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The Temptations of Publicity

December 29, 2013

Fame makes a man take things over.
Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow.
Fame puts you there where things are hollow. Fame.

Credit: David Bowie

I have said that Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is his play on anger. But taken together, all of the Roman plays–Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus–can be said to consider the subject of fame and power. Let’s observe that the power of fame ends badly for all of the protagonists. 

I doubt that I approach anything like fame, but as of this writing, that interview I’ve done for the Red Letter Christians blog has been shared over 1200 times. Though there will be a new person featured next week, I doubt the interview has run its course yet. I have two upcoming speaking engagements, a possibility of at least three others yet to be scheduled, and the prison where I volunteer has sent out its own press release to several large media outlets in Indiana. 

When I was asked to be an interview subject for Red Letter Christians, I had two reservations. First, we may observe the well-known people who have already been interviewed for that page: John Perkins, Brenda Salter McNeil, Jim Wallis, Rachel Held Evans. Shane Claiborne is a regular contributor. I don’t think of myself as commanding the public attention that they have. However, I got over this reluctance when I realized that I did not know anything about a number of the people who have been interviewed for the same weekly feature. I do hope that no one would suppose that I think I’ve done anything to compare to the work of John Perkins. 

Second, there is the title of the page itself, the “Red Carpet.” As I’ve looked through the blog, I find it generally careful about language. But a red carpet is culturally associated with the establishment of fame (or, the fame establishment), the self-acclamation of awards shows. Here’s the purpose the site gives for the Red Carpet page: 

[W]e want to introduce you to 21st century Red Letter practitioners who are living out the words and witness of Jesus. Our hope is that this series of interviews will encourage, inspire and equip you to live as faithful citizens of the kingdom he ushered in.

A description like that seems to invite a person into intense scrutiny–“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). It is more than I can claim for myself that I am “living out the words and witness of Jesus.” 

However, it is true that I am motivated by Matthew 25:39-40:

‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I think always of the unusual opportunities I have had to visit and work with prison inmates, and I hope to do so for years to come. Therefore, if what I am doing does indeed help to inspire and equip others to get involved in the lives of inmates, then I want to share my work. 

Publicity is not a bad thing of itself, but I am susceptible to the temptations of publicity. A writer wants to be read. An activist wants her activism to succeed. I like being “liked.” And the minute that that becomes the point, I have become like the Pharisee, who prays in public about how happy he is that he is not like the publican–I will have already had more reward than I deserve. 

So next week, I will return to Pendleton, ready to work with about twelve men on the second half of act one of Coriolanus. We will probably talk some more about masculinity, a subject we began with last week. I will watch several men perform a part of scene ten and we will discuss it. And all of this will be the point. If ever my time with the inmates becomes secondary to the publicity, then you should help me to keep my focus on what is important. 

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One Comment
  1. Paul J. Smith permalink

    Thank you Jack – well said and applicable to me.

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