With 700 amazing church leaders descending on Cincinnati for the 2020 NEXT Church National Gathering shaped by that Joshua passage, the team tasked with inviting key-noters, preachers and testimony-givers for this conference knew that our invitations needed to go to people actively involved in relevant ministry. The team needed these speakers to help us look to the future, to reflect on the way in which God has worked in them and through them, and to give us a word of challenge to ignite our witness, hope, and power in God.
There was one thing they agreed on; I would be leading the music ministry. I was their musical Boy Wonder whose gifts they had nurtured for over 20 years. There was the chance, I thought, that I could fix this problem over the next few weeks by producing soothing melodies from our stellar choir. After all, these same impressive salves had eased the pain in smaller past upheavals.
It was not to be so. And the shipwreck would be my fault.
This was a morning of many failures. I never made it to the church where I was scheduled to preach. Luckily, they had a backup plan due to the poor weather conditions. I failed to know my own limits. I had fooled myself into thinking if I set my mind to something I could accomplish the task at hand. But in reality I have had no life experience to help me navigate these roads in the snow. And though I work in a prison and make it my task every week to offer grace, and love to all people no matter what is in their background, I made assumptions about the angels who rescued me because of a political sticker.
Mistakes are the holy stone in the shoe of perfection.
Mistakes pierce the ego that says, “I must get this right,” and offers the assurance that we all are in this together.
Big and small, forgivable and painful for years, mistakes are going to happen. Our best hope is to prepare and do our best.
“Now, remember, Steven, if you run into any trouble out there, you can always bail. There’s never any shame in bailing.”-Greg Universe
The quote above comes from Steven Universe, a children’s cartoon that often promotes messages about healthy emotions and decision making to children and adults alike. It comes from Greg Universe, father of the title character, right before his son attempts something that is both very exciting and unlikely to work. Although his words are few, his message is profound: sometimes, even when we don’t feel like we should, it’s okay to stop. It can be better to abandon the plan than to try and force yourself into something that you know just isn’t going to be worth it.
It’s not that I’m a big fan of failure, it’s just that I’ve had enough gaffes to know that if they haven’t killed me yet, they likely won’t. And as someone who values authenticity and vulnerability, sharing our failures is often a way to cut through the b.s. that’s so much a part of the world.
God’s love is endlessly surprising, uncontainable, unexpected, unconventional, boundary-breaking, against the rules. And that – a love that refuses to be ordinary, expected, or contained – a love that breaks the rules – is really what the birth of Jesus, and frankly his whole life, and death, and resurrection are all about.
Perhaps joy has an important role to play after all. We are surrounded by mess and chaos and a world that sometimes seems like it’s on the brink of being lost entirely. It’s a slog. It’s exhausting. But joy is what reminds us why love, and hope, and faith are worth fighting for. It’s what reminds us that the hard things, no matter how much it may feel like they’re winning, they don’t get the final word. God does. And that is good news.
Our faith dares us, in this season and always, to believe that a better world, a better way, is possible. And we are called to recognize that taking hold of hope, moving toward that better world, requires that we relinquish our white knuckle grasp on the broken ways of this world. After all, we cannot take hold of plowshares and pruning hooks if our hands are still full of swords and spears.
The truth is that believing the promise of peace means recognizing that we have work to do. In faith, we must do whatever we can to help create a world that is both loving and just, and only then can true peace be fully realized.