Book Birds

I just read an interesting article about how social media, and the internet in general, hijacks our time.  If you’re reading this, no doubt you’ll agree.  Those of us who write books on our “free time” know that the way books are both found and sold is on the web.  Publishers  encourage authors to build a social media platform, usually involving Twitter.  Academics are often hopeless at social media—they’re lousy at following back on Twitter, as I know from experience.  There is a kind of self-importance that comes with higher education which makes many of the professorate assume the work of others is less important than their own.  It’s more blessed to be tweeted than to tweet others.  After all, such-and-such university has hired you, and that proves the value of what you have to say.

Head-banging tweeter

Book publishers, however, will be looking at how many followers you have.  Not that all of them will buy your book, but at least a number of them will know about it.  Curiosity, indeed, drives some sales.  Just like many academics, I’m jealous of my time.  I’m also conscious of that of others.  These blog posts seldom reach over 500 words.  I tweet only a couple times a day, although I understand that’s not the way to get more followers.  You need to tweet like a bird, often with images or memes, but try explaining that to your boss when each tweet is time-stamped.  The academic is uniquely privileged to be given control of their time outside of class and committee meeting.  Tweet away.  That doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back.

The reason for tweeting is, of course, self-promotion.  45 may understand little, but he understands that.  You can commit treason and people will overlook it if you tweet persistently enough.  My own Twitter activity is like the eponymous birds after which the site is named; it is active before most people are awake.  And it, like this blog, is not designed to take up your time.  Since my tweeting during the work day is limited, my tweets are seldom picked up.  I try following other academics, but often they don’t follow back.  After all, what does a mere editor have to say that could possibly be of interest to the high minded?  Alas, I fear my advanced studies of the Bible have become bird-feed.  And my forthcoming book won’t get noticed.  I only wish more colleagues would consider the adage, tweet others as you would like to be tweeted.

Moving Books

One of my anxieties about moving is that commuting time was my reading time.  Enforced sitting for over three hours a day meant consuming book after book.  Now I have to carve out time to read.  Life has a way of filling the time you have.  I say the following fully aware that you’re on the internet now, but one of the biggest time drains is the worldwide web.  Humans are curious creatures and the web offers to answer any and all queries.  (It still hasn’t come up with a satisfactory answer to the meaning of life, however, IMHO.)  Even when I’m working on my current book, a simple fact-check can lead to surfing and before I know it, I’m out to sea.  That’s why books—paper books—are such a good option.  A footnoted source meant another trip to the library, and libraries led to more reading.

I’m a Goodreads author.  I like Goodreads quite a lot, and I actively accept new friends there.  In the past I set goals of reading 100+ books per year.  Aware back in January that a move might take place, I lowered my expectations.  I figured, even without commuting, that 65 books would be attainable in a year.  Of course, Goodreads doesn’t count the books you write, only those you read.  I had to tell even Amazon Author Central that Holy Horror was my book.  Moving, however, is a liminal time.  Every spare minute is spent packing.  And you still owe “the man” eight hours of your day.  That rumble that you feel is the moving truck growing closer.  Reading time has become scarce.  I fear I’m becoming illiterate.

And Goodreads makes me think of Twitter.  I’ll just click over there a while and wonder why I can’t seem to grow a following.  Ah, it turns out that you have to tweet often and incessantly, with erudite and trenchant things to say.  The birds chirping once a second outside my window can’t even keep up.  Problem is, I have a 9-to-5 job, and I’m trying to write Nightmares with the Bible.  And there’s just one more fact I have to check.  Wait, what’s the weather going to be like today?  Gosh, is that the time?  I have to get packing!  That moving van will be here only hours from now.  I need to calm down.  The way to do that, in my case, is to read a book.

Breaking News

Herostratus, it is said, tried to destroy the Temple of Artemis so that he might become famous. His name is now associated with gaining fame at any cost. In case any of my readers suppose I might be like Herostratus, I would be glad to confirm that I’m not the Steve Wiggins in the headline below. While I do have a beard, I’ve only been to Tennessee once that I know of. When a friend contacted me to ask why I’d shot the deputy (but I did not shoot the sheriff) it reminded me of a post on this blog from many years ago about sharing the name of the gospel singer Steve Wiggins. He’s always at the top for any Google search, which is why I always tell people to use my middle initial when seeking even more than you can find on this blog: “Steve A. Wiggins” usually brings me up. I’m not as desperate as Herostratus yet.

Names can be tricky that way. I’ve written a number of books in my life, and three of them are either published or in production. Holy Horror, which is now available on McFarland’s website (the book itself will be out in August) is listed on Amazon. It isn’t paired with my other two books yet, perhaps because it is so different. My Amazon author page brings up A Reassessment of Asherah and Weathering the Psalms, but it’s a little coy about Holy Horror. This blog isn’t quite like trying to destroy Artemis’ temple, but then, it isn’t exactly a Twitter-follower magnet either.

I have a friend who has a fictional Twitter account. He has more than twice the number of followers I do, and his Twitter persona is made up. I follow people who don’t follow me back. I do hope this isn’t how Herostratus got started. It is tragic that a deputy was shot and killed by an armed Wiggins in the south. I’m no friend of the NRA, and like most of the world I believe we’d be better off with far fewer guns, and Herostratus is pretty much forgotten today. In fact, every time I want to mention him I have to do a Google search to find his name. Destroying property of the gods, apparently, doesn’t always give you lasting fame. Looking at what’s happening in DC these days I see confirmation of that all the time. But then don’t take my word for it—I’m only a blogger with a tiny Twitter following. Just don’t accuse me of having a gun or trying to sing in public.

United States of Ego

We all know the type. The guy who brags that he can do something complex without all the study and “hard work” (scare quotes theirs) necessary beforehand. When he starts strutting his stuff, and realizes that it is much harder than he thought, he has to find a way of backing down without losing face. We all know somebody like that. Now we all know somebody like that by dint of his being in the White House. Politics, like most complex things, isn’t as easy as it looks. When you’re president of the United States, backing down quietly’s not an easy thing to do. Why not start a nuclear war instead? Better dead than read, as the saying goes.

Thing is, braggarts may convince others that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but they’ll never convince themselves. The truly sad thing is we’ve never lived in a country where it was possible to buy your way to the White House before, based purely on ego. Don’t get me wrong—I know that every president has to be an egoist to some degree. What the previous 44 have had, however, is considerable knowledge of politics. Even the dumbest of them read. They knew this wouldn’t be some simple task that you could simply wing, like a business deal. You have to do homework. A lot of it. And it’s not easy. Even the relatively simple life of a professor of religious studies requires years of training. Hours and hours and hours of reading and thinking. Believe it or not, it’s hard work.

Now we have a chief executive tweeting that it’s hard to be president. Everyone, it seems, except 45, knew that. That’s why most people would never bother to run for the office. Our civilization utterly depends on experts. That surgeon that works on your heart, you swear, had better be an expert. Those guys who build the missiles we lob onto whomever we feel like, had better be experts. And even if your steak comes out of the restaurant kitchen poorly prepared, you send it back for expert treatment. And yet, we’ve elected the least qualified candidate who’s ever run for the office in over two centuries of history. His expertise: pleasing himself. Greed is a poor substitute for leadership. Even now that it’s crystal clear we live in a headless state, his supporters cheer him on. Let’s hear it for the poor uber-wealthy. Those guys need all the help they can get.

For Better Information

Government by Twitter is such a trendy thing. I’ve got a Twitter account and I can’t keep up with it most of the time. I wonder how anyone has time to get off the golf course long enough to let the thumbs fly these days. I got an article in my inbox stating that James Comey, the director of the FBI, has a hidden Twitter account. Well, you’d expect it to be hidden. This is the FBI, after all. The purpose of Twitter, however, is provide a steady flow of information—a stock ticker, if you will, of the radicalized normal. None of this is why I’m addressing the Hon. Comey today. It’s because those who suspect they’ve found his account believe he’s being using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr.” Those of us in religious studies with an interest in American religion can’t help but do a double-take.

Reinhold Niebuhr, along with his brother H. Richard, were prominent theologians. Reinhold was perhaps the last theologian, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom anybody paid any attention. In fact, he was the rare academic who’d attained the sobriquet of “public intellectual.” He even taught in a seminary. Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought has influenced countless government officials who knew how to read, back in the days when being literate was a requirement for government office. Perhaps a little too Neo-Orthodox for today’s Nones, Niebuhr was nonetheless a pacifist and, dare I scrawl the word, a socialist. What’s more, Presidents in the days when the office had some dignity cited him as a source of political thought and contemplation. As much as they try to make us forget, I remember the days before a red hat was all you needed to dictate policy. The days of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Now, nobody really knows if this mysterious Reinhold Niebuhr account really does belong to James Comey. The FBI hasn’t been terribly friendly to the cause of freedom as of late. In fact, it may be the one government agency with timing even worse than mine. There’s a fair consensus that had the bureau not revived the passé email server scandal when it did we might still be living in a democracy. I have to try to be careful not to get too worked up. It’s easy to be anxious these days. When things start to get too oppressive, however, we can think of Reinhold Niebuhr, the last theologian. The man who gave the world the serenity prayer. We’re gonna need it.

Across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover building, Washington, DC

Protest Reading

In these days of bold ignorance, reading in public is an act of resistance. A world that follows the uninformed to perdition requires those who stand as witnesses. Those who read. As a cabinet of the wealthiest people in the country is being assembled we need to remind each other that wisdom and wealth aren’t the same thing. Not even close. We read to improve our minds and we find, in such reading, that wealth increases happiness only to a point. Excess wealth leads to misery, but like the addicted, those who have it just can’t stop. Stop, I say, and pick up a book. To help with this my wife sent along the Banned Book Advent calendar. That’s not to say we can read a book a day, but I believe the world would be a better place if we could. Especially if those books were banned.

You see, banned books cause us to think. That’s the payoff. I’ve read many, many banned books. Some of them I didn’t like very much, but that’s not the point. Liking what you read may lubricate the process, but it is the reading itself that stretches the mind. Makes use of mental muscles we didn’t know that we had. Those who ban books want prejudiced minds to prevail. Think about it: prejudice comes from the combination of the prefix for “already” and the root for “judging.” The prejudiced have already decided. Reading challenges. It has from the earliest days of myths on clay down to the era of ordered electrons on a flat screen. Reading makes you question. The thought police prefer mindless acquiescence. Want to show your true colors? Pull out a book and read.

IMG_0899

The season of Advent is one of anticipation. We all know what’s behind door 25, but the journey is the point. That journey is better when it’s literate. When I travel my carryon always has books. More than I can read on the trip, just in case. Books are banned because we fear knowledge. Once exposed to an idea we must deal with it. Far simpler to lock it away in some sealed room and continue to do things like it’s still the 1450s. Before Twitter started revolutions, books did. When we put down our books we are opening an invitation to ignorance. Last month showed what happens when that invitation is given. I won’t make it through a book a day this season, but I flip out my reading material whatever chance I get. And I believe a better future will result.

Twitter Me This

Techoncrat I’m not. At least I understand that to be authentic in this world you need to be on social media. I have a Twitter account. Have had for years. I don’t follow it religiously, but then, I don’t treat any social media like holy writ. The other day I noticed a disturbing trend. Donald Trump’s tweets end up on my bird feed. No, I didn’t accidentally follow him—I have a natural aversion to fascists with delusions of divinity—but nevertheless his mug shows up so frequently that I tend not to follow the bird maybe as much as maybe I should. I wonder how someone thinks s/he has the right to buy part of my consciousness.

Tweet or honk?

Tweet or honk?

The world-wide web is without laws, like the subconscious mind. Thoughts from around the world—at least the affluent part of it—milling, swirling about in an electronic soup thickened by irony. It’s addictive. The opiate of the masses. Perhaps it is a religion after all. Tweets are micro prayers. Blogs are sermons. Facebook is coffee hour. All these connected minds have created a consciousness of their own. Like Victor Frankenstein, we too know what it feels like to be God. It’s not a particularly joyous place to be. Does God, I wonder, lack the control that we experience on the Internet?

I like Twitter. It doesn’t demand much. The only problem is that to stay on top of things you have to have it going all the time. I turn it off and when I come back on I’ve missed hundreds of tweets. And then there’s Donald Trump again. I can come up with my own nightmares, thank you. I don’t need Twitter to suggest any.

Perhaps this is the apotheosis of capitalism. The ability to buy anything, including space on somebody else’s bird feed. Buy the most powerful office in the country, if not the world. Buy hatred and distribute it freely. One thing you can’t buy is intelligence. At least, up until now, some universities still understand that. It has taken me years to gather Twitter followers, like Mrs. Partridge the family band-mates fall behind in a neat, technicolor line. I have no money. I have very little influence. I’m really not a very good capitalist at all. I give away for free what universities charge for. Just like in the classroom, few pay attention. What do I expect? Who really listens to sermons anyway?