@geekpreacher in all fairness I said i wasn't sure who was the asshole, me or him #prettysureitsmeToward the end of my podcast last week with Luke Norsworthy Luke took great delight in reminding me that Nadia Bolz-Weber called me an asshole during her podcast with Luke. If you heard that you might have wondered what that was all about.
— Nadia Bolz-Weber (@Sarcasticluther) October 16, 2014
In her podcast with Luke Nadia was reflecting on the issue of "Christian celebrity." Nadia recounted how she was at a speaking engagement and was feeling exhausted and needing some time away from the people where she was speaking. And during this moment of refreshment she opened an email from a friend sharing my post on Christian celebrity culture. In that post I shared a "test" about how to spot a Christian celebrity. Specifically, where are we to find the speaker before or after his or her talk? Does he or she take the time and effort to be with people? Or does he or she go off by himself or herself? Nadia, at the moment taking time away to refresh herself, read that "test," felt a bit guilty, and mentally called me an asshole for making her feel that way.
So, obviously, she wasn't mad at me as a human being and, in fact, noted that her reaction was more about her own feelings than anything about me.
Still, if you listen to Nadia's podcast with Luke she does go on to give my "test" some good pushback, pointing out how what she was doing in that instance--getting some time away--was important and a healthy form of self-care.
And I'd agree. And I'd also agree with the pushback that Zach Lind, drummer of Jimmy Eat World, gave to that same post in his podcast with Luke. As well as with the pushback Rachel Held Evans gave in the comments of my post.
Looking back now, I would have written my post differently. The "test" I gave in the post--Does the speaker make himself or herself available before and/or after his or her talk?--is a bit too narrow and limited. It doesn't apply to the music concert situation that Zach talks about. It doesn't take into account Rachel's point that many of us can "work a crowd" to create the illusion of being "accessible." And it doesn't take into account Nadia's comments about legitimate times and spaces for self-care and that she can't be everyone's pastor.
So I think the "test" I gave in that original post is limited in some pretty significant ways. But I think the heart of the post still holds up pretty well.
Basically, I made two points.
First, I argued that there is a difference between popularity and celebrity. Just because you're in the spotlight or there is a long line at your book signing table doesn't make you a celebrity. All that stuff just makes you popular.
So what makes a celebrity? That was my second point. Celebrity, as I described it, was creating distance, generally elite distance between yourself and others. When people chaff at "Christian celebrity culture" I think that's what they are chaffing at. It's not the big crowds or the long lines at book signings that's the problem. It's the insiderism, the cool, influential people hanging out together with the attendees--the normal, regular folk--being asked to stand behind the ropes to observe the red carpet proceedings.
You can see how, if this is my definition of "Christian celebrity," why I came up with the "test" that I did. If Christian celebrity is the creation of elite distance between influential insiders and everyone else then this can be combated by the breaking down those barriers.
Basically, we combat celebrity by cultivating practices of hospitality, with popular people welcoming and making room for others.
To be sure, we need to be attentive to issues of venue, crowd size and self-care. Still, I think the general point holds: we battle celebrity with hospitality.
And I think another point I made holds as well. In my original "test" I also mentioned speakers or performers being willing to listen to other speakers and performers. And again, issues of venue and context matter here, this just might not be workable, but I do think the general point holds.
Specifically, what I was gesturing at with this "test"--listening to others--was humility, a keen interest in learning from others. Personally, I think listening to others is the quintessential sign of humility. In fact, a willingness to listen to others may be the quintessential act of hospitality as well.
In short, a speaker only interested in talking and not listening is, well, an egoist, a self-absorbed celebrity. Only their thoughts, words and ideas matter. Again, listening to others at an event just might not be feasible for many speakers, but the issue here is a willingness and desire to listen. The craving to sit in the audience with rapt attention along with everyone else. And a feeling of regret that if, for whatever reason, you can't sit in the audience that you would have missed something special, precious and potentially life-changing.
A recent example of this.
Last week I was at Streaming with Greg Boyd. I was sitting by Greg while Sara Barton was giving her presentation. Greg had a legal pad out and was filling it with notes about what Sara was teaching. Greg was the headliner at this conference, the "celebrity," the author with all the books on the book table, the speaker people traveled many miles to listen to. But at Streaming Greg didn't act like a celebrity.
As Sara was teaching Greg was sitting there, like the rest of us, listening and taking notes.