Mark 1: 21-28 – The 4th Sunday after Epiphany â€“ for January 29, 2012
â€œThey were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, â€˜What is thisâ€¦â€™â€ (Mark 1:27)
I entered the post office. Waiting in line, I grasped a shopping bag holding twenty-one copies of my book, A Companion for the Journey. Identical in size, weight and packaging, they were ready to mail.
For practical and humble reasons, I planned to send them to clergy friends. Companion is my book and Iâ€™m proud of the accomplishment.
Practically speaking, Iâ€™d like to sell enough to cover printing costs. With books heavy in hand, I also think ministers are a good audience to generate word-of-mouth. Buzz. You know: they’ll tell other clergy pals to spring for a copy; they’ll tell a layperson or ten that Companion (by that swell fellow Larry) is worth a read. However, Iâ€™ll readily admit self-published also means selfishly-published. Itâ€™s not only about selling enough to keep a bottom line in black ink. Please read it and like it (as we declare in the gospel according to Facebook). Ah, ego.
Now, about humble as my other reason . . .
â€œSir, can I help you?â€
Oops! Itâ€™s my turn at the post office window. I stepped forward, hoisted the bag of nouns and verbs onto the counter space papered with official USPS notes to customers. I stacked the ready-to-mail packages of vanity in front of the clerk.
â€œSame size, same weight,â€ I said. Since Iâ€™d used my handy-dandy Martha Stewart kitchen scale at home, I added, â€œTheyâ€™re each about seven point seven ounces.â€ Didnâ€™t I sound like an expert? (Or a babbling fool?)
â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ she replied after weighing a book. The clerk consulted a list taped to the counter and then gazed at me. â€œAre they all domestic?â€
I paused. I didnâ€™t hear domestic. Instead, had she wondered if they were . . . domesticated? Maybe itâ€™s because Iâ€™m anxious about sending books to friends. Maybe itâ€™s because my mind continuously plays weird word games. Regardless, I asked, â€œWhat do you mean by domes–â€
â€œDelivered in the United States. Not overseas. Domestic, not foreign.â€
Ah! She sought to determine correct costs.
A nervous writer, I worry if my words are too domesticated. Tame. Limp. Cautious. Safe.
I was influenced by something else, something read in the last week. Early in Markâ€™s Gospel, after Jesus taught at a synagogue, his listenersâ€”his peers, colleagues, fellow Jews, neighborsâ€”admitted to amazement. Why? He spoke with authority. In Mark 1:23-26 Jesus also simply and dramatically released a man from an â€œunclean spirit.â€ Authoritative teaching! Authoritative healing! Markâ€™s author, with typical austerity, claimed, â€œAt once his fame begin to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.â€
Jesus received what all authorsâ€™ desire: good word-of-mouth. Not just authors. Musicians, restaurateurs, filmmakers . . . anyone and everyone longing to woo an audience.
Why did that synagogue crowd react they way they did? Well, there was this . . . Jesusâ€™ words were not limp, tame, cautious or safe.
And yet mostly I am cautious. Iâ€™m not alone.
Many Hollywood producers preview an almost-finished film with test groups. Will viewers â€œlikeâ€ the film? In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Glenn Close mused about 1987â€™s Fatal Attraction. Because test groups wanted revenge, Fatalâ€™s ending was rejiggered. Alex Forrest, Closeâ€™s iconic â€œspurned woman,â€ got her comeuppance. Wasnâ€™t her demise safer for investors and the marketing campaign?
Whoâ€™s the next Katy Perry/Lady Gaga? Even though music professionals know imitators rarely succeed like the original artists, they lust to boost sales with â€œmore of the same.â€ In the mash-up of books to films, how many vampires are too many vampires? Book experts shout, â€œNo more bloodsuckers!â€ Except the market thrives. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter creeps into a theater near you this June. Ax-swinging Honest Abe will lunge from the bestseller lists to your nearby multiplex, â€˜cuz vampires sell . . . right?
Once, preaching regularly, how much did I want to â€œpleaseâ€ my congregation? Did I want people to calmly shake my hand after worship and mumble, â€œGood sermon, Pastor?â€ Or did I want them to stomp out, eager to visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? Truly, I always desired righteous action . . . as long as no one was overly upset.
I spend more time writing now: no fretting over a congregationâ€™s reaction. But what about my once and future book buyers? No worries, dear reader, I wonâ€™t toss in a vampire/werewolf/Harry Potter knockoff in order to pander to the masses. Please, if only writing or speaking with authority was as easy as avoiding brooding bloodsuckers or boy wizards. Sigh.
â€œAre they all domesticated?â€ I mistakenly heard the postal clerk ask.
If one sentence I writeâ€”or one paragraph or novelâ€”ever wields a hint of Gospel-like authority, itâ€™s because Iâ€™ll reveal humility. I believe thatâ€™s an essential aspect of what Jesus demonstrated in a long-ago synagogue. Human. Humble. Humility. From the Latin, humilus (low), humus (earth). Jesusâ€™ authority was rooted in humility. Serving the other, not self. Nourishing the soul, not a bottom line.
His goal, with apologies to Facebook, was not to be liked, but to be honest from first word to last nail.