Jessica: Hey, there. It’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And this is The Going Scared Podcast, where we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship and courage.
I’m feeling a little bittersweet about this episode because this wraps up our Imperfect Courage series. For the last 13 weeks we have gone through, chapter by chapter of my new book, Imperfect Courage. We hope that you recommend this series to your friends, post about it, talk about it. It really is meant to go alongside the book, so if you haven’t downloaded the book yet via Audible or bought it, make sure you go put it into your cart. It makes for a really great gift going into the new year, because it really is about encouraging people to live a life of courage by leaving comfort and going scared.
In today’s episode is a truly special guest for me because his work has really influenced my thinking. Specifically, he’s written a book called Playing God, and Strong and Weak. Both of these books really helped to create a framework for me around this concept of how do we go about building a flourishing world, which is the title of Chapter 12. His most recent book was 2017’s The Tech-Wise Family, so he also talks a lot about technology.
Andy Crouch has become a mentor and a friend. He is the partner for theology and culture at Praxis, which is an organization that works as a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship. It’s actually an organization that I have been able to be involved with. We definitely go deep in this conversation. He just helps me to see the world differently, and once I see it that way, he gives me a framework to sort of hang my hat on.
Sometimes I feel like I have this messy closet going on in my brain, and Andy helps me clean up my clothes and know where to put them, and I just feel a lot more free knowing how to approach my life in a way that will really make an impact. So, I’m excited for you to get to hear a little bit more from him today.
I was curious, because you told me that you’ve read my book, and I have told you on numerous occasions effusively, what an influence you have had on my life. I mean, you’ve had a huge influence on my thoughts. You played such a thought leader in my life. I was just curious, as you were reading my book, could you see reflections of yourself in it? Could you see some of these influences?
Andy: I suppose, yes. I mean, I don’t know that I was reading it looking for that. But actually, what I was more struck by was how many mutual influences we share, especially Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., which you had more time with that community. But it’s very formative in my own life.
Jessica: Yeah, tell me about that. I’m so curious about that.
Andy: When I was a student, an undergrad while I was in college, one of the campus ministries arranged a weeklong trip to D.C., and it was really my first…Gosh, it was really my first exposure to urban ministry of any kind. And one of our landing places was Church of the Savior, which for those who’ve not intimately read your book, you know, is this quite extraordinary story of a radically, I would say, intentional group of Christians who basically said, "If you’re going to be a member of this church, that intrinsically means pouring yourself out in some very distinctive way in service."
So, this church never had more than, I don’t know, a few dozen, maybe 100 members at the very most…
Jessica: Because it was radical…The part even living in the community. It was radical, so radical.
Andy: Yeah. So, there’s almost no Christian community I can think of, certainly outside of maybe some group of monks or nuns, that, you know, punched above its weight so powerfully in terms of how few people were actually, strictly speaking, members and yet how much they did.
So, I encountered that in college, and then I was in campus ministry for 10 years and took a group of students…
Jessica: And where were you? Where did you get your undergrad?
Andy: I went to Cornell University for undergrad.
Jessica: That’s right. That’s right.
Andy: And then worked with students at Harvard University, and took a group of students to D.C. one year. We were based at one of…there’s a number of congregations connected with Church of the Savior. And it was just a powerful experience. So, that was the little community that they had in the Shaw neighborhood, which now is, you know, full of completely renovated brownstones but at the time was a very, very distressed neighborhood, that the neighbors on both sides of this community were drug dealers. The drug dealers actually liked this church very much.
Anyway, it was a glimpse to me of what discipleship could do.
Jessica: Yeah. You know, I’m so grateful because in my spiritual growth, I never encountered a Christianity that didn’t involve being the hands and feet. So, I never really went through this like, "Oh, OK, this isn’t just about, you now, love God, blah, blah." It was always that’s what it meant. Even the church I grew up in, they started the first homeless shelter in San Antonio, it’s in downtown, San Antonio. I’m just so grateful for that.
This leads me to my next question, because in Chapter One of my book, I think it’s Chapter One, it might be Chapter Two, it went through so many edits, I can’t keep up with the chapters, but still.
Andy: At some point it was Chapter One.
Jessica: At some point, it was Chapter One. I quote you as talking about the only thing that money can buy is bubble wrap.
Ripping Off the Bubble Wrap
Jessica: Of course, the journey that I want my reader to go on in this book, and actually, in his or her life is to acknowledge places where we wrap ourselves in bubble wrap, and how can we rip that off. Can you tell me first, was that of ripping off of the bubble wrap for you? And then tell me more have you been able to flesh out this in your life.
Andy: Well, I think there have been many moments, actually increasingly I would say, in my life where I’ve pursued bubble wrap removal projects. For me, because of where my, as I believe I hope, where my calling and my, for 24 years now, my family’s calling has taken us, it’s always involved displacement. Because we lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for 15 years, this is, obviously, elite, prosperous city in many ways, not a city without problems but a comfy place to live, and now we live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, which is a super comfy place to live, and it’s where we raised our kids with much trepidation, actually.
And so I’ve had to go, the way I think of it is go on pilgrimages frequently. To me, there’s a really important distinction between being a tourist and being a pilgrim. When you go somewhere as a tourist, you go there to be treated better than you’re treated at home, to be this, in an unobtrusive way, the center of the world. Or to have an experience that sort of elevates you and makes you feel really special, like, "Wow, I’m in Florence," or, "I’m in, you know, Miami Beach," or, you know, wherever your drug of choice is.
When you go on a pilgrimage, you go…I mean, you may be well treated. Often, you’re received with incredible hospitality on pilgrimage, but you go because you know there’s something in this other place and in the people who dwell there that you need, that you don’t have, that will transform you. So, we really don’t, for all the rhetoric of tourism about, you know, life-changing experiences on the Riviera or whatever, we go really to be fundamentally affirmed that we are the people who have these experiences.
But you go on pilgrimage to be really radically challenged and changed, and certainly, on our trip to Church of the Savior or those couple trips, and many, many others, to some extent before and a lot since, are all exercises for me in getting the bubble wrap off for at least a little bit. I mean, I come home and I’m once more, you know, the casing starts to reform.
But I try to just constantly be planning to be in places that are going to be difficult for me, that I’m not going to have a lot of competence, I’m not necessarily going to have a lot to offer, but I have a lot to learn, and I trust that…I mean, for me as a Christian, that God is there in those places, in some way is willing to meet me in those places in a way that…I suppose God is willing to meet me every day, but that I’ll never find out about unless I take those journeys. So, that’s just a habit of my life now.
Jessica: Well, tell me a little bit about, because I love art, and, you know, Noonday Collection we actually, at a lot of direct sales companies you actually do win trips to the Riviera.
Andy: Yes, right. Right, exactly.
Jessica: Right. But in our company you get to win trips to Haiti.
Andy: Exactly. I love it. I love it.
Jessica: I love this idea of pilgrimage, and it is when we go we’re actually getting to know our partners, and it’s the very people that are actually creating income opportunities for us in America. So, it’s this whole equalizing trip, you know, where we’re going to go meet the people who, you know, they have a stake on our success and we have a stake on their success, and we do just go to actually celebrate together.
Actually, in Haiti we even all did go to a beach resort together, with the artist and some of them…
Andy: Yeah, I remember reading that.
Jessica: …who’ve not been on a vacation because a vacation is a luxury.
Andy: Of course. Of course.
Jessica: I mean, those have been some of my most treasured times. But let’s talk about pilgrimage here, because I know even in your life, I mean don’t you play a piano for a church of people that maybe don’t look just like you? Like, how do we go on pilgrimage here? You know, I don’t wanna people to mislead people to say you have to get a passport to go rip the bubble wrap off.
Andy: That’s so important. Yes, I mean, it’s literally down the street. And anyone who’s in the U.S. listening to this podcast within a, you know, five-minute drive in some direction probably, is an opportunity for this kind of displacement. I mean, you mentioned…just in terms of a very formative thing in my life was as a musician, so I’m trained as a musician, I play piano.
But in college, I mean, so much happened that was good for me in terms of my growth as a human being and as a follower of Christ. One thing was ending up apprenticing in a black church. I am not black, for those of us who are listening via podcast. I’m super pale.
Jessica: Although having you in an audience is definitely like having an…I mean, I love having you in an audience. You’re just like, "Yes, Amen." I mean, you’re there. I love it.
Andy: So, I literally was formed in that, in the black church, specifically St. James’s AME Zion Church, and that’s in New York, a small little congregation who very graciously allowed me to be the piano player for the Zion Harmonizers, which was the junior choir of St. James’s AME Zion Church.
The junior choir there was anyone under the age of about 55 who wanted to sing. So, there was a senior choir and they had a piano player. She wasn’t going anywhere, but they needed someone to play for this slightly younger group and I said, "Well, I don’t know gospel." I mean, I was trained classically. I had loved popular music and had learned to do some of that on the piano, but I certainly didn’t understand the rhythmic or harmonic vocabulary of gospel.
And they said, "Well, we’ll teach you," and very, very graciously they did. I did learn something, enough to fool some of the people some of the time, I would say. And much more significantly than the music, really, well first I just got to experience being a minority, which I had honestly not experienced in any sustained way up to that point in my life.
I did pick up like I love, I love the way that preaching in the black church is a communal experience. You know, the call and response. I think most people are familiar with that. I came out of those years at St. James’s thinking, "Why don’t I, at least to some extent, participate verbally?" When someone is pouring themselves out in front of an audience, like why not be a little verbal and present? You know, just…
And so it, apparently, has become famous, or notorious, or something. I had people tell me, like I’ll be in a room of hundreds of people and I’m just in the audience somewhere, and people are like, "I knew you were in the room because…"
Jessica: Yes, I love it. I think it was disarming for me because I read your books and I’m like, "Oh my God, this guy is smart, heady," but you’re actually so warm.
Participating and Being Present in Cross-Cultural Environments
Andy: Well, it was very transformative, and all through just pure grace and mercy. I mean, whenever we go into cross cultural environments, we make mistakes, most of which we never know that we made because people were very gracious. So, I’m sure there is a lot of that, but there is also a gift of hospitality, not just on the African-American church, but in many what we call minority communities. They will increasingly be…we’ll all be minorities.
Gosh, it was so formative. So, that’s where that comes from.
Jessica: You know, so many times we just need these stories that give us permission to go rip the bubble wrap off by just going and being a minority somewhere.
“So many times we just need these stories that give us permission to go rip the bubble wrap off by just going and being a minority somewhere.” Jessica Honegger
Andy: Yeah. It’s important to go as a learner. I think that was the great opportunity I had. I had a very clear reason I was there in a way. I mean, I was there to learn gospel, yes, to serve by playing, but everyone knew I was there, I had to learn. I think one of the really very challenging things about being white, especially white, shall we say, educated, whatever class that makes you. I’m not sure middle class or upper class or that, helpful in this context.
But one of the challenges we have is that the mediated representations we get of people of color, even today in 2018 as we’re speaking, so often position…how should I put this? They do not position us as learners. And then the relationships that we may have, the glancing relationships or some deeper relationships, we often unconsciously go in with an assumption of superiority.
I wouldn’t even say in a narrow sense it’s our fault, it’s how we’re socialized, it’s the options we’ve been given, it’s the story that was handed to us, often handed to our own parents and grandparents. Like, it’s very difficult. And the point is not to assign blame. But you really have to go in as an apprentice, as a novice, as someone who doesn’t know, and just learn.
“The point is not to assign blame. But you really have to go in as an apprentice, as a novice, as someone who doesn’t know, and just learn.” Andy Crouch on participating in minority cultures.
Jessica: Be curious.
Andy: Yeah. So, curiosity.
Jessica: And nonjudgmental, as you are learning.
Andy: Yes, exactly. You know, for example, the way…I write about this in Playing God, one of my books. Playing God, or Strong and Weak. I think I write about it more in Strong and Weak. The way that pastors in the African-American church carry themselves, in my cultural context, the most natural word I would tend to assign to that, if I were evaluating it with understanding it, it would be something like "Authoritarian." There’s a lot of authority that comes with being a pastor.
And by the way, this is one of the unknowing mistakes we so often make. In our desire to be friendly, and for us in a lot of white American culture, friendly means informal, you know, you address that pastor by their first name outside of a friendship relationship, like in a public context. "Oh, my friend, Richard," you know, or, "My friend, Claude." That’s actually very disrespectful in the black church context. Like, this is, you know, this is Bishop Alexander, this is Pastor Richard, or Pastor Stephens, or whatever. White people, in our desire to act like we’re friendly, actually don’t honor that position.
Now, I could go in and judge that, and prejudge that. Instead, I have to go in and say, "OK, this is different from how it’s done in my cultural context, but maybe if I stick around long enough I’ll actually learn why it’s different." That doesn’t mean that I would give all instances of pastoral authority in the black church a free pass, because there are times when people abuse this power. By the way, white pastors abuse their informal power all the time. There’s this sort of manipulation that happens through informality just as there can be an exploitation that happens through formality or formal power.
So, it’s not that I ultimately can’t make discernment about how people handle that authority they’re given, but it’s so easy to go in and just prejudge it. You have to go assuming there’s a good reason things are the way they are in this culture, whatever it is, and I have to first learn and be an apprentice before I’d ever start to be able to perhaps evaluate.
Jessica: Which is something that’s accessible to all of us. I think we often, we hear, we know that other cultures have different rules and we think, "I’m gonna offend," or "I’m not gonna get it right so I’m just not gonna go try this out because I’m just afraid I’m gonna hurt someone or be offensive." And the truth is it’s really about, and Tasha talks a lot about this, like, "Yeah, you are gonna offend. That’s real. That’s gonna happen."
So, it really is about checking your heart and the attitude of your heart. Are you being curious? Are you being a learner? And that’s something that we all have access to be.
Andy: Totally. And just to drill down on that a bit, first of all, the truth is the offense that I may cause unknowingly is nothing compared to the challenges that people of color live with every day. So, it’s a drop in the bucket. And they’re going to respond in one of three ways, one is it probably will not be…the folks who have to live with these assumptions that are the assumptions of the dominant culture, they have coping mechanisms, so it may sort of roll off and they’ll just graciously overlook it. That often happens. And you’ll never know.
The second is it will actually be very troubling, and they won’t tell you because they don’t trust you. The third best option is that you’ll actually get pushed back at the right time. Sometimes it will feel a little abrupt or surprising. I think what we’re often afraid of is not offending, it’s being confronted with being offending. And yet if you just stay in the relationship at that point and say, "Oh, I am so sorry. Help me understand. I’m sorry that I have to ask you to help me understand," 95% of the time on the other side of that, trust is built, and a relationship is deepened.
But we often fear that confrontation, when in fact that confrontation is an expression of a willingness to go deeper in the relationship. Because if I don’t wanna go on into a relationship with you, I just won’t tell you. But if I tell you, that actually means I’m willing to let you into my world, let you see how my actions…I’m mixing up my pronouns here, but how those offensive actions came to be. Anyway, it’s an opportunity to totally learn and actually to experience being loved and forgiven when we didn’t deserve it, which seems like pretty good practice for a church.
“I think what we’re often afraid of is not offending, it’s being confronted with being offending…we often fear that confrontation, when in fact that confrontation is an expression of a willingness to go deeper in the relationship… it’s an opportunity to totally learn and actually to experience being loved and forgiven when we didn’t deserve it.” Andy Crouch
Breaking through the Paralysis of Fear
Jessica: Yeah, well and what I love is what you’re saying is it’s not just like a onetime, "Oh, I’m gonna go try this out," but it’s really committing your lifestyle of being a stayer, which you proclaimed to me… Yesterday Andy interviewed me for his new podcast, it’s coming out with Praxis, which is an organization I work with that is really creating redemptive entrepreneurship support for entrepreneurs.
Andy: Totally. Totally.
Jessica: Anyway, Andy proclaimed me as a stayer, but that’s really what this is. It’s about this long-term view. And when you commit to being a stayer then you’re less concerned about being confronted by being offended, because you’re like, this is a learning. We’re gonna wake up tomorrow and we’re gonna keep at this, and I’m gonna keep learning.
OK, speaking of yesterday’s conversation, which was incredible, ya’ll. Andy, oh my Gosh.
Andy: Oh, my Gosh.
Jessica: I’m much more nervous to interview you today, however, than getting interviewed by you. I’ve got to talk myself off of a ledge a little bit. So, speaking of being afraid, that’s what I wanted to talk about because Andy was really challenging me on his podcast, that "Jessica, you’re actually not afraid. Like, I don’t know what you’re talking about," and I’m like, "Andy, I just read a whole book on this, you can’t take it away, like, take away this whole thing."
But you challenged me to consider that maybe I’m not afraid, but, you know, I said that actually I think you can be afraid and you can exhibit it internally while externally, you might not look afraid. But I’m wondering, what’s your relationship to fear? Are you one of those that gets more easily paralyzed, you know, or are you one of those that has that bias towards action? I know you are more of a thought leader, but you’re loving now that getting to work among entrepreneurs, and you’ve said to me several times, "They have a bias towards action, and I’m loving that." So, I wanna know a little bit more, like, how do you define courage? What’s your relation to fear?
Andy: Oh, man. Well, I certainly love being around people who have a bias to action and people who overcome their fears. I’m not sure if I am one, excessively at least. Well, I mean, what immediately comes to mind is the hardest thing I do, which is writing, which probably is the most important thing I do. I don’t know exactly how you weigh those things, but I struggle tremendously with, really, with paralysis, when I am faced with the opportunity or the assignment to write.
And it gets worse the bigger the assignment is, so books are by far the worst. My first book was turned in two and a half years late. I think…
Jessica: Oh, my Gosh.
Andy: Yeah, let’s see, it was June…
Jessica: It was a beast, though. Was that “Culture Makers"?
Andy: Culture Making, is the first book.
Jessica: Culture Making I mean.
Andy: Published in 2008. So, it was turned in in December, 2007, I believe, or maybe October 2007. The original due date on the contract that I signed was January, 31st, 2005, yes. So, that is two and a half years late. And I would say of those two-and-a-half years, two years of it was fear. In fact, the first year…So, I signed that contract saying I’d deliver the book, January 31st, 2005. I signed that a year ahead of time, and at the end of that year I…So, this is a 100,000 word book. I had 3,000 words written at the end of that year, a year in which by the way, I had no other job.
It actually turns out like the worst thing for a writer is to have nothing else to do.
Jessica: I can see that. I’m more productive when I’m being productive.
Andy: Oh, totally. Oh, my Gosh. When I don’t have anything else to do, I just discover unreserved capacity for procrastination. But I was so afraid, I had a very specific fear actually, and this was a book about culture and how Christians in particular are called to be creators of culture, not just critics of culture.
So I’m writing about an area that a lot of academics study, especially anthropologists, of course and sociologists, and I was trying to do a sort of intellectually responsible job of writing about that, even though I have not been trained in either of those fields. The very specific fear I had, among many, was that a sociologist would read the book when it came out and say, "This is stupid." I actually had a specific sociologist in mind and…
Jessica: So, you were writing to the sociologist, basically.
Andy: Or not writing.
Jessica: Or not writing. But you were writing, because you just kept imagining that’s, yeah.
Andy: Because I’m imagining.
Andy: And many other things, but that was certainly one of them. Now, the crazy thing is a year or two after my book was published, this sociologist did actually publish a book in which he spent four pages on my book, and in academic prose said, "This book is stupid."
Jessica: Oh, my Gosh, so your worst fear did actually exhibit itself.
Andy: The very thing I was afraid of happened. Absolutely, like pretty much, I mean, without the use of those exact words, but in academia and intellectual circles, everyone knows how to say, "This is stupid," without using those words. It was an extremely dismissive take on my book.
So, what you have to know is that by the time that happened, I was totally free of that, and it didn’t…a) It didn’t matter at all at a deep spiritual level. I mean, I wasn’t happy about his assessment book, and it has not affected the fruitfulness of the work at all. In one sense, that back and forth is just part of taking a risk as a writer.
“The very thing I was afraid of happened. Absolutely, like pretty much…So, what you have to know is that by the time that happened, I was totally free of that…and it didn’t matter at all at a deep spiritual level.” Andy Crouch on faith’s deliverance from fears.
And what happened is at the end of that January when I was supposed to have the whole thing done and had nothing done, for all practical purposes, I was at a conference with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which I worked with, and two of my best friends from my years in campus ministry, I had left that work but I came back, I think I was doing a seminar or something and I just happened in the hallway to see these two dear, dear friends who had known me at that point for 15 years. And I said, "Guys, I need you to pray for me."
So, what I’m going to recount may sound freaky for those who may not be Christians, but this is just what happened, and this is the kind of crazy thing we Christians do. So, Will and Christiana sat down with me behind a potted plant in the hallway of the St. Louis Missouri conference center, convention center, and I said, "I just have to confess to you where I am in this, what I haven’t done and why I haven’t done it."
They laid their hands on me, and prayed for me, and it was…you know, we have this word that we associate specifically with demons, like the forces in the world that most seek to destroy us, the word being "Deliverance." It was that kind of experience. It was very emotional. I was so ashamed of myself for just squandering this year, right?
My friends, I mean, you know, they sat with me. I just wept. I mean, I was so truly messy, crying. And then they prayed, and then they actually each had things to confess in their own life from their own fears, and so we prayed for one another. And after about 45 minutes of this, we got up and hugged each other, and we were, I at least, I think they too were set free in this very fundamental way. I went home and it still took me a year and a half to get the dang thing done.
Jessica: Well, because then you had to write a 100,000-word book, minus 3,000.
Andy: Ninety-seven thousand words to go. It’s still hard, and there was still procrastination. But I have to say I was set free at this very deep level by that one intervention from those friends, and they’re thanked, of course, in the acknowledgments to the book. That book was two and a half years late. Playing God, the book that I think has been meaningful to you was one year late. My third book, Strong and Weak was one month late, or maybe two months.
Jessica: They’ve also gotten shorter and shorter.
Andy: Yes, exactly. The books have gotten shorter, that’s true. But Tech-wise Family, my last one, was one week late. So, I’m getting a lot better at facing this, and also, I really feel that moment behind that potted plant, which was, I appreciate that potted plant by the way. I can picture it right now, was the turning point in my, sort of in my life, as a public voice. Like, I would not have had it without that deliverance.
Jessica: Well, and you had that moment because you had been vulnerable and had been able to share that with your friends, and they received that in a place of empathy. So, I think, to quote what our friend, Curt Thomson, he would say this is like the neurobiology of the brain, you know?
Andy: Totally. Totally.
Jessica: That’s so powerful. I think that we often stay paralyzed and we think we’re the only one. I mean, we all have…I mean, I definitely had that, you know, like this person in my head. I do that sometimes when I’m speaking, and maybe I’m speaking to some people that maybe you’re gonna disagree or… I’ve been in some situations, maybe when we’re on a tough time as a business and I’m speaking to maybe some of my critics, and I’ll prepare my talk for the critics. It’s like I prepare this whole thing and it’s really at this place of fear instead of lifting up and walking in faith, which faith is future-oriented, you know. And faith leads, I think fear paralyzes.
“I think that we often stay paralyzed and we think we’re the only one… it’s really at this place of fear instead of lifting up and walking in faith, which faith is future-oriented, you know. And faith leads, I think fear paralyzes.” Jessica Honegger
Andy: Oh, totally. I mean, sometimes you’re driven, no, often, right? You’re driven to that vulnerability that is actually the way out by desperation. I mean, that was my situation. I also, you know, we as you know for books like this you are paid in advance when you sign the contract, or at least a certain amount. I had spent that money, I was like, I can’t refund the publisher, I have to deliver a book.
So, desperation sometimes is great at getting us out of the paralysis. But on the other side of it is such amazing freedom.
Andy: Yeah. And as Curt would say, being known and knowing that you’re loved and you’re accepted in your failure to be who you were meant to be, and then somehow you’re able to actually be who you were meant to be.
Jessica: Well, right. I think sometimes we are outcome-oriented. So, you’re imagining the sociologist, and obviously, you’re wanting the sociologist’s praise, not this sociologist’s, you know, criticism.
Jessica: And we wanna try to control this outcome. I love in your story, your worst fear came true, because it’s not about being able to risk assess the situation so much to where you’re like, "No, it’s actually all going to turn out." I think sometimes when we share fears with our friends, our tendency is to wanna say, "That would never happen," or no, no, no. And it’s like, actually, that could happen, and then what? And then what? Would you still be loved?
Making the Most of Failures
Jessica: Would you still be intact? I mean, Andy, you didn’t die. You know what I mean? Like, you’re alive, you know. So, some of that is just going, your worst fear actually isn’t your…it’s your worst fear. It’s not what is going to define you. You know, don’t find by this failure, or this fear of failure, but instead, you know, go scared. Going Scared, the name of the podcast.
Jessica: So, when I read Playing God, it’s interesting because we have the saying at Noonday, "Her success doesn’t diminish mine."
Andy: Wow, which in a sales organization, that’s a big deal.
Jessica: Yeah, so I wanted to talk about this because when I first started Noonday, I was like hair on fire. I wasn’t looking around at competition. I wasn’t looking at the marketplace. I had done no competitive analysis. I was just like, I had a boy in Rwanda, I needed money for it. Other women were like, "I wanna open my house. This is awesome jewelry," and I just started building.
And then there came a point where the stakes got a little bit higher, and, you know, I eventually got my business partner, Travis. I told you all about that story yesterday. It’s outlined in my book. Suddenly, when people are starting to risk on me, I started feeling a lot more of that fear, because somehow their failure would be linked to my failure. My failure would then bring them down, right? And my success would bring them up. But as again, I tend to plan for failure not success, unfortunately.
So then I started looking around a lot more and probably was a little obsessive, like maybe it was this sociologist moment for me where I am looking at, you know, a couple of other artists and businesses. This was, you know, several years ago there was not a whole lot actually on the landscape. And I would follow them, and honestly, I think what I ultimately felt was, you know, was it jealousy? Was it competition? Ultimately, was it wanting what they had, you know?
And when we want what someone else has, we actually aren’t focused on what we do have, right?
Jessica: And it can be so distracting.
Jessica: I had such this moment after reading your book of that idea of power and it’s not a zero-sum game. And this brand, these other two brands that I was eyeing, their success actually wasn’t diminishing mine. It was taking nothing away from the success of Noonday. And I can remember decisively, because I read the book and I was like, "I’ve got to hear more of this guy." I think l listened to some sort of talk you gave on the book, and I remember sitting in the parking lot of our office and just crying and going and asking God for forgiveness, that I had really seen power and success is the zero-sum game.
Creating rather than Competing
Jessica: So, I wanted us to talk a little bit about, first of all, your philosophy around power, power multiplying power, flourishing power, and then how do we reconcile that now that you’re working with entrepreneurs, where we very much do have to look at the consumer pie, and we do need to take into consideration what is our competitive analysis, what’s our competitive advantage.
I know these things we haven’t fully fleshed out, but I’ve asked you to. I’m like, "Could you please write a book on this?" But let’s first lay the groundwork for whatever that moment. I can’t even tell you what exactly it was that I read, specifically. I just remember there was just this idea that power is not a zero-sum game.
Andy: Yeah, totally.
Jessica: And that more equals more. And I realize I’ve been living in this scarcity mentality.
Andy: Right, right. Well, yeah, so I think the key fundamental idea here is that there is a power that is a zero-sum game, and it’s force. It’s compulsion, coercion, ultimately violence, right? This involves making someone or something do something they don’t wanna do, or that they resist doing. I mean, it can, at the physics level it can be just like closing a door, like the door resists with a certain amount of inertial something or other. I’m not a scientist, but…right?
So, it’s pushing against resistance, and that is a zero-sum game. Actually, it’s very humid here today and our front door barely closes. To close it, I have to use a lot of force, almost a level of violence. I’m tempted to use a lot of violence against my front door, actually. I’m frustrated with it, and either the door wins or I win. That is zero sum.
Jessica: That’s zero sum.
Andy: Yeah. Well actually, it’s slightly negative sum, if you want deep physics, second law of thermodynamics says every exchange like that actually slightly increases the disorder in the energy that’s not available for work. So every time you lay out some energy to get something to happen, you actually diminish cosmically the remaining energy available.
So force is a contest in which only one party can win. Either I can make you do something, or you can make me do something. But there’s a completely different kind of power, which is the power to bring something into being that does not exist. And I would call that creative power instead of coercive power. So, coercive power is the ability to get stuff that already exists to do what I want, and that’s a limited quantity.
“Force is a contest in which only one party can win. Either I can make you do something, or you can make me do something. But there’s a completely different kind of power, which is the power to bring something into being that does not exist. And I would call that creative power instead of coercive power.” Andy Crouch
Jessica: Which I would say, obviously, I mean that pretty much defines injustice, right? Is the negative use of power?
Andy: Yes, yes. Absolutely.
Jessica: The coercive use of power. Which I just remembered, we’re actually gonna see each other this weekend. I’m speaking at Liberate. Yeah, I just remembered that. We are getting so much of each other this week. This is hilarious.
Andy: It’s awesome. Much of a do, I’ll say. Yeah, yeah. So, all injustice, ultimately deploys violence. So, violence is force that violates the dignity of another. So, if I get really mad at that door and I slam it violently, I’m using more force than necessary to get it to do what I need it to do. I’m violating its design, and I’m actually violating myself too, right? It would be embarrassing in some sense to have someone see me get mad at my front door just because it’s sticking. Because I’m like, I’m stepping out of the bounds of what is to be a healthy human being, and what is in this case to be a healthy door.
Now, that’s not that big a deal if it’s a door, it’s a big deal if it’s another human being. All injustice violates, that is it denies the dignity of someone else, often in order to achieve its coercive need. And yes, so that’s the very essential pattern of injustices and violence.
Creativity, on the other hand. Creation is not limited in this way. So, a very simple example is that we’re having a conversation now and because we’re really listening to each other and because we are creative people, and I don’t mean we’re creatives like some people are creative some are not, we’re people who are creative. All people are.
“All injustice violates, that is it denies the dignity of someone else, often in order to achieve its coercive need. And yes, so that’s the very essential pattern of injustices and violence. Creativity, on the other hand—Creation is not limited in this way…We’re people who are creative. All people are.” Andy Crouch
Jessica: All people. Listen to that, listeners. You are creative. You are created in the image of God to be creative.
Andy: Yes, yes. Yes. I hate it when people talk about “creatives,” you know? I mean, I understand why we name that profession, but no, no, every human being… As we listen to each other, we use the English language which is a finite resource, that is we’re not making up any words in this conversation. We’re not changing the rules of grammar at all. And yet, I guarantee each of us has spoken a sentence in this conversation that we have never spoken before.
In fact, linguists say we have spoken a sentence that has never been spoken in the history of the English language. So, we have made something new out of limited resources. Like, we aren’t making up some new language but were rearranging it in a creative way that brings into being something that if we do it well, is worthwhile. That to me, is like a picture of what can happen with all of creation. It is finite, like there’s only so much stuff in the world, and we can’t make more of it. But when we relate to the world creatively rather than coercively, there’s actually so much room to bring value into the world.
And among other things, now you put this in a business context, you know, business in one sense is just the recognition of value and the exchange of tokens of value. It’s the fundamental human creativity that means that there is no clear ceiling on how much we can create and how much value we can add to the world, when we do it creatively rather than coercively. So, the way this applies to, you know, so you’re starting a direct sales business, or, you know, I think it’s…obviously, what you do is so much bigger than that, but one could reduce it to that, or a jewelry business, or, you know, you could use any number of reductive pictures, right? Then you look at the competitive landscape, and you’re like, "Wow, there’s lots of other people trying to do that." When you have a coercive mindset you think, "How can we take market share from that other business?"
“When we relate to the world creatively rather than coercively, there’s actually so much room to bring value into the world… It’s the fundamental human creativity that means that there is no clear ceiling on how much we can create and how much value we can add to the world, when we do it creatively rather than coercively.” Andy Crouch
Jessica: Which is a very common way to, I mean…Actually, Jeff Bezos, he actually doesn’t believe it. He doesn’t look at his competition, isn’t that his philosophy?
Andy: It may well be, I haven’t heard that. But I wouldn’t be surprised, because in fact…Now, it may well be the case that over time some ventures become more viable and others become less viable. But not in a healthy environment, by going out and grabbing. Because that’s so uncreative.
And by the way, where that does happen is in what we call in economics, "Commodities." So, commodities are things that are indistinguishable from one another. One is just as good as another. Essentially, that’s to say there is no creativity involved in their production. They’re often extracted, they’re natural resources of different kinds often.
When you’re in a commodity business, it is zero sum. Whoever can sell at the lowest market clearing price gets the market share. But the whole goal of business, actually, is to not merely be in the commodity business. It’s to actually add value. And when you do that, ideally, you do it in spaces that have nothing there. So, you don’t so much look at your competitors and think, "How can I beat that person?" you ask, and this is where competitive landscape analysis is absolutely the right thing to do. You ask what’s just missing? Like, what doesn’t even exist yet that we could create?
And the amazing history of the last 120 or 200 years is over and over, people are realizing there’s this whole realm that’s missing that innovation allows us to create space in, and it doesn’t so much displace or coerce as simply open up possibility. Now, I don’t wanna deny, you know, there’s another level at which economics functions. You know, there are elements of scarcity, right? And that happens in business and we have a lot fewer people, you know, making wagon wheels.
Jessica: I mean, Wal-Mart put its people out of…I mean, I don’t know, you know what I mean? Like, this is so random. This is definitely not in my notes. I’ve never even had this conversation before. But let’s take Wal-Mart.
Andy: So, Wal-Mart famously competes on price. They don’t compete on creativity, right? They compete on squeezing, I would say with all respect to Wal-Mart, and there’s lots of good things about being an efficient business. But their whole company culture is efficiency. But that actually leaves so much room for other kinds of companies whose company culture is something other than mere squeezing waste out, who actually create something.
And so yes, Wal-Mart did displace less efficient competitors for sure, but it also contributes…well, at the same time, I’m not gonna say that Wal-Mart’s the cause of it, but at the same time, there’s this economy that is growing in all other dimensions that Wal-Mart doesn’t touch, can’t touch.
Jessica: That’s the true. It’s this whole idea of there’s different lanes, you know?
Jessica: And, run in your lane.
Andy: It would be like we said, could this podcast eventually dominate all other podcasts? Well, in one sense, people only have so much time to listen, right? So, in one sense, there is a competitive landscape. People are listening to us rather than something else they could be listening to.
But really what’s going on here is you are curating a set of conversations in which new things are said that have never been said before, that couldn’t have been said unless you took the risk of calling me up, and Tasha, and all your other guests, and saying, "Would you spend an hour?" which is scarce, "and out of that scarce hour, and out of our listeners’ time, could we create something that doesn’t exist?"
And the truth is this is exactly the right thing to do, and that creative aspect, there’s no coercion involved and there’s no domination involved. It’s just opening up new possibilities.
Letting Go of Status
Jessica: I am in love with this. And Andy, I struggle, I struggle, and I’m trying to identify, because I’m a creator, right? We all are creators, so I have this bias towards action. I go and do, but then somewhere along the way, it’s like when I launched my book. I launched a book try a couple of months before the book, and these are my advocates that were gonna go and bring it to market. And 2,000 women signed up and I just remember feeling absolutely humbled and I was like, "If you guys are the only ones that read my book, I am grateful."
And then one of my mentors, Brene Brown, read the book and endorsed the book. I was just so humbled, and I thought, this is better than The New York Times. Like, this is beautiful, this is wonderful. I had all of this, like I’m just offering gifts, I’m offering my life as a gift, I’m offering…it’s all just gifts.
And then the book launched, and then suddenly, I’m looking at the Amazon list, I’m like, "We’re gonna take that person down." I was like, "I wanna be on The New York Times bestseller. Besides, my book is rescuing women out of brothels. My book is bringing justice to the world. My book can help people get off their couch and go change the world. It matters so much more than those five top bestsellers, which by the way, means I should be doing better, and by the way, God, you better make my book do better."
Andy: Oh, my Gosh.
Jessica: In a time when you think, this should be joy, it should be like, finally, it’s birthed. I mean, it’s been like almost this three-year process, you know, between inception to birth. I inside, am not celebrating, and I’m feeling like, "Oh, my God, 24 on that list, but I didn’t get five."
Jessica: I mean, thankfully, I realized, but even realizing it though, still didn’t mean…it just took a long time. I’m just now settling in. We’re a few weeks in. Actually this, ironically, this is the last podcast in this whole Imperfect Courage series. You are my final guest for these beautiful 12 podcasts.
This is a chapter, "Building This Flourishing World," and there’s just this push-pull. We start something and it’s beautiful and we’re doing it for the love of it, but then suddenly, for me, not for all people, I don’t know if this is in my personality or what, but then suddenly, it becomes about the outcome and not about the journey. And then I’m suddenly looking at everyone else’s lane and I’m thinking, "My lane matters more so it should be bigger and better." Break it down for me, Andy. How does this fit? I don’t know.
Andy: Oh, my Gosh, I could totally break it down. I’ve been there. I mean, I will say, "Gosh, I’m so grateful that I imposed a discipline after my first book of never looking at those Amazon numbers, or any of those other numbers. Oh, I know exactly, I know exactly what you have been through.
Jessica: So, that’s a real practical thing I could do, because I still look at them every day.
Andy: Never, never, never, because, well for so many reasons, but let me give you the most fundamental. This is in our founding story. So, God creates, right? In Genesis 1, whether you believe it literally or take it as a deeply instructive method, it doesn’t really matter for my purposes right now.
God creates this abundant world, day after day brings into being things that are not, places image bearers, male and female in that world, in this abundant environment of a garden and says, "Now it’s your turn, in a way, to imitate me as a creator."
Into that garden, somehow, comes a serpent who says, "I notice a limitation in this garden. You’re not allowed to touch that, or eat from that tree," and the woman is like, "Yeah, we’re not even allowed to touch it," which God didn’t actually say. And the serpent says, "Do you know why? It’s because God is in the zero-sum game. God knows if you eat that tree, you will be like God." And the serpent says this as if it’s a bad thing, as if it’s something God is afraid of. God definitely does not want any competition in his cosmos.
So, the serpent is like, "But God knows if you eat it, he’s going to have competition. And you’ll be just like him," and the woman’s like, "Well…" the interesting thing is they are like God. They’re made in God’s image, like it’s actually something that in a way they should want, but what she hears and what the man hears, and what human beings have heard ever since, is God is in the zero-sum business, and if I’m not gonna be ground down by a dominating God who just wants to put limits on me and prevent me from being what I’m meant to be, I have to disobey and dominate myself, and ultimately, as Nietzsche said, "I’m going to eventually have to kill God, if I could."
It’s a lie. It’s absolutely a lie, because for the whole rest of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, God never responds in kind. He’s not in this game. He’s not in the competitive game. And for those of us who are Christians, God ultimately submits Himself entirely to His creation. Instead of us becoming like God, God becomes like us, and even is not afraid of death, which is of course, the thing that haunts all of this, this whole story.
Now, what is the thing that is most scarce? Time is very scarce, but there’s something that’s even more scarce, and it’s status. Status is your place in line. Only one person can be first in line. That’s the very, very dangerous power of all those lists, is they rank order, books, but really we read them, we people read them as ranking people and our worth as people. The only way for me to climb that list is for someone else to decline, right?
“Status is your place in line. Only one person can be first in line. That’s the very, very dangerous power of all those lists, is they rank order…ranking people and our worth as people. The only way for me to climb that list is for someone else to decline.” Andy Crouch
Andy: It’s so interesting that Jesus, the one thing, I mean, Jesus was very engaged with the world around him in all kinds of ways, but the one thing he showed no interest in at all, was status. He’s in a town, the ruler of the synagogue, most important man in the town perhaps, comes to him with a need, his daughter is ill. Jesus is ready to go with him but then along comes this woman. She’s been a total exile from the community because she’s been bleeding for 12 years. She just touches the hem of his cloak, he doesn’t even initially know who it is, and he’s just as interested in her as he is in this very high-status man. He ends up meeting both of their needs and talking with both of them, and deeply engaging with both of them.
James and John, the two disciples, come and they’re like, "Jesus, could you arrange for us to be in places number one and number two at your Messianic banquet?" and Jesus is like, "Do you know what you’re asking?" And then he says, "I don’t even know who’s going to be in those places." He shows totally, he just doesn’t even care. He’s like, "That’s for whoever the Father has decided to put. I don’t even pay attention to that."
He’s sitting at a dinner with his disciples where normally, the lowest status person in the room would have to…and "ideally" it would be a slave, right? An enslaved person, or someone very, very low status, would come around and wash everyone’s feet from the dirty road. But if there wasn’t a slave in the room to do it, whoever was the most junior, everyone would do a sort of a mental accounting, like, "Oh, I think that’s, you know, Matthew’s job," or whatever.
And all the disciples are too proud to wash each other’s feet, so they sit, apparently, through most of the dinner with unwashed feet, which for us would be like picking your nose and then not washing your hands, right? But everyone’s too proud to do it. Jesus gets up after dinner, takes off his robe, ties a towel around his waist and goes around and washes everyone’s feet. Because he just, he doesn’t care, because he’s not in that game. He’s in the creative game, and in the creative game there’s no such thing as, is my sentence better than your sentence?
To Go Scared in the Creative Game and Know Your Work Is Good
Because you’ve said beautiful and important things as we’ve talked. I’ve hopefully said some beautiful, important things. There’s no competition between the things we’ve said. We’ve added to the world, and we’ve actually together added something we never would have added on our own. And Jesus, all he cares about is creativity. All this means don’t look at the Amazon numbers.
Jessica: I’m crying right now, because it’s been a thing.
Andy: Oh, it’s so real.
Jessica: It’s so real. I’m crying on behalf of all the listeners right now, and maybe it’s not about a book for them, but it’s about something.
Andy: All of us.
Jessica: This isn’t necessarily where I can say I have this beautiful way to wrap this up, and it’s how you describe the flourishing world, but is it possible then to be competitive? Can that language exist, you know what I mean? Like, is that something that we as faith-oriented people…
I’m also crying because, you know, that part in my book at the end where Richard Foster, he was this Quaker theologian. I’m 21 years old, I’m attending this retreat of his. I’m about to go overseas with Food for The Hungry, and he did not know me from Adam. This guy does not know me. And he asked if people wanted prayer, and I’m thinking, "God, this is kind of Pentecostal," but I’m like, "Sure." Like I weren’t expecting a Quaker to be wrapping it up like this, so I’m like, "Well, you’ll get prayer from this guy. I mean, my Gosh, he wrote, you know, the Celebration of Discipline, just deep, spiritual, you know, framework.
Andy: I’m sure his prayers matter, especially to God because of…
Jessica: Well, that’s right, that’s right. So, I’m in line, anyway, he just starts talking to me, and then he looks at me and he says, "Never scorn the rich and never glorify the poor. Just walk in the Holy Spirit. Be like Mother Teresa. Whether she was in India with a leper, or whether she was in the White House with the president, it didn’t matter."
Jessica: So, as we’re talking, of course prophetically, this is clean out my life. My entire business is about bridging rich and poor and creating connection and meaning.
Andy: Oh, my Gosh.
Jessica: But really I could almost summarize what he said, is like "Don’t care about status," you know?
Jessica: But it’s so easy to say, "Don’t care about status," right? It’s like a rule. We all know, be like Jesus, you know? But what I love, what you’re saying is the solution to that is stepping into this story of creation and being that co-creator. Would you say that is what the invitation that you’re holding out to us?
Andy: Absolutely. And you asked about competition, you know, there’s purpose to competition for the development of us. My son wants to be a musician. He competes against other musicians in auditions and so forth. It’s a way of pushing yourself to be your best, but the goal is to be able to say of our lives, "It was very good."
So, this is what God says at the end of his own act of creating in Genesis 1, "God saw everything He had made, including the man and the woman and said, It’s very good."" That is an evaluation, right? So, it’s not like we become indifferent to our lives, to the fruit of our lives, to what we’ve made of our lives. I’m not indifferent to that two and a half years I…well, not all but much of it, wasted. I would say that was a waste, that I was not very good. I regret that. Fortunately, I feel totally forgiven and free of that failure. But it was a failure.
And so, I’m not competing primarily against other authors, I am competing, in a way, against, actually in a way the voice of scarcity, the voice of competition that paralyzes me and that says well, why don’t you just do something mediocre so you won’t even pretend you’re trying to be excellent? You know, there’s so many different forms of sticks.
But what we press toward, and what we arrange our lives to push us toward, and train…I mean, Paul the Apostle says, I mean, he uses strong language. He says, "I beat my body to get it into shape so I’ll be able to run this race that at the end of my life I’ll be able to say, "This was very good." And that’s not, this was better than what Jessica did. It’s no, no, what came into the world because of my life? And the people that God gave me to partner with brought something into the world that fulfilled the Creator’s original intention that His world would be opened up and all that’s possibilities would be explored.
That is not something which I’m fundamentally competing with others, it’s something which I’m actually having to shed and lay aside that idea that I am here to win, and instead, realize I’m here to bring a flourishing…that if I don’t take a risk, if I don’t act, it will never be. And yet if I do, thanks to the ultimate rescue of all things by the one who will renew all things, it will actually matter, and it will have brought something to the world that wasn’t there before.
“The people that God gave me to partner with brought something into the world that fulfilled the Creator’s original intention…possibilities would be explored. That is not…competing with others, it’s… if I don’t take a risk, if I don’t act, it will never be. And yet if I do…it will actually matter, and it will have brought something to the world that wasn’t there before.” Andy Crouch
Jessica: And we can get to say those words, "Very good," whereas if we are paralyzed by not being number one, or by way that other person might say about us, or that this other person is not gonna perceive us as not as smart, or the sociologist, or whatever it might be. We never get to hear those words.
Andy: It’s so different from not good enough, which is what you’ll hear eternally, in a sense, if you set up that comparison. Well, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public life, this voice comes from heaven, "This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased." He hasn’t even done anything. God is just pleased to be in a relationship with him. And then the promise at the end is, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master."
And, you know, there’s this one parable where people have been working different amounts, like they technically should have earned different amounts. And the owner of that vineyard just pays everyone the same thing. And some complain, they’re like, "Hey, well, I worked all day," and God’ like, "What is that to you? I gave you what you most want," which I think outside the terms of that little parable, is what do I most want? It’s to know that my life mattered, it’s to know that I participated in creating something very good, that I was ultimately who I was created to be. That is the reward, and nothing else. There’s nothing else on offer, actually, than God saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant," at the end of our lives.
“What do I most want? It’s to know that my life mattered, it’s to know that I participated in creating something very good, that I was ultimately who I was created to be. That is the reward, and nothing else.” Andy Crouch
Jessica: This is such a beautiful way to wrap up the series, in this chapter, which is called "Building a Flourishing World." I love how you say that a flourishing world is a world where every creature can be fully, truly, gloriously itself, most of all, where God’s own image-bearers bear that image in all its fullness, variety and capacity.
It is such a beautiful story that we’re invited into it, and then we get to invite others into and bring this flourishing to the slums of India…
Jessica: …to the brothels of Beijing, to the disparities that exist in Uganda. And we get to create these spaces where other people can be gloriously themselves, so, thank you. Thank you, for your writing, thank you for not staying paralyzed, because I know I certainly have gotten to really lean into a framework that’s so rich in the way that you have created your words, for me and for countless others.
“It is such a beautiful story that we’re invited into it, and then we get to invite others into and bring this flourishing to the slums of India…to the brothels of Beijing, to the disparities that exist in Uganda. And we get to create these spaces where other people can be gloriously themselves.” Jessica Honegger
Andy: Oh, thank you, Jessica.
Jessica: So, Andy definitely caught me in the middle just my own processing around this idea of how can we be ambitious but do it in a way that is joyful and freeing. And I just love this idea that her success doesn’t diminish mine, and that creativity is regenerative, and it’s abundant. I really want to live from that place. It’s such a beautiful way to wrap up this entire series.
You can keep up with Andy via andy-crouch.com. And just before you go, I just wanna thank you so much, truly. My Imperfect Courage listeners, it’s been such a joy to meet so many of you. By the time you hear this, I will have wrapped up my last book stop of 2018. I love hearing from you. I love reading your reviews, so I would love for you to go leave a review on iTunes, and tell me what you’ve learned from this series of Imperfect Courage. Let iTunes know about it so that other people can find this and we can all build a world that flourishes together.
Thanks so much for tuning in today. Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.