Posts Tagged ‘Criticism’

Shark Week: Thoughts on Criticism

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

The dining section of the New York carried these scathing remarks …

I am still trying to erase the memory of the One and Only Truffle Burger, a culinary experiment so botched that is almost made a vegetarian out of me….

The second course did not fare much better for the reviewer….

What is the point of offering a six-option Sausage Fest if each meaty link has been cooked so that it has the texture of sun-bleached sailing rope?


If we are going to do life, we will face criticism.   If you are going to open a restaurant some will not like the food.  And criticism hurts.   So how might we hold criticism?

Accept criticism from those who have had their “ass kicked.”  Limit your time responding to those who have not.

Brene Brown nailed it, “If you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”   A good line to live by.  Criticism in my experience from those without experience of what you are endeavoring/ hoping to do is most often cheap.  Worth little.  Unless you primary concern is popularity.  In which case listen to it.

Every critic offers at least a partial truth

Not an easy one to accept.  Even the most off-the-rails, crazed, narrow critique usually offers criticism that is at least 10% true and valid.  Find that 10%.   Discard the rest.

And there is always, in my experience, at least 10%, gulp, that I need to hear.  And usually the real percent is north of that 10.

On occasion that truth might just be that we need to remain humble and clear.  Popularity binds all of us from saying what we must say, and doing what we must do.  Thomas Merton wrote that finding ourselves, trapped by adulation, we come to a point where we realize “They dig you.  You are canonized.  You are the embodiment of their own complacency.”   Critique ironically helps us to speak more clearly, more frankly, and when warranted, more directly, all of which in turn break our habitually benign yet deadly turn towards complacency.

Criticism with no movement attached is worth little.  Criticism with movement attached is worth a great deal.

Much of the time arguments in churches substitute for the work of church.   Churches, as human institutions, respond readily to drama.  Churches focused on human preferences quickly lapse into a work of the church, usually in the form of debates around Sunday worship format or pastoral leadership styles, that leads, well, nowhere.  Just to more debate.

The flip … criticism with movement attached is worth its weight in gold!  Are we serving?  Are we reaching out?  Are we welcoming enough?  Are we choosing the scary thing or just the easy thing?

Keep first things first

We are here to serve God and others not to argue.   So live THAT life.  In the highest forms of spiritual life “people moved by heavenly love have wisdom written not on their memories but on their lives.  They don’t talk about divine truths, they simply do them.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 427)    As such, little room for argument.   Who has the time!

Bon appetite.

Don’t Waste Time: The Trap of Critique

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

It is seductively easy to waste time in critique of individuals and institutions, and to label such criticism “work.”  The seduction stems from the fact that such conversation will draw “converts.”  It likewise provides a social “grease” as well, allowing relationships to quickly form around common enemies.   And, it easily counterfeits itself as “work.”  We feel often like we have done something.  We might not be sure what we accomplished in our refined practice of complaint but it certainly feels like we have done something.

There is of course a place for candor, for a statement of how things are, including the unpleasant work the soul searching and rigorous honesty such truth telling often stirs.   But it holds a place.  Not the place.  And that practice must mindfully look more towards our actions vs. the actions of others.

The place we work towards is one that is open to a broader call than complaint.  It is an opening we are to approach, a pushing out of the edges that allows us to embrace others.  As one author lamented, in his rush of life he had forgotten that others are not an interruption.   Lost in complaint, we can do the same, holding the other as an unfortunate disruption in our speedy, frenetic movement from point a to point b.  The apostle Paul offers a simple remedy, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful in building up others according to their needs.”  (Eph. 4:29)  There is a place of truth in those words.

A New Form of Music In Your Restaurant Bathroom

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I read recently of a restaurant in San Diego that plays voice-overs in their bathrooms that feature complaints from “Yelp.”  That brought a smile!  (Article)

Complaints are part of life.  They certainly certainly play their role in church world.  In so many areas of life we navigate delicately between the two islands of anger and apathy.  Anger: Hearing constantly about this particular form of worship being “evil” or that person needing to be “set straight.” Apathy: Hearing constantly from people who are ABOUT to get involved, who will get involved WHEN YOU … (fill in the blank) but who, even when the blank is filled do little.

And what is our job?  Not to let the anger or apathy of others overtake our vision and direction.  In other words, we can never become what we struggle against.  Those islands are little more than mirages, the shouts little more than siren songs.  As Emanuel Swedenborg so aptly pointed out, “Goodness is the soul of truth.”  That means anger and apathy aren’t.

We stopped risking long ago.

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Some risks are plain stupid.  Others absolutely necessary for growth.  Much of faith stopped risking generations ago.  And how do we recapture that, that “risk?’  Not foolish risk but risk necessary for growth? Maybe it is by becoming a loyal opposition within our culture – both the broader, secular culture and the faith culture.

Walter Brueggemann writes of this “opposition” when he speaks of criticism as “not carping and denouncing.  It is asserting that the false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they cannot in the face of a free God.”  Such criticism in a word reframes the world, a world in which the secular and religious have so bled together that it is hard to see much of an authentic alternative any more in Christianity – the “City Upon a Hill” now leveled into trackless suburbia.

Christianity though is an authentic alternative.  Risky yes.  But also authentic.  Easter very much encapsulates that authentic alternative.  Neat and tidy theological “packages” give way to the mess of crucifixion.   Hatred and hopelessness are met with the authentic alternative of love, grace, and forgiveness – Christ’s lament from the Cross to “Forgive them for know not what they do.”

My prayer is that this Easter be a conversion experience.  My prayer also is that maybe we can re-invite ourselves into a world of risk, and in that process reclaim in some small way the heritage and hope of Christianity – a world made new.   Resurrection and transformation.   Mess and all.