Love and admiration and Mark Zuckerberg

It was, apparently, the year of Mark Zuckerberg, between Sorkin/Fincher andTime and the Newark public schools donation and such. Oh yeah, and that website.

I’m supposed to hate Zuckerberg, I think, because of all of this. But I don’t. The whole way through The Social Network (which I reviewed), I thought I was probably supposed to hate him. But I couldn’t, and not just because it was actually Jesse Eisenberg, who I kind of adore.

On the contrary: I kind of get him, or at least the Hollywood/media version of him. We’re about the same age, we studied similar things in college (peering over “his” shoulder in the movie, I could read the code as if it were just plain old prose), we were in college at the same time, and we both seem to have the inability or perhaps underdeveloped ability to read social cues, though I think, or hope, that I’m better at it than him.

But, uneasily, I identify with him a bit. Mark, or his movie version and probably at least a good portion of his real version, really is just driven toward success by his desire to belong to something, to be accepted by someone, to be on the inside.

Oh, how I recognize that desire. I know its contours intimately. I’m neither old nor particularly wise, but when I peer uneasily backwards I can see how many of my choices have been determined by that same need. Some of those choices turned out to be good. Others probably should have been left alone. Sometimes it’s just been a hunt to be branded properly, accepted, fit into the slot that would let me be understood and known by the right people.

Earlier this year we published a piece by Vincent Bacote in Comment that I have returned to at least a half dozen times since. He starts out by talking about John Piper’s hiatus this year from the public eye, and its reasons:

One of the most interesting things he stated as he addressed his congregation was that in stepping completely away from ministry, he was not only refraining from preaching, blogging, Twittering, and writing, but also refusing to pridefully sip from “the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety.” I found this quite fascinating and illuminating, because it displayed an understanding of the perils involved in a life of public prominence. Of course, this poison cup is not only available to public figures; it is a great temptation for any of us when we find ourselves admired by others.

What is it about the pursuit of our ambition, our legitimate and godly desires for success in vocation, that can become poisonous when it meets that admiration and recognition of others? I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with the late Stan Grenz at a conference in Nashville nearly a decade ago. I told Stan about my desire for an increase in public speaking opportunities as part of my vocational goals, and the first words out of his mouth were, “It’s seductive.” I was a bit stunned by this, because I thought he would give me some tips about how to accomplish my goals, yet the first words were a warning. As someone who did a lot of traveling and speaking, Stan was keenly aware of the pitfalls that ride along with those who travel the road of success. Stan never explicitly named the siren song with the sweetly dangerous tune, but my guess would be that he and John Piper had the same thing in mind: pride that can take root unnoticed and grow into a ravenous beast.

I don’t know what really drives Mark Zuckerberg. I only know the public version of him, and frankly, he doesn’t say a whole lot (probably wisely). I do know what drives me, though. I know how I’ve struggled against God these last few years as he’s shown me that the people and world I am called to is different than the one I might hope for – that the Venn diagram overlap between “those from whom I most desire admiration” and “those among whom I am actually called to be” seems to be smaller than I might like. And that this work is actually a joy and a blessing to me, not pain.

It’s a humbling recognition, one I couldn’t see clearly for long and am only glimpsing through shadows now. In his goodness, God has placed a few people in my life who know me instinctively (better, at times, than I know myself) and love me anyhow, and help me recognize that his yoke is easy and his burden, indeed, is light, and that admiration is worth very little if there is not love.

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