Being “Secretly Incredible” in a Storytelling Culture

I love Bob Goff’s reminder that we need to be “secretly incredible.”  As Bob aptly points out, Jesus’ self-promotion plan was simple: “Tell no one.”  We need to fly under the radar and get things done, rather than talk about it.

Yet, we are a storytelling culture.  It’s wired in our makeup as humans to be storytellers and to appreciate the stories of others.  Donald Miller pointed out in the his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that we want and need to live stories with our lives.  Without stories to share and tell, we have nothing.

So, how do we reconcile being “secretly incredible” with being storytellers??

Mae La Camp

Photo: Pepperdine law students sharing their stories in a Thai-Burma border refugee camp.

A few years ago a billionaire in my hometown endowed a local hospital system.  This was a half-a-billion-dollar game-changing endowment.  Overnight, the hospital took on a new name—the billionaire’s last name—posted it everywhere they could find enough blank space, threw a huge party headlined by Sheryl Crow, and bronzed a larger-than-life statue of the billionaire to stand majestically in front of the hospital.  They made a story fit for the headlines for weeks.

It was incredible, but anything but secret.  The change irked many people, who switch hospitals and quit donating, saying “You have all this money now, big parties, and bronze statutes, so I’ll give to those who need it.”  To top it all off, a billboard was anonymously and prominently erected a block from the hospital entrance that simply read: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Mathew 6:2-4”  The identity of secret billboard culprit was never revealed.

Today, we tweet everything, post it on Facebook, and watch it on YouTube.  What we do doesn’t feel legit unless it’s got a .com attached.  Simply put, it’s easy not to be secret.

In the Global Justice Leadership Mini Series that I conducted with Bob, I asked him this.  Bob said we need to live into our own story.  I’ve been thinking on that.  I’d guess that when Jesus said “Tell no one,” he probably knew that people would tell (and, arguably, they should if he wanted people to hear the Good News).  More or less, I imagine Jesus didn’t want himself bronzed at the entrance to the temple.

Watch My Interview With Bob Goff

Bob told me about a line in the move The Incredibles where Edna tells a washed up superhero to “leave the cape.”  It reminded me of a long flight where I turned on a different movie about some kids who dressed up as superheroes.  The movie was so bad that I don’t even remember the name!  I never even got half way through.  The kids made a lot of hype, but didn’t do anything super or heroic.  They were all cape and no do.

If we’re actually living into an incredible story, we can’t help but share it—we are human and we’re made to tell our stories.  But, if we’re all cape and no do, we’re eventually just a bad movie that no one wants to watch—even on a long flight.

Let’s go and do incredible things, but leave the capes and the bronze casts at home!

Question: How do you reconcile being “secretly incredible” with the desire to tell your story?

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5 Responses to Being “Secretly Incredible” in a Storytelling Culture

  1. Gretchen O'Donnell September 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Jay – I think that Jesus was great at “taking advantage of every opportunity” (to quote Paul!) that he was given to speak up. So my question is, would He have “taken advantage” of things like social media, had they been available to Him? I wonder. And, if we answer that with a “yes”, and decide that we can too, then we must be careful to do so in His loving and gentle manner. (Gentle at least until the “hypocrites” begin selling in the temple, that is!) Good stuff to ponder, thanks – Oh, and I loved A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – read the whole thing on a plane trip, in fact! Now I need to re-read it in order to better take in all the bits I high-lighted…which was practically the entire book!

    • Jay Milbrandt September 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

      Thanks, Gretchen! You pose a good question. I think Jesus’ actions hint at ways he may or may not have used it. I’m not sure He would have said, “Check out this kick’n miracle I just performed! Link to YouTube!” But (if He used it), I imagine He would have simply spoken Truth. Makes me question how best I should use this tool.

  2. Catherine Whittinghill September 8, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    I just wrote a post about someone who was secretly incredible – St. Thomas Aquinas!

    http://yalechapter.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-name-and-doing-work.html

    • Jay Milbrandt September 8, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

      Great post on Aquinas, Catherine! I wrote a comment on your blog and tweeted it!!

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