Monday, April 2, 2012

learning to fail better...

We had an interesting home group meeting this past Wednesday.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 4.  Well, it probably started off as a 5, then dipped to a 3 or 2.5.  The previous week, we had finished studying a book which took us about a year and a half to get through, so we decided to have a celebratory meal together at a local restaurant.  The meal itself was okay, despite it being vegetarian and at least one of us being a die-hard carnivore, but the chipped tables and uncomfortable seating rendered the ambiance a bit underwhelming. There were 5 of us for dinner (interpretation = it was a low turnout): two couples and a relatively new guy.  Aside from a brilliant insight about surrender which Dean slipped in, the dinner was pretty uneventful and as the conversation dwindled, two of our party decided to leave. 

Dean and I had been invited to an evening of comedy happening upstairs at the restaurant (one of our friends was doing a short set), so we decided to take it in.  The new guy said he would join us, despite the fact that English is not his first language.  At this point, the mediocre evening began to veer toward the danger zone.  The comedy started and each performer seemed to be more off-colour than the last.  One guy joked about strippers, one went on and on about drugs, and by the end of the evening, the volume of swearwords was nearing critical mass.  I wanted to leave, but the room was small and due to a nosy MC, everyone knew who we were there to see.  Of course, our friend ended up being the last comic to take the stage.  His set was a bit rough (he seemed nervous) and even he threw in a questionable bit at the end.  By this point, I was not in a laughing mood (sorry, dude).  I was just thankful that the evening was over and that the new guy had decided to exit the show early while I was in the bathroom praying for God to please deliver us from this mess.  I also hoped that new guy's English hadn’t been good enough to comprehend the full, ugly brunt of what had passed for comedy that night.  Ugh.  I felt like a pretty horrible home group leader and wanted to fire myself.
In the midst of that train-wreck of a church outing, I was reminded about the unique place that failure has in the story of Jesus.  He had great days when everyone wanted to be his friend and do everything that he did; those were the days when the crowd of followers was thick and people cheered his success with high fives and tree branches and snappy slogans.  But he also failed as a leader, at least according to any executive evaluation chart.  There were deserters, there was anger, violence, ridicule, jealous infighting, a fair dose of inappropriate language, and a few betrayals in his inner circle.  He also had a bad habit of blurting out provocative challenges to the very people who could help him and hanging out in less than desirable settings (comedy shows?) with people of questionable character; this no doubt affected his ratings and caused a number of influential people to walk away. 
Failure is a lot like death.  In my case, failure means death to all those wonderful success scenarios that I hoped I would have as a spiritual leader.  Death to the idea that multitudes want to do this church thing with us.  Death to the notion of a gathering where we all show up on time and all sing in tune.  Death to finally finding a permanent location instead of moving all over the city.  Death to it all.  Death is the ultimate surrender, the surrender that whispers, "Not the way I want things done, no. God, you go ahead and do everything the way you want."  Paul said that he died every day (1 Cor 15).  I don’t have anyone threatening my life on a regular basis, so I really have nothing to complain about.  But I do still need to die everyday.  I must let failure and death do their work in my life and in our faith community.  This is the only way to redemption.  This is the only road to resurrection.
Matte from Montreal
the photo:  some failed grocery carts outside my local market


  1. I have totally been there. What always amazes me is how God seems to redeem even the most unredeemable situations. At moments like that the best thing is to give it all over to God. Thanks for the encouragement that we are never alone in jumping in the wrong end of the pool on occasion.

  2. Thanks, Frank. I am learning to let redemption do its work, even when it may be invisible to me. Redemption is so much stronger than any mess we can make. So, is the wrong end of the pool the deep end, the shallow end, or the empty end?