A friend is reading the book Truefaced, and his initial thoughts on it make we want to stay rather far away from it. I read the authors’ blog, and it didn’t help much. Be honest. Live in grace. That’s great. I’m totally in favor of it.
I went to the website for this book, and it’s a pain. A major pain. There isn’t a single sentence that sounds like it’s written by an actual person who’s interested in convincing another person that his book will be informative, helpful, and perhaps even wise. Instead, it says things like:
VISION: We restore the Original Good News to marriages, families, leaders, and cultures who are looking for a cure from the deceptive snare of sin-management.
Is it possible to present a more content-less “vision” for a book than that one. I don’t care. I want to know what your book is about.
TrueFaced: Experience Edition Book
Healthy relationships can exist when you feel free to peel away the masks and become who God created you to be. In TrueFaced you’ll discover God’s love and grace in a new way, giving you freedom to live out your identity in Christ and extend that same love and grace to those around you.
There’s… just nothing I can say to that. I think that’s the sleaziest description for a mainstream Christian book I’ve ever encountered. Oh, wait. It’s not a book, it’s an experience. I’m actually a little shocked and horrified by this website, even if the book is decent (and my friend says it probably isn’t), because it’s one thing to say that your idea will cure all our interpersonal ills, and then tell us what your idea is. Or to tell us what kind of book you’re writing, and the basic premise behind it. Or even to craftily hide your premise in clever marketing, while writing a book about marketing. But to write a book about being honest, grace-filled, and truthful, while using every sleazy marketing tactic available (it will change your life! The true meaning of the Gospel has finally been discovered! We wrote an accompanying “experience guide,” retreat manuel, CDs, DVDs… indeed, a sizable brand around this) is… just so transparently bizarre. How is this not transparently bizarre?
Aside: They have a different meaning of grace than I do. That’s to be expected, but still not super great. Grace is a super important word to Christians, and Orthodox mean by it, very specifically, “the uncreated energy of God.” Protestants mean something more like “unmerited favor.” You see the difference.
On Second Thought…
Later it occurred to me that it actually made sense that the sort of person who has to fight against masks and presented posished, manipulative images of himself so much and so often that he decides to write a whole series of books on that, would be the same sort of person to have a polished, oily sort of website. He’s working on making himself less a marketable commodity, but his book is just that, and he’s good at marketing things (which is the problem), so why not use that as a strength where it really would be one? I chastised myself for that. It’s not about the author of the book, it’s about me. He is claiming that masking and marketing myself is not only his problem (and is not his problem much anymore, or how could he lead others?), but is my problem. And I don’t reckon it’s one of my greater faults, but also that there’s something impious about saying that (I’m in a similar position in respect to other books that assume all people to have to same set of sins they do, for instance Captivating I do not recognize the particular kind of neediness in myself that the author says I must have, and yet come up with all sorts of excuses for why that reaction must not be important, or even relevant).
Having a coherent character, honesty, truthfulness, openness, and so on are constantly discussed in certain Christian circles, and I have found them nearly impossible to discuss meaningfully. It puts a reasonably honest person at a disadvantage, should things get at all personal (as they’re supposed to. It makes the reasonably honest person feel like he’s trying to solve one of those “Epimenides says that all Cretans are liars. Epimenides is a Cretan. Is he lying when he says that all Cretans are liars?” paradoxes.
It’s bad etiquette to point out faults that one does not suffer from very much. It’s poor manners, for instance, to respond to a sermon on honesty by saying “actually, I think I’m pretty honest most of the time.” One might alleviate the awkwardness of such a statement by softening it: “In fact, I think that I’m habitually honest, but also that I haven’t spent much time in threatening situations that would test my honesty. It’s quite possible that if I ever were in a really threatening situation, I would fail — but it would because my cowardice was stronger than my honesty, which is not quite what you are talking about.” This is an oddity because, assuming that this person is really honest, he would have to be honest about that and admit it to be the case — which might be socially riskier than admitting that he’s a chronic liar, in the midst of a group that is trying to encourage greater honesty. That’s partly because of ego (I don’t want to talk about my faults with someone who doesn’t share them unless he can help me), but more for social reasons: if we’re talking about overcoming our chronic dishonesty, and you’re not only honest, but have never been fiercely tempted toward dishonesty (because then you might help the rest of us), then how are you going to be a part of this conversation. Probably in an honest, but not particularly vulnerable way, which will change the dynamics of our conversation, and might be pretty awkward if we’re trying especially hard to be open and vulnerable together. You might try being vulnerable about what a slob you are to prove that you know you’re a sinner too, but that’d be an intrusion. I don’t find this to be especially helpful. Confession is much more helpful, and is also a sacrament.
Of course, it is true that there are other, more fundamental things going on, underneath masks or vulnerability: there’s a human person’s position as a created but not quite completed being, who does not yet know his “true name” and deepest personhood, because he is not yet fully united with God. The reasonably honest person could go there to try to redeem himself from the disgrace of not having anything really interesting to confess, but they’d have to know quite a lot more about that than I do.
I realized this morning as I was replying to a friend, that I do object — and strongly — to the Truefaced website (not the book; I haven’t read the book), not on account of content (there isn’t enough content to judge), but on account, rather, of certain marketing cues which I have seen before, and which have always, consistently resulted in disappointment. There’s a whole crop of books and other “materials” I’ve encountered, which are of varying quality in themselves, but which, in being marketed in churches, are allowed and even encouraged to indulge in the wildest hyperbole without a blush or the faintest whisper of a reprimand for their pushy classlessness while vying their wares — especially in church! For instance:
Welcome to one of the most profound journeys this life affords. We are about to embark on a glorious ride of profound discovery and a new way of seeing. It is not new truth, but for many of us, it will be a new experience. In astounding and unusual ways, God appears to be revealing to the body of Christ, in this season, the power, healing, and freedom of trust-triggered grace.
— Trufaced Experience Guide, Introduction
It sounds like a ride at Evangland. They then go on to make a series of assumptions about their audience — about how we’ve been hurt, don’t trust, cliche, blah, blah, cliche. I didn’t even have to find that; it was the very first paragraph of the introduction. Compare this to a writer who’s not spectacular, but is solid and sane. After telling a short story about getting up in the middle of the night to look after her baby:
About fifteen years ago I started to use the Jesus Prayer during these mid-night hours: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” This very simple prayer was developed in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine during the early centuries of Christian faith, and has been practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Church ever since. It is a prayer inspired by St Paul’s exhortation to “pray constantly” )1 Thess 5:17), and its purpose is to tune one’s inner attention to the presence of the Lord.
Frederica Matthews-Green, The Jesus Prayer, Introduction.
Nothing terribly shocking there. There’s a better book on the topic, which she relies upon heavily. But it’s just what one would expect: she gives her premise (saying the Jesus Prayer is a tested way to focus one’s inner attention on God); an example (I pray when I have to look after my children in the middle of the night, and it’s easy, so I can say it even when I’m really tired); a bit of history, and some of the reasoning behind its use. No manipulative second person enthusiasms needed. Meanwhile, she still does mean to sell her book, and is presenting it positively, as writers are expected to do.
I care about this because of the countless hours I’ve spent trying to figure out what’s wrong with a book, or what’s wrong with me, or what’s wrong with a Bible study, because some heavily advertised “program” turned out to be pretty irrelevant to my actual life, however helpful it might have been to someone for whom the stuff addressed there was really a big deal. Rightly used advertising connects a product to the people who should have it; poor advertising makes a mad dash for the entire market, no matter how unhelpful it may be the the majority. Ministers: stop supporting crummy marketing tactics.