Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know, or to be any thing
-Isaac Pennington full quote
As Quakers, we make this fundamental, unshakeable distinction: God’s will. My will.
If we are to do the will of God, we must first let go of our own striving, our own willing. And if we are to give over our own willing, how could it ever be in good order for us to reach out for something as vain and creaturely as celebrity?
The Allure of Attention
I am familiar with the allure of acting out my void in public. I want the attention. I want to be seen. I want to be known. I am afraid of being passed over.
Everything in this culture tells us that celebrity is a great way to do that. Celebrities say that they hate the attention of the tabloids, of the public. That its invasive. But do we really believe them?
They are lifted up. And admired. And safe. In a way that most of us are not.
In a culture that teaches us to strive to be happy, isn’t that the ultimate?
Love and Social Media
Social media gives us unprecedented access to this kind of attention.
So we’re skeptical as Friends, when we see blatant self-promotion. We’re skeptical when someone says, “go read my blog!” “Check out my website!” “Put me in the spotlight!” And we’re skeptical for a good reason. We see the emphasis of these phrases as being on “me“, “my“.
But this striving for perfect humbleness can easily become dogmatic. We can come to reject anything that looks remotely like attention-seeking, and we miss God’s message in it.
After Enlightenment: Chop Wood, Carry Water
I made my own mistakes with dogmatic rejection of self-promotion, when my own process came unexpectedly full circle in 2006.
In 2004 I laid down my music career, which I saw as primarily self-serving. I released one last secular album and put away my guitar.
Two years later, when I felt called back into engagement with music, but this time as a ministry, I was surprised to find that the tools for lifting up a ministry looked surprisingly similar to those of seeking personal fame. If anything, it felt like God was calling me to involve myself in more so-called “self-promotional” behavior. I was now the steward of this art. If I didn’t lift it up, no one else would.
When I first received the call to do this work, my core values were offended. Hadn’t I already rejected the part of myself that strives for public attention? I was so attached to my humbleness that I refused to “self-promote”. Ironically, it was my pride and self-will that got in the way of my calling to publicize this ministry.
It wasn’t until I was so certain that this was part of good stewardship of this message – until it was painfully clear that this was my job and no one else’s – that I was able to move into an experiment with “self-promotion”… as something that God could call me to.
This was a clear part of the calling for me. That God wanted people to see it. That God wanted people to hear it and experience what God had created through me. That it was egotistical and selfish of me to just create it, and not do the good work of shouting it out from the rooftops.
So I started shouting. I got onto Twitter and made a Facebook page and did photoshoots. Most of the time I was doing these things, I felt embarrassed, vain, and silly. I often had to remind myself that it wasn’t about me, regardless of appearance.
Looking back, my experiment with self-promotion has paid off. Thousands of people from all over the world have heard this music through my YouTube channel, my bandcamp page, and my Facebook page. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t swallowed my pride and self-promoted. I feel it has been the faithful thing to do.
How to Be Humble (in the Digital Age)
In the age of social media, I would argue that we are all self-promoters. We are all choosing what story to publicize about ourselves (and what stories not to).
In this new environment of constant self-publicizing, I would suggest that the question has moved from if we are self-promoting to why we are self-promoting. Social media can just as easily be a megaphone for spirit-led ministry as it can for our creaturely-attention seeking. What is it that you are publicizing? What do you plan to do with the attention?
I am lucky enough to be out of the spotlight, for the moment. My new job of directing the QuakerSpeak YouTube Channel allows me to shine that spotlight on the ministries of other Friends, and mostly to remain safely behind the curtain.
But I still post on Facebook and Twitter. I still have a YouTube channel. And I still ask myself, every time I post:
- What is my primary motivation in posting this?
- Is it faithful for me to post this?
- Is this post from me or is from God?
- What do I plan to do with the attention generated by this post? Will I enjoy it for myself or allow it to be a service to doing God’s work in the world?
And once I feel clear on those questions, I ask these:
- Am I holding back because I’m worried about how I will be perceived?
- How can I make this bolder and more accessible? How can I reach more people with this message that has come from God?