I’ll happily and openly admit to be a fan of Moby and find his particular worldview to be fascinating. In a recent article in creativetimereports.org he speaks of his recent move from New York to Los Angeles and contrasts the two locations in terms of success and failure:
New York is exclusively about success — it’s success that has been fed steroids and B vitamins. There’s a sense that New Yorkers never fail, but if they do, they’re exorcised from memory, kind of like Trotsky in early pictures of the Soviet Communist Politburo. In New York you can be easily overwhelmed by how much success everyone else seems to be having, whereas in L.A., everybody publicly fails at some point — even the most successful people. A writer’s screenplay may be turned into a major movie, but there’s a good chance her next five screenplays won’t even get picked up. An actor may star in acclaimed films for two years, then go a decade without work. A musician who has sold well might put out a complete failure of a record—then bounce back with the next one. Experimentation and a grudging familiarity with occasional failure are part of L.A.’s ethos.
This quote stood out for me, in fact it jumped out at me. The difference in two places can be based on their approach to success or failure. I appreciate these are wild generalisations … and I do think Moby comes from a rather privileged worldview in terms of his creative abilities as well as his wealth. Not everyone can buy a $4m 1920s mansion and then spend a further $2m doing it up. But that aside, it did make me think of success and failure as being potential attributes of a place … and that the perceived approach to success or failure could be someone’s differentiating factor for choosing that place.
I’ve been thinking about success & failure and, in particular, failure in the context of the church. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not dwelling on failure but considering our response to failure.
We can respond to failure in two main ways: accept it or reject it. When we reject our failure we place the responsibility on others … “It’s not my fault!” is the common response of someone who has rejected their failing. Rejecting it, not accepting it, pushing the blame onto someone else like Adam blaming Eve or pushing the blame onto something else like Eve blaming the serpent … is not, and never will be, constructive. Pushing responsibility away from you is destructive & divisive. It separates. Accepting your failure, however, does the opposite – it brings people together. Putting your hand up & saying “I flunked”, taking that step of responsibility is constructive. You can learn from this and resilience can grow.
Whereas success breeds competition & jealousy, failure can be the seed of greater cooperation and mutual understanding. From our failing we realise we cannot do it alone, that we are not self-made, that we need the help of those around us and, most importantly, we need the help, guidance and inspiration of God through His Holy Spirit. We grow stronger when we accept our failing and seek to learn from it … ironically it is in this strength that we can be most effective, we can succeed through our failure.
We need to live our lives acknowledging our failings, we need to fully appreciate that ALL have fallen:
But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-24 – The Message translation
All have failed. The only difference is that some of us have accepted our failure and sought help from God, letting Him pick us up and help us get out the mess we were in. We couldn’t do it on our own. We cannot do it on our own. We need help from God, and from others. Accepting our failure & accepting help from God & from others is where we truly succeed.
When we look at our church communities, what kind of success are we focussing on? The pretentious, man-made, look-at-me success or do we focus on people who have been given a second, third, fourth chance? Are our church communities more like New York or Los Angeles?
What’s more, our communities should be places of collaboration & cooperation, places of experimentation & trial. Not of our sinful nature, but of the ways & means to share the good news with others. When we acknowledge we have all failed then we lose the barriers of ’us & them’. We realise we are all in this together, that no one is better than another, that the things that define people in the world do not apply for us. Our success doesn’t define people as it does with those who have ’made it’, rather our success comes from our shared past and our ongoing journey. We succeed together in-spite of all we have faced, by God’s grace & His grace alone, and are more willing to experiment with our approach as a result. An acceptance of failure breeds an acceptance of trial and error, and it is here we can let our creativity manifest itself. We are not confined to what has worked in the past, we no longer are prisoners of ’the box’ that comes with success … and, as such, find this freedom is liberating, as liberating as the thought that we are all familiar with failure.
So today ask yourself this: what is your church community more like: New York or Los Angeles?
I know which one I would choose!