During our weekly pizza-movie night, our family watched Apollo 13. It was the first time for the kids, and they loved it all but especially the famous line“failure is not an option.” We talked a bit as a family about how that mindset made it possible for the space flight team to overcome incredible odds and obstacles to bring the three astronauts home. At the same time, the whole of the space program wasn’t possible without countless failures, all of which contributed in various ways to the amazing successes.
In our daily lives it seems that the only real failure has more to do with a lack of engagement, an unwillingness to risk giving all that we have. And perhaps it has something to do with our very human fear of getting it wrong.
I am reminded of something a parishioner said early in my ministry. We were working to revise the children’s chapel liturgy to make it more accessible and meaningful for them. When it came to the creed, he was extremely uncomfortable making any changes. It is, after all, The Creed. He seemed to feel something that was too important to touch for fear, I wonder now, of getting it wrong somehow.
While I certainly appreciate where he was coming from, I come from a little different perspective. I see scripture, the creeds and all of the tradition handed down to us as a wonderful treasure trove filled with the ways in which people in various times and situations sought to make meaning, to make sense of what they had inherited together with the new information available to them in their moment. And now is our moment. We are called, invited, encouraged, to take what has come before together with what we experience and know now and do our best to shape our understanding of God, ourselves, our world and the relationships therein. We may not get it all right, but that isn’t the point. The invitation is to engage, to risk trying and, in the process, to make our own meaning, preferably in community.
In seminary, Vicky Garvey (now at the diocese) taught me several courses in Hebrew. In spite of the fact that I hated languages, I kept taking more courses! One of the best exercises she gave was called dynamic translations. The task was to become very familiar with a passage of scripture and, most especially, the message you think it was trying to convey. Then you found a way to express that message in today’s world, getting the same message across while using current language, imagery and realities. I cannot begin to express the wonder of this experience – not only of going through the process myself, but also in watching others bring to life the scriptures in entirely new ways. I think engaging in the scripture so fully changed all of us profoundly.
A few years ago, musician Isaac Everett and his colleague J. Snodgrass created what I would call a dynamic translation of the creed. I’ve linked here to both the song and the lyrics, if you are curious what they came up with. I’m curious what you would come up with, for the creed or a scripture passage you particularly like or are challenged by. What might be unleashed if we all let go of our need to get it right, of risking failure even, in favor of full engagement with all that has come before, with the world as we know it today, with ourselves and with the Holy One in our midst? Perhaps in this instance, the call to ‘failure is not an option,’ is the call to step out of our comfort zone and into the fullness of life.