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Learn How to Lose

Dear CME Family: For more than 3 months – November, December, January, and now into February – President Donald J. Trump has denied that he lost the 2020 Presidential Election. He has gone to the Courts to fight it, he has lambasted companies that created the voting machines, he has accused persons (quite often in Black areas of large cities) of voting fraud without proof … and he has refused to say, “I lost.” Instead, he kept his base that the election was “stolen from us!” His reward for this refusal – after the January 6th riot at the Capitol – is that he will go into the historical records as a loser and worse than a loser. All he had to say during the week of November 3rd was, “I concede this election.”

Sometimes, my friends, we just, plain lose. We do not win every time, nor should we. Life is a series of lessons of victory, loss, pain, struggle, hilarity, sickness, anguish, detours … and all of them together make our lives richer. Each one brings its lessons that become life’s step ladders.

I remember the detour that I was holding to as if I had been “done wrong” about it. After a few months of Bible study in which I mentioned it two or three times, I was helped when one of the young adults said, “Pastor, when are you going to get over that?” (I am remembering now a speech by Dr. Leonard Sweet, in which he kept saying, “Build a bridge, and get over it!”)

Every loss does not mean a permanently lost case. Sometimes a loss is a temporary detour, saying, “Back to the drawing board.” Sometimes it means, “Find another way.” Sometimes it means, “Be grateful that the loss came now rather than after you had invested more into it.”

My ministry began when I was a teenager, and for several years before and after being admitted on trial, I heard pastor after pastor proclaiming his or her successes as pastor. They told stories of church conference “victories.” After awhile I realized that almost no one ever talked about their losses. Well, I’ll tell you: as a pastor, a presiding elder, and a bishop, I’ve had my losses. There were times when I didn’t “think on my feet” fast enough – and lost. There were times when I presented an issue to be voted upon – and lost the vote. And there times I did not want to present the issue yet, but the politics brought it to a vote anyway, and I had to swallow my pride and accept my loss.

But most losses were not permanent.

Some losses made me stronger, some made me wiser, and some made the “us” of the group stronger because I was able to model through losing what it means to move on despite the loss. I pity the pastor, the lay leader, or anyone else who does not know how to lose. Also, that it seems “strange,” an ill-timed win can also affect us (or feel) like a loss. Imagine! Within 10 years, the CME Church’s cadre of bishops will look almost totally different than we look today! Nine of the church’s present 10 active bishops will be retired within the next 10 years – and there will be an almost totally different College of Bishops! I hear Paul asking in 1 Corinthians: “And who is sufficient for these things?” The summer I worked with Bishop Bertram Doyle, he said (I thought, without provocation), “Brother Reddick, from the time I was admitted on trial to the time I was elected bishop was 25 years. I hope you don’t try to make it one day earlier than I did!” I did not fully grasp what he had said until after being elected a bishop. Then, I understood him better. Some things we are not ready for at the time they are thrust in our hands; though, when they come, we have no choice but to grow into them! (By the way, I was admitted on trial in 1970 and elected bishop in 1998; you can do the math.) Who will be ready to be in that number in 2022? In 2026? In 2030?

Some losses give time to regroup, time to think and re-think, and time and an opening for listening attentively to God. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable!” Without refuting Paul, I will say, “If we win every time we are in a contest, sooner or later we will be – of all persons – among the most miserable!”

November 2020 would have been a good time for President Trump to lick his wounds and begin to highlight his successes of the previous four years. (And, yes, I believe he had many.) Had he spent that time highlighting the positive signs in the economy during his years, naming the new doors he had opened in international relations (though he also had closed many), citing the conservative justices he had nominated who had been confirmed to the federal courts, history would have spoken of him differently. But now, after January 6 – the attack on the Capitol that was the cumulative result of his failing to say or believe he had lost – there will always be a blight on his record, an “asterisk” to say, “but” – “but,” it will say, “he received blame for allegedly inciting an insurrection on the Capitol because he was so angry about losing”; and, by the way, the asterisk also will somehow say, “and he is the only one of 46 Presidents in 232 years to be impeached twice.”

Let’s not let our successes be overwhelmed by an inability to lose with grace. Let us and the good we have done live beyond our losses.

Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick

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