Glorious Failures!

By Major Chick Yuill –

For the most part the event passed unnoticed by the majority of Americans, but one of the great sporting events of the year took place in England during the month of June. I refer, of course to the European Soccer Championships. My own interest was intense not only because I love the game of soccer, but because the Scottish national team was among the elite nations of Europe who made it through the preliminary rounds to the final stages of the tournament.

I will always be grateful to the program schedulers at ESPN2 for deciding to screen the games live from England. Tell it not in Gath and whisper it not in the streets of Askalon, but for two weeks my entire schedule was arranged around the telecast of the games involving Scotland. I should have known better! We followed our time-honored pattern of playing just well enough to go out of the tournament at an early stage despite a couple of good results. It was another glorious Scottish failure.

My worst moment came one Saturday when I took myself to an English restaurant in Pasadena at the unearthly hour of 6:30 a.m. (remember there’s an eight hour time difference between the Western Territory and the UK) to watch us play our arch rivals the English in the company of 50 or 60 other expatriate Brits. The first half was magnificent. The Scots played as a team, supported each other well, and left the field at the interval to the cheers and songs of their adoring fans. The second half was altogether different. The English, stooping to their usual tricks, used the entirely unfair advantage of having the better players. We lost by two goals.

In a foolish burst of misplaced patriotism I had gone to the restaurant wearing my replica Scottish soccer jersey. It was clear to everyone that I was on the losing side. I had to leave the restaurant to a chorus of cheap jibes from English fans who by this time were relishing their coffee and muffins. “Where’s your Braveheart now?” was the kindest question they put to me. They said other things which no Scotsman should ever have to hear and which are too painful to repeat in print.

But I did not flinch. With my head held high I strode through the jeering crowd. We Scots know how to handle failure: we’ve learned how to be glorious in defeat. In fact, we believe that the ability to handle this kind of adversity is one of the marks of a real man.

Which, you’ll be pleased know, brings me to the point of this article. Some years ago when Commissioner Harry Read became the territorial commander in the UK he encapsulated his entire leadership philosophy in one brief and unforgettable sentence delivered at Officers’ Councils. He said simply, “I give you all permission to fail!” With those few well-chosen words he changed the direction in which the territory was heading and liberated its officers and soldiers.

His words meant that it was all right to take risks. There is a proper caution in the affairs of the Kingdom of God, but there is also a safety first attitude that locks us into a status quo mentality and strands us on an island of anachronistic irrelevance in a changing world. Failure is far more honorable than fossilization!

His words meant that any unhealthy sense of competition among officers was removed. Each man and woman was to be free to be himself or herself, free to attempt something for God without the fear of being hastily judged or harshly assessed if the attempt didn’t work out.

His words meant that a profound change was to take place in the culture of the Army in the UK. No longer was it the task of officers at ground level to learn what headquarters had decided and try to carry out those plans in their setting. The whole thing was turned on its head. Leadership would create the environment in which risks could be taken: officers and soldiers at local level would take the initiative in discovering the challenge of their community, assessing the resources of their corps or center, and working out how the two could be brought together in productive ministry. The result was that soldiers and officers were empowered and forced to recognize that responsibility lies not in someone’s office at THQ or DHQ but with each one of us at the battle’s front.

Commissioner Read was right. It’s worth taking the initiative and taking a risk. Failure isn’t so bad when it comes out of an honest attempt to bring Christ to the people and the people to Christ. And success when it comes–as it surely will–is even more glorious.

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