Lessons Taught, Lessons Bought

By Julian DeShazier

Growing up, my mother used to always advise me, “Son, better a lesson taught than a lesson bought.” The meaning is plain: mistakes are expensive, and it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make your own. So growing up I learned the easy way from folks that learned the hard way – thru “run-ins”, addictions – I never judged, especially when I learned that some communities are designed by Evil to make these mistakes and pass them down for a guaranteed exploitable working class. No judgment: I just didn’t want to end up like that. Mistakes avoided: Lessons taught.

And then…I went to Morehouse.

You may not know what happens at Morehouse and I won’t tell you here, but the immediate confidence boost mixed with a deep and protracted insecurity in some strange ways. Almost immediately I started making mistakes of epic proportions: my first sermon I ever preached got me banned from preaching (and saved my life!); a relationship went sour, and got me blacklisted from Spelman for a year; plenty of moments where I grew leaps and bounds and paid for it dearly. Mistakes made: Lessons bought.

Pastoring is a little bit of both. There are many mistakes I don’t make because I learned from others that did (names that, if I told them to you, you’d know there are hundreds of years of wisdom and experience I’ve had poured into me). There are some mistakes that would be outright inexcusable for me to repeat; it would be an insult to my elders. So we’ve done well together, and that’s supposed to be the case when you’ve had lessons taught.

And as we’ve moved into new terrain as a faith community, I’ve sure bought some lessons as well…

Like the time one person dragged me behind the woodshed about all this “walking with God.”

Or the time another person warned that I used a phrase that wasn’t sensitive to folks wrestling with body dysmorphia.

Or recently, when in a celebration of women I too flatly turned it into a celebration of “mothers”, which brings its pain and, quite frankly, could be seen as me participating in patriarchy. Now the person bringing it to me knows damn well that’s not my intent, and was glad to hear the cultural reasons I use “mother” so broadly (almost every woman is a mother to me), but they were right: it’s something I have to be sensitive toward in a community that asks people to show up as their authentic selves.

Many, many other lessons bought that I won’t include here. Suffice it to say: 2018 grew me up a great deal, and I’m still healing from the heavy, heavy cost of mistakes made trying to love.

That hits home, doesn’t it? Mistakes made trying to love. Lessons learned trying to do the right thing…Learning that what we have learned – as a behavior – may not be appropriate within whatever particular context. If you use it right, community can be a place that grows you up with speed and grace.

I’m talking about “growing up” now in the Howard Thurman-via-Revelations sense, where “A crown is placed above our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.”

Or it can be a place that turns you more defensive.
Or more bitter.
Or confirms your assumptions about men, or black people, or white people, or rich/poor people, or power, or religion, or whatever thing you-know-that-you-know…

Because we don’t know anything, and a good community can show us how little we know, how inadequate our cultural upbringing was at teaching us everything (was it supposed to do that?), and how ready God is to teach us what it means to be disciples, how to live faithfully, and how to ground our being in curiosity and love.

This week, as Lent begins, think about how you can make room for God in your life to have judgment replaced with curiosity, have bitterness replaced with love, have busyness replaced with care for the self, have anxiety replaced with faithfulness.

Jesus looked at his disciples, after they could not heal in Luke 9 and said, “You faithless and perverse generation.” To his DISCIPLES he said this!!!

Indeed, Jesus. Indeed. Hopefully soon we will all be able to say…

Lesson learned.