Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Failure Finds the Spirit

"If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?" George Carlin

So, first there was this video that took the world - and my children's hearts - by storm:



And, then, more stunning than the success of the video itself, comes this startling admission on Ellen: "If we give (the production team) crap idea, and we bring it back it to the talk show in Norway and say, 'Sorry guys, we had our window, we coulda made it big, but we screwed up, and we made a song about a fox. I'm sorry."

Ylvis' explanation of its backfiring self-sabotage reminded me of a friend who was constantly afraid of preaching a bad sermon. One day, he realized that this fear was driving his ministry in unhealthy ways. So he woke up and decided to preach a terrible sermon. "Get it out of the way," he told himself. My friend felt a relief settle over him, simply in the determination to do this: he would never again have to worry that his next sermon would be his first bad one. He would learn to rely on grace.

But then something happened. That Sunday, after the service was over, person after person thanked the preacher for the best sermon he had delivered in years.

So much gets revealed in stories like these: our pride, control needs, grace, the inexplicable resistance to fail more often, the false notions that we know ourselves and others best, the joy of being surprised. In addition to all of these, Christians believe in the surrender that we encounter the Holy Spirit, who has promised to give words and prayers to those who find themselves wordless and unable to pray.

The surprising, innovating, and improvising work of the Spirit is the subject of a conversation at St. Francis House tonight, looking especially at the work of Jeremy Begbie, musician and theologian of the Church. Dr. Begbie invites us to imagine the Holy Spirit as the reality through which God's strength is made perfect in weakness - even our mail-it-in days. Because we are not the main characters in stories about us. But the story and title role belong to God, and that is very good news, indeed.

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