February 2015


This is the opening reflection of my inaugural “A Glorious Mess” newsletter, which will be coming out next week. Click here to subscribe. In addition to monthly reflections, you’ll get to read other newsletter-exclusive content, include a sidebar by Melissa and a section entitled “Ben’s Id.” Enjoy!

I remember the Vine’s third worship gathering.

We asked people to bring pictures of five different places in the city. We asked them to share where each picture was taken and what could be done at each place to love it like God did.

Genius, right?

We thought so.

Nearly twenty people packed themselves into our living room, bringing their images and ideas with them.

We sang a couple songs. We prayed. We read scripture.

And then, a meeting broke out in the middle of our worship gathering.

Somehow, each person’s picture morphed into a project presentation. As the presentations stretched out, often to ten or fifteen minutes each, people began to punctuate their responses with such spiritual questions as “Who’s taking notes?” and “So who’s taking responsibility for this one?”,

About an hour in, someone said they were hungry. Another added that they needed to pee.

We ended up taking a fifteen minute bathroom break in the middle of worship.

An hour and a half after that, we limped our way to the end of the most business-like worship gathering I’ve ever led. One of our friends, who was coming to worship for the first time, said, with unbelievable grace and tact, “You have a very unique community.”

The final person left and I closed the door, leaning on it slightly.

I turned to my wife. “Well, that didn’t work.”

If you’re reading this e-mail, then you’ve failed at something, probably fairly recently.

Perhaps it’s your New Year’s Resolutions, which are now expiring peaceably in a corner.

Perhaps it’s a mistake you made at work, where a decision didn’t work out as well as you intended.

Perhaps it’s a conflict with a friend, where you’re sure it’s not your fault but you’re also secretly sure there was a more graceful way to handle it.

Failure is an unavoidable part of being human and having a pulse.

So, if failure is inevitable, just make sure that you fail in the right direction.

Here’s what I mean:

After that worship gathering, I chose to fail forward.

I intentionally designed moments for community response in ways that wouldn’t take two hours to complete.

I stepped into my authority as a leader when other folks unwittingly tried to hijack our group process.

I learned that mess was a larger than normal part of a community that worshipped in our shoebox living room and sometimes I just needed to relax.

As a result, I became a better leader and a better person.

What would it look like for you to fail forward this coming month?

Not to deny,

Not to rationalize,

Not to curl up into a small ball of deliciously paralyzing guilt,

But to name your failure and then make sure that you fail in the right direction?

After all, failure is one of the most reliable ways to grow.

Here’s to a month of failing forward – for you and for me.


Here’s a story I’m telling this Sunday, (before I removed the profanity for the sake of all the good church people.) Enjoy!

Seth had life figured out.

If most people traveled through existence with the serenity and grace of a slightly drunken tightrope walker before their first high wire act, then Seth was the person who could casually tap dance on that same wire while singing show tunes and looking condescendingly at the audience below.

Seth had immaculate to-do lists.
He had immaculate to-do lists about his to-do lists.
He had work priorities, life priorities, and spiritual priorities, all printed in bold ink and framed on the walls of his house.
He was six years into a fifty year personal strategic plan for his life and so far, everything was going according to schedule.

In short, he had not only managed to tame that great beast called Life, he had wrestled it to the ground and beat the living shit out of it.

He sat at the breakfast nook, cup of freshly ground coffee in his hand, eating an orange and some cottage cheese while he contemplated the pristine order that was his life.

It was all about balance.

His pastor agreed with him. She had even preached about it. Balance, she said, was the key to a good life. You take your health: your emotional health, your mental health, your physical health, your spiritual health , you tend to them all, not letting any of them take up too much or too little of your time, and, like magic, everything will just come into focus.

While Seth was not sure exactly where Jesus had said that, it sounded like the mature, rational, reasonable sort of teaching that he would have expected from someone as well-developed as the Son of God.

He leaned back and smiled.

Seth had discovered that there were few genuinely well-balanced people in the world.

He was proud to be one of them.

And it was then, as he raised his cup to take a self-satisfied sip, that Jesus walked into his kitchen.

Seth nearly choked, spurting coffee back into his mug, which was emblazoned with the slogan, “Winning At Life (And At Coffee)”.

Jesus walked over to Seth’s coffee pot and poured himself a mug.

Seth was a rational person. He was normally suspicious of bearded men, dressed like they had just fled the set of Lawrence of Arabia, who strode into his kitchen unannounced to drink his coffee. However, if the beard and undoubtedly outdated wardrobe hadn’t been a giveaway, the bright levitating halo and the fact this man was glowing like an overenthusiastic Christmas tree definitely clinched it.

Sometimes, you just knew.

Seth found himself annoyed. He had expected that the Son of God would at least have the forethought to call ahead before he appeared.

Jesus walked over to the kitchen table and sat down across from Seth, mug clasped between both hands.

There was a moment of silence.

“Well?” said Seth, impatiently.

“Well what?”

“Why are you here?…uh, my Lord.”

“Well Seth,” Jesus said, taking a sip of his coffee, “I’m here to fuck up your life.”

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