Monday Morning Confessional – N.T. Wright and Breaking Beautiful

Monday Morning Confessional – N.T. Wright and Breaking Beautiful May 27, 2013

Months ago I was asked to write six chapters to accompany a video series – a work for hire thing. The House Studio packages these great small group resources consisting of a set of video talks by a well known scholar and a short chapter written by some unknown author interacting with the video, some of the theological issues at stake, and discussion questions for the group. They have produced several – Stanley Hauerwas, Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne – all of which I highly recommend. They do a couple of things well, including printing the transcript of the video before the chapter, which seems to allow better discussion. Plus, if you only buy the book, you still get the transcripts of the talks (I’m guessing most groups buy 5-6 books and only one DVD). This is my second project for this series, the first is Public Jesus. The videos are mine for that one.

The videos for which I was asked to write were of N.T. Wright. They were produced by Travis Reed at The Work of the People, who sold the rights to the House. It was all done contractually and legally. N.T. Wright signed a contract with The House Studio authorizing the use of the video and the production of the associated materials that I wrote. For my part, it was a work for hire project – 2 grand for six chapters… roughly $14.25 an hour. I wasn’t set to get any of the royalties from the project – those were slated to go to Wright and Reed. The House has done everything legally and above board.

These series are not big sellers, and I doubt very much if The House makes any money on them – especially Breaking Beautiful because it was so expensive. The packages are meant to entice people who would typically not read something by Hauerwas, Brueggemann, or N.T. Wright, to get some exposure to these important thinkers. Video based curriculum help folks who aren’t tempted to read theology to get caught up in theological discussion. They are solid gold in my parish and serve the church well.

I woke up to an email this morning from Tom Wright saying he had only found out about the project from a friend, stating that he had not given permission for it… ugh. Meanwhile a pretty snarky blog post about and subsequent Facebook posts came out from a Pauline Scholar saying the whole project is a scam. I think it’s safe to say his blog is getting some pretty good traffic today – I’m not going to mention the person’s name who has been stoking this, although he is a fellow Patheos blogger. I will say that we are friends on Facebook, my email and phone number are quite public. He could have contacted me at any point and did not. No email, no call, no message. Been in contact with Wright, the publisher trying to sort things out. More on that later…

Nevertheless, on the internet today I’m being called a forger, rip-off artist, naive, a liar, a law-suit waiting to happen, shameful, a dipstick (… is that still a thing we say?), and my personal favorite “less than subtle.” (Not to get too editorial here, but a pun is almost always a mistake)… among other things. I knew the SBL crowd was dog-eat-dog. I didn’t know that it was Facebook-cruel.

I want to clarify that I have had no control over how this project was marketed. I think “N.T. Wright with Tim Suttle” does not reflect what really happened. In fact the moment I saw the cover I said so publicly. Two months ago I made sure to post something to mitigate any sense that I was somehow collaborating with N.T. Wright – you can see it here. I’m terribly embarrassed by all of this and I feel like a complete idiot.

I’ve been doing Monday Morning confessional for a few years and I’m not going to stop today. So, my Monday Morning Confessional is this:

I confess that I feel terribly exposed and vulnerable today. I was really excited about a writing project that I put my heart and soul into doing. I thought it represented some of my best pastoral writing. Now it’s being completely slammed, and I’m being treated like a joke, and the whole thing may fall through. Last time I looked a blog post ripping me had nearly a thousand shares. If you know anything about page-views, a share is worth about ten page-views… I’m guessing 10-15 thousand people today were told I’m a big fraud. That’s a pretty awful feeling.

I confess that I have been immersed in Brene Brown’s work lately – so I know that the name of something like this is shame. I’m glad shame has been at the forefront of my theological and pastoral thinking lately, and I’m sure God is teaching me through this. Brown says it is important to know your physiological shame triggers. What does your body feel like when it undergoes shame? I’m pretty sure that I know mine now: sick stomach ache, sweaty armpits, a flood of nervous energy accompanied by a paralyzing impulse to hide. Shame triggers two ubiquitous tapes in our minds which play over and over in situations like this. They tell us: “You are not good enough,” and “Who do you think you are?” Those tapes are on repeat for me today.

So, I confess that I will summon the courage to say I’m really proud of the work I did for Breaking Beautiful. I’m doing my best to learn how to be a better writer and to do something with my life and my gifts that serves the church. I am dented and smarting, but ultimately undeterred.

I confess that more than anything I’m disappointed because I wanted this project to be good. I wanted small groups to sit down, watch N.T. Wright speak off the cuff, read the words I wrote about what he said, follow the ways in which I tracked what he was saying back to his other books and writings. I wanted people to think about why N.T. Wright is so important for our lives, and why theology matters for all of us not just the SBL/AAR crowd. I confess that I poured my heart into this project and I really wanted it to matter to people and now it feels like it’s going to end up being a joke. I feel like I’ve been made to look foolish in front of one of my theological heroes, too. It seems like a bad Brady Bunch episode or something – I’m cousin Oliver just to close the simile. I’m really bummed.

I confess that I think so highly of N.T. Wright and if this makes you even one bit curious, you should start reading his work and don’t stop until you have read it all. Listen to his talks and lectures, there are tons online. Watch his videos at Work of the People and revel in one of the greatest theological minds of a generation.

I confess that I’m always surprised by the glee with which Christians can tear each other apart. I confess that I’m sure I’m guilty of this at one time or another, and will redouble my resolve to keep Paperback Theology a place where that doesn’t happen. I also think maybe I’ve gotten just a tiny little taste of what N.T. Wright has had to deal with on a daily basis. He is a pioneer in the way we understand Paul’s writings. His work on justification in Paul is pretty ground-breaking. The New Perspective on Paul, at least the one Wright is putting forth, has become an important part of how I read the New Testament, how I preach, and how I encounter the gospel personally. I’m waiting for his big book on Paul with great anticipation. I know Wright has taken to end of grief for his involvement in shaping the way we read the scriptures. He’s gotten it way worse than I ever will and yet he keeps on writing. That’s what you call courage, my friends.

Okay, I made my confession. Now its time for you to make yours…

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