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All This Late Night Talkin'
Some recent conversations about the book + how success generates failure
First of all, I apologize once again for the slow rate of newsletters lately. If you missed some of the news in my last post, the summary version is: I’m enrolled at seminary, the Digital Liturgies book has launched, and with normal work responsibilities and family life, things are quite full right now! I do sincerely hope to get this space back on track.
There’s been a lot of really wonderful opportunities to talk about Digital Liturgies. Here’s a brief rundown:
I joined Paul Tripp on his Connecting podcast to talk life, testimony, technology, and the challenges facing Christians these days. This was a wonderful, in-person conversation and I’m so grateful for Paul’s kind invitation.
I talked with my good friend Shane Morris on Upstream about the major ideas of the book. Shane is one of the most talented interviewers I know of; his questions are consistently thought provoking and excellent.
Mark Ward at Logos Live invited me on to talk about the book. He asks some very tough (in a good way) questions and tries to dig down deeper into the themes I write about, including how writing a book like this challenged my own habits.
Jen Oshman was a great conversation partner. I really appreciated our conversation’s emphasis on the spiritual dynamics of constant connectivity. It’s easy for this topic to become theoretical, but it’s worth keeping the day to day effects in mind.
There have been some more podcasts, which I’ll try to share in a future post
For those who are interested in book publishing, I thought it might be helpful to share some perspective as a first-time author in the first month of release + promotion. Basically, this process has been very fun and rewarding, but also it’s a ton of work. Some of this has been helpfully spread out for me; I had some significant traveling engagements earlier this year, and I’m very grateful that not everything was concentrated in the last two months (I doubt I would have been able to do it all!). The people who have shown interest in me and the book are not something I want to take for granted. I’ve been humbled and very, very thankful for all the speaking opportunities, interview requests, kind posts, encouraging texts, and everything. It’s meant the world.
To be quite honest, I don’t think the reaction to the book has been quite as intense as I had hoped. As far as I can tell there doesn’t seem to be much interest in it from magazines/periodicals (TGC’s review is the only one I am aware of at this point). The book doesn’t really seem to have made much of a splash in the broader evangelical community. Granted, it’s almost impossible to tell about these things, but the buzz does seem to have died down a little already.
I mention this not to be self-pitying, but because I know aspiring authors look at publishing as a glamorous, almost life-transforming event. I know that, because that is definitely how I felt before I started working in the publishing industry, and I think that’s even a little bit how I felt going into promotion for Digital Liturgies. And of course, there is a kind of grandiose puffing that happens anytime a publisher is trying to promote your work. But the initial highs wear off really quickly, and before you know it, you’re already back to sitting at home, wondering why not more people or publications or institutions are calling.
This has been a reinforcement of something I knew but probably didn’t know well enough: Success will generate failure. What I mean is that the more “success” you have, in your vocation, your finances, even your relationships, the more you will desire higher levels of success and be acutely aware that you haven’t reached them. Working class people often wonder aloud why billionaires fight tooth and claw for a couple extra million, or why world-famous celebrities and athletes talk about being depressed. This is a big part of the reason. Success is not filling. It’s less like a steak and more like a potato chip: the more you have, the more you want, and “enough” doesn’t really exist anymore.
Everyone has to learn this at an experiential level. But it’s true at a larger view too. There is always an impulse within the evangelicalism in which I’ve lived to try to baptize the pursuit of success, even as it pertains to ministry. What do you think “seeker-sensitive” strategies are, if not a theologizing of success? Right now, the success that many evangelical spaces are looking for is cultural and political success. We want to win. We want to remove certain people from power, ostracize certain practices from society, and become a force to reckon with in the public square. And there has been an enormous amount of theological and biblical gymnastics performed in the name of making success an unalloyed good for Christians to chase down.
The trick here is not that Christians should dislike success or pursue failure. I’m not going to tell you that publishing a book is a waste of time and that you won’t feel extremely gratified by it. I’m not going to pretend that the last few months haven’t been a professional and even personal highlight, or that the feelings of having put something out there that I’m proud of and that other people may find helpful are not wonderful. They are. Success is not an evil thing. That’s why so much of the wisdom literature is predicated on the idea that human beings want to be successful, and that Yahweh and his law are, in a real sense, the blueprint to the most profound kind of success.
But success generates failure. If you go into a pursuit, whether it’s publishing a book or taking back America for Christ, and you tell yourself that success is a singular thing that will validate you and your existence at a meaningful level, you will be crushed. You will be crushed by the people who don’t show up, the institutions that don’t call, the superlatives that aren’t said. You will be crushed by the elections that shock you, the compromises among your own tribe that expose you, and the dilemmas between telling the truth and winning a skirmish that will pinch you. For every battle you win, there will be a keen awareness of a battle you haven’t won, and a feeling of worthlessness to accompany it. Every mountaintop you scale you will give you a view of another mountain you haven’t. That’s just how it works. And that’s precisely why the Bible’s posture of skepticism toward wealth and power exist. It’s not those things make us sinners. It’s that they make us more willing to sin to get more of them.
That’s worth thinking about.