Failing a faithful father.
On Chad Bird’s “Night Driving.”
Who would’ve thought that one of the greatest teachers of 2017 would’ve been the ghost of a pointy-eared little green alien? I highly doubt Rian Johnson was thinking about how to turn Yoda into a preacher when writing the script for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But during an exchange in the film between him and Luke Skywalker, Yoda — the infamously eccentric Jedi Master — utters a line that’s pregnant with resonance and meaning and relevance. For everyone.
Pass on what you have learned . . . strength, mastery . . . but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher failure is.
I haven’t been able to shake off this line since I left the theater on opening night. I went into Last Jedi expecting a good time, sure, but I never thought I was going to get a sermon. But Pastor Yoda brings a message that’s all but lost on the majority of evangelical ears — a message that ought to resound from lecterns and pulpits and stages around the world but has been replaced by feel-good, carrot-on-a-string progressive performancism that regards failures as pariahs.
Failure has become the scourge of our society. The laws and norms we’ve established have made it impossible for those with flaws to go anywhere or do anything. The vortex of failure has no promise of escape. Its consequences are genetic. Failed children can usually find something failing in their parents. Failure has become people’s identity, a reality so tightly wound to who they are that they’re unable to see themselves as anything else. The mess-ups have been relegated to the outskirts of success. And there’s only one strike on this diamond. So better not screw up! Or, at least, better make sure you become good at covering up.
We’re surrounded by half-truths — or perhaps quarter-truths. (Fake news, anyone?) It’s not often you get words that are real these days. The sentiments we read and scroll past every day appear to be honest comments from “friends” and acquaintances. We’re made to believe that you really “literally can’t even” when that certain someone posts something you disagree with; or when, God forbid, the barista takes a few seconds too long to craft your very special triple-venti-soy-no-foam-latte. But for all the fabricated sentimentalism we see and read every day, it’s refreshing to digest the realness and rawness of a soul that’s struggling with the unlearned moralism that contaminates every living person. Such is what you will find in the words of Chad Bird’s book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul.
Chad’s writing is the quintessential sequel to Yoda’s sermon. Chad’s vulnerability with his past allows him to be honest about grace. Yes, his failures are sordid, but in that sordid history, we’re made to see a 5-trillion-lumens display of divine mercy. That’s how God always works though. In the ashes. In the ruins. In the soot of failure. It’s there that he shows up. Rather, he unblinds our eyes to see that he’s been there all along. He’s never left. He’s never once thought about casting us off. “Every step of the way,” Chad writes, “we are accompanied by the God who, in Jesus Christ, will never un-love us, un-adopt us, un-redeem us” (16).
These words will both unsettle you and uplift you. They’ll expose the sinister old Adam that lives inside us all, while also directing our gaze to the New Adam who “took our cheating, lying, murdering, and narcissism onto himself and emptied his veins to atone for it all . . . [who] took into himself our frailties, our sicknesses, our sins. He became as we are to that we might become as he is” (62, 140). They reveal desperate people who are met by a more wonderful Deliverer. One who is unafraid of darkness, unshaken by indignity, unmoved by corruption, unaffected by failure.
You might, perhaps, count it odd to consider Night Driving an extension of Yoda’s sermon, but the grace of Chad’s ministry is the crux of Yoda’s sermon, too. That is, that failure is the greatest teacher. Forever and always, the God of the Bible leaps into our soiled world to showcase his resplendent mercy. The most significant lesson we could pass on to those who follow us is that God’s there in the midst of failure. What’s more, he uses failures and screw-ups as his brightest beacons of the gospel. “God specializes in broken people. He has a long history of being intimately and graciously involved in the lives of people who screw up on a large scale. No matter how badly we have wrecked our lives, our Father is in the thick of that disaster to begin the work of making us whole again” (15). Praise God for the faithfulness of our Father that manifests itself in the midst of our failure.
Chad Bird, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).