Emily Timbol

Getting Mad at Your Heroes – The Don Miller Edition

Aug
26

This is the first installment in a new series where I (and perhaps a guest blogger or two) will be examining what happens when the people we admire and look up to, let us down. First up is writers/theologians. 

The first time I encountered Blue Like Jazz, the popular best seller from Christian author Donald Miller, was freshmen year of college. I was going door to door in my all-girl dorm with my Campus Crusade Bible study leader, an anorexially thin manic 26 year old who slightly scared me. We were passing out “freshmen survival packs.” These held snacks, school supplies, a Bible, a Christian CD, and a copy of the much talked about book by an author I was yet unfamiliar with. It was not exactly my idea of a fun Friday afternoon.

After more than  a few annoyed looking grumpy girls slammed doors in our faces, or demanded to know what we wanted in return, my Bible Study leader gave up, and left me with the remaining dozen bags or so. With nothing better to do I went back to my dorm, plopped on my bed, cracked open a “survival pack” can of Pringles, and started reading Blue Like Jazz.

It floored me.

For years I had been festering doubts and questions about why I believed what I did about God. I kept quiet about my growing spiritual cynicism, and tried to drown it in mini “vacations” from my faith (that usually involved alcohol and things that would make my mom cry.) It never occurred to me that I could actually talk about my struggles, or that talking about them could actually strengthen my faith. From Blue Like Jazz, I started to read other books that helped me as I questioned why I believed what I believed, and what I was going to do about it. Donald Miller was my gateway drug to spiritually open literature. From him I went to Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and others that helped me to come out on the other side stronger in my faith. Finally I was excited about what I believed, because I owned my faith myself. But no matter how many different “edgy” Christian authors I devoured, Don was first, and special. Years later, when I decided to become a writer, he was someone who inspired me not just spiritually, but professionally as well. In many ways, he’s been a hero of mine. A little over a year ago, I got to meet him when he was on tour with Susan Isaacs. Sitting on his bus, drinking beer, talking about the stories in his books, was more than just a little surreal.

Two weeks ago, when the Christian blogosphere blew up in Miller’s face over two posts he made (since taken down) on how to live a good love story, I was reluctant to enter the fray. Bloggers I respected, like Rachel Held Evans, were quickly and firmly responding  to his posts, in ways with which I agreed. After almost a week, I finally gave in and read both posts (they had been taken down by then, but a friend sent me cached versions.)

I was horrified.

Some of the things Miller said, from,

“..when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.” He may still love you, but he will have serious questions…Unless you get over it and move on and do a period of time where you put it all behind you, he will and honestly should lose respect for you”


to

“Have you ever noticed that  ancient paintings of women always have them draped over a bed or a couch, arms outstretched in rest? And yet the guys are yielding a sword or riding a horse or captaining a ship. That’s because men were designed to work?”


made my jaw drop open with shock and anger. Here was someone I greatly admired, respected, and looked up to, saying things I vehemently disagreed with. I didn’t think it needed to be said that women have more worth than their virginity, and, like men, were made to work. The fact Miller was saying, what looked to be the opposite, made me ready to throw in the towel on my whole idol worship of him.

Which I realized, was a good thing.

When I read Don’s posts, I wasn’t processing them as I would the words of some writer with whom I disagreed. I felt personally attacked. It wasn’t an opinion that was so objectionable, it was from whom the opinion was originating. Don, like so many of the other Christian authors and bloggers whose words shaped my worldview, had become a surrogate apostle. Him and the others weren’t just up on a pedestal,  they were up on holy rafters. I had forgotten that it was these writers words which affected me, and shaped me, words which I believed were inspired by God (much like the writers of the Bible) not the authors themselves. So when Don said something that didn’t line up with my belief system, those posts weren’t something I was able to disagree with on their own. They threatened to make me question everything he had ever said. And that is totally my problem, not Don’s.

The problem wasn’t only mine. By the time he took his posts down, they had over 1,000 comments. To put it in perspective, the posts leading up to those had anywhere from 50-100 comments. Sure, people get fired up when sex, gender, marriage, and relationships get brought up. Everyone has an opinion. But that’s not the only reason Don’s page was flooded with people adamantly agreeing and disagreeing with him. Don has (I’d venture to say) unwillingly become a beacon through which countless young people have found their faith in the fog of cynicism and doubt. For that beacon to betray us, and point us towards the rocky shore of convention, is scary. But our reaction, is our responsibility, not his. Don is not responsible for our faith, nor is any other author, blogger, preacher, or religious leader. Nor are our parents, teachers, or friends.

If you place your trust and faith in the hands of a person, any person, you will be disappointed and let down. You might even question if what you believe is right. No man, woman, or spiritual leader is perfect, and if we put them on pedestals, we run the risk of them falling off. That is why our faith HAS to be only put in God, and what he has spoken to us. We have to remember that whatever, or whoever he chooses to speak to us through is just the messenger, not the sender. Realizing that frees them from the responsibility of never letting us down.

I’m not excusing what Don said. I very much disagree with many of his points. That doesn’t mean though that I  should write him off. It doesn’t mean that he is not someone I can still respect, and that deserves a chance to explain himself. The way Don has handled it, taking the posts down, asking questions, explaining that he made mistakes, is extremely admirable. Even if he hadn’t, that wouldn’t have given me a write to angrily and emotionally take to his site to tell him how much he let me down. It was never his job to keep me up.

I look forward to Don’s follow up post. Even if I disagree with him again.

5 Responses to Getting Mad at Your Heroes – The Don Miller Edition

  1. At least Don was humble enough to know that he misspoke and he took the original posts down. He could have been like a certain Seattle macho hyper Calvinist and could have responded with, “Biblical gender roles are pretty difficult, so read my new book and I’ll explain everything.”

  2. Agreed Travis! I still very much respect Don, which can NOT be said for some “other” spiritual leaders. There is a difference, when it comes to character, and what words they consistently say.

  3. Good post, Emily.

    I have a psychologist friend who believes some Christian celebrities subconsciously self-sabotage in order to escape the pedestals upon which we place them. (I don’t believe Don did this. It just triggered the thought.)

    When I was in my twenties my pastor at my old church deeply disappointed me– lied to me, fired a friend, inappropriately threatened me with legal action if I didn’t fall in line (I did nothing in this case.) I think there is a sense where our heroes have to die in our own minds before we feel license to be heroic in our own way.

  4. Good post and good thinking, Emily. I’m an old guy who has come to understand that everyone does not have everything in this world figured out–never have/never will. The relationships we have are always changing and always complicated because people–including ourselves–continue to grow and change and re-think and gain new inspiration and insight about our complex lives. Christ even spoke about his not knowing everything about everything–only God does. So, when someone misspeaks or whatever, we should all see that with the grace shown us when we do the same. That’s obviously something we’re working on. Don is still on his pilgrimage of salvation; still working it out, as are we.

  5. Emily – this is a good post. I wish more people would pull down the idols we put people on. It’s damaging all around. Having got to meet Don in person and hang out with him for a couple hours helped to know that he’s just a guy like me, and he doesn’t want or need the pressure I could put on him to always be right. I know I sure don’t want that type of pressure from anyone either.

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