Don’t Criticize Notorious Leader Donald Miller

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A few weeks ago, Donald Miller (who’s a New York Times bestselling author and a popular blogger) wrote a post  about how, as an introvert, he must order his life so that he can get his writing done. One of the things he does is “make sure [he has] until 5 each day completely free to write,” which is, of course, historically and globally, an exceptional privilege; one that almost no one can replicate. True, Donald did not present his routine as prescriptive (as the first cartoon cell above suggests) but the title, “How to Avoid a People Hangover,” does give that impression.

So last week, my friend Ellen Painter Dollar wrote a post about how, as an introvert AND a mom, she (and other writer-mom-friends, of which I am one) managed to make time for writing amid our busy lives. Many of us who write have nothing close to the luxury of Miller’s “until 5 each day completely free to write,” and Ellen’s post resonated with those of us (which is most of us) who write in the snatches of time we can get between our ‘real’ jobs and our family obligations. Her post was hardly any sort of harsh criticism. Rather, it stated what could be understood as fairly obvious to anyone reading Donald’s original post: most people can’t do this.

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Donald Miller replied on Twitter, first saying “love this!” and then, some hours later, sent this:

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Then Donald Miller wrote another post in which he talked about how much he HATES (caps lock HATES) critics, but that, * sigh, * since he talks about Jesus and is a well-known leader, criticism is going to happen, and even though he’s still really mad, he’s going to be Jesus-y about it and “turn the other cheek.”

Strip3And, of course, most of the comments and tweets from his fans are of the affirming variety, praising Miller for his Christ-like behavior in response to the “morons” and “jerks” who disagree with him. Meanwhile, when Ellen commented to remark that it seems the post is directed at her (in part to remind Miller’s readers that there might be an actual human being behind the “moron” and “jerk” labels), saying (again) she’s sorry Donald felt hurt and would welcome a private conversation with Donald, she got a lot of comments like “why are you so egotistical, Ellen? It’s not all about you, you know. Plus, why are you even criticizing Notorious Leader Donald Miller? And in the wrong way?”

Who, exactly, is being egotistical here: the one talking about how he HATES critics and wants to smash their heads into lockers (except he would never do that, because he was sweet and shy and ate donuts in junior high, he says) while demurring that the only reason anyone could be criticizing him is that he’s so famous, and Jesus-y, and a leader…

…or the person who had some criticisms of something the leader wrote and who was (understandably) a little bothered by the frankly mean rhetoric he directed at her just a few days ago, and whose outline of the events (numbered 1, 2, 3 & so on) exactly parallel their exchange last week?

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What I have to say about this is really very simple: when a person publicly says something like, “I’m going to be like Jesus even though I’m really mad and would like to smash things and/or people, but clearly they are just mad at me because I talk about Jesus and I’m famous,” that is not ‘daring,’ ‘honest,’ ‘raw,’ or anything else. It is humble-bragging of the very worst kind, the kind that brings Jesus along to co-sign one’s own bullsh*t, and that is sly blasphemy.

Receiving criticism is hard. Receiving it WELL is harder. But there are (at least) two ways to invoke Jesus in these situations that are, from my (limited and flawed) point of view, hideously wrong:

1. Invoking Jesus to say something like “I pretty much hate you but I love Jesus more than I hate you.”

(translation: I hate you AND I’m going to brag about how much more spiritual I am than you.)

2. Invoking Jesus to say something like “clearly it’s because I’m so famous and influential and Jesus-y that I’m even getting criticism.”

(translation: I am awesome, so why should I even listen to critics, who clearly are always wrong?)

And no fair putting Jesus in the “nice” category so that speaking up or speaking out about these kinds of things is categorically un-Jesus-y because Jesus is just ‘nice.’ Because that is just not true, and if I may continue being frank, it is just as not true for women as it is for men, although we women are, in my (limited) experience, more likely to be called names or accused of ‘bad motives’ for telling the truth as we see it.

“A plain fact spoken by a woman’s tongue is not infrequently perceived as a cutting blade directed at a man’s genitals.” (Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born)

(Donald’s original post, Ellen’s response, Donald’s post on hating critics.)

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About Rachel Marie Stone
  • http://dickensblog.typepad.com Gina

    Nailed it.

  • http://twitter.com/kwpershey Katherine W. Pershey (@kwpershey)

    Thanks for this, Rachel. Thoughtful assessment, and love the drawings!

  • http://purplepraise.wordpress.com purplepraise

    Well done. His post bothered me in this very same way. You’ve laid it out beautifully.

    Something is so remiss in his perpective. The irony of it is remarkable. Donald’s act of turning the other cheek (even though he HATES it) does not require writing a blog post for all of Internet-world to read. (Let alone blaming it on the fact that he writes about Jesus!) That’s not humility. Rather, it is looking for people to gather to his side. He would have been better off to just say he was sorry for his snarky twitter comment.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    a) I want you to be the illustrator for my blog.

    b) Miller’s tweets announcing the second post said it was about how to deal with “harsh critics”. My understanding of how to deal with harsh critics is to pray for them and bless them. (Romans 12:14, 1 Corinthians 4:12.)

    c) His first post wasn’t even about Jesus. It was about how Miller organizes his time. Any criticism he received about that post wasn’t based on his faith. It was about him presenting his methods as a model for others, at least for fellow introverts who want to know how to avoid what he calls “people hangovers”. As Ellen pointed out in her article, his schedule is hard for the rest of us to duplicate, because we have responsibilities he apparently doesn’t have. For Miller to play the martyr in all of this – to claim he was persecuted for writing about Jesus – is misleading and disingenuous.

    d) Unless of course this had nothing to do with Ellen’s post. And if that’s the case, he should have cleared it up immediately. But he didn’t. So it is.

    e) Cheers,

    Tim

  • http://www.riverintowords.com karen

    Yes. I tried to relay these things (not with cartoons, but with hand-motions while i angrily emptied dishwasher) to my husband last night (who concurred, by the way), but you are much more adept and artistic at it. :)

  • Christina

    I’m still completely puzzled about the fact that Miller considered Ellen Painter Dollar’s post mean. In what world does “well, I can’t actually structure my schedule the way you do yours because I have children” constitute a personal attack? The “sorry you hate your life” tweet was the first personal attack in that whole, and it was pathetically passive-aggressive.

  • Carissa Norris

    So well said! I was appalled by Miller’s tweeted response to Ellen’s post. It seemed to me that he couldn’t bear to have someone disagree with him or modify his advice for those of us who can’t do it his way. I also love the title of your post. People are really good about latching on to a certain person and agreeing with every single thing that person ever says no matter what. People are people, not God, so we should never latch on to every thing they say ever. A commenter even said they would never criticize Miller. Great, so if he said something outright unbiblical like Jesus’ death did nothing for the world, I guess they wouldn’t criticize? The Bereans in Acts are called noble for searching the scripture in response to Paul’s teaching. Every teaching should be weighed against scripture, Miller’s as well. Miller isn’t any better than Paul. He should be scrutinized and he should be glad people scrutinize his teachings just as Paul commended the Bereans. (I know the original discussion was not scripture based, but since Miller made his post “general” about critics, then I feel this can apply. If critics take issue with your scripture claims, that should be seen as a good thing).

  • Morgan Guyton

    The best part is the cartoons.

  • http://stuffchristianculturelikes.com stephanie drury

    This. Rules.

  • http://brettfish.wordpress.com brettfish

    I think the fact that I got linked to this blog via a Retweet from Don Miller says a lot about the man. Not wanting to defend him unnecessarily [i doubt he or anyone else needs that] but it does say something i feel. And maybe this whole exchange highlights once again the danger of arguing/fighting/disagreeing over the internet as written word often doesn’t convey tone and so the person writing something might be all la di dah ad the person reading it might receive it as HULK SMASH! and so picking up a phone or having coffee together or grabbing a locker and hitting the heads of your fiercest critics as a team building activity might be more helpful – i think your blog post was really good and am interested as to why Don passed it on cos i think i might have hidden it and pretended it didn’t exist and hoped it would go away [okay, to be absolutely honest, knowing me i would have probably responded with a what-would-have-been-called-passive-aggressive-blog-response-but-was-really-just-me-trying-to-express-my-feelings response of some type] – i don’t know that much more back and forth on this will be helpful but it would be great to hear that the three of you had a Skype conversation and smoothed it out… the well-writtenness of this post makes me want to check out more of your stuff though so that’s a plus. Thank you.

    • http://dongtini.com stephy

      Brett, does his retweet say as much about him as his words to Ellen did?

      • http://brettfish.wordpress.com brettfish

        i don’t feel like i fully know and understand enough context [feels like i've heard from one side] to comment on that part of it. i just saw the retweet and came here and read all of this [and how eagerly people have jumped on to the virtual stoning bandwagon, some with much more grace than others] and am trying to understand why he would retweet it because it just really bashes him [true or not] and so that feels like someone who is okay with people knowing both side of the story even when the one side is not very complimentary… it feels like the two or three of them should sit down over a chocolate crouissant and chat this out because i have no doubt there is some misunderstanding or crossed lines involved but it just saddens me to see everyone else jumping into the ring so quickly and having strong opinions.

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      Those are good questions, Brett. Keep in mind that Ellen tried to talk to Don privately once the kerfuffle started. Apparently he did not respond.

      Blessings,

      Tim

      • http://brettfish.wordpress.com brettfish

        i read that but i don’t know the details so can’t comment but i can say it makes me sadder and sadder just watching more self-justified people jumping in here, taking sides and shooting Don down – he may have gotten it wring in this case but that really seems like it should be between the two or three of them and now everyone is firing off missives or missiles from the safety and comfort of their keyboards, mostly not knowing the full story i imagine. and i’m pretty sure i have been one of those in the past so maybe just younger me making older me a little sad too.

  • http://www.stufffundieslike.com Darrell

    I’m going to steal my daughter’s Crayons this evening and do some art. Just try and stop me.

  • http://www.helenleeauthor.com Helen Lee

    Well said, Rachel! Well said!

  • http://keriwyattkent.com/blog/ keriwyattkent

    Wow, not only are your comments spot on, but your parody of the Blue Like Jazz cartoons is pretty great, too. I am so sad to see how Don Miller responded to this–I love his writing but am just confused by how he’s acting in this whole situation.

    I keep trying to figure out where he’s coming from and I just don’t get it.

    Great job defending a fellow writer who balances a real life with writing!

  • http://teachmetowalk.blogspot.com Andrea

    I’d never read Ellen’s, Donald’s or your blog before today, but within that limited context I’d say you hit it on the head. I especially admire you for standing up for your friend.

  • dad

    It seems to me that Ellen’s blog post could only be considered mean by someone who is so isolated that he has lost (if indeed he ever had) the ability to interact with others in a normal, healthy way.

    It all makes me think of the dear brother in our Brooklyn church who once said, “‘I love you in the Lord’ really means ‘I hate you in the flesh!’”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rachelmariestone Rachel Marie Stone

      I love you in the Lord DEFINITELY means I hate you in the flesh. No doubt. Let’s translate more Christian cliches! And illustrate them!

      Sent from my iPhone

      • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

        OK, Rachel, I’m DEFINITELY looking forward to that post!

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      And isn’t isolation one of the things Miller advocated in his original post? He wrote that he isolates himself from people for hours every day so he can get his writing done.

  • Lou

    I find this article so unnecessary. Let it go. Have grace please – regardless of which person is wrong. Jesus encouraged love, peace and forgiveness. There is none of this here.

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      Lou, you’re right that Jesus encouraged love, peace and forgiveness. He also used sarcasm and called Pharisees snakes and white-washed tombs, and he did it while never abandoning love, peace and forgiveness. Rachel has followed his gracious and pointed example in this article.

    • http://hyattregency.wordpress.com Sarah

      I found this article fairly necessary, in that I stopped following Donald Miller years ago after seeing repeated hints at this attitude throughout his blog… I don’t think this blog contradicts any of the things you mention (love, peace, and forgiveness) and I do think it does something important, which is call out inappropriate behavior. The author here deserves a voice as much as Donald Miller does, and she isn’t resorting to personal attacks.

  • http://loveisneverlost.wordpress.com loveisneverlost

    This article is so venomous and unnecessary. Please let this debate go – regardless of who is in the wrong. Please show grace and stop commenting further. Jesus promotes forgiveness and, above all, peace. Have peace.

  • Pingback: Blue Like Orthodoxy: When Donald Miller met G.K. Chesterton | Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture

  • AJ Host

    I’m sorry. I awoke unhappy with my words last night, because if he was talking about you, Miller was off logically. His words about introversion were not defending the kingdom of God, and thus I wish you guys had had a way to resolve it “off screen.” :-/

    I’m sorry for seeming callous last night. Kids are a gift from the Lord, and it’s great if you’ve found a way to write, run a home and handle your “kid hangover” ;).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rachelmariestone Rachel Marie Stone

      Thanks for this, AJ, but I am wondering if you meant this comment at Ellen’s blog? Either way, I’ll be happy to make sure Ellen sees it. Peace to you.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Hi AJ – Am I right that this comment refers to what you said on my blog yesterday, not Rachel’s blog, where this comment posted? I just want to thank you for this expression of grace. A few commenters have initially been critical and have then backed off… Which is very rare in the blogosphere! They ought to give prizes for that sort of good behavior! Since they don’t, please accept my sincere thanks for taking the time to come back and say what you said here.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rachelmariestone Rachel Marie Stone

        I have to echo Ellen’s sentiment that this kind of gracious expression is so very rare, which makes it all the more lovely. Thank you.

  • Michael Ward

    I can honestly say without hyperbole that this is the greatest thing ever written in the history of forever.

    Okay, maybe there was some hyperbole.

    But this paragraph was particularly perfect:

    >>What I have to say about this is really very simple: when a person publicly says something like,

    >>“I’m going to be like Jesus even though I’m really mad and would like to smash things and/or

    >>people, but clearly they are just mad at me because I talk about Jesus and I’m famous,” that is

    >>not ‘daring,’ ‘honest,’ ‘raw,’ or anything else. It is humble-bragging of the very worst kind, the

    >>kind that brings Jesus along to co-sign one’s own bullsh*t, and that is sly blasphemy.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rachelmariestone Rachel Marie Stone

      Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not the greatest thing ever written. But the term ‘co-signing bullsh*t’ does often come in handy. ;) Thanks for reading!

  • Gaye

    Is this the same Donald Miller who helped Bob Goff write “Love Does????

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      Apparently so.

      • http://gravatar.com/samuelchristmus GayeCGaye

        Seems a tad ironic…

      • Gaye

        Seems a tad ironic….

  • http://keriwyattkent.com/blog/ Keri Wyatt Kent

    Gaye, yes, it’s the same person. Guess what? Writers can be really good writers, but be human. They can have insights into the nature of love, but not always love perfectly. I’m not defending Don Miller at all in this situation. He made a mistake, then didn’t handle the criticism for that mistake very well.

    But like Don, I’m a writer and author. I’ve written books, articles etc on Christian living–that is, how to live out your faith. But I don’t do it perfectly. In fact, plenty of folks would argue that I make a lot of mistakes. Is that “ironic”? That I’m still a sinner, even though I write about spiritual growth? Even the Apostle Paul admitted to being a sinner. Don mishandled this situation. Like the rest of us, he has character flaws. Like the rest of us, those flaws come from the broken places of insecurity–the places God is still working on refining and sanctifying. Don’s also got character strengths, and has done some great things (like helping connect kids with mentors), and has a pretty amazing talent for writing. We’re all broken, we all need grace.

  • http://takingshapeslowly.wordpress.com Elizabeth P

    Rachel, way to defend a friend. With art. And humor. Please do work on that “translation of Christian cliches” article as soon as you can. I’ll be lurking around waiting for it….

  • http://paul.dubuc.org Paul Dubuc

    What’s really sad and perplexing about all this is how a guy who has practically built his reputation on seeing, and apologizing for, the sins of others is so unable to do the same for his own.

  • Sarah

    Read this back when it was posted and it is still spot on.


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