by Sam Van Eman
Henri Nouwen once spent seven months in a Trappist monastery in an attempt to escape from his fame-lust; to find, as he put it, "a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of my little world" (The Genesee Diary, 14). While in the monastery, Nouwen worked on their assembly line which produced 15,000 loaves of raisin bread (Monk's Bread) each week.
Consider this journal entry about an observation he made:
"Theodore found a little piece of metal between the thousands of raisins he pushed through the raisin washing machine. He showed it to me. It looked as sharp as a razor blade. Well, someone eating his raisin bread is saved from a bleeding stomach, thanks to Theodore, who will never hear a grateful word for it. That is the drawback of preventative medicine" (112).Drawback of preventative medicine? Yikes. This is exactly why someone with fame-lust like Nouwen's needs a time out.
But hold on a minute, Sam. You know precisely what he means. Mixed with even the few generous acts of your own—especially the unrecognized ones—is a hope for praise. You admire Spider-Man for his masked altruism, but you also love the moment when Mary Jane is about to find out who's behind all those good deeds. Don't be too quick to judge.
The Pepperidge Farms magazine advertisement here says, "We're bakers. But we're parents, too. That's why we bake our wholesome bread the way we do. With plump, juicy raisins, sweet swirls of cinnamon—and lots of love." I appreciate the heart at the center of this image. Maybe it's real. I hope, at least, that it's more than a clever graphic, because I'm sure that some of those who made this ad (and this bread) care less about the customer and more about fame.
There are many problems in popular advertising that call for Spider-men and women to address. And there are also many elements that require Theodores to execute selflessly, year after year. Theodores may need to extract the occasional metal shard, but their main focus is on "lots of love," and on the continual production of beneficial goods and services. Not fame.
Theodore found more value in making good bread than in heroically avoiding dangerous bread, or in people knowing he made bread at all. It feels impossible for me to be Theodore. Dreams of accolades and promotions too often over-shadow the importance of the work itself, and I find myself needing to remember why it's been given to me in the first place.