In one way, I don’t know how we get around it. How do you tell stories about yourself without elevating yourself as the center of the story?
It’s the cornerstone of the Christian testimony. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a story in Sunday School or from the guest pulpit, that is really a veiled account about how wonderful and how charming the speaker is. If you ask them about it they’re visibly aghast because their putative purpose is to glorify G. But, instead, and by focusing on ourselves, we glorify us. This is natural for us writers. Somewhere – I can’t say where or when – I came across writing advice to ‘ be completely fascinated with yourself’ and I think it’s spot on. I don’t know that many people compared to the world’s historical population, and I’m the best model I have for anyone who meets my demographic. It’s only natural that I weigh things and see things through my own eye and experience. But, when I tell a story about myself, it’s easy to bump up against the Christian truism that we don’t tell stories about ourselves – share we call it, ugh – that elevate us but we recognize that we are lowly sinners in need of a savior.
The answer lies somewhere in between, in perspective. For me, writing for myself, it’s only normal to see experience through my own eye. It’s easy to measure things from my sole perspective. I am the center of my universe, after all. But when I stop, when I look through history and into the night sky, I recognize my smallness, my innate and natural inability to know. I recognize that, even in my own area of study, that I’ve rarely tested the axioms in my field to prove their veracity. It’s a kind of Ponzi scheme that works. As long as the work gives up results we expect, we all agree it’s good. But when a curve is thrown, when we find that amazing rabbit in the Cambrian, well, the whole shebang is questioned.
So, there is a healthy tension here when you put yourself on the stage. You are a thing of wonder, true, but you have to recognize too, that you are a bacteria in the intestine of fish at the depths of the ocean, when compared to history or to G. Or, at least, you can aspire to be that bacteria.
I listened to a Beth Moore podcast this week, and this woman, who has thousands who hang on her every word, stressed how careful she has to be about putting herself first in her stories. About being prideful. It’s clear that she loves her ministry, her family, and what she does, but those loves can all lead to pride, can all feed a natural human urge to rise above others. Leaders, she says, and I’ll add anyone who is in front of people talking about themselves, have to be careful not to elevate themselves. It waters down the message and anything but you.
As in many things, we need to be careful of doing the opposite, too. A quick look through anyone’s Facebook homepage will bring up one or two friends who post about how they’ve grown old, how they’re running ragged after the kids, or how the wife is slow with the beer during college football. Friend’s responses are just as goofy:
“What? You’re beautiful! Any man would be proud to be with you!”
“Don’t worry. You’re a fantastic dad. The kids will see that one day.”
“Thanks so much for saying what we all think. YOU ARE SO BRAVE!”
Maybe this is mean spirited. Maybe this isn’t showing love or compassion, but I can’t help thinking, “Really? Do you really need 47 friends to tell you how gorgeous you are? Do you really need a hundred people to tell you what a great dad you are?” Is it silly to wonder about such weird needs to have friends confirm what you already think about yourself so you can bask in it like a warm shower?
I think of Saint Paul here who did something similar, talking about his short comings and struggles. The gospel writers did the same thing when they wrote about Jesus struggling with circumstances. Paul said it plainly: “I think with joy of my short comings,” but I doubt if he would have posted it on Facebook.
“Paul! You’re beautiful. I know people are mad at you now but just think how future generations will revere you!”
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