A couple of years ago, people began talking about this incredible new book The Shack that had been sweeping the world, and which had only just started to circulate in Australia. “Have you read it?” “It’s incredible.” “It’s changed my whole view of God.” My curiosity – and my percieved-threat-to-established-theology senses – began to tingle. I had to get me a copy of this book and see why everyone was changing their ideas about who and what God was. What kind of a book had such power to change peoples whole view of God?
So I borrowed a copy (I would have never risked paying out my hard-earned money for a book which might turn out to be heresy) and in reading it, promptly threw it across the room…several times. As far as I was concerned, it was heresy. I thought it was trite, tokenistic, racist and just as theologically inaccurate as I feared it would be. I was incensed. People who read this book would be deceived. It was an insult, and thank God I’d found out in time to stop it from harming any of my friends or family.
Along with several others, I went on a campaign. I wanted to stop anyone from changing their existing view of God because of this book, even if it meant they felt much better with their new idea of God than they ever did with their last one. I found out a pastor in our area had read the book and was teaching it from the pulpit, so I rang his denominational supervisor on the phone to warn him about it. “The book is dangerous.” I declared. “You must speak to this pastor and demand he stop infecting his congregation with this apostasy.” I was genuinely afraid that the ideas in this book were making people worship the wrong god, a god of the authors imagination.
So certain was I that my fears and objections were founded in a genuine concern for the immortal souls of The Shack’s readers, I even found the authors website and left a comment for him, telling him that his book was dangerous and heretical. I also told him I considered the book to be poorly written and thinly plotted, and expressed my sadness and surprise anyone had found the thing readable in the first place. And I left this comment in a place he would be unlikely to miss it.
Because someone has to defend the church and the scriptures and our church from these loose interpretations and dangerous theologies, and stop them from being used like plasticine in the hands of some dewy eyed artist to further their emotive, spiritual agenda. Humph humph humph.
Several years later, the fuss about The Shack had pretty much blown over and I’d forgotten all about it. In the meantime, I’d had a few challenges of my own in life, and my rock-solid precepts about the church and scripture and God had been dragged protesting from their lofty dais and demoted to things I used to think which didn’t turn out to be very useful in a pinch. What did prove useful was me giving up my tendency to crash every idea and inspired thought anyone else had up against my firm beliefs hard enough to break the former into little pieces and give the latter a false sense of its own importance.
And I stopped telling everyone what not to write, and started writing myself.
And the first thing I realised was that it was much, much harder than I thought.
Criticising was one thing. Telling people what I thought about what someone else did was a breeze, especially if I didn’t like or took offence to what they did. It just rolled off the pen, or the tongue. But when I sat down to write about what I’d learned, what I thought, how I’d changed my ideas about God and what He’d actually revealed to me, in the first person, I struggled.
I could critize, all right. But I could not write.
And suddenly I remembered the comment I had left on that website to that author who had found the courage, the creativity and the energy to write a whole book.
I couldn’t even write 500 words on what was in my heart, and he’d written about 50,000. And he also had to put up with people like me who wanted to crucify him for doing it.
I stopped crying, opened my browser, found the authors website and where I’d left the comment, (still there for all the world to see) and wrote a heartfelt retraction.
I then went away, and with my conscience and creativity clear again, started writing my own damn book.
I still sometimes find cause to criticise others ideas and teachings, but I try never to leave piece-meal comments picking out the eyes on others blogs or websites any more. I figure if I have the time and energy to oppose what they espouse, or to criticise, I have enough of both to go to the trouble to think through and work and write my own piece, and then publish it under my own name in public, in a forum where others can criticise me right back if they want to.
Most critics have never tried to create anything, as was the case with me and The Shack. It was only when I tried to create something significant myself I realised that creativity has a great cost many armchair critics will never agree to pay. Exposure to criticism. Disclosure of intimate personal details. Time. Privacy. Old-fashioned hard work. It costs a lot to make something worth anything.
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