Failing Forward

One of my big lessons from the last year has been revisiting how I respond to failure. When other people fail, I'm (usually) gracious and patient. But not so with myself.

2017 started with a big work failure - we missed the fourth deadline for our new campus launch. And the year ended with an embarrassing work failure - I made a major, hilarious and humiliating typo on a very public piece of publicity for our feeding of the 5,000 partnership with the local food panty (see if you can spot the typo, I recreated it in this very sentence).

Here's the thing ...

We launched our new campus on the 5th deadline, getting our certificate of occupancy with 2 hours to spare. In the last 10 months, dozens of new people have connected with God and with each other in Pittsboro. We added a second service. We had our first person get baptized. And no one but me remembers the string of failures.

As for the typo ... I'm still working my way through that.

What we do when we fail matters so much. Failure shapes our character, gives us opportunities to grow, and humbles us. Failure can make us wiser and kinder ... if we'll let it.

As I reflect on failure, here are ten quick gleanings that I've taken from the past year:

  1. You can't learn from failure if you re-label it, hide it, or ignore it.
  2. Your failures reveal your pride.
  3. Your failures show you your limits.
  4. Your failures provide opportunities to ask for help from God and friends.
  5. Your response to failure gives you a glimpse into your heart's maturity.
  6. There's a difference between failure of tactic and failure of strategy.
  7. Few people notice your failure as much as you do.
  8. Grieving over a failure can be healthy, but wallowing in it can be deadly.
  9. Failing doesn't make you a failure.
  10. Failure doesn't have to be final.
What are some things you've learned about failure in the last year?

Consent in the Christmas Story

Reading the Christmas Story (out of Luke 1-2) in this year's news environment has been challenging for me.

God sends the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she's about to become miraculously pregnant and become the mother of the Savior of the world. Classically, this announcement has been called The Annunciation.

In a way, this makes the narrative of the conception of Jesus radically different from many of the ancient narratives around the birth of the god-human hybrids. Zeus disguised himself and forced himself on women in many of the ancient stories. The gods of the Romans did likewise. But Mary conceived Jesus in a different way.

But as I've been reading I've been struck that The Annunciation wasn't a request for permission. Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen. Could she have rejected the opportunity?

In v. 38 of Luke 1, Mary responds positively to the angel's message. But that response still contains language of a power-dynamic: "Lord," "servant," fulfilled prophecy.

I still find myself troubled reading this story.

Mary's Magnificat (her powerful song/poem found a few verses later) gives us some insight into how she saw her encounter with God: a blessing, a privilege, a joy. How can I be troubled by the Annunciation and conception narrative when she seems to experience great joy as a result of it all?

But then my critical mind circles back and points out that our insight into Mary's state-of-mind requires us to trust the narrative we're reading in Luke's Gospel.

I find myself rocking back and forth as I read this text, unsettled. And perhaps that's a good thing.

What do you do when you find a biblical text that unsettles you?

Marking progress

I recently had an opportunity to mark a tiny bit of progress in my spiritual life.

I overcooked the Thanksgiving turkey and dried out the Macaroni and Cheese. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I love the cooking-part of the day. It hurt my heart to have the food fall short (in fact, I'm considering making another turkey and mac-and-cheese just to make up for it).

Years ago, the overcooked turkey and dried pasta would register in my soul as a failure. And the presence of my in-laws at the meal would trigger an endless stream of apologies and self-recrimination from me.

But not this year.

Jesus and I have been working on acknowledging that I'm doing the best that I can, on learning from when things go wrong rather than beating myself up, and on sparing my family and friends from my crazy performance addiction.

And it worked this time.

We ate the food, put sauce on the overcooked turkey, ate less of the dry pasta, and had a wonderful afternoon together.

I'm not just going to run off to the next thing.

I'm putting a mental and emotional marker down and celebrating this little win (and I know it's a small one). Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B encourage this practice as a way to generate momentum and increase our ability to generate positive change in our lives and environment.

Take a look around your own life. Do you have any "little wins" you can celebrate in your spiritual journey? Take a moment to pause and mark the milestone. You'll be glad you did.

Reading Plato

I've been on a kick reading Plato recently.

Reading people who write about Plato is miserable. CS Lewis joked that "If you can't explain something simply, you probably haven't understood it yourself." And that makes me think that most of the people I've stumbled across who write about Plato have a lot more digging to do.

But reading Plato himself is lovely.

In his writing I hear echoes of conversations that continue to be had in my own community.

  • What is friendship? 
  • What is virtue? 
  • What is wisdom? 
  • What is love? 
  • How do we educate young people in our community? 
Plato rarely seems to land on a definitive answers, but he takes his readers on a delightful journey that has a side effect of shaping how we view these great questions. I feel like I'm getting a rollicking crash-course in critical thinking when I read Plato.

Years ago, my friend Steve Wimmer convinced me to pick up Plato's Republic and I was shocked to find how easy it was to read. Over the years I've been circling back and filling in the gaps in my education, reading some of these old, old books that had such a role in shaping Western history and thought. Along the way, Brian Sowers (now a prof. a Brooklyn College) has continued to nudge me to read beyond the "canon" and to read with confidence. And along the way I've discovered how much I enjoy reading old books.

I wonder if we all just need a nudge to try to read or listen to something old. Maybe I can do that for you today.

Much of Plato's writing is available for free on Kindle or via audiobook on LibriVox.

Check out his "Apology". I listened to it recently and found myself deeply moved by how Socrates (the main character in this piece) defended his behavior, his hopes for the Athenian youth, and his fate at the hands of his accusers.

December's a long month and Plato's writings (at least some of them) are pretty short. Would you consider giving one of them a try?

Scheduling posts

I write in bursts.

Life is crazy in the Tamayo household and I can't do the traditional, "hour-every-morning" writing that people rave about. As awesome as it is to imagine Hemingway greeting the rise of the sun while standing naked at his typewriter, I think it would weird my kids out.

So, I sprint-write.

Every week I write around 1,750 words for Chatham Church's five Connect Devotional posts and I do that in about an hour and a half. For LaFe, I usually work on one writing project per week and write about 1,000 words per hour (usually on a Friday after having lots of coffee).

I sat down a few weeks ago and outlined a book on preaching in two two-hour sittings.

Why am I sharing this?

I'm going to be posting here on the blog a little more often in the next year and I'm going to be writing in sprints. I'll probably write a month's worth of posts at a time (maybe more).

What does this mean for us?

Not much. I just want you to know.

I read and respond to comments as fast as I'm able (they ping into my email inbox).

If you see me in town or talk to me on the phone and ask me about something I published this morning, please don't be surprised if I have no idea what it was ... I probably wrote it a while ago! Don't take my not remembering as an unwillingness to talk about what I wrote.

This also means that ...

  • If I say I don't have time to meet up or talk this week but you see me post something online, I'm not brushing you off (I just scheduled this to post a while ago!)
  • If I say "yesterday" or "last week" in a story I'm telling, it was "yesterday" or "last week" from the time I sat down to write, not from the time I published the piece.
  • I'm not neglecting my family in order to write. Today, I'm writing in a coffee shop while Amy and the kids are running errands. Amy and I worked it out so I could slip away for a few hours to write before we go on a big Pok√©hunt as a family and then get dinner out (I'm hoping for Chipotle, but will be excited if we end up at Panera or Cookout). We get tons of time together as a family and I appreciate all of my friends who encourage me to keep my workaholism in check and enjoy this season with my kids.
I love being able to schedule posts and to see them strung out in the calendar over the course of a week or month. I think it's a little more respectful to you who are reading this than flooding your inbox.

This is the last one of these self-reflective posts for a while. I mostly had to think through this myself, so shared it here as a form of "thinking out loud."