And “the earth was a formless void . . .” [Genesis 1:2a NRSV]. So the story goes, we were created out of nothing – or out of chaos. Now chaos is a fairly popular addition to our understanding of the world, not to describe as a hopeless mess, but as an explanation of the seemingly random and unpredictable. And in popular parlance, it is a theory where minute changes apparently magnify into huge events – and where equally minute actions can prevent them. An example is when in 1972 the meteorologist Edward Lorenz presented a paper, “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wing in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” Apparently he didn’t really answer that question. And through that theory that flap could prevent as well as cause a tornado. But as a result, this image has become an icon for the possible effect of small changes.
In my head this relates to a truth I’ve held for years: we don’t need to do it all to be all things to all people. Ignoring this causes a lot of the angst in the world. It is not our job to fix our neighbor – or our partner or our children. It is not up to us to discover the cure for cancer, make our family “whole,” or rebuild a business, a relationship, a country, the church, or the world. However, the flip side is that we probably have some responsibility for all of the above, and each of us certainly has responsibility for some of it. There are two additional theories that support this.
The first is a personal, although not unique, theory that I call “touch tag evangelism.”* It works very simply. One only need do what one is called to do, what presents itself at any given time, in order to facilitate change. To touch. This can be anything from a late night session expounding the meaning of life to a smile in the grocery store line. Your “touch” can last for the years someone lives in your house to the two-second exchange in the parking lot. And often you don’t even know it happens, but sometimes are given the grace of hearing later that your doing so and so did such and such. And sometimes not. But the chain is there. Someone else lent a hand or an ear. The person read something they “happened” to find or that you recommended. If you discover the cure for cancer, it will be based on the work of those who preceded you, probably accompanied by some accidental (chaotic?) incidents. And through that series of events the world becomes a little more whole.
The second theory is that the world can indeed work and that we can help make it so. Hopelessness is one of the great self-fulfilling prophecies. However it is also a choice to choose to live in hope and to see the wonders of creation. To live in hope can be equally self-fulfilling.
Even if we’re called to run for public office or to finance a great initiative, it is really just, like above, a touch, part of a series of little things that we can all do to nurture creation and community. For me this began as a hundred “how to make the world work” words and phrases on note cards, a series of “if only people” actions that could help and would multiply if done by more than me. Some are specific (smile!). Some are more reflective (be willing to be wrong [even this theory!]). But their importance was highlighted in a throw-away remark at a recent public presentation. As we took our water break at a retreat house with cups and jugs of water, the presenting professor shared that her students refused to use their own cups in class on the theory that what they did didn’t matter.
I’m inviting you to the conversation that it does matter. Let us answer the challenge one touch, one flap of a wing, at a time, and see where they lead. My bet is that together we can change the world. To facilitate this I will be posting about one topic each week. But this is a conversation not a monologue, so responses are encouraged. You can sign up to receive the posts as they appear in the sidebar on the right.
*Since I’m using the word “evangelism,” this clearly came from my church background and experiences. The short version is that God “saves” (if you use that term). People don’t.