Join Me –
Book review provokes faith reflections
by Faye Smith
Now here’s an interesting book.
Ask yourself how many people you think might have joined your church last year? Five… more? A hundred? Wow you’re doing well! Great rejoicing all round.
Danny Wallace, bestselling author of the book “Yes Man” recently released as a movie, had already written “Join Me”, subtitled “ the true story of a man who accidentally started a cult.”
At the ripe old age of 26, half-Swiss Danny’s great uncle Gallus dies on his farm in the Alps. At his wake, Danny learns his uncle had once harboured a dream of getting 100 people to join him on his farm as some sort of “collective”. He died alone having gained only three… and they were his family. Now Danny’s hooked! Back home in London in a moment of boredom, he places an advert in LOOT magazine, simply stating “Join Me”, asking people to send one passport photo to the contact details he provides. He’s after 100 people to join him like they never did his great uncle Gallus, in Gallus’s honour.
Astonishingly, he gets his first enquiry…more ads and more “joinees” follow. All they need to provide Danny with as a sign of their willingness to join is that passport photo. Incredibly, despite Danny’s hopeless inability to tell any of them exactly what they are joining, dozens start sending Danny their passport photos. Soon he has created a website where he can blog and they can all talk to each other and tell other Joinees their problems and triumphs.
Soon, forced to come up with a purpose to the group or risk losing the chance to gain 100 Joinees, Danny reads Gallus’s old letters and discovers he occasionally did nice things for an old man in the village. With that purpose in mind, he invites complete strangers all over the UK to start doing random acts of kindness for old people they come across on what Danny calls “Good Fridays”: a coffee for a Big Issue seller, walking a neighbour’s dog or baking them a cake, sending an old guy peanuts…and the Joinees love it. Danny says they just wanted to be nice all along, but needed him to give them a reason! What a thought.
Soon the “Good Fridays Agreement” to be nice is spreading to all people groups everywhere, and the Blog is full of tales of good deeds being done and the stunning results. Even Tony Blair and Prince Charles endorse it and Richard and Judy join up. Incredible. Danny starts to get into the press all over the shop. He gets invited to television stations all over Europe, even Australia, turning up usually in the capital city’s square simply with a sign saying “Join Me Oz” or whatever, and hundreds of people do!
He even starts being invited to meet City Mayors, go on primetime talk shows and mounts a campaign of radio phone-ins across the UK where whatever the bizarre topic under discussion, Danny turns the conversation to Join Me… and people do. Finally, having raised his sights to 1000 Joinees, the number of folk residing in Gallus’ village had they all joined him on his farm, Danny can relax! Only trouble is, the collective has gathered momentum all its own and now become something of a cult, which elects him leader, demands regular meetings around the UK and centrally in London and whose membership peaks at over 6000! Oh, and he gets so entangled in the lives of his Joinees as he starts to care just too much what happens to every one of his flock, plus the deceit to cover his tracks from his longsuffering Norwegian girlfriend Hanne, who already thinks he’s a nutter, she walks out on him!
I only expected a hilarious Christmas read after someone chose Yes Man for my last reading group book, but I found it spoke to me so much on a spiritual level. People’s desire to feel connected, to be part of a community, to have someone take an interest in them, to join something, it seems anything, to carry out random acts of kindness for complete strangers and urge and inspire others to do the same… it’s incredible.
Christians wrote in and told him it was like their religion, as did the Jews, the Buddhists and many more, in fact one of his first Joinees who remains a close friend is a vicar in Scotland! Danny professes no faith, but he does have 6000 followers, four bestselling books and a major A lister movie under his belt now!
If some nutty bloke in a London flat can invite 6000 people to join his “being nice club” when the early joinees didn’t even know what the heck they were doing, what can we do fellow Activators, with purpose and love in our hearts? Let’s stop being nervous of asking folk to join us, be bold, get those invites sent off, call your local radio to chat about what your merry band of Activators is up to and, radical I know here, turn up in the playground or office with a plackard that simply says “Join Me”. After all, it worked for Danny!
Oh, and did I tell you how lovely you’re looking today by the way, and your new haircut…gorgeous! In fact, this Wednesday I’m going to see Yes Man with friends, would you like to join me?!
Faye Smith – ‘Keep your fork’… there’s more to come.