“I just want to do something that matters” (authenticity in an age of clickbait)

“I just want to do something that matters” (authenticity in an age of clickbait) June 17, 2015

"Trophies," Terren in Virginia, Flickr C.C.
“Trophies,” Terren in Virginia, Flickr C.C.

On the last day of our United Methodist Louisiana annual conference this year, a young teenage prodigy belted out a song whose main chorus line was “I just want to do something that matters.” The song didn’t mention anything about Jesus; it was more of a generic Disney anthem. The lyrics included references to “writing a symphony” and “fighting for world peace.” She sang it right after a presentation from young adults in the conference. I guess the idea was to capture the spirit of young adulthood. The song really bothered me because I relate to its ethos quite strongly and I don’t think that’s entirely healthy or Christian. It depends on what you mean by “something that matters.”

Somehow I grew up with the idea that I’m supposed to do something significant with my life. I’ve often wondered how many other middle-class white boys from my generation were given this burden. I’m not sure exactly how I got it. All the adults in my life growing up meant well whenever they encouraged me. I remember being told things like you’re so smart; you can be anything you want to be. I’m not sure why that translated into a generic need to be important. I’ve often wondered how many other people feel the same way. It sure seems like they do in our social media world where everyone is fighting to be “heard.” A writer’s primary vocation in our age is not to tell the truth or create something beautiful, but to build a strong brand. Writers aren’t even writers anymore. They’re “content-creators” (a phrase which makes me want to vomit).

Recently I discovered the Enneagram, an ancient model of human personality that divides humanity into nine types. When I read the descriptions for type 4, the individualist/romantic, it fits me quite well. The greatest fear of a type 4 is to have a completely generic, boring life. I haven’t gone too far in my journey of understanding the Enneagram nor am I convinced that the Enneagram should entirely replace Jesus as my personal lord and savior. But I am trying to figure out how to live out my identity in a more life-giving way.

There are really two ways of understanding what it means to “do something that matters.” On the one hand, it can describe a need to do something, anything, that will establish my importance and earn me a Wikipedia article. That’s the attitude that I loathe within myself. I envy people I’ve met who seem to just live. People who don’t have to take selfies for their vacations to “count.” People who actually have friends and not just “connections.” I’ve got friends but I suck at keeping up with them. I’m too busy trying to do “something that matters.”

There’s a different way to understanding this phrase. And it describes a goal that seems more legitimate: doing something that matters instead of just something that gets likes and shares. What matters is not creating “content” that builds a brand but listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice and living out the dreams that I’m given as a result. I’m not sure which dreams I’ll get to live out. Will I ever find a ministry setting that will support me building a rave church where people will experience liberation and healing through hearing the good news of Jesus Christ as they dance away their chains? Will my wife and I ever build the retreat center we’ve both hungered for since before we were married that will somehow also be a community for adults who haven’t been able to make it on their own?

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to live out one of my dreams. Westminster John Knox Press has accepted my book proposal for Mercy Not Sacrifice and Other Antidotes for Toxic Christianity. The title at this point is tentative. We’re hoping to release it in May or June of 2016. This book is the reason I started the blog and nearly sold my soul to click-bait. To build enough of a platform that my book proposal would be taken seriously. Now that I’ve achieved my goal, it’s very tempting to shut down the blog. But of course I can’t because I need to build a buzz until I release the book and for several months afterward.
The nice thing about writing a book is that I will get to write something that matters. There is no pressure to make my chapters viralize. I don’t have to frantically race to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. I can pray, immerse myself in my personal library, and write whatever God gives me. This is the kind of writing I’ve been longing to do. What makes it matter is that it’s what God has told me to write through seven years of prayer and spiritual wrestling. That probably comes across too self-assured. I suspect that some of what I write will be wrong and displeasing to God, though I’m trying desperately to avoid that. What I mean is that my book is the product of listening instead of posturing (like too many of blog posts are). My hope is that the result will be a book that can be a blessing twenty years from now when nobody remembers who Caitlyn Jenner or Rachel Dolezal were.

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