The very word suggests a trademark that has to be upheld and looked after. And that requires face time and figuratively dominating the news cycles. I love writing, but I’m starting to think that what I really want is to go home and tend my little garden.”
In an email exchange, James Burns expounded on this branding biz that seemed to be the dominant theme of this discussion:
The watchword of the day is “brand.” Everyone has been told they need to develop and promote one as soon as possible. Now that were all so interconnected everyone is supposed to be their own product. This approach strikes at the core of both humanity and Christianity so it’s not surprising that it’s creating conflict. Christianity was never meant to be a brand nor were its adherents supposed to think of themselves as such. However, a life of service and low income doesn’t work in the modern day’s demands and measures of success. So, you have people who call themselves Christians, but are really all about themselves. In other words, putting themselves before the message, and their own attempts to segment the market before their call to prophecy. If all of the Christian books out right now were authored anonymously, would they still have a compelling message? Would people find sufficient value to read them without the social patterning to read the latest from their favorite author? If not, then the Christian book market has failed and needs to be reconsidered. There needs to be real value, real challenge in the messages that God gives to the world today. Christian books (and speakers) should be part of that.
Paul Fitzgerald from Hearts Connexion sent this email reply:
Whenever our church world shifted to categorize celebrity as the highest honor status and servanthood as the lower honor status, we all lost too much. It distorts the nature of the truly “heroic” journey into a “will to power” where suffering is a means to celebrity, fame and fortune. Pity the person who suffers who can’t capitalize on it to at least get their 15 minutes of fame on Jerry Springer or some reality show. It is corrupting to the extent that we pressure genuine servants into letting themselves become celebrities. So, yes you are probably too idealistic for the religious-industrial complex and political systems in which we live. But then, that was the accusation that Jesus suffered as well.
I offer my reflections on the dangers of branding oneself in an excerpt from Jesus Died for This? featured in Killing the Buddha. As I’ve reported on TheOOZE and elsewhere, I’m sensing a rejection of the religious rock star show and a return to a more authentic way of communicating. So I decided it’s best to travel as a pilgrim in search of where the spirit might be speaking where as the storyteller, the stories become the focal point of the star instead of my spiritual shtick.
In addition to surrounding myself with a people who have no problem telling me when I start to stink spiritually speaking, I deliberately chose an agent who focuses on me as an author instead of some Christian commodity that he can brand and repackage until the trend du jour that makes select authors a red hot commodity becomes yesterday’s news. Also, I am exploring a project with Caleb Seeling/Samizdat because all signs indicate that the future of publishing will combine elements of traditional and new forms of publishing including hybrid and self-publishing options.)
Still books remain one of the tools that we used to communicate though with the advent of new technologies, we can also chat via vblogs, podcasts, webinars and a host of tools that are now within the reach of even a non-techie like myslf. So, how would those of you who read TheOOZE like to see authors like myself get the conversation going so that we can be true partners in dialogue?
Becky Garrison‘s most recent books include “Jesus Died for This?” and “Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.” Her additional writing credits include work for The Guardian, Washington Post’s On Faith Column, Patheos, Killing the Buddha, Geez, The Revealer, and Religion Dispatches. Follow Becky on Twitter or log on to her website at www.beckygarrison.com.