May 18, 2015

Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

This month the famous biographer of Truman and John Adams, David McCullough, published a biography of the Wright Brothers. I have read earlier biographies of the Wrights and wondered if this book would be a re-plowing of old ground. Instead I found it engaging and enlightening.

Two years before the famous December 17, 1903 airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur Wright gave a speech in Chicago. One scientist called this speech the Book of Genesis of the 20th Century Bible for Aeronautics. Wright said that flying required two qualities. It was helpful to sit on a fence and study birds and other aspects of flying. The other was to build a machine get in and fly it yourself. The latter option is more dangerous but the better method for learning.

How did the Wright Brothers develop an airplane and learn to fly it at the same time? They primarily learned from failure. When something went wrong the Wrights analyzed what happened and made corrections. From this trial and error process they slowly but certainly developed the machine they needed and the skill to operate it.

We Americans don’t do well with failure. Instead of taking the time to learn what is wrong we tend to blame ourselves or others. The emphasis shifts from correcting a problem to condemning a person. Just look at the world of politics. If a president, governor, senator, or representative proposes a new idea, he or she must run for cover because there will quickly be a storm of protest and ridicule. Any small shortcoming in the idea is ample reason to dismiss the whole concept. The result is politicians are locked into the status quo and hide until there is a full blown crisis.

God gave us hearts to love, minds to think, and hands to serve. He wants us to question, experiment, and learn. In baseball a team that loses a third of its games over a season is a great team. A batter who gets a hit only one of three times at home plate is a great hitter. Baseball teaches us to dislike losing but never consider ourselves to be losers. God in his goodness wants us to learn from failings. It may be frustrating or embarrassing, but in the long run failures show us (sometimes the hard way) the paths that God intends. With my love and best wishes, I am,

Your brother in Christ,