Recently I’ve been bothered by posts on social media by people I respect that have disparaged the songwriting abilities of certain Christian artists. “Listen to other Christian artists besides X and Y,” others have posted. These posts left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s no different than writing negative reviews of books or movies, is it? I guess not. Except I find reviews ripping up fiction hard to stomach as well. Here’s why. Many Christian artists, whether singers, songwriters, authors or filmmakers, see their work as their mission. Their talents are gifts from God to be
used in His service. God works through us to speak to our audiences in our “mission fields.” Even those who take a more worldly view of their work still pour their hearts and souls into their writing, whether it be songs or novels.
As a writer I know the power of words. I have felt the sting of verbal abuse. I endeavor to use words for building up, not tearing done. Of course, that doesn’t mean our work is perfect. My craft certainly isn’t and my storytelling abilities frequently fall short. But my desire for God’s light to shine through these stories never falters and God never fails.
I also don’t criticize the songwriting abilities of these popular artists because I once wrote a novel in which the heroine was a singer-songwriter. I penned lyrics that appear in that novel. I asked my editor what she thought of them. Her response was the equivalent of “don’t quit your day job.” It’s easy to criticize others for which we ourselves have no aptitude. It would be like me critiquing Itzhak Perlman’s violin-playing.
In some regards, I fault social media itself for this phenomenon. It’s easy to be critical when negativity is the norm. It’s easy to whip out a snarky post that will garner lots of likes. The object of the post probably won’t see it. Likely won’t see it. Maybe won’t see it.
But what if she or he does? I know I’m not the only writer who has to work to rebuff voices in my head telling me my writing sucks. I don’t need any help in that department. That doesn’t mean I don’t welcome constructive advice in a more private forum, I do.
Social media is a beast that feeds best on negativity. The very seams of our society have been ripped apart in the last few years because of the extraordinary political divide in our country. Under the veil of the first amendment, folks spew their versions of “truth,’’ with no shame across a multitude of social media platforms. Some days it has taken every ounce of will to keep from retorting to those who expound on political beliefs that are far from my own. Especially when folks assume I share their beliefs. But I’ve quelled the kneejerk reaction and scrolled on by. It is possible, you know, to let it go. To not feed the beast.
My point is that a song that doesn’t speak to me very well may speak to another. It may be just the message that hurting, lost child of God needs to get through the day. To put down the razor and pick up the phone to call a pastor or a suicide prevention hotline. The novel I closed because I couldn’t stand the author’s head-hopping and backstory dumps (something only writers are likely to notice), may be the story that brings another reader back into God’s fold. God’s the one doing the work, and He can work through any song or story—however flawed.
Yes, if a story is truly bad, this ought to be shared, but it isn’t necessary to rip the author to shreds in the process. Or tag him or her when you post the negative review. I don’t have to imagine how that feels. I know, having received my share of bad reviews. This is a clear case of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Tearing others down shouldn’t build us up. It shouldn’t make us feel superior or smug. If you’re planning to post a negative comment or review, at least take the time to examine your motives first. Is it simply not your own taste in music or fiction, or is there really something wrong in your opinion with the song or the novel or the movie? There’s a difference between snarky or glib comments and observations that offer solid reasons for giving a negative review. Personally, if I don’t like a book, I close it and move on to the next one. If someone asks me, I say it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Those of us who are Christians are called to be Christ’s ambassadors. To set the example. Nonbelievers are watching and judging. Above all else, remember the fruit of the spirit includes love, forbearance, goodness, gentleness, self-control and kindness. Be kind. That way when the shoe’s on the other foot, there’s a glimmer of hope others will treat you with the same kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Remember, the view from the high road is much grander.
What are your thoughts on writing negative reviews? Feel free to leave a comment, especially if you disagree!