Jesus and Chaos Theory

caravanI used to spend my lunch breaks drinking coffee with a friend who was into all things conspiracy. I’ll never forget the time we saw a van parked across the street from us and he almost jumped out of his seat, “That Dodge Caravan has police lights!” I felt like his revelation was too perceptive to say out loud. Forget about Birmingham PD, the Thought Police were going to pop up and punish us for stumbling upon a heretofore well-kept secret.

In one of our conversations, he tried his best to explain to me quantum physics between sips of espresso and I had to be a maddening student. I ended up nodding very politely and opening my eyes up wide at the right moments to say “Wow!” He was persistent though, and even gave me a DVD that was probably geared toward 1st graders. I almost understood it, but then a ball game came on the T.V. and I was lost forever in a cursed state of ignorance.

But I do remember something about butterflies. They used to be caterpillars, you see, and then, to cut a long story short, they started flapping their wings in China and BOOM! a hurricane in Florida. Other intellectuals will recognize this, of course, as “the butterfly effect.”

ButterflyeffecIf Jesus did his preaching today, I bet he would mention the butterfly effect. Or maybe he would stick with his stories about mustard seeds growing tall and leaven leavening up dough. Either way, Jesus liked to tell stories about really small– seemingly trivial– things making a big difference.

Imagine you showed up here from another planet (a conversation for another day!) and a guy in overalls showed you a seed roughly the size of a grain of sand. “Dig a hole,” he says, “and bury this seed in it.” Would you ever, in your wildest dreams, picture a 20 foot bush that produced fruit?

Or imagine you are an inexperienced cook. You see, I have this friend who is a bit of an amateur. When he cooks biscuits or pancakes he has been known to assume he can freewheel on the ingredients. Out of baking powder? No problem! Use baking soda! Out of yeast? Substitute…corn starch? We just don’t know how important these tiny ingredients are until we are half-way through the recipe and realize that all is lost.

One thing Jesus leaves out of this story in particular, and pretty much all the rest of his stories in general, is a practical application. What are the little things in our lives that produce these little butterfly effects? What are the tiny, unexpected ingredients in our lives that we assume we can substitute, or do without?

But that’s probably the point, after all. If we had a list of the “Top 10 Missing Ingredients” in our spiritual lives, would we be any better off? Probably not. The idea is for us to learn how to think about the little things. They all matter.

It matters how you respond to your wife when she wakes you up in the middle of the night to kill a spider that is sleeping on the other side of the room. It matters how hard you work in the middle of the shift when you just want to tell everybody off and go home. It matters how you speak to your children. It matters how you deal with drivers that are going too slow when you are in a hurry.

Jesus is telling us that, whether we realize it or not, each and every moment carries with it its own possibilities. He is telling us to be alive, to be present, and to be awake in each moment.

Sometimes even well-kept secrets are lying right out in the open.

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