Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Criticism and Negativity: A Case Study

Recently, I was told that my writing on this site has too often been critical and negative. Especially concerning churches and pastors.

I took it to heart.

Thought about it.

Prayed about it.

Then decided to look for evidence of it.

First off, as a child of the grunge movement of the early 90's, I am familiar with angst. Very familiar. By the time I was 18 years old, my relationship with my father was strained, and I fit very well into the atmosphere that Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Tom Morello had created. During college I became a Christ Follower at 24 and basically did away with it, or at least shelved it.

With my experience of being a pastor at a failed church plant, its safe to say that the angst had somewhat returned. Or at least some sort of disillusionment. Maybe.

I started this site as an outlet for writing. Not an outlet for angst. Though I did start the site the day I left the church plant.

Our church field trips were done for a variety of personal reasons, which I've explained previously. Some may have seen them as critical, but that was merely a misunderstanding of the purpose of the endeavor. In the end, I learned exactly what I had hoped to learn, with a few pleasant surprises along the way. I think its easy to see why some may have misinterpreted both the purpose and execution of those field trips.

I called them field trips on purpose. I wanted to convey the sense that what I was doing was both elementary and for my own purposes, despite the fact that I was publishing my findings. By no means, did I ever intend for it to become a precursor to Jim and Casper Go To Church or http://www.churchrater.com/.

So I decided to go back and read all of my posts on this site. More than 300 of them. That's an average of one post almost every 4 days.

I was actually kind of surprised. I didn't see much of the negativity and criticism that was supposed to be there. There were a few instances of criticism, usually reserved for the likes of Ted Haggard (the pastor who slept with a male prostitute), Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (because they couldn't ever just keep their mouths shut), and Gary Lamb (the pastor who slept with his female secretary). Actually, my criticism of Haggard and Lamb had nothing to do with their indiscretions but rather with their desire to return to ministerial positions. This is something that still touches a nerve for me.

The most recent blog post that I could find that contained what I would call a negative or critical spirit was Pastoral Blog Cliches on March 13, 2008. That means that I have been negative/criticism free more than a year! Wohoo! Ironically, the Pastoral Blog Cliches Rant was largely spurned by Gary Lamb's blog. I loved his preaching, but his blog had so many of these cliches that it drove me nuts. (And this was before he "fell.")

There were few times when I posted a video or even a posting or a quote from someone else that may have been critical. Usually, in these instances, I let them speak for themselves and kept my mouth shut. I take no responsibility, and neither should I, for something that was said by someone else.

That principal also applies to the comments left on this site. I don't think I've ever deleted a comment on this site. If I did, then it must have been pretty bad. Some people have left comments on this site wherein they've read more into my post than was really there. For instance, I've been accused, on certain posts, of being critical or negative, when it simply wasn't there. For these people, I would suggest that they look to themselves as the cause.

In some cases, commentators have literally started fights in the comments section. Once again, I'm not responsible for every nutjob out there who comments on the site. Religion is a combative issue for some people and they just can't resist. Especially so-called Christians.

But really, the comments that upset me are the ones that accuse me - the author - of being negative and critical where that clearly wasn't the case. Perhaps the post just hit a nerve with them and instead of reacting rationally or logically, they decide to start an argument out of it.

I don't know. I don't really care actually, truth be told.

I put quite a bit of thought into most posts before I publish them. That is why I sometimes have nothing to say at all, short of posting someone else's quote. Because I know when it is better to keep my own mouth shut.

I've given quite a bit of transparency on my site. I've told a great deal about my personal life, my beliefs, my experiences, my influences, etc. I've talked about food, books, relationships, missional living, music, religion, church, the Bible, friends, neighbors, etc.

I've poured much of my life into this site (metaphorically speaking) in the last 3 years. To hear someone say that my site was overly critical and negative really hit home with me. I don't want that to be my legacy. I'm not sure what I want my legacy to be, but that surely isn't it.

So I had to dig into my blog and find this negativity and criticism and remove it. I figured, that out of 300 posts, I might have to remove 10 or 20 of them.

I was wrong.

I haven't removed a single one of the 300 posts. I was actually surprised myself.

There were instances where I clearly could have worded a phrase better or more clearly so as not to be misunderstood.

There were instances where I could have simply deleted all the comments that were left (THIS BEING ONE OF THE MAJOR SOURCES OF NEGATIVITY AND CRITICISM ON THE SITE).

But I didn't. I've never deleted anyone's comments. Even when they attacked or criticized me. Why start now?

The posts that were overtly critical - Haggard, Falwell, Lamb, etc. - numbered less than a handful.

But I did find plenty of posts that were praising churches and pastors for various reasons, like preaching the Gospel, living Missionally, being creative, being generous, etc. Of course some of these posts were in reference to our own church, Church by the Glades, but I also commended many other churches including: lifechurch.tv, Epic Remix, Vintage Gathering, Flamingo Road Church, Relevant Church, the Faith Center, Calvary Fellowship, Harbour Church, Solera Church, Plantation Baptist Church, St. Bonaventure, Oakleaf, Revolution, Mars Hill, XXX Church, Oasis Church, Journey Church, Mosaic, Imago Dei, Metro South, Independence, and more.

I've talked about the evolution of the Church Field Trips and also the conclusions of the experience, which were both positive.

If I quit writing on this site right now, I think I might actually be satisfied with the body of work that I've completed.

In conclusion, I want to be clear that I believe that I definitely have the potential for negativity and criticism - I believe that that is an accurate portrayal of my personality. But I was genuinely surprised to find that much of that potential is restrained in the writing of this blog. In addition to the 300 posts that have been published, I've also got at least 30 drafts which have never been published. Some of these were withheld for reasons that should be obvious given the topic of this post - they were not fit for publication due to their nature, content, purpose, etc. In other words, I've got some posts which were not fit for publication and I withheld them.

I think that it is largely true that when I look at churches and pastors, I am definitely capable of thinking critically. Especially when it concerns money and sex, and a continuing desire to pursue ministry despite failing in these two areas while in ministry.

But in my defense, having only discovered so upon reading through every post on this site, I think that I am vindicated of the accusation that my site, and therefore I myself, am too critical and negative.

3 comments:

netbook said...

great thoughts

Greg Loselle said...

Lew:

Critical and negative are two different things! If you're criticizing what's questionable, then it's a very positive thing.

Personally, I find your blog thoughtful, but I can also note that, for some Christians, any critical insight is threatening.

So, go to it! ;)

Greg

Gary Lamb said...

I don't think you're all that negative even when your making fun of my catch phrases. :)

I just read one of your posts (an old one) where you mentioned enjoying my teaching and being disappointed in my "fall."

Just thought I'd comment here and ask your forgiveness. I let a lot of people down and while I can't change that I can at least let people know how sorry I am when I come across that my actions upset.

Gary Lamb

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