Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of Pretty Much Everything

Most social movements, most bureaucratic structures, most utopias, and most dreams are doomed. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream and try to build things. There is beauty in the ashes, especially if we figure out how polyphony works and how moments of passing discord contribute to the ultimate harmony.

We could do worse than trying to learn from William Byrd. He lived in a moment of great religious discord–Protestants and Catholics were killing each other everywhere, and the choice of whether to set music in English or in Latin was open to potentially dangerous political interpretation. He set this piece both in Latin and in English–a reminder, perhaps, that Zion is always under siege from all sides, often from those who believe they are her most ardent defenders.


  1. Lovely, Kristine.

  2. one keeps reading in hope of finding a bit of sweet reason from you, Kristine.

  3. When I had been a long-time lurker and my favorite posts were from you, when my friends frequented upon the site and saw your name they said they thought “Kristine” was me. In my dreams. I’m most impressed by how you say so much in so few words. Thanks.

  4. Hope and despair. Frustration and persevering. Humanity and divinity. Mortal and eternal frames of reference. Indeed, I hope “there is beauty in the ashes!” You capture it all perfectly and beautifully. Thank you!

  5. Well said, Kristine!

    The inevitable failure of just about everything is solid Christian doctrine, I think. We’re fallen, natural creatures; we look through dark glasses at the world; sin is pretty much unavoidable even in our best and purest actions. I tend to believe that holding on to this fact is an essential guard against pride, against believing that we need to strategize and maximize and prioritize–using our own educations and resources and rational judgment, of course–so as to work towards those successes which we deem most attainable. The point isn’t, I think, that we shouldn’t ever do any of those things; the point is that we ought to stay conscious of our doing of those things will always, ultimately, be in vain, and be chastened accordingly.

  6. This is marvelous, Kristine! BCC is starting to go all early modern, which is of course fine by me.

    “Zion is always under siege from all sides, even from those who think of themselves as her most ardent defenders.” I like this. The perceived need to defend derives from fear, when it’s better to love. Tomorrow in Sunday School we’ll be discussing Moses 7, which contains for me the most potent scripture about God’s love, where God weeps over the failures of his children, and where the earth weeps over the damage done by her children. I think that Zion (and Moses 7 is the preeminent chapter on Zion) involves opening oneself up to witness and take in the full scope of human experience, not closing up in defensiveness. That’s going to hurt, but compassion on that level shakes the eternities. William Byrd had all sorts of cause to fear, as you point out, and prudence might have dictated hiding his talent in a napkin instead of risking exposure and failure. Thank goodness he had the courage to write his music! Maybe Zion means risking vulnerability and love even though we know we’ll fail.

  7. Thanks for this, Kristine.

    “Bow thine ear, O Lord, and hear us:
    Let thine anger cease from us.
    Sion is wasted and brought low,
    Jerusalem desolate and void.”

  8. Jason: ” Maybe Zion means risking vulnerability and love even though we know we’ll fail.” Yes! That’s the Christian hope for redemption, and for Zion–the utopia we can’t build, the love we can’t express, the peace we cannot maintain, even though by grace we are called to do just that anyway–right there. Excellent comment.

  9. Thanks, Russell; your own comment is a beautiful extension of what I was trying to express. And now that my wife has helped me connect the dots laid out in the title of the OP (Nate Oman’s T&S post and Kate Kelly’s response at FMH–I got distracted by all the love for William Byrd), I feel yet more urgency behind this need for an all-inclusive love.

  10. A good reminder that most of what we do and care about is transient. Since our time and influence is limited we ought to be judicious when thinking about what to devote ourselves to. William Byrd obviously acquitted himself well. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I will never tire of listening to this. A great Lenten anthem.

  12. I printed out a PDF of the music I found online (yes, I know it’s geeky) so I could follow “Bow thine ear.” It was wonderful, and I got lost anyway. How applicable.

    I keep mustering up to fight entropy, even though I know I’ll lose in the end. My only slim hope is that somehow, the Lord can make it right. The best I can say is that sometimes when I muster up, I hone my struggling skills. Other times, it’s a spectacular failure.

  13. Neal Kramer says:

    Preparing the Sunday School lesson on Zion for tomorrow. Any advice for what I should leave out? Include?

  14. Me, too, Neal! We’re bound to fail no matter what we try, but I’ll be using Cain as an example of how we too often are (minus the murder, of course, but in his reactions to God and his brother) and Enoch as an example of that toward which we ought to be striving. So jumping back and forth between the two accounts. I’ll end class by having everyone get up and say peace to their neighbors, as happens in liturgical churches. I’ve always loved that part of the service and the spirit of love and unity that it fosters.

  15. I would be ungrateful today if I didn’t stand and bear my testimony of this post. . . thank you, Kristine. God bless.

  16. Freaking awesome! Hope you don’t tire of hearing it.

  17. Olde Skool says:

    Thank you for the long view. Thank you more for the compassionate view.

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