God Needs the Critics, Too
I have had many experiences in my life where my critical eye has helped me. It’s made me a good student, one that sees in a different perspective. It especially helps me with arguments, forming logic and tossing out whatever doesn’t fit. I’d like to think it also helps refine my taste (I make good movie recommendations, people!).
I’ve also had experiences in which I have felt ashamed of the way that I am. Sometimes I am too harsh or too unforgiving or just don’t agree with what other people do. Sometimes in college, I didn’t really fit in with the “perfect Christian girls” because I just wasn’t as sweet or optimist or innocent.
I remember one specific time in which I was talking with a friend. She kept going on about the beauty of adventure and how talking to strangers is the best form of knowledge and it was all very Christopher McCandless, except that she kind of sounded like she romanticized potentially dangerous moments. Maybe it’s because I have travelled a lot, sometimes just on my lonesome, and I’ve been in places in which truly, no you should not talk to strangers. At the end of her “take more risks, experience more beauty” talk, what I said was, “I don’t think you’re realistic.”
I think I’ve done a hell of a lot of living for someone who weights every odd, looks at every solution. Maybe not every rose was smelled, but do they all need to be?
I was thinking about this especially while reading the book “Kisses for Katie”, given to me by a dear friend. Katie did an extraordinary thing after doing short-term missions in Uganda by really committing to the people, learning their language, living amongst them, and caring for so many children. She ended up the legal guardian of over 13 girls. She addresses her own privilege and impossible questions of poverty, all while constantly reminding the reader that she couldn’t do anything without Christ.
And yet, I still found myself grimacing sometimes. Why does she describe the colors of the children’s skin in terms of food? Why do we need to be reminded of the stark difference her skin was? Why was there paragraphs of descriptions of their filth and dirt? I wouldn’t ever, not once, call my friends in Haiti “filthy” or “coffee-colored”. That’s not viewing someone as an equal. Why did she lament so much when the mother of one of her children searched for her daughter and committed time and resource to get her back through the courts? Why didn’t Katie celebrate their family being reunited? Why did she make constant references to herself as a Christ figure? Why did she emasculate the men she described, painting herself as the provider of a village? Why did she hardlly mention all the help she got from Ugandans who want the best for their people, or her family who ran her charity for her, or the thousands of dollars being poured in to her efforts?
I finally just had to stop myself.
THIS IS CRAZY!! How can I criticize what has truly become the literary emblem of Christian service and generosity? I’m pretty sure if you ask anyone what the most innocent book ever written is, the answer’s gonna be “Kisses from Katie”. I got so frustrated at myself thinking, why the hell do you look for these things, Maggie? The little sentences that itch you, the phrasing that rubs you the wrong way? CAN’T YOU JUST LOOK AT THE PRETTY PICTURES AND SHUT UP??!
But you know what, I think God made me this way for a purpose, just like He made Katie uniquely to do the extraordinary things that she has done and have the heart that she does. I surely could not do what she does but I don’t think that means I can’t have an opinion on the repercussion her words have. I personally know someone who cites this book as the reason she wants to start an orphanage in Haiti. All I want to do is tell this girl that about 80% of Haiti’s orphans are poverty orphans, meaning that if the parents could provide for their child, they would have never given them up. So if you really love the child, you must empower the parents, which is what the amazing ministry The Apparent Project does. They saw the true need and they began to work at it, instead of perpetuating a cycle that makes being an orphan a prize social standing.
Of course, all children need care; the true orphans need care and the poverty-vulnerable children need care. But how do we do it in a self-sustaining way? How do we empower and then step aside? How do we do in a way that tells the people’s story instead of our story of the people? How do we create autonomy and self-respect? How do we do it for God’s glory and not our own?
I don’t like all the questions I ask but they are questions that need to be asked nonetheless. I know I won’t find the answers myself; they will be revealed to me by people much wiser and more faithful than me, who have worked years and gave their all. That’s what I want to do with my life. This is who I am.
And this is how I’ll be used for the kingdom. Even if you’re a nay-sayer, a Debbie Downer, a critic, a “why can’t you just go with the flow?” kind of person, you’ll be used in mighty ways. Maybe it’s becoming a lawyer, or creating a career training center that empowers young women, or teaching code to kids from the inner city, or creating community in your neighborhood that prefers closed doors. Maybe it’s asking annoying questions that provoke a larger contextual perspective.
Maybe it’s just saying, you know what, we can do better.
Maybe that’s all that I learned. I can say that we can do better than white sentimentality or service that seems a little too self-glorifying or ignorance or racism or sexism or any of the other things called out in the past, as long as I act. I actually go out and do my best to do better.
That’s what I’m going to do, folks. With my critical self and all.