Sunday, May 31, 2015

An Invocation for Trinity Sunday

God of our vast and marvelous universe, Christ of incarnation and resurrection, Spirit of life and power, we take time to remember and celebrate the many ways you make yourself known to us. As your presence encircles us in the diversity of your person, form, and function, we gather as a community discerning our own response to your love for all that you create, redeem, and sustain. Be newly known to us as we worship, as well as in all relationships, work, and leisure in which we participate and to which we return after our time together has concluded. Amen.

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 2015 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for May...

1. The final episodes of Mad Men aired this month and last, during which many of the characters experience big changes leading up to the finale. One of the biggest is perhaps the firm's complete absorption into McCann-Erickson, the agency that Roger negotiated to give 51% ownership of at the end of last season. This change is more favorable for some than for others, but many of the SC & P staff really don't cope well with the transition, and many either don't make it to begin with or bolt soon after. The finale, which aired on the 17th, tied up some stories while leaving others much more ambiguous. I, like many others, was especially curious to see how Don would end up. The corporate shift almost immediately sent him on a long road trip out West, which seemed strange and meandering at times but also inspired him to reflect on his history and identity. And then, in the finale, he seemed to have either a breakdown, breakthrough, or both, culminating in a scene that in retrospect had been hinted at for several episodes in various ways. I enjoyed the finale, and thought it as good of an ending as could be expected. There was enough to suggest that perhaps Don had found peace, while at the same time was driven back into the creativity that McCann had coveted him for.

2. We saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening weekend, which brings the team back together to battle an entity of artificial intelligence brought about by the spear from the previous movie and Tony Stark's best, yet misguided, intentions. Alongside the half dozen main players are many of the characters both major and minor from the other movies, and a few new faces. An ensemble this large carries the risk of too much to deal with, but I thought the film was able to balance its cast fairly well. There are many side plots among the characters, but it's aware enough of what it needs to do in order to further the main plot without getting too bogged down in the smaller stories. There's plenty of action, and of course it leaves plenty of openings for many more movies to come.

3. We binge-watched the first season of Daredevil on Netflix this month. After the first episode, it didn't take much. We see Matt Murdock's development into the hero, first as a vigilante in a less stylish, homemade costume as he helps uncover a vast crime network headed by Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk. The landscape of the series is fairly dark and they're able to give Hell's Kitchen the proper vibe; the plot and fight sequences are gritty and communicate the city's desperation for hope. It's also very much a character-driven show, as there is a heavy emphasis on relationships and backstories, including those of Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal is one of the highlights of the series). I am very much looking forward to the next season.

4. I read Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen this month, which I've been meaning to do since completing my own spiritual direction studies last year. Here Nouwen explores some of the basic themes of spirituality including the exploration of who God is, who we are, and being in community with others. Nouwen has such an accessible style, yet conveys truth that is deep and rich at the same time. Here he leads each chapter with a story, parable, or illustration from a variety of faith traditions in order to help anchor his theme, while also including accounts of his time with the Daybreak community at which he worked and resided in the latter years of his life. Nouwen is celebrated and widely-read as a spiritual writer for good reason.

5. I've been listening to and enjoying Sprinter by Torres this month. At times reflective and atmospheric, at other times driven and forceful, I've loved the raw indy rock feel of this album. Much of it explores her religious upbringing, and its continued influence on her life, both good and bad. "Strange Hellos" gives the album a crunchy opening, "New Skin" is an exploration of living into new identity and wondering how she'll be received. The whole thing is excellent, but in particular I keep coming back to the title track. Here's the video for it:

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Our Means for God's End" at The High Calling


I've written a piece for The High Calling, a website that offers reflections and resources for integrating faith with daily work.

The article that I've contributed is entitled Our Means for God's End. It's part of their series for the week, which explores the theme of what sort of work people of faith should accept. Mine features a little-known story from early in my ministry and some thoughts on discernment from Ignatius of Loyola.

An excerpt:
The question came after several conversations with a trusted mentor, during which I hinted at dissatisfaction with where I was and what I was doing. The programs I’d attempted to start didn’t seem to be producing much, and I wasn’t sure I was making a difference. I had been pastor at a small rural church in northeast Ohio for nearly three years at that point, and for these reasons I didn’t have much of a sense that things were going in a positive direction. 
I was considering the possibility that it was time to start over someplace else. As it happened, my colleague was ready with a suggestion: “How do you feel about becoming pastor of a new church start?”
Click the link above to read the rest.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vintage CC: Ohio Grown

A few weeks ago, I read that the elementary school I attended in Michigan no longer exists. The building is still there, but the district has been dissolved and the town is majorly hurting. Even after so many years, I grieved reading that news, as I recall that community being vibrant and warm when I lived there. It brought to mind this post from May 2012, about my visit back to another childhood residence that came with mixed results and feelings. You really can't go home again, but you can at least be thankful for where you've been.

Late last week, I took a trip out to the church and house that I knew in elementary school. I've been collecting pictures of all the churches I knew before graduating high school--five in all--and this was the last one that I needed. It's also the only one whose picture I can't find anywhere online. Fortunately, since I don't live that far away from it, I decided to drive out and snap some pictures of it myself.

For those who haven't been reading as long, this church is the one that inspired this earlier blog post. That memory is the primary one I associate with this place, so there was a certain sense of dread and anxiety that I felt during my drive. Would anyone be there or recognize me? I just wanted to take pictures and leave, after all.

Strangely enough, those feelings lessened the closer I got. After passing over a particular road in the city closest to it, instincts and comfortable feelings from many years gone began to take over. I hadn't been out this way for a very long time, but the route came rushing back to me. I remembered the turns, the road names, the landmarks. What I saw along the road--barns, fields, corncribs--hadn't seemed to change much over the decades, or I had never paid close enough attention.

As I came up on the neighboring tree farm, I began to look for the church. I knew that I'd be able to see it once I made it to a certain stretch of the road. To my surprise, I saw it a little earlier due to the massive new addition to the back of the old brick structure with which I was more familiar. As I pulled into the parking lot, I had to take a moment to process everything that I saw: again, the addition that seemed from the outside to be a new fellowship area, the picnic pavilion that replaced the gravel lot I'd grown up playing on, the extended parking lot now replacing the wide open front yard on which I'd played all manner of games. The three big crosses in the parsonage's side yard with lights trained on them for the evening hours. The front facade of the house had changed as well: gone were the big bushes I liked to hide behind. The evergreens along the side of the road had become massive and didn't seem to be well-pruned.

It was quite impressive, really. Enough time has passed that I didn't spend these moments cursing this place under my breath. Instead, I experienced a moment of clarity and peace. For all intents and purposes, this had been my childhood home. It had changed dramatically in 20 years, but that's to be expected.

I finally stepped out of the van and hurried across roads on which I once rode my bike to begin taking pictures. I used to play behind that church sign. I used to run around under those trees. I used to play baseball up by that neighboring farm. There was a peace and familiarity to those moments; a thankfulness for what this place had been to me that overtook those final memories that have dominated my thoughts for so long.

There was a van in the parking lot, though of course I couldn't say who it belonged to. It could have been the current pastor or someone else preparing something for the weekend. Nobody came out to greet the guy with the camera. Maybe I wasn't even noticed. Would it have made a difference to know who I was? I don't know that.

Since I was in the area, I drove the extra few miles to my elementary school. I knew that its days of actually being a school were behind it, as the district had taken steps to build new structures all on one campus, as has been the trend in many communities. The last I heard, it was being converted into a bed and breakfast, though I can't remember where I heard that.

As I pulled up, I could quickly tell that it wasn't a bed and breakfast. A large iron fence had been erected long the front, and other gates had been set up across both entrances to the parking lot. Signs made it clear that this was private property and there was to be no trespassing. I only stayed long enough to notice the overgrown grass on the soccer and baseball fields, the backstop looking worse for wear. The building itself didn't seem to look too good, either: the bricks were worn, the paint on the wood trim was peeling and dirty. This was the physical remnant of my elementary school years. Visiting the church seemed to provide a moment of closure, but seeing this caused me to cling to memory rather than current reality.

That evening as I waited for Coffeeson to fall asleep, I opened my laptop and turned on Spotify. I've been on a minor Ekoostik Hookah kick recently, so I began playing one of their albums on my earbuds as I did a Google search for my elementary school. I was looking for news, maybe some movement to preserve or restore it, or maybe an account of what it's being used for now. The best that I could find is that it had been, and perhaps still is being used as a martial arts dojo. Well, that's something, I thought. Maybe the inside looks better than the outside. I also found a brief history of the school district, which I didn't really know much about.

The only other site I found was somebody's Flickr account on which they'd posted more than a dozen pictures of the building, including a few engraved stones that can be found indicating that it was originally a high school and another indicating a gift from the class of 1932. As I slowly perused these photos, a song called "Ohio Grown" began playing, and memories of these years happily made their way back to my conscious thoughts.

I miss the rollin' hillsides on the land I call my own
I get the feelin' now I'm nearly home 


There was a period of time when I didn't like admitting to people that I'm from Ohio. I'd talk about being born and partially raised in Michigan with much greater pride, and I'd wear my years in St. Louis like a badge of honor; as if I'd escaped if even for just a little while. This trip, these moments of resolution near my childhood home, and the sadness that I felt at my school, helped me to see fully that I have much to be thankful for in and around this state. I am who I am thanks in part to these places. There's no use denying it or passing it off as unimportant. Instead, it's worth much more to embrace where I've been and realize how it's still a part of me, for better or worse.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I'm Writing a Book

I am incredibly excited and grateful to share that I have signed a contract to publish my first book through Noesis Press as part of their "Intersections" series. I'll be writing on spirituality and spiritual direction, and what that might look like in the everyday. It probably will reference coffee at some point, too.

It's too early to project a time of release, but I'll provide updates as I go through this process. I'll be working vigorously on the manuscript all summer long, which might put a slight damper on the reading list I posted last week. If posts seem to appear less frequently at any point over the next few months, you can probably assume that this is the reason.

This blog and you, dear reader, are a big reason for this happening. I have been able to hone my craft, find my voice, and claim my identity as a writer thanks in large part to this space and to those who have stumbled upon it for over 10 years and counting.

Stay tuned as I take each step toward publication. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Overly Ambitious Summer Reading List

Summer is approaching, and I've been building up the stack on my nightstand in anticipation. It's not really that my ability to pick up a book is seasonally dependent, but things do slow down at the church during these months and I have some vacation time coming up, so the prospect of tackling such a list seems a little easier.

Here, then, is what I'm hoping to read this summer. Honestly, If I make it through 3-4 of these, I'll call it a win.

  • Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp
  • Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo
  • If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers by Mario Impemba and Mike Isenberg
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  • Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
  • The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
  • The Walking Dead Volume 23 by Robert Kirkman
  • Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann
  • Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest

So: a memoir, music theory, baseball, end-of-life issues, a few graphic novels, spirituality, and steampunk. I like variety. And there's always the potential for more to be added: I have an even longer list of "to eventually tackle" books, some of which won't be released until fall. But for now I should probably stick with the above.

What's on your list?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Pithy Phrases That Describe Ministry

Here's something I've been playing with for a while. We've all heard the sorts of phrases listed below. I even use a couple of them. They're the sorts of sayings that have been around forever, such that we may not even think about their origin, meaning, or our use of them. We might even find a few of them irritating because we've heard them so often or because they seem too trite to be useful.

Well, I'm out to reclaim some of these for the sake of those who minister to others. For quite a while, I've been tallying a few of these that seem to apply to ministry in some way, and thought it might be fun to list a couple and briefly explore that application for each.

Here, then, are five throwaway phrases that might not be so throwaway after all. At least, when it comes to ministry.

1. It is what it is. Typically people use this as sort of a verbal shrug of the shoulders. Whatever is happening, just accept it and move forward. There come plenty of ministry situations that turn out much differently than you read about; that have a lot more going on in a lot of corners that you can or can't see. It might not resolve itself as quickly as you'd like, if ever. Your role might be as more of a support person or to offer presence rather than operate closer to the center giving an outright solution. You minister as you are able, and allow that there are many other factors at play--including God's presence--that are out of your control. Not every situation is going to tie up neatly in a bow, and that's okay. We have permission to not have to do that.

2. This too shall pass. Usually we say this as a reminder that whatever we are facing--usually negative--will eventually come to an end. Everything will pass. That spat you're in with your music director? It will pass. The misunderstanding you're working through with the chair of your governing board? It will pass. The uncertainty the congregation has about financial matters? It will pass. Some of it will be due to time, or hard work, or intentionality on your part or someone else's, or when cooler heads eventually prevail, or even after an intervention from an outside party. But this will pass, one way or another.

3. Count your blessings. It can be tempting for both pastors and churches alike to always focus on the negatives: the event that didn't get as many attendees as you hoped, the deficit in the budget, the couple of hiccups during last Sunday's worship service. But if you're always thinking about what has fallen short, what are you missing out on? What lives have been touched, what individuals have found hope, what is seeing growth even if it can't be quantified easily? It's important to take stock of those moments in ministry where the Spirit clearly showed up, even if you couldn't discern it happening until later and it doesn't affect any visible bottom line.

4. Love the one you're with. It can be tempting at certain points in ministry to have a foot out the door. At times, be it during a low period or when we're entertaining career aspirations, we may be focused not so much on where we are but on the possibilities for what might be next. At times these nudges that we feel are a legitimate call to a new thing, and at other times they're a mirage. Either way, as long as you are still in the setting you're in, that is your place of ministry. That is the place where your gifts are needed, and those are the people who need you to be their spiritual guide.

5. Haste makes waste. Anxiety can do a lot of damage. A certain percentage of this damage is a result of its influence on our ability to make rational decisions...or not. If we are in a place of anxiety, whether our own or by internalizing someone else's, it can put us in a mindset that will keep us from fully considering what needs to be done. We may rush into making a choice that is more about easing the anxiety of the situation rather than truly resolving an issue or moving toward such a resolution. If we're too hasty in ministry, it might hurt more than help.

What pithy phrase would you add, and how does it apply to ministry?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Small Sips Yells, "Fix It, Jesus!"

A funeral for a friend. David Williams gives his eulogy for the emergent movement:
Emergence was a thing, for a while, a decade ago.  
It rose out of two simultaneous threads. In the old-line denominations, emergence was a reaction to the stultifying institutional inertia that can makes denominational ministry such an awkward, lumbering, graceless thing. Be open to the new! Don't crush everything under the weight of bureaucratic anxiety management processes and protocols!  
For those who'd been brought up in the corporate dynamics of the megachurch world, emergence was a reaction to the synthetic falseness of business-model Christianity. Be flexible! Be organic! Be less like a JeezMart, and more like a gathering of creative friends!  
The spur to emergence in both of these milieu was the advent of new and dynamic media, which seemed to offer the promise of communities dynamically being amazing on the interwebs together. It had the potential to stir the oldlines to new life, and bring authenticity to the groupspeak of evangelicalese.  
And it didn't work. 
I credit the emergent movement with many things in my own life, and then I and many others outgrew it. All the deconstruction and new ideas and avoidance of bureaucracy was fresh and exciting. And then I and others began realizing that by its very nature it would never become much more. Parts of it were still holding onto the same old evangelicalism from which they arose. Others were never going to solidify due to their avoidance of structure. Still others never really offered anything new to say because they were too preoccupied with tearing everything down.

But we got a handful of new authors and speakers making the conference circuit. So there's that, I guess.

Not just for Presbyterians. Jan Edmiston writes a post specifically for PCUSA types, but I don't think it really is:
We Presbyterians ordain teaching elders (aka ministers of the Word and Sacrament), ruling elders (aka those who govern on boards called Sessions) and deacons (aka those who tend to those in need.) Let me repeat this: we are ordained. This means that – by virtue of our ordination – not one of us is any longer a lay person. We are not “laity.” We are not “laywomen” or “laymen.”  
The word “laity” was first used in the 15th Century which makes sense in terms of how the clergy were elevated regarding power and authority. The church that the New Testament describes sets people aside for leadership, but “the priesthood of all believers” makes it clear that everyone who follows Jesus is called to serve in Christ’s name. Everyone.  
Theologically speaking, as long as we consider the leader with the seminary degree to be The Real Minister, we will be an ineffective church.
It's not just one person in the church called to minister to others, but all of us with our own gifts, resources, energy, and time. I get that Jan is offering this specifically in light of her denomination's polity, but at its heart this is a universal commentary on a universal concern.

Seriously. It works. Glennon Doyle Melton shares her solution for getting into a child's brain and getting to know them a little better:
Besides myself and Craig – there are three people I want to understand more than I want anything else in the world. Their names are Chase, Tish, and Amma. These three are beautiful mysteries and loving them is the greatest adventure of my life. I just want to spend my whole life exploring their hearts and minds. So I do all the right things. I plan for exploring time: Family Dinners! Dates with mommy! Perfect. But then I sit down with my kid. There we are, looking at each other over a table with nothing between us but open space and time and love . . . and I cannot think of a single interesting thing to ask them. I got nothing. I’m a mother, so I’m tired. It’s just impossible to be creative when you’re tired. And so here’s what I end up saying: “So – how was your day?” Every parent knows that this rusty “how was your day” key doesn’t work but we keep trying it because it’s the only one we can find.

The trouble is that keys are only useful if you can get your hands on them.  
SO LISTEN. I have good news. A few months ago – Tish’s teacher sent home a “Conversation Jar” filled with interesting questions that the students in Tish’s class created. I put this jar on the kitchen table and a few times a week, we take turns pulling out a question during dinner. THIS JAR HAS MAGICAL POWERS. It’s been months now and still, every time we open it – everyone at the table wakes up a little bit. Little eyes flicker back to life, folks sit up straight in their seats, the arguing stops, and it’s all “me firsts! Can I answer first, mom??” Even the tween, people. Even the tween. People want to be known. People want to be known so badly.
I was so inspired when I read this that I immediately printed out the resource for starting your own jar, cut up the questions, and got us going that night during dinner. And it really works! We did three questions, which resulted in Coffeeson telling us about a girl in his class who seems lonely, and we all took turns sharing what we're afraid of. Not all the questions seem age-appropriate to my 7-year-old's concrete-thinking mind, but it shifted the dynamic of our conversation in a noticeable way. So I say, right on, Momastery!

And please hurry. I saw this on Twitter and had to share:


A little too on the nose. MaryAnn McKibben Dana shares about her failure to adult:
As the Internet leaves its infancy and adolescence, we’re seeing more and more studies on the effect of social media on happiness. I’ve read a lot of it and it’s a mixed bag—there are net positives and net negatives. But I do know that Facebook and other sites have given us insidious new ways of comparing everyone else’s outsides to our insides, which is never a formula for a wholehearted life. Our real-life messiness will always lose out to everyone else’s carefully curated personas. Blessed be those who will post the graphic like this one. Blessed be the pockets of radical honesty where a super-capable person I know can say, “It’s April 18 and my taxes are a mess. I have done nothing. Help.” 
I talk to many friends and colleagues recently who struggle with some version of impostor syndrome: If people found out how screwed up I was, I’d be fired/ridiculed/judged. A woman and pastor colleague who serves a large church told me several years ago, “I feel like I’m always 15 minutes away from complete embarrassment.”
This is too familiar to me. I don't want to say much more because I'm even embarrassed to admit that I can relate to this. But I think we all can at some level. But yeah, I'm pretty messy at a non-internet level.

Let's just get through this, okay? Elsa Peters reflects on the way churches go about recognizing Mother's Day. That is, if they insist on doing so:
The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day. It is the Sunday where churches offer corsages and carnations to mothers. It is this Sunday where prayers to “Mother God” are lifted in congregations that would otherwise struggle with inclusive language. It is the Sunday where the grieving and the childless stay home along with those that struggle with infertility and those that don’t ever want anyone to know that she had an abortion. There are those that we abandoned by their mothers and those that never knew gentle touch of their mother. They don’t come to church because they know that they will not be celebrated. They will not be honored. 
They will not hear so much about the resurrection as they will about mothers. And they know this, so they stay home. Each congregation has their own traditions and there isn’t one of these bodies of Christ that seems to realize that Mother’s Day is NOT a liturgical holiday.
This, in a nutshell, is why you won't hear much from me about Mother's Day this Sunday in worship. No corsages or flowers, no getting all mothers to stand. There are too many variable situations that work against the blanket assumption that Mother's Day is a universally joyful holiday, the celebration of which will be welcomed by all. It would be more caring for the church either to avoid such references or to name its difficulty, the latter of which being what I tend to do even in some small way. So be sensitive this weekend, pastors.

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT oh wait I understand. Melissa Cooper suggests that churches should stop doing intergenerational ministry. As one who has experienced a lot of success with intergenerational ministry over the years, I was gearing up to yell at this post...and then I actually read it:
The overwhelming answer to the question "Why do 40-50% of our youth group graduates leave the church and never come back?" is a resounding, "Because they've never actually been part of the church."
They weren't in community worship until the 5th grade (or later!). Why do we think they are "ready" when they've never actually seen what happens in "big church?" We have removed them from the key Christian community experience in their most formative years.

They've never met the matriarchs and patriarchs of your church, the people who could teach them the most about being a Christ follower because they have the most experience with it.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that we can't solve the problems of the church's future with another program or worship style. We have to be committed to a culture shift.
What I hear Melissa saying is that churches need to offer more than programs that might offer token solutions and band-aids at best. As she says in the last sentence, a deeper, cultural shift is what is needed. Not just mentoring programs and an occasional Youth Sunday, but more consistent interaction that forges connections between members of different generations over many years.

I'd say that programs and ministries could still be a good start for this, but a church has to keep building on what they initiate.

Misc. Luke Lindon on his church's hosting of Glennon a few weeks ago. PeaceBang doesn't like my sunglasses. Haters gonna hate. Brant Hansen just published a book, but I'm not sure whether I'll read it. Reese Roper with a story of immense regret. The M.Div is ranked as one of the worst-paying graduate degrees. In other news, water is wet.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Tipping Point

I've been thinking a lot lately about public figures, and how pure they need to be in order to earn or keep my support. If you've been reading the past few months, I've been processing a situation involving some of my favorite authors. If you haven't, or need a refresher, read this and then read this.

In light of this situation, I've been considering how closely the words, actions, and viewpoints of an author, actor, official, or athlete need to line up with my own in order for me to consider them a voice of influence in my life. Another more recent example might be Michigan's new head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, who recently said during an interview for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that football is "the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males." 

By itself, I didn't think much of it when I read it. But then someone with whom I don't agree on much of anything weighed in:
This is where conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh stepped in to defend Harbaugh. (Of course, with Limbaugh, there has to be a liberal villain: It's Gumbel):  
I think this is profound and it's interesting. I'm glad Jim Harbaugh said what he said, and I'm glad that Gumbel reacted to it the way he did. I think this kind of illumination is good. In other words, Gumbel epitomizes the modern day cultural left. He simply epitomizes it, and to him, any notion of toughness in men, and a last bastion of hope, and football being representative and an example of toughness in America, is somehow unacceptable! Would John Wayne be put in jail today? Would John Wayne be ridiculed and mocked? Would they say of John Wayne that he was a poor role model and a bad influence for young American men who are simply trying to feel their way along on campus? That's a bad choice of words. Men who are simply trying to find their way along on campus. If any of you had a doubt that modern day liberalism features among many of its other qualities and objectives, an all-out assault on manliness, you have evidence of the contrary right here. It clearly is.
This caused me to see Harbaugh's original statement in a different light. What was he really advocating for when he was talking about toughness in males? Would he and Limbaugh actually agree regarding what Limbaugh says? And how do I now feel about Harbaugh as a coach or as a person, or does this really change anything? How would I answer a fan of a rival team who'd point to this and say, "Look at how your coach feels about gender norms. You gonna defend your guy?"

These are a few examples of a larger issue I've been turning over for some times now: should one poor statement or act of bad judgment or point on which we disagree disqualify a public figure from my continuing as their "fan?" Am I automatically obligated to defend everything that my favorite musician, author, football player says or does, even if I agree with the person offering the critique?

Some would say yes. Or at least, many seem to feel obligated to take this route. We see this most often in politics and sports, where every flaw in the people I like can be explained away and every flaw on the other side just further proves how terrible they are. Is it truly possible to say, "That famous person said/did a dumb thing, but I still consider them entertaining/inspiring/influential in these other ways?" Are we humans too tribal to be that nuanced? When can/can't one's work as a performer or policymaker be separated from one's shortcomings? What's non-negotiable and what's more easily reconcilable? Or should I just sip some more coffee and chalk all this up to subjectivism?

There have been many times when I've been able to work this out for myself with little trouble. Here are just three quick examples.
  • I fully admit that things got questionable and weird near the end of his life, but I still consider Michael Jackson to be one of the greatest musical artists ever, and I still listen to his music. 
  • I have no doubt to this day that Brady Hoke is a great and personable guy, but I pulled all support for him as coach of my favorite team when he sent a concussed player back on the field during a game. 
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. had a lot of skeletons in his closet, but he still majorly moved the needle for civil rights and should always be credited for what he did in that sense. 
Some use these flaws to discredit these people completely, others can see the good they did despite them.

As I was thinking about all of this the other day, I saw someone suggest that we all have our different tipping points when it comes to people in the public eye. That was probably the phrase I've been looking for. We each have a tipping point when it comes to different celebrities and politicians; different things that we consider non-negotiable, no-turning-back sorts of issues when it comes to continuing to support people from whom we draw learning and inspiration. For people whose work we already don't like, that tipping point comes more quickly. For those we do like, we may be willing to give more understanding and leeway.

Can people still appreciate Bill Cosby's classic stand-up routines or his beloved sitcoms despite the allegations that are piling up around him? Can one still read John Howard Yoder's theological ethics despite what has been revealed regarding his personal ethics? Can people still read some or any of the authors involved in current accusations? Our tipping points might be different for each.

And while not every celebrity may reach that same tipping point, an article I referenced a few weeks ago calls us to admit that every one is problematic in some way:
The fact that your fave is problematic isn’t a big deal — the big deal is if we ignore it. Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech was entitled, privileged and racially insensitive. Tina Fey’s new show is racist, Trevor Noah has made transphobic and sexist and anti-Semitic jokes, Lena Dunham’s feminism is very privileged and largely excludes women of color. They have contributed to systems of injustice that oppress others. These things are all true. 
Patricia Arquette is a dedicated women’s rights activist and a talented actress, Tina Fey is a ground-breaking comedic writer who has opened doors for many women, Trevor Noah is a very talented comedian whose new role as host of The Daily Show is important to the visibility of people of color in the media, Lena Dunham is a very talented writer who has accomplished great things at a young age and has changed the way we view young women in the arts. These things are also true. 
So can we just talk about it? 
It's much simpler for me to just say that yes, Michael Jackson in his later years faced some accusations that may or may not have been true, but most of his musical career was the work of a genius. And yes, I spent my childhood listening to old Bill Cosby tapes and laughing so hard that I cried, but this is also some serious stuff for which he needs to give an account. And yes, I don't think that Jim Harbaugh's ideas about what constitutes "maleness" is complete, but he's a fantastic coach and I'm glad he's back at Michigan.

They're all problematic. I also like things that they've done. Am I really meant to reject them whole cloth unless they line up perfectly with some ideal that only I know about? Should I really turn a blind eye to a public figure's good works because they also had some demons? Can I celebrate the good while also acknowledging the bad, realizing that I'm only observing them from a distance and don't have the complete story anyway?

I haven't fully answered these questions for myself. But perhaps I can evaluate how I've done so in the past in order to begin to figure it out.