It takes a bit to get me writing these days, mostly because I feel too busy, but also because I feel like I need thousands of words to adequately flesh out a topic. But for once, I feel like I can simply say what I want succinctly. Babylon Bee, shut your fucking mouth.

I get it: you’re trying to be like The Onion, but the Christian version. And typically I find your articles trite, or cute, at best. You make funny little jokes at the church so we can all laugh at ourselves, without ever calling for real change. You think that hiding behind satire will change something, makes you edgy, like your idols at The Onion. But The Onion doesn’t pull its punches like you do. It doesn’t let anyone off. I get a chuckle occasionally, and move on with my life.

As hundreds of thousands of people, not just women, descended on Washington, physically and spiritually, you decided to simplify all of their voices to one simple issue: abortion. Out of all of the horrible things Donald Trump said during his campaign (which you never commented on), out of all of the issues facing women in the world today, you decided to bringing it all back to one red herring issue: abortion. As thousands of people held signs on a myriad of issues, you decided to turn a blind eye to Trump’s claim that he has a right to grab a woman by her pussy because he is a celebrity and instead raise the issue of abortion.

Thank you. Now please shut the fuck up.


An irate father, husband, son, and Christian



This probably has a lot to do with where I am studying, and the people I am surrounded by, and the manner of studies I am getting into (and out of), but I have become increasingly pessimistic of the phrase “but they don’t read their Bibles” as a critique of those scholars whom one does not agree with. I’ve typically heard it said in Evangelical Protestant circles because Evangelicals are “the people of the Word,” the descendants of that long standing mission to get the Bible back into the hands of the everyday person, to free it from its clerical imprisonment. And of course, the world has suffered ever since.

I’ve become so tired of this critique because it inherently assumes so many problems: that somehow the critic does read her/his Bible, that the expanse of this scholar’s work can be nullified on one mere point, that simply by reading the Bible one might be imbued with knowledge, and that there may be no outside influences on the critic’s own reading of the Bible. I feel like this is all I need to say, but my hunch is that for some reason I need to elaborate of these points. Maybe some other time.

I’m curious about the proposition that there should be ethics in storytelling. I’m not sure if it is something we really even talk about because storytelling is an imaginative pursuit. There might be a similarity here with other creative pursuits: do they require ethics? What purpose would there be in laying down ethics for creative pursuits such as storytelling? And what might these ethics look like?


I should probably begin with discussing the “why?” of this topic. They might seem like two different endeavors, that is ethics and storytelling. But that might be the dangerous nature of this discussion, that we might think the two would have no overlapping points at all. Storytelling becomes a completely free endeavor, unbound and unrestrained by any limitations because it is the basic nature of creativity: freedom. (Freedom is a very dangerously undefined word these days, but I must not divulge into it at this moment. Read “freedom” as “completely unrestrained”). I think this partially accounts for why there is the ready acceptance of issues in storytelling that would otherwise be viewed as taboo: rape, child molestation, torture, sexual abuse, etc. to name some. As a friend once said regarding these issues in movies, “Film has to be real!”

The ready-made disagreement to this is that the prohibition from discussing these issues allows them to be perpetuated without any discussion. Or, that which is considered taboo is often established so by those in power who do not wish to be confronted with their own oppressive actions. Or, taboo is merely repression. I do not wish to deny or ignore these points, for they are an important part of this discussion, especially as storytelling has forced us to confront some of the very dirty issues that we wish to ignore.

But I think there is a importance designation to be made here: confrontation for the sake of ethics, and confrontation for the sake of disruption.

Why?: Confrontation for the sake of…

This is one way in which ethics may find its way back into storytelling, when we ask, especially in light of taboos or other such issues, what is the purpose of confronting us with this topic? Why has the author chosen this issue, at this time, in this way? I am certain many stories have included rape either as a subplot, or as the main conflict. But there is a difference between those who include it merely for disruption, to shock, disturb, make the reader feel uncomfortable, or even as a means to raise the stakes. And then there are stories where it is used to make a point, to make it aware to us when we often want to be blind to it, for the purpose of making us reanalyze an important issue that often goes undiscussed. I see the former as confrontation for the sake of disruption, and the latter as confrontation for the sake of ethics.

Now, this designation is probably really hard to clearly divide. I can’t imagine we can do so perfectly, but I think there are times in storytelling when an author wishes merely to relish in the uncomfortable or disruptive nature of broaching these issues, and I want to call this out as unethical. There is no larger purpose to this; it is merely for the sake of reaction. And then there are stories where we have been confronted with a taboo to make us aware of those issues we are uncomfortable with confronting, but need to be confronted because violence and harm have continued to be perpetuated without remorse. This then is ethical storytelling.

So then it’s about ethics in storytelling. It’s about asking our authors, “Why have you broached this issue in this way? Are you being ethical?” This probably looks largely ignorant today; I’m sure there are authors and readers who would think I’m naive to talk about this. But I think it is important for us to hold this whole process accountable, to ask why, and for what purpose. Much like yelling “FIRE!” in a movie theatre, the why, and for what purpose are really important, but we shouldn’t isolate that to single word expletives (read expletive in the sense of an interjectory word, not just a profanity). Storytelling should also be held to an ethical accountability.

And Readers

I also want to make the claim that as authors we should be ethically minded as well. We need to be careful about how we treat our readers, to ask why we think it is necessary to subject them to the many turns and twists that we include. Are we killing off our main character because we think it will be a great twist? M. Night Shyamalan’s twists are probably a great example of this. Does it do anything ethically, or is it just for the sake of disruption, reaction? Are we making our readers read a disturbing account of rape for the sake of disrupting them so that it sticks with them, or because we really need to start calling out those underlying systems that continue to perpetuate one of the most noxious human crimes?

This is a very short and truncated discussion, but something I started to think about, and something I wasn’t sure I have heard much discussion about. Why does it seem like storytelling can be uninterested with ethics?

Bullet point thoughts

Here is a list of bullet points that I would like to flesh out more at some other time, but maybe worth drawing out

  • Selfish or selfless interest? Are we as authors doing this for our own fame/notoriety/reward? Or for the readers?
  • Callous disinterest: when we use these issues that have harmed others, are we displaying our own callous disinterest? Is it because we aren’t disrupted by it because we have become inundated with violence, harm, injustice?
  • Are we assuming our readers are ready/receptive to these issues? Have we thought about what harm or violence we might be doing to them ourselves?
  • What troupes of storytelling might be most affected by this? What might we need to never use?

These are my very undeveloped thoughts at the moment.


I haven’t written on here in a long time. I want to say it is because I have been working on other writings, or deeply researching some topic. But to be honest?

A quick caveat: I have been busy. Let’s be honest, starting a Masters program doesn’t mean unlimited free time, nor does it mean I haven’t been writing. In all honesty, that half of what I’m doing: papers and assignments. And reading. Lots of reading. But it isn’t a complete cop out.

I have also been writing some other things on the side, stories and the such, or at least thinking about them and writing down ideas and notes. But I just haven’t been writing as much as I would like (or should?). But I was talking to Alicia the other day about art, specifically visual arts like painting and drawing, and how I’ve never been too good at it. That in and of itself is a whole other topic about whether I have the abilities and talent for it, which we’ve talked about before, but there was a revelation I had, pointed out by Alicia, about creativity. And that is that I have the worst combination motivating me to never work at my projects. I am not only creative, I’m a perfectionist.

Now a quick defense against others who claim they are perfectionist. Being a perfectionist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re anal retentive, that you have a high standard others must ascribe to. That’s called being controlling. There is a difference between feeling that something must be perfect, and controlling a situation so that it fulfills your personal whim. It is different to look at something and think it could be better, and to manipulate something because you think you have all the answers. Again, that’s called controlling. They can often go hand-in-hand, but I think many of the people who attempt to pass off their criticism and undermining as being a “perfectionist” are really just controlling. They are afraid to lose control of the reins.

So what does this mean for me? It means I have all these thoughts, ideas, creative concepts, but I never write them down, or tell anyone. Even when I do there is always a nagging feeling that it could be better, it should be better, and I’m not pulling it off. It means I often freeze up because I have this sense that it should only exist if it is the most perfect I can make it. And often it is not, and I just want to quit. I am tortured by “perfection” even though I am unable to voice what that really means. Which is in itself an imperfection.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m attempting to create anyway. I facetiously put in the title to this post “Friends for Life!” because they often eat away at each other: there is the drive to create, that wants to create, that demands creation, yet unless it is perfect it will never come to light. All ideas exist in my mind where they can stay perfect because no one will ever be able to say otherwise. But I need to break out of this cycle. I need to lay my ideas out for others to see, because if I don’t, what good is being creative? And I also want to acknowledge that there is also some truth to my comment. Perfectionism and Creativity are not sworn enemies, but can work together so well. These two drives are what stop me from just placing crap before everyone, from being negligent in my art. Perfectionism pushes me to always reanalyze my creation, to make it better, to view it from as many angles as I can, and to submit it to criticism again. It is to know that before I even commit something to paper (or computer, or instrument) it is the best I have been able to come to at that point. And I think that is appreciated by others, to know that I haven’t just negligently placed something before them. It is also a way of opening myself to criticism, because as much as you may be hesitant to add a critique, I want you to know that I need to hear it, or else I’ll always have a nagging feeling that something could have been better.

In the end I know that nothing may ever be completely perfect. That is something I am working through as well, to acknowledge that I may not always be able to reach “perfection” in creativity. But that shouldn’t stop me, and I try to make sure of that as often as I can.

But also, being in a Masters program really limits my time. So don’t expect a plethora of posts on here.


(A funny fact about my perfectionism: I never edit these posts. Partially because my perfectionism makes me just want to delete it, but also because I’m a bit lazy. These are really just my chance to jot some thoughts down. So…)

I’m pretty partial to post-modernism in some ways. I don’t believe it is the answer to all our problems, and it does have some glaring mistakes. But still, the critiques it makes against modernism and all of its issues warms my heart a little. I say this at the outset because I don’t want to sound like just another post-modernism critic, an evangelical conservative who longs for the good ol’ days when Christianity was logically sound, and truth meant objective, factual science. I anticipate my disparaging statement will hopefully gain me grace points with any post-modern advocates. If not… well…

I’ve been playing around with an idea regarding ontology (a big word for “being” though in actuality much more nuanced that just a display of synonyms and eloquence) and the closing of the human system through time, especially in relation to the rise of a scientific worldview. That statement is not what this post is about, but I feel the need to state it so that I can personally recall this idea more easily, as well as pre-establish my defense against any critiques that this is part of a larger idea. It is just a micro-view into a larger issue, but hopefully one that can stand, maybe precariously, on its own. Let us hold our breath until the end lest we tumble the structure before it is completed.

And in the midst of this play I read Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Selfa fascinating book tracing the history of how we’ve come to regard ourselves as selves (a highly charged sentence once you’ve come to see what those three words, “ourselves as selves” might mean). Over the 25 years since the book was written things have surely changed in our world, and many arguments have pushed some thoughts forward, or so I hope. But something I started to think about while reading the book was the post-modern change in meaning and authority. This is by no means anything Taylor really deals with, more a tangent that the book inspired. To simply and inadequately state it, post-modernism, often through deconstructionism, devalues authors, authorial intent, and “meanings” placed on to any piece of art outside of the self. All such ideas are just plays for power, and by revealing this insight, readers are freed from oppressive powers that attempt to overlay a meaning which oppresses those not in power. Like I said, simple and inadequate, and probably inappropriate.

Now many critiques and idioms have been lobbied against this concept as just another power play, or a self-deconstructing system. In some ways I agree, and in other ways I am frustrated. Destroying the argument of post-modernism doesn’t remove the ethical problem that many interpretations are oppressive forms of power. No matter your stance on post-modern deconstructionism, it is still necessary that you feel remorse at the ways in which, often, minorities have been silenced by, again often, white, western, male authorities. There is a history which must be acknowledged lest we keep repeating it.

So am I here to lobby another critique against this hermeneutic? Not necessarily. I like to think I’m here to put forward a I’m-afraid-to-say-better-so-I’ll-go-with different way. This is an attempt to view the subject from a different angle, to pick up the pieces and rebuild, not just harken back to a better year.

I have written before (long-winded) about the problem with the critique against authorial intentions, and I want to touch on it again. I’m not entirely sure why I find myself spending energy on this issue, though it may have to do with my own sense that as an author I want to be able to defend my work and myself against abuse without being told I can’t and must accept any and all meanings that someone finds in my works, lest I become a tyrant. This is an abuse already.

I find in the post-modern silencing of outside voices in the act of interpretation and meaning a dangerous closing off of the self from others. In the attack against power plays, post-modernism also seems to silence all voices that could influence the individual’s reading of a work. By closing of the search for authorial intent, post-modernism has silenced the voice of the author, the voice of the other. While it can be said that doing so allows unlimited liberty to the reader to find those meanings which might have gone unread, or silenced themselves, it is done so at the cost of listening to other voices that might tell us otherwise.

There is a larger issue here that I have no time or intention of tackling, and that is knowing whether we can even trust those other voices, and even if we could, how do we decide which to trust and which to ignore. But that we must trust and listen to the voice of an other (purposefully spaced apart) is a part of being human. We would largely be dead, or maimed, or lacking if we didn’t. I want to put forward that we must develop a hermeneutic of humility. The hermeneutic of humility emphasizes that we must always be willing to listen, to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, all the interpretations, or even all the works of art. It is a position of submission to all voices, to open oneself and to listen deeply to the words that the other is speaking. It is even a position of dependence on the other, to say with our whole beings, “I need you to speak into my life.”

By no means is this without problems. There are millions of voices out there, and at some point we must always be willing to add to them ourselves. And there are millions of voices that often repeat the same thing as the other. There are also a million Youtube voices which I want to kindly ask to shut up. Forgive me this once for not enacting a stance of humility, of acknowledging the humanness of those comment authors. But please for once just shut up.

And we will always, at some point, need to make judgments and summarize the thought of one another, or make statements that attempt to interpret and explain the other with different words. These are human nature. These are the markings of dialogue. But when we stop listening to the other, we cut off all dialogue, no longer opening ourselves to the other, ending communication. And yet all works of art are, in one form or another, communication. It is one human to another. But when we silence them, we not only dehumanize them, we dehumanize ourselves. We put a stop to part of what makes us human. We close ourselves off to the world around us. This is the irony of post-modern thought: what was meant to liberate us, to open us up to other voices in the end closes off dialogue. Both extremes must be avoided, the despotic authority which silences the minority, and the liberating openness which listens to no one.

We have to take on the hermeneutic of humility, to be willing to keep all forms of dialogue open, to listen and to speak, to hear and to be heard. When that relationship is held intact there will be no harm in saying, “I don’t understand you,” or, “Wouldn’t it be better to say…?” Or even to say that most controversial statement, yet necessary if we are to protect one another: “You cannot say that.”


We’ve all found ourselves in either position, and probably both: in a small group, bible study, accountability group, or any sort of such group and the problem of confession arises. Either as a leader you have attempted to bring about more vulnerability, to get everyone to open up and really talk about what is happening in their lives, or as a member of the group you have called out for honest confession, or at least heard the call for honest confession. And then…

Awkward silence.

Fleeting glances to one another.

Sudden interest in your fingernails. Your shoes. The ceiling.

And then maybe, if you are lucky, someone stutters along some vulnerable moment and everyone secretly breathes a sigh of relief. And sometimes this catches and everyone feels safe to open up, to admit their faults, their brokenness. That is great news! But at some point it never completely lasts indefinitely. Read on to find 5 clues to help you foster vulnerability as a leader.

Let me be confess something to you. I don’t know how to foster vulnerable, honest confession. I have been in group settings as a member and as the leader, and I can’t honestly tell you what works. I have never successfully, 100% of the time achieved honest confession. I don’t have 5 clues to help you along. But I know how to write a bunch of words about things I have experienced.

I believe vulnerable, honest confession is like fine wine (but not like you think). Fine wine isn’t planted as a seed, grown with care, and then plucked to be enjoyed. Even cheap wine isn’t like that. It requires roots from a parent vine; it cannot just be grown ex nihilo. The vines must be tended carefully, but the grapes aren’t then plucked, smashed, and consumed. They are selected, carefully pressed, and then allowed to age.

What does that have to do with vulnerable, honest communion? I am sure you have already guessed what I am going to say. But the most important thing is that it always starts with you, the leader. I think this is a sorely missed inclusion into the work of creating vulnerability. Often our leaders are considered the mature, already achieved, perfected people. They want you to be honest so they can help you achieve, reach maturity, and then one day you too can be the leader. Or maybe we dance around with our mask of honesty on as leaders, admitting we have sinned before, or saying the all-too-common catchphrase, “I’m not perfect.” But how many of our fellow group members can honestly tell anyone what we struggle with?

To foster vulnerability you must be the first root, the awkward, too honest, too open leader. Because the secret to vulnerability is that like calls to like. There is something too weird about hearing someone honestly break down and open up about what they struggle with, because it hits us in the face with honesty, and the only way to respond is to ignore the call within us to respond in like, or to open up, to be vulnerable and share our own brokenness.

But what holds us back so often is that we have accepted another idea of what a leader should be. We all too often accept the successful, perfectly-together, self-controlled leaders in businesses and on TV. Especially in the Protestant church we love to remind people that ours “is not a performance religion” and yet our leaders are far too often the successful, good-looking, well-mannered, white males. They are never awkward, openly-broken, with weird idiosyncrasies, failures. Because God is a god of success and prosperity.

But the church is to be the community of subversion, a place where the world looks in and says, “Well that is just silly, let us ignore them and they will go away.” Leaders of Christian community should be, and have to be, the most openly broken people, the first to admit fault and mistake because without these leaders we follow the same criteria as the rest of the world, that performance is the rule of the church, that perfection is the requirement for leadership. We want to have our cake and eat it too, i.e. we want to say it doesn’t require perfection, but we want to promote those who are perfect in our midst.

If you want vulnerability, honesty, then you must foster that within yourself first; you must be the example to others, the voice calling to their own vulnerability. It will be a difficult road, and it will hurt. I will say that some wisdom may need to be exercised so that we don’t needlessly damage ourselves, that we not throw our hurt and pain onto others abusively. But the most sought after leaders should be those who are most in tune with their brokenness, most aware and open about it, most willing to acknowledge it, and not just as some conceptual idea of sin, but as the reality of day-to-day life, with eyes to see and know how each day we hurt the people around us because we ourselves are broken, failing to hold all these truths, constantly acting as ones who do not believe.

And then we can be a community flipped upside down, where the most broken people lead us into the presence of God as the vanguards of our faith, the examples screaming out to the world that subvert their expectations.

Leadership is to know, and breathe, and speak about our brokenness as something present and real.


The Loss of Dumbledore’s Homosexuality

So now I come to possibly the more scandalous part of this conversation. If then knowledge is inescapable, and authors, just like readers, are human beings that cannot remove themselves from the influence of their experiences, and indeed create because of this very influence, and readers in kind can find significance in a work of art because of their own experiences, what becomes of Dumbledore’s homosexuality? I will be honest and play my hand early: I like Dumbledore as a homosexual, especially as one written by a Christian like J.K. Rowling. Previously I have talked about Harry Potter before; but this time I want to turn to Dumbledore. As the headmaster of Hogwarts he is a pretty lovable wizard, always helping Harry, protecting the students, yet still with his faults and mistakes, but that is what makes him so personable; he is not a perfect person. Even his death caused emotional trauma for J.K. Rowling and many of her readers, which emphasizes his impact.

And then a few years after the series was completed, the other shoe dropped: J.K. Rowling announced she had always intended for Dumbledore to be gay.

First a few comments on this fact: I believe, and this is through much research, that J.K. Rowling never meant for there to be a sexual tension between Dumbledore and Harry. Dumbledore loved Harry as he loved all his students, as a headmaster who truly cared about his students. We must reject any thoughts of pedophilia; just because he was gay didn’t mean he was a predator. Indeed the only person he seemed to have feelings for was Grindelwald. So remove any thoughts about that.

Secondly, I enjoyed Dumbledore as a gay wizard because he was so normal, which sadly is not the view most anti-homosexual advocates would hold. He wasn’t aggressively gay, he wasn’t over the top flamboyant, he was quite normal. And gay people are like that. Sure, some are aggressive in their homosexuality, but so are heterosexuals, and usually a lot worse at it. Some are flamboyant, but some heterosexual people are too. J.K. Rowling humanized homosexuals in a way that is often difficult to do because when it is first known someone is a homosexual, all of the baggage, all of the preconceived ideas, all of the pain comes with it. But first you come to love Dumbledore; then you learn to love him even knowing he is gay.

Or do you? Because in the light of “The Intentional Fallacy” Dumbledore is no longer gay. If it cannot be proven in the text, then it cannot be proven for it is only what is in the text that matters, not what the author intended. Though Rowling might have intended him to be gay, her failure to make this evident in the text means we can reject her intentions; we can even just ignore them. It is only the text before us that matters. And suddenly we realize that by accepting the intentional fallacy we find our first victim: Dumbledore’s homosexuality.

By ignoring J.K. Rowling’s intent we no longer listen to her as the author, rejecting anything she might tell us regarding the characters of Harry Potter, anything she might tell us regarding her characters. And honestly I don’t think anyone who accepts the thesis of “The Intentional Fallacy” wants to say this. If anything that person would have to contend with not just the homosexual community but also Rowling’s fans. And fandom is a difficult force to argue against; indeed it is even foolish to tell fans that they must think contrary to what the author might say. To do so would be to, once again, place the literary critic in a place of power over the author and reader.

Finding meaning and authorial intent is a difficult process, can frustrate us, but to reject it is to not only dehumanize the authors, but also to reject those things about a work of art that are meant to be read into it. It is not just a simple act of ignoring the author; it also rejects those very things about the work of art that the other holds dear, and by rejecting what the other holds dear, we once again exclude them from our presence.

A Proleptic Critique of the Critique of Academe

I want to now comment on what will assuredly be the critique of the academe, to give a critique before the critique may even come because I know that I don’t know the issues all that well, and I know I am not a scholar in the literary sense.

All authors exist in circles, in communities, in the company of certain people at certain times. This should be asinine to recount, but it is important and relevant to this conversation. You see, I do not live in the academic circle, so no, I do not know the nuances, the deviations, the arguments of the academic world. I live in different circles: I am a Starbucks barista, a home community leader at our church, an Old Testament scholar, an author, a cook, a house-husband. I exist in and dialogue with people from many different circles, which mean I have a different outlook on the issue of meaning, literary criticism, and the relationship between author and reader. As do all other authors.

And the academic world needs to remember this, because they are in trouble of becoming like the theologians of the scholastic era, isolated in their white towers arguing how many critics can balance on the edge of one page. The academic, and I count myself in this circle from time to time, must remember that everyday, every hour, all over the world people are doing the very thing she/he is arguing about: what happens when an author creates a work of art, and readers responds to it. For centuries humans have been creating long before art criticism existed; indeed it is one of the earliest professions, a human creating and another responding. We have always been responding to the actions of another person; it is only recently that we have started to wonder what it means, how it happens, how one should go about it, and so on.

Now this isn’t to say that we should just give up figuring out meaning and to let everyone get back to their business; it is important that this dialogue be had, but it must be camped in the circles and communities not just of academia, not just of your grouping of like minded thinkers, but with all circles in mind, with unity and humility leading us on. It is not the place of the academic to decide how works of art must be understood, but to bring light to how works of art are understood. And though I originally disagreed with John Green in the beginning, here I must now agree with him: all art is a collaboration between an author, who is a real living human being, and a reader. The academic must remember that she/he is commenting on the relationship of human beings to human beings, not humans to objects.

As an aside, I understand that especially as an Old Testament Scholar I am saying something quite difficult when applied to religious texts, especially the Bible. But it is especially in the Bible that this idea holds most true, for the Bible is not dittography, as if the authors of each book was just listening to God speak and writing it all down. It is also not just the creation of spiritual savants, or religious fanatics, but of authors telling the reader something important, drawing images, developing concepts, changing the outlook of the reader. Islam itself reads a text that is not just Mohammed’s scribblings of divine sayings, but a prophet’s sayings of how the reader must now live. Whether you believe it is divine or not does not change the fact that it is written by someone to change how the reader responds. Even religious texts are conversations between human authors and human readers. There just happens to also be a divine element involved as well that adds a little flair, if you will, to the whole issue.

George Steiner in his book Real Presences imagines a world in which no critic exists, only authors who create. This isn’t a fanciful idea, but a historically based idea: Dante critiques Virgil not with an essay on how to read Virgil, or on how Virgil is wrong, but by creating his own epic poem that even includes Virgil. We academics must always remember that all criticism is a response to greater people creating; we are in debt to the fact that others have taken the risk to create something, and that we are now responding to authors who created without a care for our critiques, without a care for how we may think the reader should find meaning.

This is especially different in our day and age where there are two responses to risk of creating art: acquiescence or superiority. In acquiescence there is camaraderie found in Reader Response criticism: no longer does the author have to say what she/he meant, and risk being told she/he failed at conveying that meaning. The critic loses her/his power because she/he are unable to say whether the art has meaning or not; it is up to the reader to respond. The author can hide behind the work, assured her/his ideas will never be mocked, scoffed at, or humiliated. Or the author can go the route of superiority, which finds its definition in the quintessential phrase, “You just don’t get it.” If it is misunderstood then the reader is naive, ignorant, or worse, stupid. In this form the author doesn’t need to explain because only the most intelligent, or most avant-garde, or most unhindered by previous commitments will get it, that small circle of friends. In this form the author takes on an elevated post, as one high and exalted, ignoring the mediocre masses. But each of these responses is the antithesis to dialogue, to artistic creation. Art, in this form, is no longer a collaboration between author and reader, but art for the sake of art, creation for personal self-interest. But, are they not merely the children of academic criticism? Is not each voice merely responding to the critic who would tear apart the author’s “child”, if the term could be used?

There may even be a third response: avoidance all together. Sufjan Stevens interviewing Shannon Stephens, an old band mate, comments, “I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone, having spent many years imparting my songs to the public. Although I have great respect for the social dynamic of music—that it should be shared with others, that it brings people together—I now feel something personal is irrevocably lost in this process.” To some extent this foils the entire conversation, especially the New Criticism idea that “The poem is… detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it.” Unless the author decides not to release the work of art, then is it held captive, imprisoned by a tyrant of an author? For the author may decide that this work of art is personal, a matter meant only for herself. It may be that some art is not meant for the public, but only meant for the author, and the academic must remember this, because it is only by the author’s willingness to share her/his art that the critic is able to know it, to engage with it. The academic is at the mercy of the author.

And lastly, the academic world must remember that works of art use a form of language, and all language is phenomenon. This is not to say it is phenomenological (which is something else) but as in the simple everyday use, a miracle, something awe-inspiring. The word phenomenon, and the way I have used it, itself displays this miracle: that there can be two different uses, meanings, for it in one language (English) is amazing. In a conversation a person could use the word interchangeably and still convey meaning. There has been much debate about this concept in and of itself which I will not go into, I want to merely touch upon the amazing fact that people every day, in every continent, country, and city speak in different languages, using different sounds with their mouths to communicate with one another, and we do this seamlessly. We never pause to think about how that happens. And artists draws lines with different colors to make shapes and scenes that are visibly taken in by others as recognizable, or not, things. Scholarly work is not about capturing, subjugating, and the turning to our servitude these gifts, but to make use of these very phenomena to add to the conversation, to help find unity of thought.

The academe has to remember that art is an author dialoging with a reader, and a reader responding to the author; art is a conversation between real people, whether separated by centuries or just distance. And while it is a good thing for the “text-only” critic to endorse returning to the text, it is also important that she/he not forget the author behind the text, the human being that created the work of art that has a voice that is speaking into the world.


So how then should we move forward?

Already I have espoused humility and unity, and I do so once again. Using Van Hoozer’s ideas from Is There A Meaning In This Text? all reading must be done for understanding, not overstanding. Readers must come to all works of art to understand, to put themselves at the foot of the author, to hear, and hear, and hear again, what the author is saying, to ask questions, and to hear again. It is only in after listening that the reader should respond, and even then she/he should respond in humility, aware that no matter how hard she/he should try she/he will always have a world-view influencing her/his ideas. We are never free from our experiences, our history, our reality, but that doesn’t mean we should never speak, but we must do it humbly.

It is also our job to listen to the other, to keep an ear out attentively to those who disagree, not so that we may discredit or disprove her/his theory, but so that we can allow the other to become included in our thinking, to allow the other to point out our ties to our own communities, and in that dialogue hopefully bring about greater understanding, and greater meaning. Indeed it is the academics job not to bow to one theory or another, but to know all theories, to create other theories, to know what others have said, and to know why. It is the academics job to understand all of these things because that is the very basis of her/his identity. It is to know the arguments and to help bring unity out of them, not to spur them on.

We must understand meaning in works of art as a Trinitarian concept, with the Father as the author, the Son as the reader, and the Holy Spirit as the words/images/sounds used. (I attribute this idea to Van Hoozer’s Is There A Meaning In This Text? and The Drama of Doctrine.) But in the words of Moltmann we must remember that the economic trinity is the immanent trinity, meaning that no person in this trinity has authority over the other, and no member is separated from the other. Author, text, and reader must always live in a mutually open relationship, giving precedence to the other, constantly listening, speaking, and acting in relationship to one another; they can never be separated, and one can never be elevated to the place of authority.

As I said in the beginning, I am no expert or scholar on art criticism, but I do live in many circles, and I do create and also respond; I author and I am being authored (not meaning created per se, but influenced by other authors). And I am acutely aware of the fact that everyday we human beings engage in art, the conversation of meaning, and humanity. We are all creators, and we are all responding. To assume any of us holds the keys to understanding is to elevate ourselves to godhood, and sadly history will remember us as fools. The collaboration between author and reader is a sensitive one, and we must always, as either author or reader, be willing to include and to be shaped by the other.