This week I'll be in San Diego, California, for the National Pastors Convention. There I'll be working in the bookstore, trying to woo customers toward the books that my employer is publishing; I'll also be drinking lots of coffee, trying to woo writers to publish with us. To top things off, I've learned that the publisher of Deliver Us from Me-Ville will be there as well, and I'll be trying to woo them into publishing my next book. All that wooing should keep me pretty busy.
It's a good thing that this past week a group of my coworkers, guided by the Suburban Christian, spent an hour discussing the book I & Thou by twentieth-century philosopher Martin Buber. We approached the topic, which deals with the tension between relationship and function in how we interact with one another and with the world we inhabit, and most supremely with God, from the perspective of a publishing enterprise. If the tendency to define our various encounters as person-object (I-It)is a corruption of our created instinct to be relational (I-Thou), is the book-publishing industry inescapably objectifying and commodifying, or is there, for example, a way of reading books as an I-Thou encounter? More pressing, perhaps, and more ethically urgent is the question of whether we can enter into contractual relationships with authors, whether we can subject authors to a production schedule, whether we can give any consideration to readers, without falling into the objectifying pattern of an I-It relationship.
The best we could come up with, I suppose, was to establish reminders with ourselves that the people we encounter--whether authors, coworkers, customers, critics, gatekeepers or reluctant readers--are whole persons, not demographic statistics or content-producing machines or two-dimensional nuisances or even golden calves to revere. If we were made to relate mutually, as subject to subject, then our capacity to reduce others to something less is something we contrive, something we manufacture. Sometimes that's just how it has to be in a world such as ours, but it's healthy every now and again to remember that, when the e-mail's been sent or the account has been closed or the book has been read or the contract has been signed--when our relationship as it is comes to a natural, if only temporary close--those we relate to don't cease to exist.
So if I see you in San Diego and you get the feeling that I've switched on autopilot or run you through some kind of suck-up flow chart, remind me that you're human, and I will sheepishly apologize and try to enjoy the moment with you. But while you're there, be sure to check out the IVP booth, and stop by the David C. Cook both to pick up a copy of Deliver Us from Me-Ville.