The room was quiet. Every person around the long table had shifted to see the PhD student, who sat, face reddening, in silence.
“Any questions?” the professor finally said. No one in our Postcolonial Literature class spoke. The woman who had led the graduate seminar was usually brilliant – sharp, incisive. Today, however, she had surprisingly little to say after beginning with, “I loved this book. I liked everything about it.” Praise is a chore for students of literary criticism, I suppose, in a discipline built on reading with one critical eye wide open.
Graduate school taught me how to evaluate, ask questions, make informed decisions and debate different points of view. Without critical thinking, we can’t tell opinion from fact, fake news from the truth. It’s a vital skill. Still, there was something sad about this very clever person unable to articulate her support.
Have you ever been stumped for specifics when the pastor asks, “What did you like about it?” to your casual comment – “Good sermon” – on the way out of church? I have. Is your drive-home conversation livelier after a movie everyone loved, or jointly hated? And why oh why are irate Letters to the Editor roughly 10 times longer than pleasant ones?
A decade of letters
This month marks 10 years since I started as Editor with CC. So I’ve been thinking a lot about your letters – the ones I’ve kept, and the ones that make me throw my pen against the wall. Thank you to every one who has taken the time to point out something you liked in a word of encouragement or kind comment. Thanks for praying for my task and for the vision of this all-of-life-redeemed paper. Thanks for keeping me grounded by catching my mistakes and with letters to “Mr. Bick.”
For the story suggestions and quotes and ideas you shared, thank you. Every single generous comment is like bright sun on a midwinter day. These fuel our work and give it meaning. Criticism, done fairly, is welcome too. When you provide gracious correction that informs and improves future editions of the paper, CC is at its best – a rich community that seeks to follow Jesus together and strengthen one another’s faith. These are the letters I save.
The other kind, thankfully few in total, I could do without.
Emails that lead to pen-throwing include: Name-calling. Brow-beating. Letters to the Editor longer than the original article. A certain coolness towards me after something controversial is printed. Accusations of heresy. These ones send me on long walks until I cool down.
In the best Peanuts cartoon I have ever seen, Linus writes a Letter to the Editor.
“‘How have you been?’” Lucy reads, incredulously, over his shoulder. “What sort of letter is that to write to an Editor?”
Unperturbed, Linus writes on. “I just thought he might appreciate having someone inquire about the state of his health,” he says. “Editors are sort of human too, you know!”
What would change, if we all thought of that line before writing, or speaking? To anyone? That person you can’t stand is human, too. Every one, a child of God. So are politicians. Morticians. Philistines. Homophobes. Skinheads. Deadheads. Tax evaders. Street kids.
Those characters fill the opening lines of “Breathe Deep,” a haunting hymn sung regularly at the Free Methodist Church I attended during grad school.
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim-wits
Blue-collars, white-collars, war-mongers, peace-niks.
Long-hairs, no-hairs, everybody everywhere
Breathe deep the breath of God.
Therefore, let me begin again.
How have you been?
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