A Feature Article, Harsh Comments, and Why I Write

The Feature

I found Relevant Magazine years ago, just as the depression was tapering down, the healing slowly beginning. The first copies were given to me by a  hipster who drove a school bus and frequented my Caribou, and I took them, because something about his kind of Christianity disarmed me.

What I found in the pages was a kind of grace. A willingness to look at issues from all sides. Intelligence and wit and beauty. Over the past several years, this magazine has been a source of encouragement for me as I’ve re-imagined my own broken faith.

So when one of their online editors contacted me a month ago and asked me to write an article based on this blog, I could not have been more excited.

I set to work. It took me an obscene amount of time, but somehow, I got it done. (You can read it here.)

The Response

I stopped reading the comments after the sixth page (so if you wrote something awesome after that, sorry. I’ll never know). Let me be clear, there were a number of very kind notes. Hundreds of “Likes” on Facebook. Dozens of Tweets.

But, of course, those aren’t the things that stay with you. The comments that you internalize as a writer (as a person) are inevitably the harsh ones, the critical ones. And there were a lot of those.

My first response, of course, is to try to defend myself. It’s to write a thousand individual comments saying, “That’s not what I meant at all. Let me explain.” My first impulse is to rewrite it, to try to make you like me better, or at least understand me.

But I keep thinking about that story at the very beginning of the Bible, that part in Genesis where we all got together and tried to climb to heaven on our own. We built a tower, called it Babel, and God said, “Enough now,” and split us into a hundred thousand different languages. Scattered us all over the face of the earth.

I think that part of what it is to be human is to misunderstand each other. We spend ten excruciating hours writing a feature article, or we try to say it out loud in just the right way, and still, we hurt and confound one another.

Sin means that the whole world is broken—even the words we use to try to repair it.

The Same Old Discussion

If you’ve spent any time here, you know that this blog is something of a living glossary. My thing is Christian cliché. Evangelical catchphrases. The words we’ve whittled into weapons and used to stab one another in the back. The ones that have been so overused we hardly think about them at all anymore.

I’m not doing it for laughs. I’m not trying to take cheap shots at the culture that raised me. I do it because I’ve said every last cliché in all sincerity. Because I spent ten years getting into the Word until one day, I couldn’t find my way back in.

I write because I know what it’s like to say, “Just get plugged in!” and I know what it’s like to have it spoken back at you when you are your most desperate, lonely self. I write because, believe it or not, I agree with that old adage, “Don’t put God in a box,” and because I think that it’s possible to do that even with words.

I write because in the end, what I have to give you is this: my whole, unedited self. I write because I love it and hate it and can’t seem to stop doing it. Because I believe that the work of God is redemption, and I believe that even words can be redeemed, even this same old, tired discussion.

You can love it or hate it or tweet it or slam it, but I’ll be here again on Thursday. I’ll write down another term, try to get at it in a fresh way with my own inadequate words.

I hope you’ll come. I hope you’ll offer your own thoughts, your own words, your own stories; I hope you’ll join me in this tentative, imperfect, messy work of redemption. I hope we can figure it out together.

65 thoughts on “A Feature Article, Harsh Comments, and Why I Write

  1. First: your Relevant article was brilliant.

    Second: I spent over half an hour reading people’s comments before I stopped reading and started skimming.

    Some comments, obviously, outraged me. (Ignorant person who doesn’t know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘well,’ let alone what makes a good article!) Some I cheered on. Some, I thought, missed the point. Some saw it all too clearly.

    But what struck me most was the sheer number of people who responded so passionately. They loved it or they didn’t. But, above all else, they cared. They weren’t reading your article and moving on, unaffected and unmoved. You stirred something in them. Something real. Something honest.

    And that’s why I know (more than just empathising with you and joining in with the words you beautifully say) that you are on to something important. Something Relevant. Your words are having an impact.

    Don’t let the negative criticisims get to you, Addie. You want your writing to affect people, and it is. Not everyone is going to agree with you. Not everyone is going to understand you. Not everyone is going to get it. But at the end of the day, I genuinely belive it’s better to get people talking, to cause discussion, to rattle some cages, than it is to have people read what you say, agree, turn the virtual page and never think about it again.

    Watch, my friend: your words have already caused a ripple.

    1. Thank you, friend. So glad that crazy London time meant that this was the first comment I got to read yesterday morning. Love you.

  2. Hey Addie –

    I’m so glad someone clued me into your blog a while ago and I’ve been enjoying it and been challenged by it ever since. I too grew up using the phrases you define, dismantle, and reassemble; I appreciate someone else on the journey of finding faith beyond cliches. I love your illusion to the tower of Babel.

    Thanks for traveling the road openly, honestly, and uneditedly (is that even a word??).

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I love “uneditedly.” If it’s not a word, it should be. 🙂

  3. My guess is that the people who left the harshest comments have done very little writing or publishing where they expect to receive lots of feedback. There were much better ways to disagree or to express confusion without taking such a dismissive tone. I think that was the hardest thing I found. There were some comments that were so dismissive of you that they were honestly, quite degrading–as if you weren’t worth talking to. That’s what has been gnawing at me.

    I think comments should, by their very nature, encourage more dialogue and conversation, not less.

    1. I agree. I guess that was one of the most surprising thing to me. I certainly never expected everyone to agree, but I wasn’t prepared for the dismissiveness.

      I’m sure there are a lot of great comments there that would have been fun to engage; however, for my mental health, I had to leave the discussion to others this time. (Thanks for being one of those people who clarified and discussed where I could not, Ed. I appreciate you!)

  4. Addie, yes. A million times yes. There are no perfect words. Not that can be spoken. And my goodness gracious, you keep doing your thing, because your thing is a delight.

    Thank you.

  5. Glad you exist, kiddo. 🙂

    It occurs to me that the people who claimed you did not offer a solution missed out on the fact that your solution was very much embedded in your post: That we need to be mindful of what we say, of the language we use when we are inclined to speak Christianese.

    I think you need to pitch this post to Relevant, actually. If I were you (and this is free, unsolicited publicity advice), I would notify your editor of this post’s existence, and propose that he/she create a post that draws reader awareness to the firestorm of responses that resulted from your post, and that then directs them to this blog entry.

    I think people who are quick to leave caustic comments should know that they are replying to a real, flesh and blood human who is just like them in so many ways. Sure, our minds are filled with babble/Babel and we come at the same thing from a million different angles, but we each have a story, each person has a right to be heard. That’s an American right, but also a writerly one.

    Thanks for your dedication to writing, Addie. Keep it up, and do not eat the darkness. 🙂

    1. I’m going to have to second Chad on this one. For sure. The comments proved the point (which, by the way, I thought you did a splendid job proving). It was great post and this is a GREAT response.

      Keep writing!

    2. I third this motion. It’s entirely too easy to dismiss people on the internet, to not consider the effect of our words. Instead of pausing to see if we’ve understood the message or intent, we launch into our attack, forgetting that there’s someone very real on the receiving end. Relevant does good work in opening these dialogues but when hateful commenters take over, we all lose. I found it rather ironic and sad that anyone missed your point, which was crystal clear to me.

    3. Thanks you guys. I agree–it’s sad the way that screen between us makes us forget that the people on the other side are flesh and blood. (This is some of the same gracelessness I was finding in myself as I hated on the new Mrs. Bachelor. But that’s a different post…)

      The hard truth is that the negative always impacts more deeply than the positive. It’s like we are less capable of taking in the good things. But at the same time, I have to realize that most of these people probably didn’t mean to be that hurtful. We just forget. The screen numbs us to each other’s humanity, and we forget.

      For the record, I did send the link to my response to my editor at Relevant. I don’t know if they’ll choose to do anything with it, but either way, that’s okay. The people who resonated with what I wrote will have found their way here, and that’s what’s most important to me.

  6. Addie, I was really excited to see your name show up in Relevant. The comments there are always a strange breeding ground for discussion and dissent, but I was surprised at the harshness. (Let’s be honest: whenever you give people a chance to respond to someone’s ideas, they often forget they are also responding to that someone.) I was glad to see that today (now at 12 pages of comments), the majority of them are affirming, written by people with whom your words resonated.

    There’s no way to make everyone happy (I am reminded of this every time I watch an awesome YouTube video and see the negative, ignorant, or just plain time-wasting comments that follow it. It’s easier to criticize than to create. And seriously, humanity wastes time leaving grammatically incorrect comments slamming cute little hedgehog videos?! What the crap.).

    While some of us are still dropping these cliches into daily conversation, some of us are so over talking about how everyone drops those cliches, some of us don’t care, some of us care too much. Every reader won’t be satisfied. But some of us…some of us find ourselves in the same place as you, still crawling out of the safe evangelical places that once swaddled us but now make us feel constricted.

    That is where I find myself; that is why your blog has been so healing for my soul this spring. I spent twenty-some years believing that I was a bad person for questioning or pushing against, and like your article mentioned, I was suddenly confronted with cliches that were meant to be the end of the discussion, not the beginning of it–words that I, too, had handed out because I didn’t know what to say, only what I thought everyone else thought I should say. There is an awfulness to the discovery of liberty, when you realize the necessary awkwardness of just being real.

    There have been surprises for me here, too. Usually I read, chuckle, shake my head because I have been there, I have said that, I’m finally free to admit my ridiculousness and move forward. But there are also days when I hope for some veiled cynicism to justify that post-evangelical self-righteousness that can creep in…and you are writing the opposite. In “Community” and “Communion” and many others, I’ve been smacked across the face, reminded that my tendency toward criticism only goes so far. I can laugh at myself, but then I need to get over it, celebrate the truth in it, respond by creating instead of tearing down.

    I think I’ve maybe only spoken to you once in real life (that white elephant party where you gave Dr. Black’s teaching plaque as a gift?), but I’m glad God somehow connected me back to this website where he is using you to speak to me every single day.

    1. Shar! You are so sweet. It had totally not clicked for me that you were the girl from Northwestern. I’m thankful too that you found your way here. I always appreciate your insights and thoughts from the other side of the world. Thank you for your kind comment and for being here in this with me.

  7. I simply CANNOT believe the comments left. I’m stunned and so saddened because the discourse among those who call themselves Christians is totally without any heart of God evident.

    Keep writing Addie. Write for those of us who ‘get’ it and those who will someday. Disregard those who seemingly have no heart left.

  8. I think there were a lot of people getting angry because you were finally calling their bluff. They were using those cliches to try and bluff their way through church and bluff their way through caring, and you called them on it. They might have even defended those cliches this week. I have found that people get harsher and harsher the closer and closer you get to exposing that one problem they really don’t want to deal with. I know that is true of me.

    But just to say, I loved the Relevant article, posted it on Facebook even. And I am majorly guilty of the “just” cliche. Made me think hard about how I pray. Thank you for that.

    1. Thanks, Matt. In retrospect I wonder if I approached it the right way. I jabbed lightheartedly at a few beloved terms and phrases, and I’m now seeing how that could be felt as attack. The goal, always, is to challenge without alienating, and I’m bummed that so much of the latter occurred.

      1. Well, just “bathe the matter in prayer.” 🙂 Just kidding. I think you approached it right. Many of my friends I shared it with loved it, and even one of my pastors posted it on her Facebook and called it “bloody brilliant.” In the past I have reacted like I was being attacked by people that have written similar things, but with some time I finally realized it was me that was confusing ‘being attacked’ with ‘being convicted’. Many of those angry commenters will probably come around. Hopefully. It is good that you are willing to consider what might have gone wrong on your end – many writers just defend and lash back automatically. Personally, I don’t think that it was the wrong approach. Ultimately that is up to you to decide, but that is my two cents.

        1. Thanks, Matt. 🙂 Bathed in prayer!! I had totally forgotten about that one. Going on the list right now.

  9. Thanks for sharing your words. Thanks for putting yourself out there. Thanks for showing up in my in-box every week. I LOVE it. I appreciate all your time, wisdom and honesty. Kimberly Hoppe’s couldn’t have said it better. Especially, “but what struck me most was the sheer number of people who responded so passionately. They loved it or they didn’t. But, above all else, they cared. They weren’t reading your article and moving on, unaffected and unmoved. You stirred something in them. Something real. Something honest.” You are making a difference Addie. Thank you for this.

  10. Liked this, and the Relevant piece. I’ll sincerely do the following, but I can’t help but put it into christianese: “I’ll pray for you that you’ll feel the Lord’s presence in a special way during this time of distress.”

  11. Addie, you are doing such a beautiful thing for our faith community. We need to be exposed and re-examine authenticity. I love your candid messages spoken sincerely and with wit. Thank you for being you, you have mad skills, woman. 🙂

  12. I hate to say it, but after spending YEARS, in fact my entire life up to college, in churches with “Christians,” I wasn’t the least bit surprised at the nasty comments left. I expected it. The comments were a perfect example of “Christians” proving my points as to why I refuse to take on their name (and call myself a “Christ Follower”) instead, and why I’m not in a church. They certainly don’t represent the God I follow.

    You did very well, and you said some things people didn’t want to hear. I thought of Matthew 5:11-12 when I read this post:
    “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

    You spoke a truth too close for comfort to those people, and it’s a truth they NEED to hear. Keep it up, Addie.

  13. I’m so grateful for your writing. I think the negative comments only further support the greater need for people like you who are willing to be mindful and chisel away at these cliches. Authenticity scares the $#*@ out of some people, doesn’t it? I’m sorry they took it out on you.

    1. Thanks Gina! I appreciate this note so much. You summed up the heart of what I’m after here: chiseling away at these cliches. It feels sometimes like somehow these phrases and words have calcified into something else, something hard and unyielding. I want to get back to the life beneath, that true, life-giving thing that we have turned into an easy out.

  14. Hi!
    I enjoy and appreciate your blog and can relate to a lot of it directly and immediately. Looking forward to reading your Relevant article this afternoon.

  15. I’m so glad you wrote this post, Addie. I read the article yesterday (which I loved, and tweeted, and wanted others to read). And as I read the responses, my heart broke a little. All I could think about was how writing is a bigger risk than most people realize.

    You labored and spun your words into a beautiful tapestry. Then you put your creative work on display, only to have it picked apart.

    Your post challenged me on something other than the content you put forward. It challenged me to say and write the things that should be said and written about, even when I risk being attacked for it.

    Thank you for taking the risk and sharing your words with so many.

    1. Thanks so much Stephanie! Your comments here always encourage me, and I’m so thankful that you’re here. Yes, I agree–honesty is always a risk, and it’s worth it in the end (if hard in the middle). We try to say it right, to be gentle, to be true, but in the end, there will always be those who hate, misunderstand, feel alienated or attacked. For this, I guess, just grace.

  16. DRAMA is good for the book. And cliched christian speak makes me literally queasy in the tummy, so I was fist pumping through your Relevant article.

  17. Addie, I’ve been reading your blog for the last couple of weeks, and it is quickly becoming my favorite blog. You are a true wordsmith, and your work always seems to find a way into the deepest, most broken parts of my heart and settle there, ministering grace and truth. I am just now making my way out of the thicket of severe depression which swallowed up the past few years of my life, and I recognize in your writing the same song of a weathered soul. I love it. Thank you for writing so honestly and courageously.

    As for the critics, they reveal that your words struck too close to their comfortable view of God. He is so much bigger than our little catchphrases. His character is so amazing and unsearchable, I think, that we need new metaphors and similes just so our brains don’t get used to our idea of Him. But it’s scary to think of Someone that big being beyond our comprehension, so we defend our ideas of God and theology at any cost–even the precious, living soul in front of us. Oh yes, I’ve been there. I think a lot of Christians have at some point. Maybe it’s a part of maturing in our faith, getting rid of our comfortable ideas of Him. I don’t know. But I do know that you are doing much good with your writing, and don’t ever doubt it. Thank you from a new fan. =)

    1. This may be one of my favorite ways anyone has ever said it: “His character is so amazing and unsearchable, I think, that we need new metaphors and similes just so our brains don’t get used to our idea of Him.” Beautiful, Kate.

      I’m so glad you found your way here. I know that slow process of emerging blinkingly back into life after all that darkness, and I’m humbled and grateful to be part of your journey.

  18. Addie, I am grateful that you are lifting up and illuminating these worn phrases. There might have been a time in my younger days when I would have missed the point entirely. But now. Now I need people like you in my corner who will ask the questions and puzzle through what faith really looks like these days. I will keep coming back, even if it turns out we disagree on something. Because disagreement should not mean dissolution.

    1. Thank you Leigh! I love this: “disagreement should not mean dissolution.” How quick we are to let it. How quick we are to silence the voices that do not sound like our own. I am so often guilty of this and so want not to be.

    1. I love that: “you are loved by the God who is without cliche.” That is one life-giving truth right there.

  19. YOU are one of my favorite writers, and I think what you write is so brilliant and much-needed. I loved your RELEVANT article; I think I made it to page 6 of the comments as well. What trash. It made me angry because they were blowing it off before seeking to understand what you were even saying – which was, ironically, a sign that they need to look at their words and how carelessly they use them – a major theme here. 🙂 You are a wise and necessary voice, my friend. Looking forward to Thursday’s post 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Aubry. So glad to have found you in the great wide Twitterverse. 🙂

  20. Well, I’m here reading your blog because a friend shared that article on facebook, and I loved it! I think my main ‘thing’ as a blogger, is kind of “deconstructing” christian culture – much the way you do with your cliche’s. I loved where you said

    “Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.”

    I feel like there are a few places in the blogosphere where this is tangibly happening – and I suspect this blog of yours is one of them!


    1. Thanks for always having such great things to add to the discussion, Neal. I love and appreciate you!

    1. At the risk of exposing myself as a fraud, I’ve never heard of them. I’ll have to do some research! Thanks for the (corrected) link. I’ll take a look when I get a minute and let you know what I think.

  21. love your writing….loved the article….as someone who grew up with and still use so many Christian cliches, I still love it….everyone. It is like when I read your posts, a mix between a trip down memory lane and just a little of the smurt (newfoundland, canada word) of conviction….a combo I quite like…I love your unedited self!

    1. I love the word “smurt”! I’m going to have to integrate it into my vocabulary, I think.

  22. I really liked your article. I appreciate that you are challenging us to walk into people’s lives rather than just give them some pat answer while we step off into the sunset. It was creative and well written. The time and effort you put into it was well worth it and it shows.

    I’m sorry that people misunderstood you and that it hurt you. I know it is very difficult to put your art out for public consumption. It’s such a vulnerable space to be in.

    The thing is, everyone is so different, and different things reach us all in unique ways. It’s ok if some people don’t “get” it. Other writers will reach them. Your article reached the people it was meant to, myself included. Thank you for that! God Bless.

    1. Thanks so much for this kind note. What an important reminder: “It’s okay if some people don’t ‘get’ it. Other writers will reach them.” I’d almost forgotten that this is a piece of community too–we all have different voices, different things to say. We connect to each other in different ways, which is why every voice is necessary to the conversation.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by Rachel and for these kind words. I’m so glad you were encouraged. 🙂

  23. Just read your small but interesting comment on a depression article on ‘Hermeneutics’. I left one after yours which you might like to read, if you have the time or inclination.

    Anyway, this post of yours! You wrote: “I agree with that old adage, “Don’t put God in a box,” and because I think that it’s possible to do that even with words.” Sometimes, we need to come at faith, and God, from another angle, see another completely different point of view, and understand that God is far bigger than ANY human concept of Him/Her can ever be; it’s all inadequate after all. I read so many Christian blogs and Christian experiences, usually American or British, and sometimes agree with them and other times don’t understand them at all. But I can learn from them all.

    Having been a Christian for over 30 years, on and off certainly, but never been to a church or part of any congregation or Bible-class or anything like that, I shudder at some of the stories I hear from Christians who have experienced hurt and distress being part of a church; because of this I slowly move towards getting involved with a church or group of fellow Christians; slowly mind you!

    We are all so very different, and sometimes we are all similar, because after all is said and done we are all only human beings. If only we stopped to think before we said or did something hurtful to someone else, and hoped that they would be respected as much as we hoped for respect ourselves, it would be a better world.

    Anyway, I have a blog, if you feel like it, come and check it out!

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Tim, and for stopping by. Loved what you said about needing to approach God from different angles. Yes.

  24. Hello, Addie,

    I just found your blog via Relevant and am delighted to see someone with your perspective and sensibilities writing about evangelical language. In my (non-evangelical) church, I keep trying to explain that the evangelical community has its own language, just as every community has its own language. I don’t get far with that, though–so from now on, I think I’ll just link them here. Thank you for writing this.

    1. So glad you’re here, John. I have friends in the same boat with significant others who did not come out of the evangelical tradition. They have the worst time explaining the lingo and oddities of the culture!

      1. Yes! I am from a more liberal background, but work and and go to an evengelical church. It continues to be difficult to learn the language. I was aware of the differences before, but now am able to actually learn what the terms mean. Often I find myself conflicted and confused, but keep moving ahead knowing God has led me to where I am. To what purpose? Don’t know. But it is a true experience.

  25. Beautiful. Thank you for you for sharing God’s Grace. I am just beginning my venture into where I feel God is calling me. It is slowly taking form, but every time I step out a little farther, I feel myself pulling back. All those doubts and thoughts I have worked so hard to get out of my brain, come back, perhaps less fierce, but with a harsh impact. Working with God is walking out into the unknown. Yes, not everyone will get what I am trying to say. I don’t even get it sometimes. But, as part of the discussion we are all somehow trying to get to the same place – a healed world. I am still taking tentative steps to letting it all out, but compromising my thoughts and path, while perhaps feeling safer, is not a real option if I want to be honest with myself and with God. Thank you.

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