From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
The "butterfly effect" is a term used in "chaos theory" to describe how small changes to what might appear to be unrelated conditions or events can have profound affects on large, complex systems. To illustrate how this might work, imagine a young Jewish girl living in Vienna in 1919 walking to her job just a few blocks away. She notices an odd little man with a mustache selling his paintings on the street corner. One of the paintings reminds her of the little village in the Alps where she grew up. She might have decided to keep walking, but instead she stops to examine the painting and strikes up a conversation with the seller. They discover that they both have a passion for art. Thereafter, the young girl leaves home a little earlier so that she can chat with young artist. At some point, the artist learns that his new friend (who is beginning to be more than just a friend) is a Jew. Like many middle class Austrians, he is predisposed to distrust and dislike Jews. But he finds that many of the stereotypes he held of them are melting away in light of this new friendship. The two young people marry and pursue their dream of opening an art studio.
This tale is entirely fictitious, of course. Yet had this seemingly geopolitically irrelevant romance transpired, the name of Adolph Hitler might have been known only to a small circle of art coinsures in the heart of Vienna. The world might have looked altogether different than it does today-and all because a young woman decided to stop and chat!
We can never know the significance of our actions. Therefore, we probably will never know how many school shootings did not take place because some compassionate adult took the time to befriend and mentor a lonely and troubled teenager. We will never know how many lives did not end tragically in suicide because an ordinary little church was there to provide friendship, support and a listening ear just when it was needed. We may never know how many technological advances have been made, medical breakthroughs occurred or geopolitical conflicts resolved because generous individuals contributed to scholarship funds enabling bright, young people without means to attend college and pursue their dreams. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul urges us "not to be weary in well doing." It often takes just one act of kindness to set a wounded soul on a new trajectory with profound consequences.
During Epiphany we reflect on how one small star-so small it seems that the rest of the world did not even notice it-set the trajectory of the Magi toward an encounter with Jesus. We recall how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us setting the whole world on a new and life-giving trajectory. Jesus calls his disciples, calls us to simple acts of kindness and compassion through which he continues to nudge our world away from its self-destructive course and into the gentle and peaceful reign of God.