Saturday, October 06, 2007

Me-Ville

My forthcoming book now has a title--Deliver Us from Me-Ville, which I like very much--and a cover, which I like very much and will post here when I get a final JPG from my publisher, Cook Communications. Suddenly it all feels real to me, and I am beset with a real anxiety. All my neuroses (or at least more neuroses than are appropriate for one person to have) come into play in the production of a book.

I have performance anxiety: what if my editor, Andrea Christian, whom I respect and feel a great debt toward, hates the draft? What if she writes back and tells me that the draft is so bad that she can't edit it into publishable form and thus demands that I (a) start from scratch or (b) give back the advance money (which I've [c] already spent).

I have social anxiety: I'm asking friends and colleagues to review and potentially endorse the book. What if they don't like it? How will our relationship be affected? I tell stories from my own experience in the book; what if friends or family misinterpret my meaning in how I tell a story? How will our relationship be affected? And eventually, I hope, the book will be reviewed in various media outlets. What if they don't like it? Then the book (and, by extension, I) am publicly and broadly known as that guy who wrote that bad book.

I have ethical anxiety: Am I overstepping professional boundaries by contacting people I've met through my work to support a book I'm not even publishing through my employer? Am I coercing people who want to maintain a good working relationship with me? Is it really OK that I'm publishing with Cook instead of with InterVarsity Press, or have I transgressed some boundary of loyalty in the minds of my coworkers?

I have evangelical anxiety: I talk about Jesus in this book a lot. I mean a lot. Is that going to make people uncomfortable? Have I inadvertently confessed heresies I'm not even aware of? Have I taken a "holier-than-thou" posture that I don't even recognize? Is this book a fair representation of the faith I profess?

I could go on, but my heart rate is way up. And it hasn't slipped past me that in declaring myself an expert on narcissism, I am showing myself to be highly vulnerable to narcissistic tendencies.

The final title of this book was not the first title: the first title was Escape from Superbia, a play on some language from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together and a reference to one of the seven deadly sins recognized by the church from antiquity. Apparently, Latin words in English book titles don't fly, so we went with Me-Ville. The new title is meant to evoke the Lord's Prayer--not, as some people have mentioned, Dr. Seuss. I like the final title more and more as I reflect on it, because more and more I see how every word tells.

"Me-Ville," I suggest, is the culture we inhabit, a contention common to many social psychologists. We live in an age and a context where looking out for number one is a virtue, and we are regularly exhorted to be so virtuous.

"Us" is a reminder that all of us are individually and collectively shaped by this culture, and that despite the privatizing, isolationist tendencies of the age, we're all in this together.

"Deliver" evokes one of the great glories of God, who delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, only to set them on a long and complicated journey of self-discovery to a promised destination. He similarly delivered individuals and families and cities and ethnic groups from wrongs being done to them, and drew them out of the traps of self-serving narcissism that they invariably got themselves into. Most emphatically, God delivered the world from evil by virtue of the death and resurrection of his Son, who called people to follow him into their own journey of self-discovery toward a promised destination.

"From" is a preposition. You have to have it.

I end the book as I'll end this post, with a brief reflection on the Lord's Prayer. The two stanzas are held in tension with one another. The first is a self-forgetting paeon of praise to our Father in Heaven, whose name is hallowed and whose kingdom is forthcoming, whose will is unflinchingly good. The second is self-absorbed, concerned with mundane, daily needs, emotional well-being and an ultimate sense of security. It ends in a reminder of the journey that God has us on:

Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.


The later imposition of another phrase swings the pendulum back and bookends the prayer in the goodness and power of God:

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
Now and forever.


I take solace in the words of that prayer, and my anxieties are eased--not fully, not even finally, but enough to remind myself that God is king even over my narcissistic, anxious self, and he delivers me, and he leads me, and he restores my soul. Not bad.

7 comments:

Rick said...

I heartily endorse this book, especially the parts about Superman and Batman that I asked Dave to reprint from previous works. Up, up and away.

Trevin said...

This sounds like a great book. But I have one question... Does an editor/author need an editor? Or is that also part of being delivered from me-ville?

Mike Morrell said...

I like both titles--but Deliver Us from Me-Ville sounds great! You and I will need to talk, soon, about...y'know. Because I think this book would be a prime candidate!

And Trevin, I'm nowhere near as accomplished as Dave, but speaking as a freelance editor and an aspiring author wrapping up his first manuscript, we editors most definitely need editors on our own work--possibly more than most. I don't understand these people who have adversarial relationships with editors; they're either brand-new to writing/publishing or they don't have a good fit with their editor. I am grateful, to the point of crying tears of joy, when someone cares enough to tear apart my writing and help me re-assemble it. As Jack Caputo says, you only deconstruct the ones you love.

Pete Juvinall said...

Best Book ever. It was better than 'Cats'. I'd read it again and again. :)

Bob said...

I am just proud that you have accomplished what so many talk about, which is to actually write a book.

You have done it twice now.

You write from a place of conviction.

...and I think you should call the book "Bob is Awesome".

Heather Z said...

Can't wait to read it!

Anonymous said...

Where's my advance copy? Some of us have the ability to put such a work to good use in Church-based adult ed programs. I am such a person. I'm important, dang it! And according to the tone of this comment, probably need the insights as much as--if not more than--most!

Seriously, though--I would love to read it. You're so far one of my favorite theologians (and relatives)!

Jeannine