Notes from the pastor July 12, 2020
Notes from the pastor ~ “The Tipping Point”
As a youngster, I used to spend a good part of the summer up in Michigan to stay with cousins that lived in the east-central part of that state. My time was split between the farm with my cousins Jack & Andy and the farm with my cousins Bruce and Dale. If memory serves me, we were able to get into the same amount of trouble and cause equal measures of havoc and destruction at both locations, but today I’d like to focus on an incident that happened at Bruce and Dale’s place.
Now, Bruce and Dale were the sons of my dad’s older brother, Ed – although we never knew him by that name. To us, it had always been Uncle Moose. You see, Moose was a big man and had somewhat of a temper to boot, but he was wise to the ways of the world. One thing Uncle Moose understood was that the best way to keep young boys out of trouble was to put them to work; and that is what leads us to this story.
We had no idea how much hay was on that flat-bed trailer, but by today’s reckoning, I’d say there was at least 5 tons. Our job was to put in up in the hay mow inside the barn. There was no machinery, no fancy hoists or forklifts; just boy power. We decided to use the relay system – one of us pulled from the trailer and tossed up to the hay mow, while another tossed it up even further to be stacked onto an already impressive amount of 35 pound bales. We had this stack pushing toward the roof in the back and were starting to wonder if it would all fit when I heard a crack. Now this is a sound that we rarely get to hear in our lifetimes. Everyone knows the sound of a board breaking or even a tree limb, but when a giant barn beam splits in two, it’s a sound you don’t forget. What was most memorable, however, was when I looked up and saw that entire stack of hay bales moving. The upper bales were breaking like the top of a wave and in amongst them was my cousin Bruce doing cartwheels through space. Dale was knocked onto the trailer and I hit the floor. Miraculously, when the dust settled we found Bruce only slightly buried and scuffed up a bit, but not hurt- but there was a problem. We were all thinking the same thing when one of them spoke up, “Boy, dad is gonna be mad. We broke the barn and I’ll bet he’s gonna be real mad.”
Much to our surprise, however, we weren’t in trouble at all. The next thing I remember was my dad and uncle Moose standing in the barn scratching their chins trying to figure out how they were going to fix that broken beam. I’m guessing that it did get fixed eventually. I had to go home and missed out on that project. But I was always a little disappointed that we didn’t get the credit we deserved for breaking the barn. My only solace came in the fact that I got to be there to see it happen.
So, the question is: what was it that broke the barn? Was it the weight of 40+ tons of hay combined with timbers that had aged over the years? Or was it that last bale that we tossed on top of the pile? The answer, obviously, is “all of the above.” Furthermore, there is no way we could have predicted which bale would cause this catastrophe. It would have helped if we had been given some kind of warning, but like so many things in life, when the change came it happened all at once.
In 2000, a man named Malcolm Gladwell came out with a book titled, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” Although his writing borders on the clinical, “The Tipping Point” is (or should be) required reading for anyone who deals with communities of faith. Gladwell summarizes it this way: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” By way of example, think of pet rocks, Sesame Street, Cabbage Patch dolls, or even the Hush Puppies shoes that were all the rage years ago. The point is, there is no way to predict when something might “go viral,” but when it does there is no stopping it. I also found it interesting that among the people throughout history that have had an idea that spread like wildfire, he made a particular mention of John Wesley, writing: “Wesley realized that if you wanted to bring about a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior, a change that would persist and serve as an example to others, you needed to create a community around them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and nurtured.” (page 173)
Another reason I found Gladwell’s book compelling, I guess, is because he often used the word “epidemic” to describe what happens when the tipping point is crossed. He uses the term “epidemic” in a good way here, but in this day and age, the term leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But here’s a thought: what if the church – our church, the entire church – were to speak with one voice and one heart? What if the entire community of believers were to stand as a beacon of light and hope instead of a hodge-podge of denominations constantly at odds with each other and distracted by politics and competition and theology?
Yea, I know – that’s too much to ask. So instead, if we ever aspire to be a force for Christ in this world; if we hope to be that last bale of hay that caused a tipping point, perhaps a return to God’s word might do the trick. And I don’t mean simply finding the perfect verse to make everything magically all better. No, I mean that hearts can be turned and lives can be changed when we take the scriptures seriously.
In today’s reading from Psalm 119, David shows us how it’s done –
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
A light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
That I will follow your righteous laws.
Faith, patience, hope, and love. Let’s make these go viral. Let’s cause these to spread like wildfire. KJ