I think we’re terrified of failures for the same reasons we’re scared of death, or any type of palpable ending, for that matter. Failure, at its heart, really is a small death. And who wants to go through that if they don’t have to? I’m not saying that we should set ourselves up intentionally to fail, but I get the sense that, more often than not, the fear of the possibility of failure keeps us from really living well. And really when you think about it, if you never fail, you may never figure out where your limits are. What a boring, uninspiring way to live.
So here are some reasons I’ve decided that failure isn’t just inevitable or necessary, but that it’s actually kind of wonderful.
No, this is not some new Charlie Kauffman movie that folds in on itself, creating a perpetual feedback loop. I’m serious; Christians love Top 10 Lists.
No wonder Moses did only 10 commandments.
I noticed this recently when all of the top three most popular articles on the Sojo.net at the time were lists of this kind. So I went back and did a search of my own personal blog archive. Every one of the most popular pieces started with “10 Reasons,” or “Seven Things” or the like.
Are Christians obsessed with lists? What’s the deal?
I talked to a publisher years ago who told me that the key to a successful theology book was to include something akin to “six easy steps” in the title. I never took them up on that advice, but he knew what he was talking about. So after expending a little grey matter on the issue, I came up with this list of reasons why I think Christians love these kinds of lists:
#1. We don’t want to have to think too hard: Now, before you fire up your keyboard and rattle off a protest email, this is a broader truism across our entire culture....
Conservative commentators like Rupert Murdoch's stable and Ross Douthat of The New York Times are feasting on what they perceive as the "death" of "liberal Christianity."
They add two and two and get eight. They see decisions they don't like — such as the Episcopal Church's recent endorsement of a rite for blessing same-sex unions. They see declines in church membership. They pounce.
Such "liberal" decisions are destroying the church, they say, and alienating young adults they must reach in order to survive.
Never mind that surveys of young adults in America show attitudes toward sexuality that are far more liberal than those of older generations. Never mind that conservative denominations are also in decline.
Never mind — the most inconvenient truth — that mainline denominations began to decline in 1965, not because of liberal theology, but because the world around them changed and they refused to change with it.
In recent days, conservatives have attacked the Episcopal Church. The reason? The church has just concluded its once every three-year national meeting, and in this gathering the denomination affirmed a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Conservatives assert that the Episcopal Church's ever-increasing social and political progressivism has led to a precipitous membership decline and ruined the denomination.
Many of the criticisms were mean-spirited or partisan, continuing a decade-long internal debate about the Episcopal Church's future. However, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat broadened the discussion, moving beyond inside-baseball ecclesial politics to ask a larger question: "Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?"
The question is a good one, for the liberal Christian tradition is an important part of American culture, from dazzling literary and intellectual achievements to great social reform movements. Mr. Douthat recognizes these contributions and rightly praises this aspect of liberal Christianity as "an immensely positive force in our national life."
Despite this history, however, Mr. Douthat insists that any denomination committed to contemporary liberalism will ultimately collapse. According to him, the Episcopal Church and its allegedly trendy faith, a faith that varies from a more worthy form of classical liberalism, is facing imminent death.
Is the Mainline Liberal Church in decline? Numerically, sure. Absolutely. But what this means, I cannot say. Many have tried to make sense of it. In the wake of recent editorials, some theologians and others have offered up their thoughts. I surmised it might be helpful to collect one or two of the links here on the outside chance that you missed them.
Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved - Ross Douthat offers some sharp critiques of the tradition. Once the bastion of the Social Gospel movement, the liberal mainline is not all "social" and very little "Gospel."
"But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves."
There have been a couple of good direct responses to Douthat's OpEd piece.
Rather than mine being a theology of “Jesus died for your sin,” mine is one of “Thy Kingdom come.” That is archaic language, and I find that a little off-putting, yes, but given that it’s from the Lord’s Prayer, attributed to Jesus, I think it’s worth wrestling with. Basically, I share the interpretation of this line of the prayer with many seekers of social justice, like MLK, Walter Rauschenbusch and the like, who believe that the line, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is an expression of longing, for God’s love to be fully realized, for our inequities and brokenness to be reconciled here on this earth, and not just some day after we die.
This is not likely something at which we will entirely arrive in this life, but it is something toward which we should re-orient ourselves daily, in order to seek it out, actively and vocally, in all we do. This, I believe, is Christ’s call to the world.
A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.
Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing.
If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.
I have a confession.
(That's rich, right? A minister confessing.)
I have a hard time telling people I'm a minister. Yes, really. I actually tend to handle it this way:
Person: “So, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I'm a minister... (appropriate pause)... but not the kind you just pictured in your head.”
Sad, I know.
Honestly though, it's worse than that. I'm even very resistant to calling myself a “Christian.” And I'm not even close to the only Christian who feels that way! It's so bad that I have this very conversation with people all the time. There seems to be some kind of “Believer-like-me Radar” which tells people it's safe to talk to me about not liking the“C” word — CHRISTIANITY.
This is the final in a four-part series on the overused (and often insensitively employed) phrases that plague the Christian lexicon. Though I felt like I was offering some insight into what to do instead of offering these cliches, some asked for more specificity or clarity. So in that spirit, I thought I’d offer a final list of things to do rather than pop off with these phrases that may mean little or nothing to the recipient, or worse, may cause unintended – but lasting – harm.
Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use
Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid
Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid
Now, Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches.
The better way says, if we follow God’s religious values we can use global technology, green economy, and targeted economic and infrastructure investment, total access to education, and creative job creation strategies to address the ugly realities of poverty. If we follow the enduring ethic of love we can beat our swords of racism into the plows that will till the new soil of brotherhood and sisterhood
If we see the poor as our neighbors, if we remember we are our brother’s keeper, then we shall put the poor, rather than the wealthy, at the center of our agenda.
If we hold on to God’s values, the sick shall have good health care. The environment shall be protected. The injustices of our judicial systems shall be made just. We shall respect the dignity of all people. We can love all people. We can see all people as God’s creations.
We can use our resources to develop our minds and economy, rather than build bombs, missiles, and weapons of human destruction.
Do we want to keep pressing toward God’s vision? Values are once again the question of our times.
Do we want a just, wholesome society, or do we want to go backwards? This is the question before us. And I believe that at this festival there is still somebody who wants what God wants. Somebody who understands there are some things with God that never change
There are still some prophetic people that have not bowed, who as a matter of faith know that Love is better than hate. Hope is better than despair. Community is better than division.
Peace is better than war. Good of the whole is better than whims of a few. God wants everybody — red, yellow, black, brown and white taken care of. God wants true community, more togetherness … not more separateness. God wants justice, always has, always will.
Because with God some things never change.
For me, intellectual exploration was one of the primary ways I connect with God. My writing, teaching, and graduate studies have not come out of a desire to attain a “deeper” faith, but rather out of a unique conviction that I must pursue these things out of faithfulness to the faith I ascribe to. God has created me for this stuff and it is a significant way I hope to edify the Church global.
Now, while this is an important reality to acknowledge and foster as I come to better understand my wiring and its relation to my Kingdom contribution, I have to hold this reality in tension with some recent experiences and convictions that have come about as a result.
While liberals aren't as guilty of showmanship as conservatives (Keith Olbermann is the exception), they are as guilty of not taking politics seriously. Conservatives often resort to name-calling in the absence of debate, but liberals ignore whole categories of discussion. Like patriotism and religion. I suspect the reason is discomfort with talking about them, and I suspect that that's partly because they don't want to risk sounding like conservatives.
Well, it's time we got over that.
A fascinating opinion piece by Thomas Edsall on The New York Times' Campaigns Stops blog:
Is capitalism compatible with Christian values? By two to one, 53-26, Democrats believe that capitalism and Christianity are not compatible. Republicans, in contrast, believe there is no conflict, by a 46-37 margin. Tea Party supporters are even more adamant, believing that capitalism and Christian values are compatible by a 56-35 margin.
Read the full piece here
The Vatican has published rules to evaluate the authenticity of the dozens of apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported each year.
The “Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations” have been in use since 1978, but until now had been available only in Latin, never officially published and only circulated among bishops and specialists.
The Vatican document has now been translated into English and other languages to aid bishops in the “difficult task of discerning presumed apparitions, revelations, messages or ... extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin,” Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Vatican doctrinal office, wrote in a companion letter last December that was published only recently on the Vatican website.
This week is one of those weeks where everyone seems to be talking, tweeting and blogging about the same video. I received it from several concerned friends with commentary like, “More bad news from North Carolina,” or “How can a loving God hate so much?” The video, which has quickly gone viral in the past 24 hours, is a clip from a recent sermon by Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina.
Following President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, pastor Worley took to the pulpit to rage against the issue of “queers and homosexuals”. However, it is his proposed “solution” to the “problem” (eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) that has the blogosphere abuzz (read: up in arms).
Worley proudly pronounces that he has found a way to get rid of all of the “lesbians and queers”: lock them all inside a fenced-off area and simply wait for them to die out on account of their inability to reproduce. In the video, his pronouncement garnered several hearty “Amens” from the congregation.
Unfortunately, this explosive video is just the most recent in a long stream of gay-marriage-related stories making headlines from my home state of North Carolina. After all, mine is the state that just passed the draconian amendment to its constitution, commonly known as “Amendment One”, banning same-sex marriage and all domestic and civil unions (never mind the fact that same-sex marriage is already illegal in our state). It seems that a day does not go by where I don’t hear a quote or read an article where another pastor has taken to the pulpit to remind his congregation that “homosexuality is wrong and against the Bible!”
This breaks my heart.
No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.
Even in the name of free speech, some boundaries should never be crossed. Pastor Terry Jones crossed that line in burning the Koran and making a global media spectacle. Pastor Wiley Drake crossed that line in suggesting that he was praying for the death of President Obama. And then, of course, there are the folks of Westboro Baptist Church.
Wow, this takes the prize for the most idiotic, insane, stupid, asinine, cruel, ungodly, foul, inexcusable, heinous, and disgusting comments by any person – let alone someone that calls himself a pastor and shepherd.
Yes, kids, it’s that time again already. Seems it was only seven days ago when we posted our last batch of weekly church sign epic fails, and here we are again.
So let’s get to it: your weekly infusion of bad church signs.
Now that's my kinda Jesus (except you'd think the Messiah would go Microbrew, yes?)
I hear people “brag” on a fairly regular basis about how little sleep they get, how many hours on end they work or how poorly they eat because of the demands of their schedules. Sorry, but this is not something to be proud of; it’s a sickness.
It’s no wonder, then, that on the rare occasion we actually slow down long enough to pray, worship, reflect or simply be in the moment, we have no idea how to do it. I watch people in church, and it’s clear from the body language that we don’t know how to slow down. I had a friend back in Texas who was so bad about overworking himself that he’d get sick every single time he took a vacation.
Some might argue this is a case for not taking time off in the first place, but that’s ignorant. Just because we can hold off the effects of frantic, disembodied living by pushing harder doesn’t mean we ever outrun the consequences.
Taken further, I think that such living is un-Biblical.
The sign outside the polling station at Devon Park United Methodist Church exemplified this state's struggle with a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
"A true marriage is male and female and God," the church marquee read. All around the church sign were small campaign signs that read: "Vote Against Constitutional Amendment" and "Amendment One Harms Children Vote Against."
The amendment was approved Tuesday (May 8) by 61 percent of voters, with some counties endorsing it with more than 80 percent of the vote. Only seven counties voted against it.
"In some sense North Carolinians are voting against their own beliefs," according to the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling firm said. "Fifty-three percent of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, yet a majority also support the amendment that would ban both."
RALEIGH, N.C. -- With only a few days remaining before North Carolinians vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, the Rev. Earl C. Johnson took five minutes on Sunday (April 30) to give congregants 10 reasons to vote against the measure.
It was his only concerted effort to wade into a subject considered taboo in most African-American churches: homosexuality. Not wanting to risk his job as senior pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church, or upset his many older congregants, Johnson figured the best approach was to stick to the facts.
The state already forbids gay marriage, he told church members. The state's top Democrats, including the governor, oppose the measure. The constitutional amendment might strip unmarried heterosexual women of domestic violence protections.
None of the points he outlined touched on the central issue: how the church might respond to gays and lesbians.
"It's a traditional church," said Johnson. "When you get to be a certain age you don't budge on your point of view. It would take years of chipping away at it to change it."