Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Butterfly Revolution

The pastor of my church spoke in his sermon today about the "butterfly effect."

You can get into all sorts of complicated and technical discussions in a conversation on this subject. It has to do with the chaos theory, which is not something with which everyone agrees.

But those who subscribe to the theory seem to like it because it appears to be deceptively simple.

In a nutshell, the theory holds that a tiny butterfly, flapping its wings, could have a ripple effect that contributes to a tornado or something that alters the course of events somewhere in the world. The act of flapping the butterfly's wings changes the initial condition and that, in turn, affects everything else.

Sort of a domino effect.

It's no surprise to me, really, that the pastor of my church is drawn to this theory. He does seem to have an affinity for butterflies. In fact, he spoke about them in his sermon last Sunday, then he and the congregation went outside to consecrate the "Celebration Garden," an elaborate columbarium that is being constructed on the church property.

A single butterfly perched on the lectern during the consecration ceremony, then, as the pastor was concluding his remarks, a flock of butterflies seemed to appear out of nowhere and flew through the assembled members. I don't know if he saw them or not, but I have a hunch he wouldn't have been surprised.

After listening to his sermon, I've been wondering if this phenomenon really exists. And, if it does, I wonder, is it possible to catch a glimpse of it as it is happening? Or is it invisible to the naked eye?

For that matter, if this phenomenon exists, does it only apply when bad things happen, like earthquakes or tornadoes? Or does it apply to good things as well?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the butterfly effect is part of the chaos theory. "Chaos" has a negative reputation so perhaps it can only apply when something bad is the outcome.

Then maybe the "butterfly effect" should be renamed "The Butterfly Revolution."

That's the name of a "Lord of the Flies"–esque novel that I read when I was a teenager. And it might be a more appropriate name for a culture that is going through some growing pains on several levels in this era.

Butterflies can form the basis of analogies and parables that are great for pastors.

But when they're applied to the modern world, their chaotic sides may be more appropriate for bats.

So maybe butterflies don't have that much bearing on human events after all.

Or is it possible that maybe things really are that random?

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