Training in Failure

Now that we have been living in the Lents neighborhood for over a month, and without housemates for over three months, I feel like I am beginning to understand more clearly just what came from trying to live in our intentional community.

Chrissy and I still believe we were called to join with the people who made up Portland Jeremiah House and try to form our community together. The fact that it foundered and fell apart doesn’t change that.

It would be easy to say, “Oops, we thought God wanted this for our lives, but it didn’t work, so we must have been wrong.” But that isn’t how life works. We are called to do difficult things all the time, and not having them go as planned has nothing to do with whether or not the call was real.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria RussellMy favorite book The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell touches on this idea in the story when one of the characters is expressing her frustration by the duality that is often characteristic of people who attribute to God influence over what happens in our lives.

The character, Anne Edwards, expresses it this way:

What sticks in my throat is that God gets the credit but never the blame. I just can’t swallow that kind of theological candy. Either God’s in charge or he’s not.

I have seen and experienced exactly the type of outlook Russell is thinking of here. Something goes well: praise God! Something goes wrong: I must have let my sin get in the way.

It’s inconsistent to claim God is in control but only believe it’s true when things are good. It’s inconsistent to think I have the power to choose and then only take that into consideration when things go bad.

This kind of thinking relieves me and God both of our responsibility for any given situation. I have to think and judge and make decisions as best I can and sometimes it goes well and other times it doesn’t. God is God regardless of whether I think my circumstances are pleasant or they fit my expectations. Sometimes doing exactly what God wants leads to downright discouraging results.

My go-to example from the Bible for this fact is the entire book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was clearly called to be a prophet and to speak the things he spoke. The tough part about his story is that the people never listened. They never changed their ways. They never accepted what he had to say and did something about it.

He’s the opposite of Jonah. Jonah didn’t want to prophesy to the people of Ninevah. He tried to get out of it, but when he finally did it, the whole city repented and turned to God. Jeremiah, though, he passionately knew he had to prophesy, and when he did, he was rejected, beaten, imprisoned, and ignored.

It never changed. That’s how his story ended. It doesn’t mean he was wrong. It means that sometimes being faithful to a call includes being faithful to a call that seems like nothing but failure.

For us, we were called and have no doubt of it. I believe something was accomplished through it, just not living in the same household with other people intentionally on a daily basis. Jeremiah accomplished something too, as is evidenced by the billions of people who have been influenced by the words he wrote that are now part of Scripture.

I’ve come to think that our brief time in our intentional living community was training for living in the Lents neighborhood.

I was talking with a couple friends about this recently, and I felt like I explained what I mean by that really well, so I hope I can do it again here.

What I mean is, I think the time I spent with Michael, Susan, Mira, and Eric taught me to value some of the things they value and to think in terms of our mutual goals while we were Jeremiah House. The best way I can think to summarize it is that I learned from them about being a good neighbor.

Now, I think and care about how we can connect with the people who live in our apartment complex and on our block and in the Lents neighborhood as a whole. I think about how we can reach out to be neighborly, not necessarily is providing assistance but simply in establishing and building connections and relationships with people.

Before our intentional living community, I would not have opposed those ideas, but I wouldn’t have known to care about it as much. I wouldn’t have desired to pursue it with purpose or had as clear of ideas for why I might want to do so. Now I have a conscious desire to pursue something I wouldn’t have known I cared about, if that makes any sense.

Chrissy posted a Facebook status recently that talked about living in “unintentional community,” and I think that is a good way to put it. Not that we don’t try; it’s not unintentional in that sense, but it isn’t a framework that we’ve built around ourselves that forces us to be in community whether we want it or not. We live in a neighborhood full of people, and we can make lots of small choices that transform being near people to being a community of people.

I’m sure the others who made up Jeremiah House with us are finding their own traces of God’s purpose as they rebuild their lives in new directions, just like I am finding mine. Life in Lents is another step in the dance God is teaching me, another place to live the way I am learning to live and be who God is helping me to be.

I don’t always get to see how things turn out or know why things happen, but I think being here and finding the desire to be a neighbor to my neighbors and allowing that to shape my choices is at least one of the purposes behind why we were called to our time with intentional community, and further down the road, maybe I will have a clearer sense of what God is doing with us living in Lents.

One thought on “Training in Failure

  1. This is a difficult and beautiful thing, Brandon. If nothing else, there’s a lot of room for redemption in failure. I really appreciate how you and Chrissy have worked to view this through a tougher-but-truer lens.

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