Why God is not like Woody Allen ( A Word about Failure and its Aftermath)


Many of my GOP friends might be excused for putting this video on this morning:

Loss is tough, I know, my Tennessee Vols have been doing a lot of it recently. Sure football is not the same as politics (then again, I do live in the South), but seeing someone or something you love fail is always hard. Waking up after experiencing failure is never easy. I know,  in the last three years I have a cornucopia of rejection letters from college admissions, and job fairs alike. There is, however, something I’ve learned from three years of seeing my hopes for the future dashed so creatively on so many different letterheads. Loss and failure do not define you. How you respond to loss and failure, however, does.  Here are some ways I have learned:

1. Anger is not attractive to anyone. Sure you are mad that other people in the world do not share your hopes and dreams, but broadcasting that vitriol is neither helpful nor productive. Yell and scream at the wall. Throw the remote. Hit the gym. Work out the anger anyway you can. But work it out privately. Trust me on this. Taking out your anger on friends, coworkers, and family will only get you lonely, jobless, and friendless.

2. Isolation is not the answer. Yes I just told you to get inside yourself and deal with your frustration, but you cannot stay there. The temptation is to pull away and say, “if I can’t win, I’ll take my ball and go home.” But the fact is, nobody likes that guy, nobody. We all know people like that, and no one really, truly, likes him. Pitching a fit and pulling away from community is a bad move. The fact is we really do need each other. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, we make each other want to be better people. Scripture, itself, says, “as iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” Sure all the scraping and bumping up against each other hurts, but the end product is better than if you stayed buried in the kitchen cupboard.

3. You can learn a lot from failure (perhaps even more than from success). We all like to pretend to have all the answers, to know all the angles, to have it all down pat. But except for one man, none of us does or has (and that one man was not a politician). We all have blind spots. Several months ago I posted a link to a post by theologian Jeff Cook. He argued there that the Christian community has won a lot of debates over the past few years. Our logic, reasoning, and theological / philosophical premises have been good, but we have continued to bleed people from our communities. The answer of all places can be found in Romney’s concession speech. He stated that we needed to be more concerned with people than politics. I wish he had used that line in the debates. People are our most important commodity. Without people there is no community. Without the community there is no Gospel. Without the Gospel there is no hope. (Not sure of my theology, here,  see Romans 10). We have gotten to full of ourselves. We have gotten more concerned with being right, than with being righteous. We can learn a lot from the democrats, the atheists, the LGBT community, the socialists, etc. That does not mean we accept everything or even most things they believe. But we can listen. We can learn. And we can apply these lessons to lead our communities in better, fuller ways.

4. Perception may not perfectly picture reality, but it has a way of creating what did not previously exist. During the debates GOP denizens loved filling my FB and Twitter feeds with the standby line, “repeating a lie does not make it reality.” Actually that is not entirely true. When one repeats any mantra enough times, it can tend to take on a reality of its own. There is a legitimate place here for discussing Hollywood and liberal culture here, but I will leave that for another post(s). My primary concern here is with the Church. My social media buffer has also been full of apocalyptic pronouncements about this election. My initial reaction has been concern for the hyperbolic language and its revelation of unhealthy fixations on one party or the other. In my lifetime I really remember elections starting in 1992. Both times Clinton was elected the GOP was sure he would be the end of the country. In fact the country prospered, so much so that many (even those in the GOP) look back at the 90s with wishful longing for that simpler time. Both times George W Bush was elected the Democrats were sure that he would be the end of the country. He was not. We are still here. We are still the place most people in the world would love to live. After all is said and done, chances are the country will not implode in the next few days or years.  In 2016 we will still be here.

Yet as the language has cascaded off the social media; another concern strikes me. It is the reality-making power of language. Last night I was upbraided for encouraging both parties to come to the table, and make policies that were good for the people and not just the parties. One detractor bemoaned the impossibility of being salt and light in the modern decrepit America. This scares me more than any victory by any party or person. You could have told me America elected Senator Palpatine, and it would not have left me more cold. The calling of the Church (by Christ our Savior here ) is to be salt and light. The passage goes on to say that if the salt ever stops acting like salt, it should be thrown out onto the garbage heap. My conservative friends are at times overly fond of condemning people to hell, but no where in scripture is there a better example of that, than here. If the Church or a person were to stop being salt, Jesus has said that they should be thrown onto the garbage heap of history, but has used language that should immediately remind us of how he talked about hell.

This is why I had a full-blown conniption fit right then. I paced and cussed. I got angry and scared. Why, because perception creates reality. If we get it in our mind that we cannot be salt; then our lives and everything we (and those who have come before us) have worked for will come to naught. Now is not the time to fold. Now is the time to seek God more fully, and amp up the wattage of our churches. Because once the narrative of church decline and obsolescence takes hold, there is no going back. There will be no church for which we might return.

5. No matter what may occur now, God is God, Christ is still risen, and he will still return. In short, the war is still won, Satan is still defeated, he is still under our feet. Someone on my media feed remarked that the Christian Church is like Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego before the furnace. Despite the hyperbole implicit in the comment (there are no burns for burning Christians in furnances… yet [I kid, I kid]), I was like right on, old chap. I love that story and had been thinking about it throughout the day. For those who may have forgotten the story, Nebuchadnezzar had demanded that all the country bow before his statue, and Daniel’s 3 three friends whose names I may have misspelled refused. Obama, I mean ole Nebbe, ordered them to be burned alive as punishment. Yet here is where the story gets good. I love the response from the three:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” [bold mine]

I love the faith of the three. We may be rescued. We may die. But God is powerful to save, and powerful not to save. God is always and forever God and He remains so despite the outward circumstances of any one person’s life (or group of people’s lives). Last month I attended a conference on science and religion. I loved every minute of dialogue and discussion. But at the end one of the speakers made a point that was worth the early morning (after a late night at work), and the use of a day off to sit in a cold room and listen to 7 or 8 talks. He said that too often when he thought of God he thought of him as Woody Allen. He saw Him as a neebish, weakling cowering and stuttering away in the corner. He had been taught that our God was so weak as to need protection from humans on issues like evolution. But God, our God, is not Woody. He needs no defense. He needs no protection. He is so mighty that he can choose to save or not save. To watch as His people succeed and fail. He is the God that is not put off by evil. Out of what the world means to destroy us, He works good. Out of failure, even the death of His son on the cross, He brings salvation to all.

So rise up O’ Saints. It may, possibly (but in all likelihood is not) be the end of the world, and you should feel fine. You serve the King, and for you failure is just a town you to pass by. It’s no place to settle (unless you want to).

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