A few years ago the book Lean Startup, by Eric Ries took off, at the time I was working for a offshore software development company and it was unthinkable to not have read this holy text for innovation. There are major take aways from this book: Do not be afraid to fail and be willing to fail often. One thing that is unique I have learned since reading this book is that American culture stands out worldwide because of the position that failure does not define you as a business leader. You have very famous examples of this including Steve Jobs with his first go around at Apple, and this is even reflected within our legal system a it relates to bankruptcy (America has some of the least punitive laws for bankruptcy in the world). In an area like Silicon Valley it is likely to meet an entrepreneur who among a success has a string of failed companies that did not work out, this is accepted and according to The Lean Startup even encouraged.
This fits well within my spirituality as God’s grace is central to my view of what is happening in the world. A minimal definition of grace would be a continuous second chance. (As a side note I have an illustration about ice cream and grace being you get rewarded even though you deserved to be punished, but I’ll save that for a later post.) Christ came to offer second chances to us, that is the point. Failure does not have the last word, just as the cross was not the end of Christ work rather he rose from the dead. There are beautiful examples of this throughout the scriptures: Joshua and the people of God attacking Ai just after the victory at Jericho and losing (Joshua 7:1-26) and Peter’s denial of Jesus where he didn’t just lie once but three times claiming he did not know Jesus (John 18). These are examples of great leaders from history in the church that were not defined by horrible failure, but rather defined by God’s transformation of their failure.
There is an opposing force to what I have mentioned so far, that failure does not define you and that is the concept of shame. Just a few weeks ago I was in a presentation at work talking about what happens when teams make mistakes. I was already at the white board so I added this diagram for our discussion:
The lower path I would describe as a pathway of shame and perhaps the best image would not be arrows but rather a swirling spiral like in a toilet bowl. Shame is a powerful force that instead of saying, “You made a mistake.” says “You are a mistake.” Instead of saying, “Let’s not cry over spilled milk, grab the rag.” It tells you that your life is an abortion. For a person controlled by shame there is no place for failure or mistakes and therefore significant work has to be done to face this horrible virus of the soul. Needless to say if you are a person controlled by shame this idea that you are free to fail will be very difficult if not impossible for you.
For those of you with children right now you know that the movie Frozen is all about this. The scene creating the ice castle is about Elsa coming to terms with who she has been created to be and understanding that she is not like everyone else, but the storm of shame is still a part of her life as she lives in isolation and suffering under the weight that she is created ‘wrong’. In my minds eye this is a modern feminist picture of Martin Luther’s great speech at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Only when Elsa’s sister Anna is able to love her unconditionally even given her life for her, is the curse of shame broke. Though Elsa is still different this difference is used for the good of everyone around her rather then being a curse.
So if you buy into this idea the fear is destructive, or a positive was of saying it being failure does not define you then a natural fruit in your life is to not be afraid of failure! Lean Start up pushes this idea with the concept of Rapid Prototyping. This idea of create, create quickly, create well, but get it out there so you can find out what is wrong with it as soon as possible. Take feedback and grow, or my preferred verb is EVOLVE.
A major evolution in my spirituality was letting go of having to be right. The denomination that I was ordained in, the PCA, was right. They were well educated and studied theologians that had put in the hours of dedication to create a theological framework and church governance that was Biblical and therefore right. Once you walk away from a group like that you cannot help but be wrong, because they are the only ones that are right. This devastated me for a significant period of time, I was lost and certainly I was on the wrong side of right. Shame played havoc with my soul and my spirituality.
Then I became convinced that my spirituality was not about being right and it never should have been. I can be completely wrong and still loved fully by God! WOW, what freedom! One of my professors from seminary, Steve Brown, used to say “I’m wrong at least 50% of the time, I just wish I knew what 50%.” Another way to put is, my faith is not about my sin rather what it means for me to live fully human before God who has saved me. I have been redeemed from my sin and am being redeemed from my sin.
So does this mean we just run off not caring? Roman 6, is helpful here. Also I remember Steve Brown using this great illustration. The discussion of grace and obedience is like a dog chasing his own tail, and the good news if the dog follow the master everything lines up. Let’s live with complete affection and focus on the master and trust that others have been created to do the same!