“Old-Fashioned” markets itself as antidote to 50 Shades.

Valentine’s Day sneaks up on me every year. I don’t usually think on it too seriously until about five minutes before it happens, then I run around in a panic to make a homemade card and figure out which eating establishment is passably romantic.

This year, however, I started thinking about Valentine’s Day early when I was inundated with social media promotions for a new Christian movie called “Old-Fashioned.” Watch the trailer here.

I’m curious. I’ve largely stepped out of the Christian art scene these days, because so much of it is overly-pointed and reliant on stereotypes rather than creativity, but I’d like to think Christian art can still surprise me sometimes.

My goal is to watch the movie when it comes out and give it an honest review. But right now, I’d like to start with an honest review of the movie’s first impressions.

An honest review means looking at both the good and the bad, so I chose a rotating “good/bad/good/bad” format so as not to align myself too strongly with either side before I’ve even seen the film.

Let’s start with something pleasant, yeah?

Good 1—Stylistic Consistency

I give the marketing team kudos; everything about this film screams “old-fashioned,” and not in a bad way. It maintains a feeling of bygone days, of sentimentality, of detachment from a lot of the modern hustle and bustle. That consistency is one thing I admire about the trailer and the marketing campaign.

It starts right away with the logo.

old-fashioned-movie

The classic symbol (in our culture, anyway) of male and female, participating in the timeless act of getting engaged, and designed to look like a sweet cartoon done in crayon. It’s simple, to the point, and keeps with the theme of old-fashioned.

The trailer features soothing guitar with gentle vocals. Yes, this style of music is actually pretty popular nowadays, but it’s one of our current musical obsessions that at least maintains a classic style.

The visuals keep it old-school, too. We see the young female protagonist living in a rustic apartment with a tea kettle, gas stove, and rotary phone. Our film’s protagonist does woodworking. Rather than watching TV, checking their phones, or e-mailing each other, this couple chops wood outside, makes homemade shoeboxes with surprises in them, roasts marshmallows, sits on swings at the park.

A+ for consistency in tone, marketers. You knocked this one out of the park.

Bad 1—Failure to Stand On Its Own Strength

The trailer’s fatal flaw—one that spills over into the Facebook marketing campaign—is its reliance on setting itself up against the “50 Shades of Grey” movie, also out on Valentine’s Day.

If the film is good enough to warrant the time, money, and effort to create it, not to mention the price of a movie ticket, it should attract audiences on its own. By selling itself as merely the counter-point to 50 Shades, the film is implying that it only exists to be an antidote for something the audience doesn’t like. I’d rather a film sell itself as a fun and entertaining flick in its own right.

The marketing campaign suffers from this the whole way through. Here’s what the Facebook branch of “Old-Fashioned” has to say about itself:

Fifty Shades of Grey was just rated R for ‘unusual behavior.’ We also have unusual behavior in Old Fashioned, you know, respecting women, the sanctity of marriage and God-honoring romance. On Valentine’s Day will you choose Clay or Grey?

It’s really dangerous to give me a choice like that, because I’m likely to say, “Neither. I choose Indiana Jones,” and spend Valentine’s Day watching that at home. It saves the price of a ticket.

The trailer tells us almost nothing about the story, but instead focuses all its energy on how it’s the opposite of 50 Shades.

Sexy Corporate Mogul

Sincere Small Businessman

Naïve Ingenue

Sweet Midwestern Girl With A Cat

Manipulation

Healing

Exploitation

Chivalry

The little indie movie that some people have heard of

Brings you a love story that most only dream of

Mr Grey

Mr Walsh Will See You Now

Love is anything but Grey.

Okay, so I get that I’m not seeing “50 Shades of Grey,” but what the crap am I seeing? It makes me concerned that the filmmakers may have cared more about being different from 50 Shades than they did about writing well.

Good 2—Good Fit For Target Audience

Most Christian movies market themselves to people who are already Christians, particularly Christians who worry that secular culture is eroding important values.

Based on what I see in this trailer, “Old-Fashioned” will indeed fill a niche with conservative Christian audiences. I’m thinking particularly middle-aged and older Christians who conducted their own dating relationships in the days before text messaging and Facebook invites. When those people see a couple talking over rotary phone, roasting marshmallows, shopping at an old country store, it likely calls up fond memories of their own young love. Who among us can resist a story that reminds us of the good parts of our lives?

Also, slightly younger Christians who are in the dating pool may find this movie encouraging, as it portrays a relationship that doesn’t have to include sex. I am appreciative when a film shows that it’s possible to wait for sex until marriage. Few venues of pop culture portray that as a life option, preferring either to ignore the topic or assume that no emotionally healthy adult would choose that. Although it’s true that many people don’t wait, other people do, and I welcome something that represents that choice as legitimate—so long as it doesn’t get preachy and judge-y about it.

Bad 2—What is “Old-Fashioned” Anyway?

The phrase “old-fashioned” has really thrown me off as I try to decipher what this movie is about.

On the one hand, the trailer seems to portray it mostly as the decision not to have sex. In two different scenes, it’s implied that the woman would like the man to come into her bedroom, and is surprised when he says no. Is waiting for marriage the thing that makes their relationship “old-fashioned”? If so, doesn’t that word defeat the aforementioned purpose of showing abstinence as a valid choice that people still engage in?

On the movie’s web site, the synopsis exclaims that the two protagonists “attempt the impossible: an ‘old-fashioned’ and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.”

Give. Me. A. Break. It is not “impossible” to have a relationship that honors God just because you live in America. Perhaps it’s impossible to live within a pop culture that supports each and every one of your romantic values, but that doesn’t impede your ability to live by those values. That sentence rubbed me the wrong way, because it was a shameless buzzword plug to make Christians feel riled up, and I hate that kind of manipulation.

The thing that really concerns me about the “old-fashioned” concept is whether it will include an anti-feminist element. Maybe the film will simply portray an abstinent couple who don’t use Facebook and go to church. That’s fine with me. On the other hand, maybe it will portray a man “leading” and a woman deciding that kind of relationship is more romantic than “modern” feminist notions, in which case I’ll start paging through my Bible for a verse that specifically tells men to “lead” their wives (I’ll be paging for a long time, because it doesn’t exist).

I get that notions of male leadership and initiation are part and parcel of church culture in the evangelical world, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

A related question: who is our audience?

I have one more observation that’s neither a good nor a bad, but more a question to the Christian movie industry in general: Who is our audience?

As I described earlier, the audience that will likely be drawn to this film are Christians who already hold to conservative relationship values and worry that they’re being eroded by pop culture. To be honest, I don’t see anything wrong with art that is directed toward a specific religious audience—mine or anyone else’s—so long as it’s good quality and tells the truth about life. I think the Christian masses have settled for less in recent decades, but that’s for another post.

But it bothers me when Christian art seems only interested in professing Christians. Generally, things categorized as “Christian” don’t have an approach or message that would reach someone who didn’t already agree with them.

Take this film, for example. I’d guess that the people who line up to see it would say, if asked, that they believe the 50 Shades crowd need better messages about relationships. That is one of the implied purposes of the film in the marketing campaign. But by belittling and downplaying “50 Shades of Grey,” the marketing campaign alienates the very people it believes need better messages. So, at the end of the day, it really is about bringing in dollars from people who already agree with the scriptwriters, and has very little to do with actually impacting the wider culture outside church doors.

(Edited: I’m not trying to defend 50 Shades as some upstanding story that should be respected; I’m just asking us to consider whether the marketing campaign was really directed at its fans, or directed at people who already hate it).

Despite all this, I promise to give “Old-Fashioned” an honest review, with good old-fashioned sincerity, when I see it next week. I won’t skip the good, I won’t skip the bad. But I still may watch Indiana Jones on Valentine’s night.

What everyone missed in Partridge’s yoga pants post.

I’m already tired of what I have deemed The Yoga Pants Kerfuffle of 2015.

I bet you didn’t know yoga pants could kerfuffle, but they’ve caused quite a stir. Or, rather, one Christian blogger’s decision not to wear them has caused a stir. Veronica Partridge made internet headlines when she announced her conviction to ditch yoga pants in order to prevent lust in men.

Many writers and bloggers replied that Partridge was shaming women and removing responsibility from men, while Partridge maintains that she was only sharing her personal journey.

Much as I’m not a fan of the modesty narratives, I’m going to leave that point to other capable Christian bloggers because I see a glaring issue that seems to be falling through the cracks of the discussion. It’s staring us right in the face but my guess is that you, like me, didn’t see the forest for the trees at first.

In explaining why she wants to avoid tight pants that might cause lust, she cites her daughter as a major factor, saying:

I want her [my daughter] to know, her value is not in the way her body looks or how she dresses, but in the character and personality God has given her.

Fair enough. I agree with that.

But does this belief extend to any area beyond yoga pants?

Partridge appears on her blog and in a recent Buzzfeed article looking absolutely pristine. Her makeup is that combination of smooth, stunning, and natural that comes from careful study and a practiced hand. Her abundant hair is styled with every lock in place–and trust me, as someone who had long hair, I can attest that this would take a bare minimum of 30 minutes. Her clothes are trendy. The main picture on her blog honestly makes her look like a model.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with spending time on your appearance, but because women have been socialized to put so much worth in looking pretty, it’s an area of life where every woman should honestly explore her motives. Is she frilling up because she loves doing that? Or because she gets a sense of self-worth from meeting the visual standards in movies and magazines? If it’s the latter, that frantic need for approval becomes a cage that she might need freeing from.

It’s entirely possible that Partridge is completely consistent in her values, and spends time on her appearance for the sheer enjoyment of it, rather than from any sense that she should look this way or that way. I’m not trying to pick on her or guess her motives, I just want readers to not overlook that aspect of the conversation. You can (rightly) teach your daughter not to place her self-worth in societal standards of sexiness, but if you teach her that grown women shouldn’t be seen without makeup or styled hair, you’ve taught her to place her self-worth in societal standards of “safe” beauty instead—and still not solely on the value of her character.

Again, I want to stress, I’m not accusing Partridge herself of holding that double-standard. I just want women who read her article to reflect on that in their own lives, and not miss the bigger point that this modesty post accidentally brings attention to.

And I’m not saying that attention to your appearance teaches your daughter bad things. Enslavement to your appearance, however–the palpable fear that you don’t look okay, the stressed-out prioritization of an expensive beauty routine that you actually hate doing, the refusal to be documented in photos without sufficient time to glam up–well, that might not be so good.

Now, if we can be done with kerfuffling yoga pants for awhile, I’d really like the internet to move on to something else.

Blessed Are Those Who Don’t Need No Therapy–and other things Jesus never said.

I’m not pulling punches on this one.

I was incredibly sad to see Robin Williams go this week. It’s even more terrible and tragic that his death came at his own hand. And it’s even worse that some people called him a coward, or belittled his supposed lack of willpower in powering through life. I’d like to see some of these people spend 63 years in constant mental pain and then see who’s the coward.

There’s been some talk in the Christian blogosphere (from bloggers who I won’t link to because it would only increase their traffic and reward their unloving, click bait behavior) to the effect that depression is a spiritual malady best treated with joyful thoughts, and that too much talk of brain chemistry and medical treatment is a modern distraction. Christians should, so these people say, view suicide as a conscious choice to reject all the good in this world, and the rest of us should therefore place suicide victims outside the “victim” category because it was really just their own selfish choice.


Despite all the available information about the medical side of depression, I’m upset to see so many people sharing these sentiments and going right along with them. The lack of nuance in the conversations is worrying the bejeebers out of me, and I’d like to have a chat about it with you.

Modern psychology has known for awhile now that depression is a complex animal with many factors. Life circumstance, habits of thought, brain chemicals, and physical ailments can all contribute to depression, and each might be explored as part of a treatment plan to alleviate it. As a Christ follower, I also believe that spirituality interacts with our depression. But then, as a Christ follower, I believe that all our experiences have a spiritual component to them, so this is almost as obvious as saying that the meaning of life has a spiritual component to it, or that the love for a child has a spiritual component to it. As we used to say back in the 90s, “Duh!”

Yet some people take this further, stretching the implications of this truth way too far. They get suspicious of medication and psycotherapy as real answers, stressing instead the need for God’s joy and spiritual healing as the “real” answer over and against the “false” answer of depression as a medical condition. This makes little sense to me. Saying that we should downplay the role of brain chemistry in depression just because we know a spiritual component exists is like saying that a cancer patient should downplay chemo just because we know that nutrition helps fight cancer, too.

Christians accept the role of medicine alongside faith in just about every other type of ailment, without seeing the two as being pitted against each other. Mention a serious ailment like Lukemia, AIDS, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, and most Christians will immediately say “I’ll pray for you,” indicating that faith and prayer are part of the healing. Those same people would not, however, say, “I’ll pray for you, so that means you don’t need to take your medication or follow your doctor’s orders.” Rather, they accept that faith, prayer, and modern medicine are going to work together in harmony–not competition.

It seems that some of the bloggers and nay-sayers who talk about depression are assuming that if feelings are happening inside your head, rather than outwardly on your body or organs, then those feelings can’t possibly be tied to physical processes; they’re all spiritual. And we know from science that it’s simply more complex than that. There are physical and spiritual forces at play in our brains; thus you need physical and spiritual healing to deal with it.

Next up–what’s with this insistence that enough faith and enough joy will allow or facilitate healing from depression? Isn’t that dancing at the edge of being a prosperity gospel, one in which God rewards you like a slot machine for putting in enough Faith or Joy tokens?

When I was 17, someone apparently entered my name in the Anxiety Lottery without my permission, and sadly, my number was picked. I became the lucky recipient of an obsessive worry problem that I’ll likely be managing for the rest of my life. At that young age, I didn’t understand why my feelings were so out-of-control, so I prayed about it constantly. When God didn’t heal my fears and obsessions and phobias, I began to suspect that He had rejected me. What other assumption could I make? Why wasn’t He fixing the problem?

During this time, my parents taught me something that I count among the top five pieces of life advice I have ever received. They pointed out to me that I was asking God to heal me immediately from my fears, the way one might ask God to heal a broken leg overnight or make a new job drop in your lap. Sure, they said, miracles are possible, but do we really walk around expecting God to zap our every prayer into being immediately? Doesn’t God usually work over time, in various ways, without revealing the end of the path? Why should that be different just because the problem is in our head, and not something outwardly physical? Did I expect Him to reach down and magically rearrange my brain wiring when maybe His plan involved leading me through a process of healing?

I’m not saying that’s any kind of easy answer. When your brain feels like it’s doing time in Hell’s version of Alcatraz, of course any rational person would wish for immediate healing. There is legitimate grief, anger, and confusion when emotional healing doesn’t come fast. But the point is, we mustn’t get unrealistic expectations about how God works. A person with a broken leg expects to go to physical therapy and stay off the leg for awhile and receive strength and patience from God during the healing period. A person who needs a job sends out job applications and pray that God guides them to the right place.

By the same token, it’s normal to need professional help and medication, and to take time to heal, and to feel like utter crap while doing so. It doesn’t mean you’re doing faith wrong. It doesn’t mean God rejected you. It doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time with medication while you should be sitting on your couch waiting for Joy-with-a-capital-J to show up.

For the record, my own treatment for anxiety involves a professional therapist, supportive friends and family, exercise, keeping a job outside the home, and the Holy Spirit. Should medication ever need to enter the picture, I won’t hesitate.

We also need to address this pernicious (and baffling) idea making the rounds that depression and joy cannot co-exist in the same mind, and that joy is therefore a cure for depression. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think this, but here is a good resource by a Christian woman for dispelling that myth. If you’re still unsure, ask around with people who have been depressed. I’m sure they can give you many more personal examples of joy and utter depresson coexisting. Life is nuanced. Life is gray. Get used to that.

No discussion of this subject could be complete without addressing this next point: is depression-induced suicide a refusal to see the goodness in life?

Besides being needlessly antagonistic and utterly insensitive to grieving family members left behind, this statement is just plain wrong. Taking one’s own life is not based on the refusal to see life as good. It’s based on the belief that you cannot attain life’s goodness.

When you know you should be able to enjoy things, but literally can’t–when you know loved ones care for you, but they can’t sit in your pain with you–when you see other people functioning, but can’t get yourself to function–you are painfully aware of how good life is…for everyone else. You just can’t get there yourself.

This, by the way, is why depression is so isolating. You look outside of yourself and see a happy world full of happy people. But you can’t be there with them, and they can’t come inside the depression with you. It’s not a lack of desire to see joy and have hope; it’s an inability to break down a wall that your brain created without your permission.

To say that someone who is depressed or suicidal is refusing to see life’s goodness is like saying that a slave who can’t escape a captor is refusing to know what freedom is. You may know it, you may want it, but you don’t believe you can get to it.

I mean, let’s stop and think about this for one second. One second. Who on earth would ever choose to be miserable enough to kill themselves? Who on earth would ever say, “I’m in so much pain I want to die. There’s an answer in the form of hope and happiness and joy and good things, and all of those sound lovely, but….nah. I’m too lazy. I think I’ll just painfully cut my wrists open, or strangle to death on the end of a rope, rather than regain happiness.” Who says that??

This refusal-to-see-the-good-life idea is such utter, complete, ignorant, cruel, ridiculous tripe that there aren’t enough words in the English language to criticize it, or to describe the careless stupidity one must possess to spout it in judgment two days after a beloved actor has left a grieving family behind. And that’s saying something, because do you know how vast and descriptive the English language is?

Now to the final bit. It has come to my attention that some people are playing the Personal Experience card to de-legitimize other people’s experiences. Here’s how it works. Person X says, “Depression feels insurmountable; people who kill themselves must have been in so much pain.” Person Y says, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve struggled with these issues, too, so I can say from experience that you can get out of depression with this spiritual formula.”

Well, if we’re going to play the Personal Experience card, guess what? I have one of those cards too.

Having dealt with anxiety since I was a teenager, I’ve had my fair share of bouts with depression. Here’s the interesting part: my depression is usually a byproduct of anxiety (in fact, I hesitate to even call it depression because of that, but let’s do for the sake of argument). Because it’s a product of my anxiety, my attempts to fix my anxiety by changing thoughts and changing focus usually go a long way to alleviate the depression. So in a way, I could fit the profile that many of these bloggers want everyone to believe–the profile of the depressed person who finds a way to pull herself back into joy.

Yet even I, someone who found ways to pull myself out of depressed feelings, completely affirm the reality that many cases of clinical depression are too debilitating for people to fix on their own, and cannot be solved with enough joyful thoughts, especially if they’re due to chemical imbalance. Even I, who should fit these bloggers’ categories, believe their theories about depression are complete poo.

I could use my personal experience to belittle and blame people who have a different depressive experience than I do, but I don’t. You know why? Well, first, because I’m not a jerk. But second, it’s because I recognize that my experience is very particular to me, and that I have not experienced the kind of severe, brain-chemistry based clinical depression that some people struggle with. And I would not want those other people to tell me how my anxiety-driven depression should work, or to make predictions about how to fix it. What’s useful is to learn from each other’s experiences, recognize the differences, and support each other. So let’s drop this charade that heaving dealt with “these issues” somehow gives us insight into the experience of every depressed person. Shall we?

If I sound angrier than usual, it’s because I have finally lost patience for people hurting each other. I will grieve for Robin Williams and the millions like him in the world who suffer from a silent hell, and I will not be polite when people say ignorant things about them.

In Defense of YA, and of Positivity in General


I thought I’d better say something about the infamous “Against YA” article in Slate, since, you know…I have a degree in this subject.
A few days ago, Slate contributor Ruth Graham wrote a piece in which she chided adults for reading young adult fiction. YA is alright for teens, she says, but grown-ups should be “embarrassed” if the bulk of their library consists more of YA than adult literature. She laments that about half of all YA books are purchased by readers who are above the target audience of 12- to 17-year-olds. To her, that’s a problem.

It would be hard to find any article with which I disagree more thoroughly—and not just because I happen to write the genre that she’s suggesting adults abandon. I find her argument flawed in nearly every paragraph, and feel the need to defend a genre that adults are finally beginning to wake up to.
The first thing I disagreed with was her ham-fisted usage of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars, which she simultaneously misinterprets and manipulates to suit her own argument:  

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

Absent, of course, is any mention of what Fault In Our Stars is actually about. Props to her for finding the one detail in the book that sounds stereotypically teenage-ish and wording it in the shallowest way possible. She conveniently omits that it’s a book about a teen with cancer who struggles with the knowledge of what her death will mean to her loved ones, and can’t seem to find any meaning in what’s happening to her.
But I guess no one wonders about life and death, or worries about hurting people, or gets cancer past age 13?
It’s actually quite ironic that she uses the age 13. That’s the age I was when I watched my grandmother die of cancer. And all those questions that are central to the book—about the meaning or not-meaning of death, the messiness of death, and our struggle to live with its reality—were not resolved in my mind when my grandmother died. They were only beginning. They never truly got resolved, and they never can be, which is why the book haunts me so at age 30. Why she thinks a preteen is the only one for whom this book is appropriate is beyond me. If she figured out the answers to death at age 14, I sure wish she’d come share it with me.
She also has this to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

I’m not sure what she counts as a “myriad” since she doesn’t explain who she polled and/or interviewed, but I don’t know anyone who would self-identify as reading YA for instant gratification. Believe me; anyone who was into Harry Potter while the series was unfinished understands the utter futility of wishing for instant gratification.
But on a serious note, I’m baffled as to why she made this claim. General YA readers truly don’t, in my experience, say that the books allow them instant gratification or are primarily about nostalgia. Most readers of YA read a book because the protagonist is interesting and the story is captivating. Isn’t that why we read anybook? Also, how does the word “pleasurable” imply escapism or nostalgia? I find many adult books “pleasurable” that are far from escapist or nostalgic, and plenty of YA, too.

But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.

I’m not even sure what she means here. She seems to imply that viewing the world from a teen perspective becomes obsolete once you gain enough life experience.
But who says? Who says that teens see life in a fundamentally different way from adults? Yes, it’s true that we (hopefully) develop a more nuanced understanding of the world past age 18. We learn to take social slights with a grain of salt, we quit stressing about pimples, we start to see our parents as people rather than decrepit caretakers. But there are many things about life that we do see accurately as teenagers. By the time I went to college, I had done much observing of life and death and hope and spirituality and social dynamics and dreams. Whatever immaturity hang-ups teens have, it doesn’t disqualify them from also knowing good and true things. In fact, sometimes I think I was wiser about certain issues—such as my work-life balance—at 17 than I am at 30.
Ironically, there’s even a scene from Fault In Our Stars that makes this very argument! (The scene in the Ann Frank House, anyone?)
Furthermore, when I’m, say, 50, should I stop reading adult literature that has 30-year-old protagonists? After all, I will have outgrown the 30-year-old perspective on life, according to Graham’s theory. Should we divide adult literature into “middle-age” and “elderly” genres and get snooty about the age groups directly below ours?

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

I take it she’s never read Hunger Games, which ends with the PTSD-riddled protagonist becoming estranged from the former lover involved in her sister’s death, and struggling to make a relationship with a man who formed a trauma-induced attachment to her.
I guess The Hanged Man is not on her shelf. It’s about a girl who comes to terms with being molested and ends the novel plotting how to save her best friend from a self-destructive fate (we never see the outcome).
Let’s assume she skipped my friend Sara Farizan’s book If You Could Be Mine, which ends on an emotionally devastating note when a character realizes she married someone she can’t love, and can’t do anything about it.
Do these books count as the “nowhere” that the ambiguity of the real world is evidenced in YA fiction?
For that matter, has Graham read any adult fiction? If emotionally “satisfying” endings that look to the future are a sign of immaturity, then we must re-categorize popular adult works like To Kill A Mockingbird, Rosie, Lord of the Rings, and Gilead, as being overly-simplistic YA. All of these have very satisfying endings and thus don’t fit her vision of the supposedly adult, supposedly real, world.
To be honest, this article got my dander up so hard because I hate when satisfaction and hope are seen as childish fantasies that one outgrows. If one seriously believes this, why would one even get up in the morning, let alone stare at a glowing monitor and type a series of symbols in hopes to create meaning and communicate with fellow creatures about the genre of meaning-making symbols they read?
You may think I’m waxing philosophical, but really. We walk around and form attachments and contribute to society because we think there is some spark of hope in what we do, some meaning, and we follow that instinct in spite of ambiguity and hardship. It’s not that kids enjoy hopeful endings because they haven’t learned better; it’s that people enjoy hopeful endings because their hearts just won’t stop yearning that direction.
Let’s finish this train wreck. Graham proves that she hasn’t actually understood Fault In Our Stars when she claims that the protagonist Hazel “finds messy, unresolved stories unacceptably annoying,” (even though Hazel is the character who constantly reminds others that the prospect of death is pointless and messy and irresolvable through platitudes). Graham gives hollow lip service to politeness by claiming that she doesn’t wish to shame anyone’s reading list (this is the blogger’s equivalent of the “No offense, but…” routine, in which yes, one actually does mean offense). She encourages adults to read about protagonists they can’t empathize with (I guess Ann Lamott will now have to be considered a YA writer, because Lamott is famous for stating in her book Bird by Bird that “I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I.”) And finally, she states that adults are “better” than all this satisfying YA crap.
If being an adult means going beyond hope, satisfaction, and empathy, then, my friend, I am not along for the ride. I will remain a young adult for the rest of my life, along with many of the most famous adult writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
And that’s really where the subject touches home for me. It’s not just about the lack of knowledge of the YA genre, nor the logical fallacies in her article, nor the frustration of a writer arguing about books she doesn’t understand, or even the hair-tearing at watching someone claim her insults aren’t insulting. This is also about whether adults are allowed to be hopeful—whether cynicism is the mandatory mantle of the high school graduate. She seems to think that with increased intellect and life experience comes decreased satisfaction and hope and pleasure.
Probably the best thing I can say in response to that, is this:
J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. Really, the man was no dummy. He invented, in one lifetime, the kind of mythology that typically takes centuries to develop. He was fluent in several dead languages, and snored his way through school at Oxford, where he ended up teaching.
This extremely intelligent adult also had a very hard life. He grew up with no father and lost his mother at a young age, forever scarring him emotionally. As a teenage orphan, he was separated from the love of his life for many years due to the short-sighted decision of his legal guardian. When he later found his love and married her, they often had a difficult home life, strained even further when he went away to the horrors of World War I. He saw friends die. He lurched through middle age carrying the emotional battle scars and living what most would consider a drab and unremarkable life, lost his wife years before his own death, and finally passed away without fanfare or trumpets in the 1970s.
Yet this remarkable man, much smarter and more acquainted with the sorrows of the world than I or Ruth Graham will probably ever be, coined the term “eucatastrophe,” which means a sudden and unexpected reversal from bad circumstances into incredibly good ones. It is described as a sudden “turn” from sorrow to joy.
Tolkien once commented on how frequently we experience eucatastrophes in real life…and how infrequently in the modern novel.

Heresy According to Twitter

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Twitter is the worst medium for discussing controversial subject matter.

The character limitations are too short to allow complexity of thought, but just long enough to tempt you into believing you can communicate complexity. The result is snappy, pithy sound bites that usually offend and almost never contain the nuance and concessions required to deal with tricky topics.

So I think we can all agree that Twitter is not the appropriate forum to speculate whether someone is a heretic.

**Update as of May 22: The original tweeter, Owen Strachan, has since gone public to state that he meant there to be a distinction between being a heretic and teaching a heresy, and that that distinction got lost in translation over Twitter. I REST MY CASE.**

(On a related note, does anyone else find that word hilarious? I always picture a tick with really bad theology, I’m not gonna lie. I was going to post a picture of a tick but I got nauseous looking at them).

I really don’t know what else needs explaining about this. Whether you’re bidding Rob Bell “goodbye” or suggesting that calling God “she” is on par with heresy, discussing the validity of a certain theology over Twitter is just plain silly. An exercise in futility. It can’t adequately be done. It makes you look impatient, foolish, and judgmental, even if that is not your actual character or intent. In what other manner can we communicate this idea so people will listen? Stop. Using. Twitter. To. Declare. Heretics.

Important points of theology (and yes, heresy) have always been decided through careful reflection by real people together in real life locations. I mean, can you imagine what would have happened if, say, arguments over the validity of Gnosticism had happened over Twitter?

I’mOrthodox: @Gnostic5Evah ur believes r stoopid 

Gnostic5Evah: @I’mOrthodox I cant hear u, 2 busy separatin soul from body, no more ears 

I’mOrthodox: @Gnostic5Evah I wish u’d separate faster n go away!

Yeah, that never would’ve been settled.

Oh gosh…what if they’d had a Tumblr thread to canonize the books of the New Testament? Have you seenTumblr threads these-a-days? People go Godzilla on each other over whether the Sherlock writers included gay subtext between Watson and Holmes, can you even imagine trying to hash out something as important as which early church letters God inspired, and what they mean? Not to mention all the ridiculous picture memes we would’ve been subjected to:


What if Martin Luther had pinned his 95 Theses to Pinterest? Who would have re-pinned it? Would you? Would the church at the time have crafted a rebuttal pin? (Wait, for real, do you think a nail in a door could be considered a pin? Holy crap, guys…did he invent Pinterest?) On a related note, d’you think they would have set up Paypal accounts for indulgences?

Was the Council of Nicea a Facebook group that drafted its creed through status updates? No. Do you think people debated the validity of holy relics by sharing Instagram photos of them? I don’t think so. Did the apostles text each other when they had a disagreement about how to evangelize? Please.

On a serious note, though: I know it’s tempting to fire off what you think is the wittiest sentence in the world about whichever person makes you the maddest. I’ve done it too, more times than I’d like to admit. But please refrain. Just remember that no one can adequately discuss something as serious as another person’s faith in 140 characters.


And remember that every time you try, all of us are driven one step closer to insanity through sheer annoyance.