Friday, 8 May 2015

                  AFTER THE FALL

A few weeks ago there was a story in the news that went viral on social media. It concerned a young Queen's Guardsman on duty outside Buckingham Palace. During the Changing of the Guard the poor lad tripped over a manhole cover and fell, knocking his bearskin on the sentry box and dropping his rifle.

Pictures of the moment - as well as a video of it taken by a spectator - went all over the world in a matter of minutes, arousing raucous mirth.

A few months before the news was full of another story about falling. This time about Madonna.

Madonna fell over during the performance of a new song live at the Brit Awards (I was watching it when it happened). It was the first time she had sung at the Brit Awards in twenty years. During one of her dance routines, Madonna's cape - which was tied too tight - became snagged and she tumbled to the floor.

Once again, the incident went global.

Within minutes it was a headline on the BBC news programme that followed.

What I observed in the British reaction to these events disturbed me. Thousands, maybe even millions of Brits found these moments deeply satisfying and even wildly entertaining. They took pleasure in these falls, enjoying the transition from gaping shock to gloating glee.

This got me thinking. What is it about the British that loves seeing people in the public eye fall from grace? 

Why do we see such implosions - whether physical, moral, financial, whatever - as fitting targets for cynical mirth?

All this is fiercely relevant to my own life. Nearly a year after my fall I found myself on the Eastern seaboard of the USA. I was there to lead a writer's workshop. During my stay a crisis broke out in the church and I was asked to support the church's leadership in navigating their way through it. 

When I went to the leader's meeting one evening I was understandably nervous. How would they respond to me? They all knew that I had fallen. What would they say?

When I entered the room I received one hug after another. These outstanding African American brothers and sisters weren't in the least bit focused on my past. All they wanted to see was that I had brushed myself down and got up again - that I was walking by faith again and reconnected to my Heavenly Father. 

So there were no sermons, only shoulders.

No gloating, only hugging.

That, beloved readers, was a game changing moment for me.

The next morning I woke up early as the golden New England sun began to rise.

I started to reflect on the difference between this American response and the standard British reaction to situations like mine.

In Britain we love it when heroes become zeroes. We love putting people on pedestals and then knocking them down.

It's almost become a national bloodsport.

In America I see the reverse. Maybe it's because of the American Dream. I don't know. But over the Pond people love seeing zeroes becoming heroes.

What matters to them is, "Are you going to get up again?"

David Beckham was talking about this around the time of the World Cup last summer (2014). He spoke about how the British press built him up to be the golden boy of English football before France 98. Then came that awful moment when he lashed out at the Argentinian defender (Diego Simeone) in a World Cup match - for which he was given a red card.

From that moment he was vilified.

No longer was he the golden boy. He was now a pile of fragments at the foot of a press constructed pedestal.

You see my point? In British culture we take a curious and perverse delight in watching as people who rise above the parapet experience a fall of some sort or another. We love it when they are knocked down, put in their place - returning to their rightful position in the level playing fields of life.

Maybe it's the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Or maybe it's just that we have become a nation of rubberneckers who slow down to gawp at the tragedies and misfortunes of others on life's highways. 

Whatever it is, it's not a virtue. It's a vice. We dress it up as something positive by waving our fingers at prominent and visible personalities and saying, "Pride cometh before a fall." But no amount of Scripture quoting can disguise the fact that this kind of disdainful behaviour does not come from heaven. It comes from hell.

Heaven is a place of honour.

Hell is a place of shame.

When we turn heroes into zeroes, we are speaking the rhetoric of the underworld. We are using language that has a gravitational pull downwards - down, down, down towards the darkness of oblivion.

Not long ago I was asked by the Passion Bible Translation publishers to write devotional commentaries on the Book of Psalms and Proverbs. I spent about two months writing both, deeply immersed in this wonderful, intimate translation of these ancient books. 

As I came to the end of Proverbs, I stumbled upon some heavenly wisdom about falling. You can find this in verses 16 and 17.

Verse 16 says:

"The lovers of God may ... stumble seven times, but they will continue to rise over and over again."

The message here couldn't be clearer. Every God-lover will fall during their lives, and not just once either. Most of the time this will not be visible to others. It will be known only to God. But we all fall, some publicly, others privately.

To quote Aerosmith, we all fall down.

That being the case, verse 17 outlines a critical principle:

"Never gloat when your enemy meets disaster, and don't be quick to rejoice if he falls, for the Lord who sees your heart will be displeased with you, and will pity your foe."

Look at God's wisdom here.

To the fallen God says, "get up again."

To those who rejoice when others fall he says, "Don't gloat."

Those are truly keys to reigning in life.

As a Church in Britain we are not good at knowing how to respond to a fall. Some are wise enough to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I", and kind enough to show compassion. But most people don't know how to react. They don't know how to cover other's shame and they don't know how to cheer people to their feet again.

The fallen are bewildered because there is no theology of restoration, let alone a strategy, or a ministry. 

Those who look on point the finger and find in that person's misfortune what I can only describe as a guilty pleasure.

But this is not how heaven responds.

Heaven first of all seeks to cover a person's shame. Like the sergeant who stood in front of the fallen Guardsman, heaven encourages true sons and daughters of God to find ways of cloaking Noah's nakedness. 

Secondly, heaven cheers when the fallen get up again. The company of heaven is not so preoccupied with our past failings as it is with our future purpose. Madonna got up and continued singing. BRAVO, I say.

Like my African American friends, heaven loves it when zeroes turn into heroes again.

Everyone stands and applauds when that happens.

Because heaven - like the Bible - is full of people who fell but who made a choice to brush the dust off and get up again.

Heaven is not entertained by 'falling down' or 'breaking bad.'

Heaven is enthused by getting up and breaking good again.

If you want to read a great testimony book that illustrates some of these truths about rising up after falling, I highly recommend Deborah Armin's book, "On my Way Home."