Friday, June 19, 2009

The Culture of "Success"

This problem is not endemic to the Christian subculture, or even to the American one. Maybe it is a condition of humanity . . . where people are very uncom-fortable with “un-success” (not quite as strong of a word as "failure"). People equally feel insecure with the lack of resolution. Maybe this is why Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz seemed to strike a cord. He says that Jazz is a type of music that doesn’t resolve. His narrative about his Christian experience differed from most previous Christian books because it left the reader dangling . . . not knowing what the answers are . . . and actually not even being sure what the questions were.

If I’m making a point here it is that I think we Christians should be different. We should be more comfortable with unresolved problems, and failures (or “un-success”) than anyone. After all, it is one of our theological dogmas that this world is fallen and troubled. But I think that we feel most uncomfortable with “un-success” than most because we have mistaken the Bible as a self-help book for success in our personal lives, rather than a narrative about how the creator of the universe has redeemed us.

There’s always a stimulus of some sorts that provokes my thoughts. This time I think it was an event on Wednesday night.

A Christian youth ministry (whose board I sit on) was having their end of the school year bash (and evangelistic outreach) down on the waterfront. I would guess 500 teenagers were there, if not more. After the last band played, my wife and I stood on the gravelly beach with the sun setting over the San Juan Islands in a crimson tint. We were waiting on my son who had performed earlier.

Denise was in deep conversation with one of our good Christian friends. This friend and her husband are venturing into a new business endeavor. As I heard her tell the story, it was sprinkled with comments about God doing this, God said that, the Holy Spirit opening such and such doors. She is a very nice lady and I’m not being critical. This is normal Christian talk. But as my mind wandered away and across the calm waters of the sound my imagination ran a bit. I considered how this narrative might play out on the other side, if the business venture fails. She probably would never mention it. I won’t go into details except to say that in their situation a business failure is a very good possibility.

Then I started thinking about the fact that I can never remember sitting around with a group of Christians were someone told a personal story that ended without resolution or with a lack of success . . . and no one attempted to finish the narrative with a happy ending. First of all, it is rare that the primary speaker doesn’t put a happy ending on their own story. If they do leave it dangling, someone, certainly, will fill in the blanks of God doing this for such and such a reason or there is a rainbow in this pile of shit somewhere.

I don’t know why, but I don’t mind looking bad or being vulnerable. My old Navigator leader use to tell me, “Mike, when you talk like that you come across as being very unspiritual.” Toward the end of my five year training program he removed me from his inner circle because he felt like God was calling him to find “Sharp men and women . . . those with real leadership potential,” and I didn’t fit that mold.

I often tell stories where I’m the one screwing up or something bad happens. I wrote a whole book about my professional failures once (A Kernel in the Pod). I don’t do it for pity. I guess I do it for honesty’s sake and sometimes to laugh at myself. I know that when I leave a story dangling and just wait, people look embarrassed for me. Then someone fills in the gap (or tells me that I’m a real looser as if I didn’t know it). I’m glad that Jesus loves losers. I really think the Bible is actually the losers’ guide to knowing you are redeemed anyway.

No comments: