I have a problem.
A couple of months ago, my first book was published and that meant some changes for me. Mainly, it meant more—more Twitter followers and mentions, more emails in my inbox each morning, more status, more praise, more criticism, more requests, more hits when you make the amateur mistake of googling your name. More. And yet while the “more” piled, there were two things I didn’t get any more of: time and energy.
Across the Pond!
A few weeks back, someone at my church asked if they could come and meet with me. I got in front of my calendar on Monday and saw that my week was slammed. I told him I couldn’t meet that week.
A few days later, I was doing a radio interview about the book with a show based in London. I couldn’t help but take a little pride in it—talking about my book to someone “across the pond”! I finished with the interview and all I could think about was the person I had refused to meet with so I could do book stuff instead. And in that moment, I felt a little prick of guilt. It wasn’t the nauseating, pit in your stomach sort. It was more like guilt was tapping me on the shoulder, inviting a conversation. This is what guilt told me.
No Lasting Remembrance
First, the “world” doesn’t need you—your thoughts, your ideas, your book. You name it, the world doesn’t need it. It was doing fine without it and will be long after you’re gone. That’s not to say it isn’t good or couldn’t be a blessing, but let the visions of grandeur return to the dust from which you came and will return.
Say it with me, Austin: My [fill in the blank] will not echo into eternity, and even if it blooms into something many gaze upon and appreciate, it will all too soon whither and be no more. As wise Solomon once said, “There is no lasting remembrance of even the wise man.”
Second, you are a local thing. That should be intuitive but since you’ve grown up listening to a story in which everyone is a member of a “worldwide community”, it might sound a bit strange.
Well ponder in amazement, but while technology has greatly enhanced our ability to know and influence the wider world, we are still walking piles of dirt that can only inhabit a tiny speck of reality. You may harbor global dreams, but you’re an inescapably local thing. Your mind and ambitions can transverse the globe but your feet will always occupy one square foot of earth at a time.
The fact that you can exercise massive amounts of influence and authority over people outside your actual locale does not necessarily mean you should. Brueggemann says it well:
“…the world is not available to us…it mocks our pitiful efforts at control, mastery, and domination. How odd that to leave off our anxious pursuit of domination, an act that seems like a loss of control, is only to acknowledge that the world is not ours, cannot be ours, and need not be ours.”
A Theology of Locale
I think my guilt had a point. While becoming too insular and hoarding resources that others could use is a massive problem, much harm is done when we build a Babel and persistently outreach our locality under the guise of the greater world needing something from us. I think a theology of locale would do us all some good. In the church, perhaps a robust theology of locale would help cultivate leaders and artists whose highest aspiration is (gasp!) to share their work with their community.
Such a novel idea! Believing there is no higher call than sharing your best stuff with your community. Believing that God can be trusted to resource self-sustaining communities that don’t need to outsource all their work to the few elites who have the real goods. Believing that if you live a life of small faithfulness, loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, you’ve done all God asked you to do.
Let go of your global dreams and be a local thing.
By the grace of God, I’m trying to walk that tightrope between blessing the wider world with whatever meager gifts I have to offer, while giving my best stuff to the actual people around me. I hope you are too. Here are a few orienting thoughts that might help you embrace the dirt under you, the people in front of you, and the community around you.
-Surrender to your littleness.
-Make sure you’re giving your best stuff to your community.
-Spend more time loving the person in front of you than you do worrying about faceless masses you’ll never meet.
 Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation, 36.