Discovering How Not to Make a Lightbulb (or a Church)

My colleague Gautam Rao created posters for this past year's year-long series of events at Butler University centered around the theme of risk. Here is one of them, plus a second item he made explaining the inspiration for the first:

The quote from Thimas Edison, that he had not failed over the years, he had successfully identified ways that would not achieve the creation of a lightbulb, conveys the connection between risk and innovation.

If we think about the history of Christianity, or of anything else, it is both understandable and disappointing to think about the resistance to change and risk that is ever so common. Jesus talking about the imminent dawn of the kingdom of God involved risk. Paul arguing for opening the people of God to Gentiles involved risk. Conserving the willingness to take such risks, to cross boundaries and end enmity, is a good thing. But too often we forget that the things we conserve, if they are worth conserving, were first achieved through risk. And we cannot effectively preserve the positive legacy of past risk-takers without taking risks ourselves.

And so perhaps it would be interesting to reflect in the comments section on what we (whether as Christians, or as whatever else readers happen to self-identify as) have learned about how not to be the church (or whatever else). I think we reflect on such lessons from experience far too infrequently, so much so that sometimes it would take but a little reflection to realize that what we have learned about how not to be followers of Jesus is precisely what we continue to do even so.


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  • gautam

    You’re the best, James! Thanks!