Last week we drove 350 miles to Smith College, where our daughter was singing with the glee club at Christmas Vespers. Each year at a pair of services, campus and community enter liminal space by hearing sacred music from student choral and orchestral groups, pondering poetry and biblical readings by students and faculty, and singing carols together.
This year it also became a setting to turn attention to other matters. As a Facebook event page put it, “You can’t sing carols if you can’t breathe.”
Now and then, someone will ask me “what kind of Christian” I am. I never used to know how to respond.
I would ramble on about how I’m sort of a theological moderate, though it’s not that helpful to think of us Christians as existing on a linear continuum, and I’m less focused than some of the Christians I grew up with on individual salvation, not that I think it doesn’t matter, and I’m wary of efforts to convert people of other faiths, which isn’t to say that I don’t value evangelism or the uniqueness of Christ... By this point the person typically lost interest in my endless run-on sentence of negative definition and preemptive defensiveness. I was left wishing I’d just said, “Lutheran.”
Then came the 2008 election and the Matthew 25 Network.
So it turns out that losing is good for you after all. According to social scientists who study these things, all those participation trophies kids receive for just showing up are not inspiring them to succeed. Instead, the ceaseless praise only protects kids from failure—so that once it inevitably appears, they are so demoralized that the next time it comes close they choose cheating rather than risk failing again.
The gospel has always understood the critical importance of failure in the path to true life.