Well colour me dumbstruck.
Yesterday's post, Dear Anonymous Parents in Lac La Biche: Thank You, received over 400 hits in less than 24 hours making it one of the Top 5 Most Popular Posts on TUG in the past 4 years. I hedged on whether to write the post at all… and then whether to publish it… knowing there would be a bit of backlash, but…
On a good day, a post gets about 80 hits from various places, I receive a personal email or two about it, an online comment (if I'm so lucky), and maintain a network with like-minded social justice bloggers. Sometimes… just sometimes… a post will be linked into someone else's post (someone more 'read' than I'll ever be), and I'll get some major traffic for a day or so.
… yesterday made me sad.
Yes, I take 100% of the responsibility for writing the post in the first place. Part of what I've been writing about on The Underground Railroad is how believers can better effect Christ's love and life here and now, knowing how we've done things in the past have been damaging/neutral/helpful/hopeful. That's no secret.
It's also no secret that I've been writing on social justice issues, especially human trafficking, since 2009.
That's over four years of blogging, folks.
And people chose my impression of Halloween tracts as the hill to die on??? Whether it's Neo-Calvinist/Reformed, Charismatic, non-denom, Arminian… what have you… suddenly everyone's a critic: not just to me, but to one another. I'm being called a heretic, a false prophet, someone who's straying; I've been cautioned to return to penal substitutionary atonement theory, 'real' Christianity, the Christianity 'most' Christians ascribe to…
So yeah I went through some hair-pulling… then I wanted to crawl under a blanket in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, repeating "This isn't happening, this isn't happening, this isn't happening…". My writing mentor warned me long ago that if I was to write — anywhere and for anyone — I'd be putting myself out there free public beatings. And it's not like I've been a critic myself before, that's for certain. I've had to eat my share of crow, but also I'd like to think some of the criticism was constructive.
So here's my gut take:
There are 30 million white elephants in the room TODAY that are enslaved, exploited and in need not only of our help but of our change in heart and lifestyle. And yesterday it seemed like nobody gave a damn.
What's worse, the critics are more upset that I just said "damn" than actually taking a breath and realizing doctrine got put front and centre again, while… 200,000 child slaves in Ghana toil to make the chocolate EVERYONE partakes in over Halloween… no matter our theological stance.
I call it "pulling a Campolo". It's not a cheap shot at guilt, but rather sincere astonishment at the amount of attention we give to pithy things. Why use the technique now?
1. I attended Dr.Campolo's grad school where he's professor emeritus (The Campolo College of Graduate & Professional Studies), so I feel somewhat justifed in using his preaching methods.
2. During my first residency during my first semester where I first met said Dr.Campolo, I flat-out challenged him (the now-infamous "Why Should I Believe You" Moment), so I feel somewhat connected to him… & justified in using his preaching methods.
3. Dr.Campolo gave his famous line when he said:
"I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."
Where were all the critics a week ago? A month ago? A year ago??? Have any of the outspoken critics, whose doctrines got a teeny bit rattled yesterday, been following The Underground Railroad? And if they have, where has their feedback been? Where are the comments? The synchroblogs? The ideas and creative initiatives around social justice?
Where's the relationship?
Then here's how I'm handling the backlash:
1. I have received feedback, both positive and negative, from fellow believers engaged in all sorts of social justice, from all over the political and religious spectrum. We'll swap emails, share blogs, keep up with each other's initiatives and journeys. This is the feedback I'm choosing to listen to. We're already engaged with each other. I am built up and humbled by people already invested in me, and I in them.
2. I have received feedback from people claiming to read The Underground Railroad (again the feedback is both positive and negative), and while I'm taking it all quite seriously and humbly, I'm also taking it with a grain of salt. If I haven't heard from these people until now… on anything… until I've done something perceived as radically wrong or radically right, it's hard to accept it all as legit. However, I also know how many thousands of causes/blogs/podcasts there are out there, so to take time and give ME specific feedback is sometimes a tall order. I'm guilty too: if I'm invested in someone/some people/a cause, then I need to make time to create relationships with people on the front lines.
3. Strangers sent me feedback.
This I am throwing out.
Good or bad, I need to throw it out.
If these people have been following my writing for any length of time, they'll know I'm doing a good deal of questioning in terms of my faith in God — and I believe that to be a good thing! It's hard and it can get lonely, but relationship would be a far better response than any doctrinal statement.
I also have a tendency to be direct in my writing (sometimes), but also too flowery or poetic (sometimes). Some people find this directness abrasive while others find it clear; sometimes I use the clarity well, while at other times my tone sometimes overtakes what I'm really trying to say. Some people enjoy my poetry, but others (the ones who enjoy the direct tone) would rather I stick to a journalism bent and leave the sunshine and flowers at the door (ha!).
I also don't have the monopoly on truth. Never have… even when I did agree with much of the conservative doctrine I'd been taught. So when I agree/disagree with something, it's not because "I'm right; you're wrong. Period."… it's because I have a differing viewpoint (& I'll list reasons why). Some will agree with me… others won't… others won't care one way or the other. But even when I disagree, that doesn't always make me correct. I know this.
But it also means that doesn't make me wrong either. In this instance, I felt the use of the tracts to be sincere bad timing and a poor way to build relationships.
The CONTENT of the tracts was stuff that I disagreed with on a personal level. However, maybe I should have stuck to simply the use of the tracts rather than focus on both their use and how I felt about their content. Or maybe both were needed for context. I don't know…
So here's the sum up:
I'm listening carefully to some of you who have built reciprocal relationships with me over time. Some good encouragement… some tough to hear opinions… but given in love because we know each other, it would do me well to listen intently and deliberately.
To the ones I've never met or ever heard from: as harsh as it sounds, I have to throw out your words. Unless I have directly personally injured you in a way I would never have guessed (as direct as I can be, I'm also a crazy stupid people pleaser and I faint at the thought of ever deliberately hurting someone), your words are simply hate mail. I can't allow my fear, anxiety, insecurity, guilt or shame overtake me because of someone's opinions. It eats me up like acid. For my own life, I have to throw out what is only air.
When we get together in community, this can certainly change. If I've hurt you specifically, please contact me. Other than that… please keep your words to yourself.
If I've done something incredibly wrong on a worlwide-nuclear-massive-attack scale, the people who know me best and invest in me life will surely let me know.
There are still 30 million slaves in the world today that demand our love and attention.
That's how we pull a Campolo.