Ben once heard a speaker named Saleem Ghubril give a talk at The Pittsburgh Project where he used the comedian Dana Carvey for an illustration about failure. Carvey needed a double bypass heart operation. The surgeons performed it, successfully, then patched Carvey up and sent him on his way. He was fine for a short time until he started having the same symptoms again. When he went back in for tests, the doctors made an unfortunate discovery: They had bypassed the wrong artery. Carvey underwent an angioplasty (his fourth), this time fixing the problem.
The lesson Ghubril drew from this? “It is better to fail trying to do the right things than succeed in doing the wrong ones,” he said. The first operation was, technically, a success. It just failed to solve the problem. Better to come up short trying to fix something that matters, Ghubril said, than succeed at doing something that doesn’t.
We had a conversation with some friends today about the subject of holy discontent. The idea of holy discontent is that there are things in the world — injustice, generational poverty, religious violence — that break God’s heart, and that should break ours too. We may not be called to work at an orphanage in Sudan, the way that one of the people in that conversation was. But we should be listening for those things (close to home or far away) that unsettle us, and then figure out what to do about it.
The things that matter are probably going to be big things, not just weekend projects. Where do you start correcting generational poverty? Well, you start somewhere close to home, where you are, given the tools and resources you have. And when you get discouraged and feel like a failure, you take comfort in the fact that there’s a good kind of failure that’s better than an irrelevant kind of success, and that if enough people constructively fail at the right things, that collective failure might add up to a difference.
For ourselves, we experience a holy discontent when our friends look at Christians and have good reason to see irrelevant, self-righteous successes and not constructive failures. We’ll just come right out and say it: We are holy discontented with Christians. And we are ones! Soren Kierkegaard got at it this way: “Christendom has become the very opposite of what Christianity is. Christianity is restlessness, the restlessness of the eternal. … Christendom is tranquility. How charming, the tranquillity of literally not moving.” “The restlessness of the eternal” is actually a pretty good description of holy discontent. (Sadly, “the tranquillity of literally not moving” may be an equally good description of many churches today.)
This is essentially all a lead-in to this video. We didn’t know who CitizenLink is, but some cursory research revealed it is affiliated with Focus On The Family. We’ll only preface this by saying that the notion that we need (even presented in tongue-in-cheek fashion) a new holiday called Merry Tossmas is really, truly stupid.
Christmas is a big deal on the Christian calendar. Maybe not Easter big, but certainly not insignificant. The idea that Christians need to faithfully recognize and celebrate it is, of course, a fine one. But recognizing it only in its context as the most secularized, commercialized, super-sized holiday of all, which reduces a Christian’s act of worship to his or her ability to spend money, and then saying we need to stamp a God label on that and boycott anyone who doesn’t agree? That’s not even bypass surgery on the wrong artery. That’s surgery using plastic utensils. Which is to say, a joke.