Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Better Because of the Mistake"

As often as I said, "My foot has slipped,"
your love, O LORD, upheld me. -- Psalm 94

One of the better recipe titles I've ever run across in my foodie-sideline Googling is "Better Because of the Mistake" Sugar and Vanilla Scones. Evidently its inventor had forgotten to put sugar in her scone dough, tried rolling the scones in the sugar instead -- and wound up with something more special than the original recipe.

C.S. Lewis opined that perhaps one's most persistent flaw as an individual -- the personal weakness that each of us struggles with the most, that tends to create a running subtext of pain and frustration and failure in our life scripts -- is actually a primary conduit for God's redemptive, transformative work. He imagined us, one day, in the fullness of God's time, sharing the stories of our now glorified wounds of living in the same way that old soldiers at a reunion might compare battlefield scars.

The other day, on a non-debate online forum where people can ask questions about Christianity and others can answer, I was trying to explain the symbolism of the Cross to a curious non-Christian. As I thought about all the things I could say about the Cross, the phrase that kept coming back to me was God's strength made perfect in weakness -- as Dan Erlander puts it, God meets us there, hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken and dying. So God is not only a God who can redeem the dark, frightening places in our own souls, but who can redeem even something as terrible as this particularly cruel instrument of torture, created by the powers of an entire society gone wrong, and turn it into the means by which God saves us once and for all.

Our pastor, in his Great Thanksgiving, regularly thanks God for the people of God throughout history who have made Godsself known to us -- in his words, "We thank you for everything they did right, and for everything they did wrong." The first time I heard this, I admit it was somewhat jarring. But the more I think about it, the more truth I hear in it; the more I hear an echo of "All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

When I practice examen, when I think of the things I do and say and think that tend to dishonor God and other people the most, one of my persistent sins is anger -- not a proactive, other-serving anger that leads to positive change, but a hair-trigger, self-defensive, inward-turned, put-yer-dukes-up anger that is often misdirected or out of proportion to the real or perceived injury. I also have a persistent tendency to choose the path of least resistance; a sin of omission, of failing to take an opportunity to act in a helpful, healing way, on others' or even my own behalf, in a given situation -- sometimes falling into faithless despair of my actions making any difference at all. These two dynamics tag-team one another day after day, and I suspect that will be true for the rest of my life. Do I ever win the good fight? Well...as one of my friends likes to put it: Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you.

As one who claims the Christ who makes all things new, I hang onto the hope that, even on the days that the bear gets me, or gets us, my failure and our failures are a conduit for God's redeeming action -- that, in God's big picture, we're made "better because of the mistake."

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