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Posts from the ‘Social Issues’ Category

Criticism, Conflict, and Beauty in the Midst of Pain (by Michael Palmer)

Michael Palmer is one of the many great friends I’ve made on Twitter. If you’ve never had a chance to check out, you should. It’s pretty awesome. I was teasing him yesterday because his bio highlighted the fact that he loves coffee (which I constantly see in online bios). In response, he changed it being a lover of food. Totally awesome! I love him, and hope you do too. 

good-morning-vietnamWhile Robin Williams has always been an actor I admire for his work in Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and What Dreams May Come, I recently discovered another of his classics: Good Morning, Vietnam.

For those who haven’t seen Good Morning, Vietnam, this film is based around a popular radio personality, Adrian Cronauer (played by Williams), as he’s brought into the Vietnam conflict in order to boost troop morale. Irreverant and unorthodox in his style, Cronauer soon makes enemies with his superiors (Hauk and Dickerson), and conflict over his creative style quickly follows.

We watch as a disapproving (and deeply insecure) Hauk consistently clashes with, and criticizes Cronauer because of his comedy and his delivery. The underlying theme of the conflict being Hauk’s belief that he alone knows what true comedy is, which in turn leads Hauk to believe Cronauer is bastardizing the art of comedy.

Wrapped up in his quest for approval, respect, and unflinching defense of comedy, Hauk attempts at all costs to silence the popular Cronauer by any means necessary.

Criticism is inevitable

Whether we take on a new project at work, accept a new leadership position, or take on an artistic or creative risk, the very act of standing out opens us up to criticism; criticism which often feels harsh and/or unfair.

This criticism can create within us doubt and death where freedom and boldness once grew. In these moments we are tempted to give up. However, criticism, be it fair or unfair, is a opportunity for personal and creative growth.

Growth we all need.

It starts with us

We have all been the critic, haven’t we? Be it criticism of a movie, song, album, painting, essay, book, article or (Fill in the blank here), we have all been the one harshly projecting our own wisdom and truth into another’s art and experience.

Recently, I visited a local modern art gallery, and as I walked through the rows of paintings, I caught myself saying things like, “It’s not art if I can do it!” or “Why would anyone spend money on this?”

My criticism dismissive of the hours and effort which went into each piece of art.

On the flip side, I remember when I published my first essay in a magazine. Like any person who creates, this essay wasn’t just a collection of words on paper- it was a personal confession. This essay was a living, breathing part of me.

I remember the hurt I felt as people criticized my handling of the topic, telling me I was wrong, cold and accused me of hypocrisy.

Criticism reminds us of the impact our own words have on others. We’re reminded, what feels like plain spoken truth to us, can often be received as harsh and cold to others. It was through these painful moments I was drawn back to the ways I unfairly criticized the work of others.

When we are criticized, especially when harshly or unfairly so, it reminds us to offer future words of critique gently and with relentless kindness. Without a doubt, in the creative life there is a need for critique and correction, however we must remember to do so with love (read: patience, kindness, humility, selfless, calmness, and with unwavering support).

When we experience the pain of criticism, it forces us to re-evaluate the ways in which we criticize. Empathy overcomes the need to be correct.

Hurting people hurt people

While not easy to see in the moment, when we are hurt by others, we forget the offending party is probably operating within their own pain. They criticize another’s art because they are ashamed of their own. They criticize another’s words because someone silenced theirs. They criticize another’s accomplishments because their ability was never publicly accepted or acknowledged.

In their brokenness, they repeat the cycle of destruction.

As a young pastor in my first staff assignment, I was asked to lead a “20-somethings” small group. In my youthful naivety, I decided that since it was an election year (2008), a discussion about the relationship between politics and the church would be appropriate for this class. (I mean, how could a religious discussion involving politics ever go wrong??)

It took exactly one session for me to be the recipient of a verbal flogging by a visitor. I was accused of many things (none of which were good, though, some of which were unfortunately true), and was told that, because of pastors like me, this person no longer attended church.

I remember, in that moment, my youthful, naivety about ministry and my personal ability came crashing down around me.

However, in the minutes, days and months that followed, I slowly learned what it means to forgive when I am the one who bears the brunt of others pain. I learned to hear the truth behind the words, while ignoring the vitriol. To take it, learn from it, and help lead the critic towards healing in their own wounds.

May criticism lead us towards beauty

Am I perfect in this? Not even close. I still unfairly criticize, and from my pain I still tear others down. However, I deeply believe that it’s a sacred task to fight this spiral of destruction. I must refuse to let my own pain dictate how I respond to the creativity of others.

As people who create, may we refuse to throw stones. May we rebel against destruction, and instead invite others into our pain. Instead, as we journey through this pain, may we offer space for life and beauty to form once more.

* * * * *

MichaelBIO:Michael Palmer is a husband, father, pastor and occasional writer. He is a Cardinals fan living in Giants country, and a lover of cultures and food.You can find him on Twitter and Facebook, and he writes at


Rescuing Theology from White European Males

Do a Google Image Search for the word “theologian,” and you’ll scroll through page after page of white men (punctuated by the occasional non-white Orthodox icon or otherwise out-of-place image). When we think of many of history’s greatest theologians they tend to be white European males. I don’t know why so many of my white male counterparts get so defensive when I bring it up, but they do. Read more

The Subversive Kingdom within the Cross

“We use the word cross in our hymns, in our piety, in our prayers, and in our pastoral language. But we use it too cheaply. We say that a person has to live with some sort of suffering in life: a sickness that cannot be cured, an unresolvable personality conflict within the family, poverty, or some other unexplainable or unchangeable suffering. Then we say, ‘That person has a cross to bear.’

Granted, whatever kind of suffering we have is suffering that we can bear in confidence that God is with us. But the cross that Jesus had to face, because he chose to face it, was not—like sickness—something that strikes you without explanation. It was not some continuing difficulty in his social life.

It was not an accident or catastrophe that just happened to hit him when it could have hit somebody else. Jesus’ cross was the price to pay for being the kind of person he was in the kind of world he was in; the cross that he chose was the price of his representing a new way of life in a world that did not want a new way of life. That is what he called his followers to do.”—John Howard Yoder, Radical Christian Discipleship

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How the Rich Can Make Church a Safe Place for the Greedy

monopolyI read Dannah Gresh’s Charisma article How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men and it really struck a chord. Her premise, which isn’t new, is that women need to remember the weaknesses in men and make church a safer place by being mindful about how they dress.

This got me thinking:

Wealthy people, quit making me covet!

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Making Room in Church for Your Ideological Enemies

Image: Ryan McGuire

Image: Ryan McGuire

If I had to put together 12 men who would follow me throughout my ministry, I would have chosen differently. I would have picked guys who had my back, who were respected, and most of all, who were on the same page.

Not only does Jesus pick untried, untested, and mostly uneducated blue color workers, he intentionally picks guys who would have been at each other’s throats.

Simon: the zealot

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An Open Letter to the church from the Church on Tithing

TitheDear church,

You want us to tithe, and we can appreciate that. We’ve listened to your sermons, read your books, and understand all of the arguments for tithing as both a principle and a discipline.

But there are a couple of things we feel the need to talk about:

Tithing is hard for a lot of people, often for reasons you don’t completely know about. That’s okay. The fact that it’s difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. In fact, sacrifice matters because it’s difficult. So in spite of hardship, many of us still give. Read more

Integrating Our Culturally Divided Churches


I can’t quite remember how Juan Lopez and I got to know each other. We were just suddenly online friends, and I’m pretty thankful. He’s a sincere and humble guy, a youth pastor in Bell Gardens, CA, a writer, an avid  runner, and a family man.

We were talking about the challenges English and Spanish churches have integrating, and Juan said, “Yeah, I could definitely write a post about that.” So I convinced him to do it here. 

You can follow him at Running the Race.

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4 Lessons I’ve Learned from the (Hateful) Ministry of Fred Phelps

fred-phelps-400x240Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church patriarch, is dying. It’s been revealed that he’d been excommunicated from the church he had pastored for 59 years in August, 2013, and is living out his final days in hospice care.

It’s strange to think that Phelps, a lawyer and founder of a Topeka, KS law firm in 1964, was a huge advocate for civil rights. In fact, Phelps’ small law firm made up 1/3 of the state’s federal docket of 60’s era civil rights cases.

Being Fred Phelps eventually caught up with him. He was disbarred, on both the state and federal level for unethical behavior. Both times it was for aggressive behavior and speech toward witnesses and justices. Read more

Wrestling with Universal Truth and Christian Certainty

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

I had an atheist friend ask me an interesting question after reading one of my blog posts. He asked me, “How much does your Christianity allow for pluralism?”

It was an intriguing question and, after spending the evening thinking about it, I replied in a private message.

But, after giving it some thought, I decided to turn my response into a post.

Die-hard exclusivist (sort-of)

I believe that the universe is governed by one overarching, universal truth—we’re all just trying to figure out what it is. Read more

My Affiliation (and Disenchantment) with Progressive Christianity

Image by hobvias sudoneighm

Image by hobvias sudoneighm

Whenever someone asks me to label my political or religious affiliations, I always tell them that I’m too liberal for my conservative friends and too conservative for my liberal ones. The truth is, I really don’t want to be labeled.

I get why we classify each other—it’s convenient. If I can quickly put you in a category, I’ll instantly know how I should deal with you (or maybe dismiss you altogether).

Of course it is dehumanizing. I mean, who am I to disregard your life experience and your ability for nuanced thought and assume that I know all about you from some rashly applied label?

I had someone in my life reconnect with me on Facebook recently. This person is proud to identify as right-wing, and she had read my blog and gone through my news feed and decided that I was a progressive. The fact that I was an ideological opponent became the whole of our relationship.

It frustrated me because there never seemed to be a desire to really understand where I was coming from. She had already determined what I believed. Eventually we just parted ways because the constant barrage of bickering became too much. Read more

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