The Gospel of Falling Down:
The Beauty of Failure in an Age of Success
by Mark Townsend
Publisher: Circle Books
Release Date: January 12, 2007
From the publisher:
We hear a lot about the gospel of success, whether from Christian or New Age sources. But most of us are more accustomed to failure, or at least not reaching our hopes. Which, surely, is at the heart of the life of Jesus and his message. This book is a radical departure from much of what modern day Christianity (and gurus of all kinds) seem to offer. Rather than seeing Christianity as a group of people trying to change themselves into the ideal, it describes how such a practice is precisely what Jesus came to liberate us from.
“Mark Townsend is a uniquely liminal man and Priest. He is an ordained Christian Priest who received that ordination more than 20 years ago in the Church of England, the largest Christian Church in the UK. Having walked away from the institution that is the C of E he explored Druidry and other Pagan paths, while maintaining his love of Jesus of Nazareth. This might appear to be a contradiction, and for many it would be unacceptable or too contrary – but Mark makes it work.” (Sorita D’Esta – Patheos)
He is definitely not your traditional priest/preacher. He is more of a rebel, one of those more like John Pavlovitz, Father Nathan Monk, or John Roedel – someone who thinks outside the box and isn’t afraid to speak his truth!
Mark is the author of the book “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes”, which is where I first became familiar with his work. He has also written ‘The Path of the Blue Raven’, ‘The Diary of a Heretic’, ‘The Magician’s Tale’, ‘Jesus Outside the Box’ and this – ‘The Gospel of Falling Down’. He says in this book that he has written seven books but this is his best-selling one.
The following excerpt is from the introduction to the new edition. I think you will see why it drew me in so quickly. He is honest! He says what he thinks.
“I’m a mess. I’ve always been a mess. I drop things, break things, get things wrong and screw things up. And I’m not alone. Life is messy. People are messy. We’re born in mess, with blood (and sometimes shit) all over us. And we die in a mess, with tears flowing down upon us from loved ones who are also in a mess. Mess is part of who we are. Mess is an intrinsic part of life on this vast blue planet.
For the first part of my working life I lived as an imperfect and messy priest within a perfection-driven Church. It seemed to have forgotten that its own founder was born, lived and died in mess. I loved the Church, yet simultaneously hated it. I loved the underlying truth its messy First Century Founder taught – that we are loved and held and welcomed as we are. And I loved nothing more than enabling the broken, wounded and crapped upon to re-connect with that truth. But I hated the fact that such things as ‘respectability’, ‘political correctness’ and ‘keeping one’s nose clean’ were so often seen as the hallmarks of a ‘good’ Christian, rather than the ability to see magic in the messiest ones. I often watched tears well up in the eyes of those I talked to about their own inner beauty and acceptance, yet I could not extend that open armed embrace to myself. I ended up hating myself. I’m now 47 and, at long last, have begun to relax and be comfortable with myself – the messy and muddled self that I was always supposed to be. More than that – I’ve started taking risks again, to believe in myself, to trust that failure teaches us as much as success, and that it’s okay to be an occasional fuck up.” (p. 6).
“Consequences follow actions. It’s one of life’s most basic laws. We reap what we sow. This is a major reason why I refuse to hold on to the petty grudges and feelings of hostility towards those who’ve hurt me. Revenge is like drinking rat poison in an effort to kill the damn rodent. Venom, let loose, will only end up poisoning us.” (p. 9). This is a very important life lesson! Like many of us, he had a habit of turning his anger and pain inward. He mentions this when he talks about how he came to leave the church.
“The Gospel of Falling Down is a theme that dominates my life. It is a spiritual journey of three steps forward and two steps back. What I hope for my readers is that they will come to see that the two steps back (the falling) are as important as the three steps forward.” (pp. 18-20)
Chapter 2 contains a parable called “The Broken Thread” about unconditional love that sums up the love of the Christ as well as anything I have ever read. It also portrays the Church’s failure to present the gospel, leaving the poor guilt-ridden soul little chance of finding grace.
We seem to create ‘God’ in the image our self-doubt, lack of self-esteem, guilt, and unworthiness conjures up (as well as what we are preached at by the man behind the pulpit). We need to look back to the Jesus of our childhood we knew before cynicism and religion took over and see a deity of unconditional love once again. I am aware that not everyone grew up with Jesus as a childhood companion but many of us did. The ‘religion’ pounded into us later on was much different than the words and values of the gentle Jesus seen through the eyes of a child.
The gospel is not about success. “So what does he promise us? Unconditional Love and acceptance as we are. God promises us a spiritual home and welcomes us in without having to do anything other than step through the door. We are valued and loved and held without first having to change and seek approval. We are God’s sons and daughters, and do not have to feel like outsiders, as if we do not belong. And this is life! Yes, new life. Or should I say a new experience of life, for it is no longer about the fragile quest of attaining and maintaining sinless perfection, but receiving pure acceptance. It is a way of living that is secure, not because of anything we have done, or have to keep doing, but purely because of Divine love, which is totally dependable.” (p. 52).
“Jesus did not come to bring people success. He did not come to create a successful church. He did not come to make people respectable, or polite or drag them up the social class system. No, Jesus came for almost precisely the opposite reason – to make friends of the failures and the sinners.” (p.56)
“We are beautifully and intricately designed clay jars, fashioned lovingly by a wonderful Creator. Yet, we are also fragile and poor. And from time to time life causes us to splinter and crack……When we fall and splinter and crack, we see our ego, our false self, our little-me, for what it is and sometimes (just sometimes) we are able to let go of it for a while. Then the most profound experience is waiting to hit us. You see, the crack, the fault, the brokenness exposes THE INNER TREASURE AT LAST!!!”(p. 84-85).
“And know this; the treasure is not something that has been suddenly added to our selves, for it was always there. Rather it is our perception that has changed, our ‘inner eyesight’. That’s why people often say spirituality is about ‘seeing’”. (p. 86)
The treasure is found when we hit ‘rock-bottom’. Once you hit the bottom, there is no other way but up. A rock is solid ground and will not collapse. It can be the place of healing. It is not always. That is up to you.
“1) Be radically honest about yourself. See yourself exactly as you are underneath all those hats and masks you wear. And, 2) Know that the real you is loved and held and valued by God, a God who you will find down there in the depths and who will be your strength.” (p. 102) If you do not subscribe to the Christian God, then God in whatever manner you see Him/Her!
In chapter 12, he discusses meditation and using a mantra to quieten the ceaseless flow of thoughts and confusions that buzz incessantly round our minds. This is not specific to any religion or tradition but is used worldwide. It is simple but not always easy. Conquering the monkey mind can be a task. However, slowing your thoughts and your breathing is definitely worth the effort.
He closes with a liturgy which he wrote in which he invokes both the Goddess and the God.
This book is not for everyone. There are those who want nothing to do with anything remotely ‘Christian’. If that is you, then pass it by. However, if you are Christian and see the unconditional love of Jesus as a true gift from God or if you embrace both Jesus and the Goddess, you will like this book. I ordered a paperback copy after getting the Kindle version. I am not ‘Christian’ and have not been since the 80s-90s. I have received a lot of flak in some Pagan circles because I still have a love for the gentle Christ – not the Christ the evangelical Church in America today teaches but the Jesus that Mark Townsend is talking about, the Jesus of my childhood.
About the author:
A former clergyman in the Church of England, Reverend Mark Townsend now leads his own inclusive and ecumenical ministry that nourishes a strong appreciation for the diversity of faith beyond Christianity, and which strives to honor the divine in all people, regardless of their faith, culture, sexuality or background.
A priest of the Open Episcopal Church and member of the Progressive Christian Alliance, in addition to being a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the author has been featured on the BBC and several other news programs throughout Britain. He is the author of The Gospel of Falling Down, and Jesus Outside the Box (O Books). He lives in Hereford, England.
Find out more at: http://www.marktownsendministry.co.uk
Mark in his own words: “I am a member of OBOD and a Progressive / Eclectic Christian Priest. I served within the Church of England for over a decade but now offer myself in a broader and more inclusive way. I have over fifteen years’ experience of creating an performing special ceremonies for people from a variety of spiritual paths and traditions – including many who do not fit within any particular religious ‘box.’”
About the Author:
Katy Ravensong is a practicing green witch in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. She was raised here where she ran barefoot & free. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, voracious reader, crocheter, and amateur herbalist. She glories in the freedom that comes with being a Crone ~ when she is gone, she will not be known as a woman who could keep her mouth shut! She is disabled, yet tries to make disability work for her. She is an advocate for human rights. She is Dean of Wortcunning and Assistant Dean of Natural Philosophy at The Grey School of Wizardry. She has studied with various herbal teachers, with Witch School International, with Avalonian Institute of Metaphysical Arts, and is a priestess with the Sisters of Earthsong, Order of the White Moon. Her poetry has been featured in several publications including ‘Pagan Poetry for the Festivals and Seasons’ by Wyrdwood Publications edited by Edain Duguay, 2008. Her favorite quote is from Emily Dickinson “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”