Losers in Christ

I’ve been reading through Madeleine L’Engle’s book Irrational Season. My friend Miz Hazel from Mississippi gave me her well-used copy.  I am not reading it like a book, but like a devotional. I read a graph or two at a time, and ponder it throughout the day.

Today’s graph was about the crucifixion, which L’Engle maintains as far as the world was concerned was evidence that the Jesus was a complete and utter failure.  “In wordly terms, a complete washout, the original non-achiever,” she writes.

I never think of Jesus in terms of failure, do you?  That’s because as Paul Harvey used to say, I know the rest of the story. I know Sunday is a’coming. I know about the coming resurrection. I know what the disciples don’t know. I know what Mary cannot see. I know what the Jews did not appreciate.

But this morning, when I read those lines by L’Engle, I felt relief. I need a God who identifies with me in my failures, because, quite honestly, I am far more familiar with failure myself than I am with victory, aren’t you?

Oh, give me a roll of duct tape and 30 minutes and I could fix Osteen and all those other “Live your best lifers” who think all a person has to do is expect more and they’ll receive it.

Go right ahead, hope for the best, believe in the best, pray for the best, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of climbing a hill carrying somebody else’s baggage on your back, only to get to the top and die a sinner’s death.

It happens to a goodly number of people.

It even happened to Jesus.

During his lifetime Jesus was considered a lunatic, a heretic, a raving mad fanatic. A failure.

You ever feel like that?

I do.

It happened to me recently when I opened the mail to discover a letter from my publisher. It was a form letter giving me heads up that they are taking my book  — Where’s Your Jesus Now? — out-of-print.  What that means is that they aren’t going to print any more. Not unless I get really famous, like say Nicholas Sparks, Kate Goselin, or Jenna Jameson, in which case they reserve the right to re-print the book and anything else I may have scribbled on.

All publishers do this. The average book gets a shelf life of about two months anymore. If it’s not selling well during that time booksellers and publishers are on to the next big thing. It’s not personal, you know. It’s just business.

The thing is, for writers like me, it can’t help but feel personal.

Oh. I didn’t run out and buy a bottle of tequila and upend it. I didn’t weep salty tears into a bowl of tomato soup. I didn’t do anything about it. Not one thing. I didn’t call Mama, or Sister Tater. I mentioned it to the kids, but I wasn’t wailing at the time.

It’s sad. That’s all. Just sad to work hard on something and see it fail.

It happens to me a lot.  I don’t write happily-ever-after stories, and I don’t write porn. Both of those sell really well, the latter even better than the former.

Years ago an editor told me I was like Dorothy Day. He was speaking to my penchant for writing for/about the working-class. I didn’t know who Dorothy Day was at the time so I thought he was putting me down. I thought he meant I was the educated voice of the trailer park crowd.

One of my very favorite stories of all time is in Where’s Your Jesus Now? It’s the story of Shirley Dunham. Shirley lived in a trailer on a couple of acres on the outskirts of a small Oregon town. Shirley’s testimony of faith has stayed with me, indeed, it has sustained me many a day.

When I published Where’s Your Jesus Now? I spoke to Shirley’s widower and had him set up a trust fund for the two grandchildren they were still raising. It was my hope that the book would sell enough to put those kids through college. It all seems so silly now.

Ridiculous, really.

I should have known better. I put a chapter in the book about the way we treat gay people in the church. I’m no theologian. I don’t have the answers to all that stuff. I only think what I said the other day — We ought to love people. We ought to tell them they can make it. I said as much in the chapter on the gay issue. That chapter alone kept the book off the shelves of the Christian bookstores. It’s hard to sell a book by a Christian publisher that can’t be stocked in the Christian bookstores.

That makes me feel like a failure but it doesn’t make me sorry for what I said.

That’s the thing about being the kind of writer I am — I ain’ t trying to win Miss Congenality. Oh. Sure. I’d love to be loved by everyone. I’d love for Oprah to invite me to jump up and down on her couch. I’d love to see her jump up and down on the couch with me. That would be a hoot.

But this? This is the climb to the death at the top of the hill.

I’d be really distraught if not for the hope that lives within me.

When asked at gunpoint where’s your Jesus now? Shirley answered — He’s right here.

I might be a loser but I’m a loser in Christ and I know there’s a resurrection day ahead.


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  • jaz

    Okay, first of all: Osteen and all those other “Live your best lifers” do not actually think that all a person has to do is expect more and they’ll receive it.

    What they think (and in this they are correct) is that if you tell people what they want to hear, and do so in a theatrical, charismatic manner, you will make lots and lots of money.

    Telling the truth about what you’ve seen in this world, that’s always the harder sell.

    • Debbie W

      My first comment was a little too short so said the machine therefore I am adding lots of useless words in order to say – “Well said Jaz!”

  • Debbie W

    I know how much I love my copy Karen – it helped me very much. The road may be narrow but there are a few travelling on it – I am glad you are fortunate to feed the few with true stories and reminding us where Jesus is when it gets too dark too see.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Jaz: You’re right. They do that exactly the way you describe it.

  • Kim

    Madeline’s about my favorite person ever, at least of the people that I’ve never met. But, my reading forty of her books makes her feel pretty real to me. I haven’t read your books, yet, they are in my Amazon shopping cart. But I’ve read your blog for months now. You are the real deal in so many ways…and, I suspect you may be even better in real life than on paper. I want to say thank you for saying all the things that so need saying and hearing. You give me hope and courage to do the same.

    I buy all of my students books for Christmas or graduation. This year many of them will be getting, “Where’s your Jesus Now?”

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Forty of her books? Gosh. I don’t think I’ve read 40 of anyone’s books. That makes you a scholar on L’Engle, I do believe.
      Thank you, Kim.

  • This post really touched me. My book came out in May and has been on the publishers home page…that is until yesterday when I went to find it and it was gone. They have moved on to the next big thing. I had to search by name to find my book. It is still in print but I am all alone in promoting it. They have more promising prospects. I felt so hurt, alone, and like a failure. Your post reminded me that I did not write the book to please man. Like you, I write about real people, people the world wants to ignore. I like Debbies reminder that there are a few who get me, appreciate my writing, and inspire me to keep on writing. Thanks for sharing this and I am sorry to hear your book is not in print anymore. I loved Doublewide and have shared it with many people.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Wendy: You are doing good things there in Richmond. As much as I love the town I know that it reflects what we see going on nationally — the widening gap between the haves and the have nots. You have the courage to live in the gap. Thank you for that.

  • Eleanor

    As a bookseller — please know that’s it’s not “failures” that go out of print — you are in EXCELLENT company! I’m glad I have my copy (which I ordered right after reading Double-Wide), though!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Oh, sweet Eleanor, what else would a bookseller say to a writer? But you are right — I realize that it’s not fair to say it’s a failure when it’s a book. I do have manuscripts that are, technically, more failures waiting to happen. LOL.

  • Sorry, Karen. I’m gonna have to get a hold of that book soon! Good words for me, because I feel like an utter failure for being treated scornfully (in my mind, and I think, experience) by another Christian who knows so much better than I do on the issues. So this is a good and needed word for me today. Hopefully someday that book will be back in print, by the way.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ted: I am sorry that anyone, Christian or otherwise, would treat you scornfully. You’d think we’d learn to quit throwing people out of the boat and help them up instead.

  • Mary Cooke

    Just ordered your book although it does not sound like it will ever disappear. I appreciate your words and think you are focused on the important things. I joined a church years ago because they just said welcome and did not ask that I believe exactly like everyone else. They were just there to help me on my journey – still on it!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Mary: So glad you found a church home that is loving you to Jesus. If only…

  • Steve Taylor


    I want to say as deeply as I can that I understand at least some of your sadness. It’s not simply the loss, though the loss is real. More, it is the realization of our collective refusal to see, to acknowledge, to name in a way that might actually lead to truth-telling and transformation, that which we claim to desire yet generally don’t. Perhaps the collective “we” simply can’t carry the pain, are just too weary to bear any of the “Other”, can only muster enough strength to crawl to our closets and close the doors. And then, in the darkness, we put our collective hands over our ears and hope that somehow we escape from the ache that appears to flow from without, but most assuredly, is birthed from within. Like a seltzer table in soda, the ache begins with just a few sizzles at first, but pretty soon it erupts with all the force of an exploding volcano.

    Yet, it is only in the telling, in the naming, in the collective sigh, that we might finally know that we do not carry our pain alone. For if I tell my story anything like “right” it becomes your story too and together, somehow, in the naming, we find we are not so alone after all.

    Back in the 90s, for a number of years while serving as a United Methodist missionary, I had the rare privilege and blessing to be the Director of the Robeson County Church and Community Center. The RCC&CC is a ministry that serves the poorest of our nation – black folk and white folk and Indian folk and Hispanic folk. There I walked along side some of the most vulnerable people of our state. Uneducated folks and homeless folks and folks who didn’t know exactly how they would come upon their next meal. And though to serve in such a way was true joy, I also have to say on most days, it was also utterly gut-wrenching.

    For me, what was particularly difficult was trying to assist the many working poor, too wealthy for Medicaid but too poor to afford insurance, those folks who often came into our doors … trying to make decisions between medicine and food, having to decide between clothes for their children or treatment for their diabetes. Theirs was the constant struggle between the reality of their next car payment and that special drug their kid needs for asthma.

    You see, these very real issues of poverty –- food or drugs, house payments or medical bills, time off to care for children or being canned for failing to punch this day’s time-clock — have been part of my existence for a long time. They are America’s story, there in the depths of our communal waters, even while America is too enamored by the myth of its own reflection to see them.

    I have spoken to churches about it. I have written resolutions around it. I have called and cried and begged and sometimes even bullied legislators about it. So, had you said to me a few months ago that I would be telling a story about the utter destruction of lives of people in the margins who are continually crushed by systems that seem to cater to those on the top of the economic heap, I would have thought, “Of course. I have spent the last 15 years immersed in such stories.”

    But I had no idea … none … that I would tell you about Mack and Susan Taylor.

    You see, their home was foreclosed on.

    I guess not such a big deal in a country where hundreds of thousands of homes are in foreclosure …

    Except to say, it is the home where my great-grandparents saw their dreams come true back in the 1920s.

    Except to say, it is the place that with my grandmother and grandfather, we would sit on the warm summer evenings and tell stories about our crazy uncles and aunts and remember where we came from and to whom we belonged.

    Except to say, it is the place where my dad sat out in the swing that he put right down by the little creek that defines the property line, the creek that was certainly created by God for little children … like me, and my children, and now, my children’s children.

    Except to say, it is the home where no matter where my mom turned, she always heard the voice of her mother, felt the touch of her grandmother, and knew, that they really aren’t so far away after all.

    And even though it is an old home that is often drafty in the winter, too hard to heat in the summer, where the paint peels too easily and the old boards creek constantly, nevertheless, it is the place where my parents hoped they would peacefully breathe their last breath.

    But you see, it didn’t happen the way they had hoped … they got sick.

    In America, they got sick. In a system where health care is not a right but a commodity, they got sick. In a place that relies on the sweat of blue collar workers but doesn’t do much for the provision of those same workers once the work has gone out of them, they got sick.

    Even though my father worked his entire adult life as an air-conditioning mechanic … even though he had lousy health-care insurance as do most non-union, blue-collar workers, if they have insurance at all … even though once my dad passed 65 and was eligible for Medicare, when they got sick, the secure life that most of us middle class folks assume, well, it began to unravel.

    At first it was a rare genetic cardiovascular anomaly that my father began to experience in his early 60s, that only was finally diagnosed and properly treated last year at the age of 74. More than a decade of several hospitalizations each year, each time pulling him away from his work … and as all hourly blue-collar workers know, when you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

    Then it was colon cancer for my mother, followed by a brain aneurysm requiring more surgery.

    Well, all to say, the bills began to mount, thousands of dollars of co-pays not covered by lousy insurance, thousands of dollars each year for medicine, cost not captured through Medicare and the seniors drug program, thousands of dollars of expense and the stress of not being able to pay their bills.

    And so, my parents did what thousands of elderly people do with the greatest investment they have — they refinanced their house.

    At first it was okay, at first they were making things work … barely. It took so much struggle. When my father’s peers had long since retired, my dad continued to work — hard work, bone-wearying work, industrial construction work.

    He didn’t grouse. They never complained. He just continued to work. They never even mentioned their dilemma to my sister and me. That is what parents of their generation and their ilk do. They keep quiet and they marshall on.

    But after awhile, with a bad economy, and not enough construction work, my folks came to the place where they could no longer pay for a house that had once-upon-a-time been fully paid for. And so the mortgage company took the house. Primarily because they got sick in America. In a place where health care was not a right but a commodity … and is an issue still in debate by those who believe they never will face such dilemma.

    Of course, it’s an ironic perspective, for my parents never believed they would be in this position. I bet your parents don’t believe it either. And it is almost always somebody’s parents … or children … or neighbors … or friends.

    Yet, no matter how deep the closet we find and no matter how firmly we press our hands to our ears, seemingly, we can’t keep away the horror that will one day surely come.
    The shock of it all moved Mom into such a difficult space, almost to a point of total dysfunction. Likely, it was post traumatic stress, affecting her no less than a road-side bomb deliberately set for catastrophic destruction. We tried to talk to her, tried to assure her that it would all be okay. Tried to shower her with our love, wrap her in our arms, and share with her in the communion of her tears. Yet, she simply wept and kept repeating, “They are taking our home. We should have been able to do better.”
    We tried to gently explain that she and Dad did nothing wrong but simply became sick while living in an insane system created to wreak exactly this destruction. But of course, she could hardly hear it. She still saw it as somehow, “their fault.”

    She wept until she could weep no more and then her body began to fail. It was over in less than three weeks. A week before Christmas my mom died. Jingle bells, jingle bells, the horror had come just in time for Santa Clause.

    But here is the thing … and this is why we must tell our sad stories … one of the things she said to me about a week before her death, there at the beginning of Advent, was this: “Don’t be afraid, it is all okay.” It would seem a ludicrous proclamation considering the depth of our hurt, the foreclosure of a home, and an impending death. Yet, inside the nightmare, inside the place that all of us fear to tread, my mother reminded us that it is only there where we might finally hear the angelic assertion, “Do not fear.”

    And so we tell our stories. Because it is a rendering of hope, if you will. Or perhaps another way to say it would be, “Have faith.” Have faith to see what is not possible. Have faith when there is nowhere else to turn. Have faith that people will love in the midst of hate. Have faith that a kid will have two skull fractures, be assured of death, and then give you a hug six months later.

    Have faith that a prostitute will one day escape the hell of the streets. Have faith that a rich man whose greed consumes his soul will one day escape the prison of possessions that own him. Have faith that a soldier who once killed his enemy might now somehow find himself loving his enemy. Have faith that even in spite of wars and death and disease and violence that children will continue to play and people will still laugh over a good joke. Have faith that in the midst of foreclosure and death … so much loss … there will still be a proclamation of hope and your mom will smile at you and whisper, “Do not fear.”

    Have faith that even though truth-telling will be pulled from the production list, even though the good, scrubbed-up people will forever wonder “why are you always so gloomy,” and even though closets will be full and ears will be plugged, nevertheless, angels will sing in the heavens and proclaim that the promise resides in the most vulnerable, the smallest infant, and the most unseemly point of impossible hilarity. For a poor kid gets born, is laid into a manger, and uneducated shepherds get the message that the world is changed forever. Do not be afraid. It is only God … creatively losing for the hope of us all.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I hope some publisher reading your responses to my musing offers you a book contract.

      I am sorry your parents lost the home of their parents, the home that, were it not for the greed of bankers & Wall Street, would most assuredly still be a legacy for children to come.

      Your family story comes on the news that those who benefitted most from the bail out were those who deserved it least — bankers. Those mortgage people who weasled your parents’ home from them.

      My parents were the first generation to own homes, altho, my father never owned one. Only my mother. The first was that 12 x 60 she bought with the insurance money from daddy’s death. When I was in 10th grade she bought our first real brick and mortar home. She kept upgrading from there, until by the time she retired decades later she was living in a beautiful beachside home.

      The home she had always dreamed of.

      The home that is currently being foreclosed upon.

      She lost her home to illness, too. I supose it’s a heart problem as well but not the sort that a cardiologist can treat. A troubling intruder that stole away into the night and robbed my mother of all that she had worked for since the day my father died.

      Altho ours was not the family homestead of generations past, it was the place where Grandma lived. It’s where she maintained a yard lush with Jackson Perkins roses and hydrangea bushes that would make a queen envious. It was the place where she kept one drawer for cookies and one drawer for candy. A home where she painted bright sailboats and muted English cottages.

      She’s tried to make light of losing it. Acted like it didn’t matter — it was just a house, after all. But that’s just how people talk when something pains, or shames them so badly they can’t speak of it otherwise.

      She moved in with family and lives there yet. She talks of the someday when she can save up enough money to get another trailer. She says that she loved living in that 12×60.

      Our stories don’t often end up the way we hope or plan or think they will, even when all our dreams come true.

      I can’t help but think the reason Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us is because he knew how much home means to each of us.

      • Steve Taylor

        You are kind in your affirmation and I appreciate your generosity. And of course, we write because it is both salve and proclamation. Hoping that maybe in our offerings there is in some small way a bit of movement toward that place of which we so often pray, and at the same time, knowing that in the proclamation, we ourselves find a little healing. Or maybe its just the wild hope that someone along the way will say, “No, you really aren’t THAT crazy.” But then, maybe as my bride is oft to say to me, “It’s not about you.”

        My deep prayers are with you, your family, and your mom. Of course, it’s never just a house, for I can smell the hydrangeas from here. I think with greed, one’s sense of smell must be the first thing to go.

        Pray that we all might inhale a little deeper as we give thanks for prepared places.

        Peace and grace.

      • Steve Taylor

        And finally … this just in … the true insanity of it all. During the second week of September, my dad, who vacated their house and now has been in an apartment for these last 7 months, received an eviction notice to be out of the house by the first week of September. He received the notice after the eviction date. Go figure.

        Worse, he learned that the house for which he and mom were in arrears for about $15,000 was sold for $40,000 less than was owed on it. What does this mean? Well, the mortgage company (about whom 60 Minutes did an investigative report … like everything else, you can probably look it up with Google) would have been $25,000 to the good had they just forgiven the arrearage and renegotiated the loan. The putrid gluttony of greed that never considers the question, “What of the other.”

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          This, I believe, is what Seth Godin would describe as “It’s Broken” meaning the system that continues to do things that make no rationale sense whatsoever but no one takes responsibility for fixing it because “It ain’t my job.”

          Such a pathetically telling story, Steve. I hate it for you and for your dad especially.

  • Debbie W

    Steve – I don’t have any words yet I want to thank you for sharing your story. It is strange how your momma’s words can bring comfort to an aching heart half way around the world – maybe not so strange when they are the words of God. My friend lost her partner and father of her child this week because as you said so powerfully ‘health care is not a right but a commodity’ and this man was an ex marine but failed to have six months active service due to mental health issues – his funeral was yesterday and because my friend wasn’t married to this man his parents took over all the arrangements – they asked the crematorium to not return his ashes – in other words – put them in your trash – and these people claim to be ‘christians’. I cannot comprehend why they did this and my heart breaks for my friend – she has tried to get help for him so hard over the last few months and was turned away many times – those parents of his even said they wanted nothing to do with him. His cause of death turned out to be something to do with his liver, it was treatable. She weeps and I weep with her and their three year old daughter who saw her daddy on a video at the funeral and jumped up calling out to her daddy to see her and come to her. Yet in it all we hear those words ‘Do not be afraid.’

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie: Another heartbreaking story. Why we don’t learn to treat our veterans better is beyond me. Well, no, actually, it’s not.
      Back to that greed issue…
      Prayers for your friend and her sweet daughter. Glad she has you for a friend.

    • Steve Taylor

      Debbie, thank you for your generous spirit. I am sure Mom is overjoyed that she remains able to offer a bit of life. She did … and does … for us. I am so sorry for you and your friend’s tragic loss. As Karen notes, it is a travesty that we fail to care for those whom we send to kill and to die on our behalf. As a fellow citizen, my heart breaks for their suffering. As a veteran, sometimes I feel as if my head will explode at the utter hypocrisy of such a system. In bitter irony, we say we war to defeat evil and in doing so, become the very face of it. I am also saddened for his parents. How deep must be their brokenness to seemingly be so imprisoned by such strident dogmatism. It must be something akin to hell. My prayers are with you all.

      • Debbie W

        Thank you my fellow friends awaiting that place Our Father has prepared. I too pray for the parents – today they got a whole lot worse and I can only assume that they are picking on my friend because their grief is too overwhelming right now she seems to be their distraction.

  • John in PDX

    My compliment to you is I kept it.
    You may think I kept it because I loved the Redhead.
    That is true but she is only part of it. I kept if for all sorts of reasons.
    Job well done!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Okay. It’s official. I’m appointing you president of the fan club. I think there are five people you’ll have to manage.

  • Karen, I read this last night and waited until today to think about how to respond. In terms of sales in comparison to the performance of other books – maybe it hasn’t done so well. But, it doesn’t take a best seller to touch people’s lives. Your books have done that for many. You certainly aren’t a failure as an author.
    In God’s poetry, you may not have a clue what lies in the next stanza.
    I love your work and you’ll always be an inspiration to me no matter how many books you sell. I’m sure there are many people who would agree with me. There are many writers, including me, who have yet to have the satisfaction of having a book published. I can imagine all the hard work and time you put into that project. Sure, it’s got to be a disappointment, but don’t call yourself a looser. You are a great person, true Christian, wonderful writer and are blessed with a gift from God – those are qualities that are worth much more than any sales figures. 🙂

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You are biased. 🙂 I’m okay with that. It’s good to have people in your corner and I’m glad to have you in mine.

      I don’t know what the next line in the poem is but I’m trusting in the Poet.

      I’m also trying to be okay about being a loser. Perhaps we ought to preach the sermon about being losers in Christ, and what that ought to look like in this warp-speed world of ours, heh?

      In fact, I know quite a few losers in Christ. Really fine people. So Eleanor is right — I’m in excellent company.

  • Karen, a really good post. Your transparency regarding this is so important. Others would have let their own embarrassment rule the day. As a result, you have connected with so many of us who know what it is to have experienced some sort of loss and disappointment. Thanks so much.

  • Diane

    Even if I were the ONLY ONE who’d read Where’s Your Jesus Now, that would disqualify you as a loser! Because it touched my heart.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      True and that is why I continue to get in the ring.

  • Pat

    Do I ever feel like a loser. In a word, YES. Particularly recently after what could be seen as a failure at leading something at my church. However, in the midst of my pain and humiliation, God has ministered to me. He has shown me my weak areas which probably led to some of the “failure”. The great thing about God is that with Him there’s redemption. While others may look down on you or harshly criticize you, God shows us our faults and shortcomings and is there to help us along the way. It may be the end of the particular project I was working on, but it’s not THE END. That’s the hope that I have in Christ. In fact, after going through this ordeal, my resolve for ministry has been strengthened and I am determined to pursue some other things that will put me on the road hopefully to full-time ministry. This ordeal that I’ve lived through, I’ve been able to see the greater purpose in it even among the tears and the sorrow. 3 to 4 weeks out from the incident that started everything, I’m feeling stronger and I know that is only because of Christ and the work that He has done in my life. A few years ago, I might still be down in the dumps, vowing never to show my face again. Now, I am resolved to continue and to rise above the fray. In this experience, I’ve learned that being like Christ will mean sometimes going against the fray and being seen as a failure or incompetent. But then in moments here and there, He reassures me either through His still small voice or through the random person that walks by and tells me that I’m their hero and that my deeds do not go unnoticed. Hallelujah!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      It’s hard for us in this country to talk about failure. We are taught Victory in Jesus — we just aren’t taught very well what all that means.

      Thanks, Pat, for sharing your journey with us.

  • Hi Karen,
    I appreciate your writing so I bought your book on Kindle iPhone.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you,Chris. I hope it speaks to you.