I haven’t really thought much about Mr. Trump prior to recent years. I remember watching one or two episodes of The Apprentice, and realizing that it wasn’t my thing. I don’t really care for “reality tv” at all, but I mean that the attitudes and behaviors of the show weren’t my thing. The episode I remember watching included two tasked with getting more people to call a phone number than the other team. The team that won used the only megaphones available in New York City, which the other team had reserved – they simply showed up at the store and claimed to be the other team. This was praised! As I watched, I recognized that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in that world; I don’t have that willingness to do anything to win. It seems that is what it takes to be successful, not only in “The Donald’s” world, but in the church world as well.
Since the election, I have actually been pretty excited about a Trump presidency. Not so much for him, but for the people he is assembling for his cabinet. For the most part, they are very successful people. To be sure, there are a few ideological bones thrown in for Conservatives, but his focus has primarily been on who he thinks has 1) a proven track record of success, 2) great likely-hood to be successful in the future, and 3) the greatest ability to help him be successful as well. I am really excited about some of his choices (blown away that he has made those choices, in fact), but I am also quite aware of how different I am to those people. Just as with The Apprentice, thinking about these cabinet picks reminds me that I am not the type of person who would be selected for such a thing in 20 years or so.
I don’t have a successful track record. I have pastored two churches and seen them both reduced in population, energy, outreach, and budget through my time as pastor. Maybe we will turn things around, maybe we won’t; but I can’t claim to be successful in ways that people outside looking in would acknowledge. Just as was the case when I went to boot camp, I am not the person making Honor Recruit, which I would have very much liked to have been. That position went to our guidon. Instead, I became a platoon clown, of sorts. In Seminary, I would have very much liked to have been one of the six students picked to preach in chapel at the end of the year, felt myself competitive in that sense, and saw myself not even be considered. Not quite the All Star I want to be.
The one time I was an All Star, and this is going back to when I was 10, I played on an All Star soccer team that won first place in a tournament! I was our star goalie and played a pivotal role in helping us beat the B Travelling Team for our area; a mean feat, I assure you. But when the tournament came, I played one game. While warming up for the second game, I jammed a finger trying to catch a ball and basically wussed out of the rest of the tournament because I was afraid of letting the team down. I didn’t know if I had what it would take to play hurt. I was equally good in the field, and could have helped in any other position, but the coach kept me on the bench for the rest of the weekend. That was a failure that stays with me.
So, I know I’m not the kind of person that Trump, and most people today (whether believers or not, for that matter) respect and want around them. We want success. We want to know that we will be considered to be cool if we sit at your table. Oh sure, there are friends who are glad to be with you and to know you, but they are few and far between. As I write, I am thinking about the church culture; it is hard to draw a crowd if you’re not cool, and I’m not cool.
What I am, however, is sincere. I am also romantic, not in a lovey-dovey way, but in an ideological way. I guess you could say that I am sincerely romantic. I want the good guy to get the girl at the end. I want love to triumph. I want the scrappy losers to win!
True story: I was never the “coolest” kid at school, but I was in the top five. At recess, if we were choosing teams, I was either one of the first kids chosen or one of the kids choosing. My teams stood a good chance of winning, just so long as we played kickball, football, dodgeball, soccer, tag, or anything other than basketball. When basketball came into the picture, I could help, but I couldn’t deliver victory. Still, this one time, I was one of the first two kids to make a free throw (fluke event, less common than a stopped watch being right) and be a team captain by my right of conquest. As we went to choosing teams, the other captain went with the strong players. I started with my best friend then went absolutely nuts and started selecting guys that I liked but who were usually relegated to the end of the selection process. I fielded the weakest team ever assembled in recess history. Having been promised by Hollywood that this was a surefire way to succeed, I expected great things from this ragtag team of misfits. We were slaughtered. But, at least I felt good about myself that day; those guys never got chosen so early. As I think back on it, I realize that was part of my motivation. Maybe I had an ulterior motive, maybe I knew we would lose, so I might as well go out in style. One thing is sure; I know how to go down in flames!
That is where I am today, going down in flames. I recognize that I have mostly failed throughout my life. I haven’t meant to; in fact, I’ve tried really hard to succeed, but I’ve failed. Yet, this failure is exactly where I do succeed. I succeeded the day I chose the “lasts” to be first. Maybe all that King James Only Fundamentalist Baptist schooling did me some good. Similarly, I succeed when I counsel a person who has failed, because I’m able to offer understanding (even if I don’t understand their exact situation) due to my personal experience with failure. I suppose the posh way of saying it is that it gives me empathy. Yeah, I think it does; and I find that other people see it as well. I think that is why a pastor who is struggling might find me a more welcome counselor than the more successful pastors around us, because I actually understand, not just the struggle, but the failure at the end. My failure has made me more understanding of other’s struggles, and it is what I have to offer.
Unfortunately, I'm not very good at communicating this with other people. When I came to EMBC, I set out to see if you could lead a community of believers to live out the Christian walk without guilt, pressure, or other coercions usually employed by religious leaders. I wanted to see if you could be a church where God mattered, not just our programs; to be a church body, not a minister and his minions. Sadly, many people walked out on this, either because I didn't give enough structure, didn't move the way they were moving, or flat out because they were too comfortable with guilt and coercion that they didn't recognize God without it. What is also sad, is how often I have doubted God along the way, because it looks like absolute failure! Well, it’s time to turn that around. Just like that day when I went crazy on the basketball court, I’m going for broke today for the romantic ending. No, not the “guy and girl walk off into the sunset” ending; the romantic ending where the last are first, where God does build His church, and where losers get crowns.
Now’s the time to pick myself off the ground, again, for the umpteenth time, just so I can see how long it takes me to go down in flames.