I’m not sure how to explain what I’ve been wrestling with today. It started when I went to Jon Acuff’s blog and saw that he got 163 comments for a post where he talks about loving to hear people pray with a British accent. There’s definitely some envy going on (I’ve never had more than a handful of comments on any of my posts), but I really think something else is getting under my skin. It’s similar to the cringe I felt later this afternoon when I heard my Christian radio station play a single mom’s emotional confession that her radio station is her only friend as part of their self-promotional jingle. It’s astonishing how matter-of-factly Christian radio DJ’s can remix their listeners’ pathos into another reason to congratulate themselves with an “aw shucks” kind of chuckle. Does that really make nobody else queasy? It seems like there are two kinds of Christian celebrities: the Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson variety who say really scary, hateful things that make people run from Jesus and then the cute and funny Christians who turn every spiritual issue into ditsy banter. But when did banter become a spiritual gift?
I’m tired of the “family name games.” I’m tired of the cutesy “call-in” questions about favorite moments with your pet. I’m tired of self-help and self-promotion being the same pyramid scheme that somehow gets the adjective “Christian” attached to it (if you buy my book about how to “live out your dream,” then you too can sell millions of books telling other people how to sell millions of book to others who want to sell millions of books). I honestly don’t want to have anything to do with the Christianity that is successful and popular and cute and funny. Part of my problem is I suck at banter. 90% of my stress in writing sermons is the pressure to come up with something funny to say. I’ve never been good at what the cool kids do so naturally.
My second year in college, I went through a brief phase of attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. There were definitely some true Christians in that group (and there were lots of babes!), but when I went on their beach week trip, I realized that I was never going to fit in with them because they were exactly like the popular kids who rejected me in high school. Have you ever hung out with people who live in a sort of banter-giggle-land that can keep them going for hours but then when you try to jump into their conversation, the laughter stops? That’s what FCA beach week was like for me in 1998. I don’t think the good-looking, charming, successful Christians I’ve never fit in with were actually trying to exclude me; I’ve just always managed to create awkward unfunniness in their presence.
When I went through training to be a Young Life leader in college, we were actually instructed to target the popular kids each time we visited local high schools under the assumption that if we got the leaders, their groupies would follow (This was why I didn’t become a Young Life leader). When I had done Young Life in high school, I had a leader named Phil Weeber who decided to waste his time on a low-yield relationship with a loser like me. My friend Brian and I would go to Phil’s house and shoot potato guns with him because nobody else in our high school really wanted to hang out with us. If Phil had budgeted his time more strategically by striking up friendships with people who actually had a following, he probably would have won more “personal decisions” for Jesus on his scorecard, but he did get at least one in Windy Gap, NC, in July 1994. I could take you to the exact spot on the sidewalk in between two cabins where Phil prayed Jesus into my heart that night. I wonder if he ever got rebuked by his higher-ups for investing too much energy into nerdy kids like me with so little social dividend.
In any case, the fact that I’ve never been cute or popular is probably why I have a hard time not being offended that a writer can build a career off of being cute and call that “stuff Christians like.” I don’t want to think that real Christians could ever like anything that’s referred to as “stuff.” Aren’t we supposed to have a little more gravitas than that? Is what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians really something you can boil down to “having a dream job”? Is it really that shallow and utterly identical to the world’s “Everyone is special” metanarrative?
In any case, one of Jon Acuff’s recent blog posts anticipates my jealous rant: “Love your dream too much to hate somebody else’s.” He writes that people who hate on his books usually do so because they’ve never succeeded at writing books themselves. I guess that calls me out. Except that I hope I can do better than write a really popular book and become a Christian celebrity. My dream is to be part of how God cultivates a Christian culture where people value each other enough in their immediate communities that celebrities become irrelevant and people like me repent of ever wanting to be famous. At the same time, if I had 74,184 twitter followers, I really hope I would be saying things of greater theological urgency than musing about my love for British accents. I can’t understand Christian banter because there’s too much at stake. But Lord, please help me get over my envy.