Tag Archives: Critics

Live free.

I am profoundly, deeply, absolutely and only human.  No surprise there, right?  But I think there are a lot of people who are confused on this point.  You see them all around — outraged, entitled, critical, and despondent.  People who expect other people to part around them like they’re Moses crossing the Red Sea.  (Although, truth be told, Moses was an incredibly humble guy, so maybe that’s not the best analogy.)  There are folks who feel inspired to crow about their triumphs and bullishly blast their opinions (thanks, Facebook.)  People who delight in grinding other people to dust under the spike of their ultra-high heel.  People… and here’s the sad part… who despair when they look in the mirror one day and realize they aren’t actually divine.antique-tiled-floor-mirror-o

But this old school Reformation doctrine is actually incredibly liberating:  I am totally depraved.  I’m a sinner, a screw-up, a miscreant, a nobody.  I can’t do anything to earn grace, nor un-earn it, neither (which I’m pretty sure sounds best in a purely redneck accent.)  In spite of my obvious, repeated, shameful failures, I am loved, celebrated, and empowered by the only one who’s Somebody.  Which is altogether great.

What baffles me is that there are a lot of other nobodies out there who gleefully understand this, who revel in this thing called grace, but still sorta think maybe they’re just a little more somebody than anybody else.  I mean, y’all, I do it, too — it’s kind of Total Depravity 101.  But it’s an ugly thing, a ruin-your-day stench that sits heavy over everything like a green fog.  Out of that prideful swamp comes a lot of hurt:  little smirking remarks turn into bruised egos and mean spirits and spite.  Roam around on the internet for five minutes and you’ll start to see it everywhere — people, Christians, just completely scornful of other people, supposedly in pursuit of truth but fully devoid of beauty or love.

HCH4KWE_mxThis is the world where we send our babies off to kindergarten, the world where we launch our books onto Amazon, the world where we brace ourselves to take a stand about anything sweet under the sun.  We have got to do better.

Next time I want to say something sarcastic, what if I just… don’t?  Next time I post a review, why not season it with kindness and not drown it in salt?  What if I held my tongue more often than I thoughtlessly spouted off, read that email a second time before I hit send?  Back in the day, people named their daughters Prudence and Mercy — time for a counter-culture comeback, y’all.

But here’s the other thing, the thing I actually do have some measure of control over (because I’m thinking no one is going to jump on the Prudence and Mercy bandwagon.)  Tim Keller calls it “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”  Wow.  To get to a point where it really doesn’t matter what other people say.  To make like Elsa and let it go.  Not to define myself however I want or to pat myself on the back, but to really lose myself altogether, to be completely astonished and delighted and transfixed by Somebody — Somebody brighter, better, bigger than me.  Keller points out that in Christianity we get the verdict before the performance, so that now we can joyfully live out the verdict — live free.

“That He might become greater, and I might become less…”  That’s my prayer today.Untitled design-3

Critics, and other miserable ones.

imageJust got to see my favorite Broadway show of all time, now repackaged as my new favorite movie. May I just say: Wow.

I read a snatch of review: “there will always be people who like overblown emotion,” smug critic said. I kept replaying his words in my mind as I watched (and yes, I cried like a baby. Don’t judge me.) Listen, I understand that sentimental drivel appears on the scene way too frequently, but that is altogether different than gut-level emotion — passion, grief, joy. Why are we so afraid to feel?

This movie is crazy awesome on so many levels — incredible characters, at least 4 intermeshed plots, beautiful music, hilarious sideshows, unvarnished horror alongside of shining grace — and in the midst of all that the cast and crew were trying to do, they make us feel. Jean Valjean has to be a criminal, must be a criminal, can’t possibly escape his past — and yet, here he is, heroic, transformed by grace. (Of course, that couldn’t be possible, Smug Critic would say. No one changes. There is no grace.) Fantine is any young girl we know, backed into a corner, slammed to the mucky floor by unforgiving, cruel fate. She is the face of 10,000 girls enslaved right now at this very moment, and as we feel her agony, we understand, and we are made to care. Poor Eponine, loving and forever unloved, willing to give her life for another — we see, and the sacrificial love blows us away. And the boys, the countless boys who rise up for freedom, for justice, whose blood runs in the streets, for what? How many mothers spent Christmas bereft because of sons and daughters killed in war?

Poor Smug Critic, never to feel.

Les Mis is at bottom, a love story: the love of God for a lost soul and the pay-it-forward chain of events that fly imageinto motion as a result. It is grand, epic, because Love is epic. If it doesn’t rip your heart out to realize you are a beggar and a thief impossibly, lavishly, ridiculously loved, then like Javert you have chosen a cold, hard, tit-for-tat ethic in its place. And consider how things turned out for him.

Tell it like it is.

Writing
Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

They say pastors need soft hearts and thick skin. Don’t we all?

So you write a book, you put it out there, ay yay yay! Here come the critics. And you can stick your fingers in your ears and sing it out, “I can’t hear you…” or you can take a deep breath, listen attentively, and grow a little, as a writer, and more importantly, as a person. It is hard to be critiqued, to let someone take aim at you and brace for impact. Hard, too, to not let that thick skin turn into a hard heart in self-defense.

But it’s also hard to offer critique. How can you tell your best friend they are a little… well, wrong? How can you tell your son that his sorrow is turning into self-pity? How do you tell a writer that chapter one needs an overhaul.  Most of the time, we just don’t. But faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Today, I had to return a review on authonomy. The fellow gave me a nice review and then badgered me for my opinion. Honesty is the best policy, but I was careful to balance out my needs-improvement comments with some great-job. Sigh. He was not a happy camper, and promptly rescinded all of the nice things he’d said about me. Now I am afraid to speak my mind (never easy for spineless me anyway).

But here’s the thing — praise is meaningless if it’s false, and the habit of ear-tickling brings the whole sorry stew to a new level of stink. If that’s not bad enough, it only delays the inevitable public humiliation when the much-applauded work (writing or whatever) receives its comeuppance from on high. (The day will come!)
This is hard in parenting, too. Tell your kid too often that he’s perfect and he will begin to believe it. Chances are he’s not. But it is so much easier to woo with over-vaulted compliments than hold a high standard.

At the end of the day, whose advice do you value most? Whose critiques have shaped you?