Tortoise or Hare
Does the phenomenon of change occur slowly or rapidly? Some societal trends are mercurial and insignificant, but those changes in moral attitudes that stick are of particular interest – a matter of conscience. To use the parlance of the day, any Christian would judge the 1960s as a mixed bag. It was a time of great moral upheaval, doubt, questioning, and insecurity. In the lives of many, it led to indifference and self-centeredness; it also brought important issues such as civil rights, war and peace, and equal opportunity to a head. Within the brief space of a decade, important figures rose and fell, and momentous changes occurred. Other changes – particularly in ecology – have taken centuries to occur. Today we debate over the stresses placed on our planet because of the industrial revolution, population growth, deforestation, over-fishing, and countless other manmade and natural occurrences. Judging the effects of human activity to be either progress or degradation rests on the moral character of the judge. Will the seed of that judgment bear a rapid or a delayed harvest?
In his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell posited the theory that change is rapid. He enumerates a number of elements that facilitate change. The idea is that small changes can have big effects. The change itself must be "contagious" and must be presented in a way that contains a "stickiness" factor. The rules of this rapid process of change in society incorporate ideas such as: The Law of the Few: individuals who are categorized as connectors, mavens, and salesmen. In general, these persons not only know many people, but also the right people – people who can spread the news and influence others. Then, there is the aforementioned Stickiness Factor: the change possesses the capacity of connecting to— or being accepted by many others. The final rule is called the Power of Context: The element of change occurs in an atmosphere that is sensitive to a set of conditions and circumstances ripe for welcoming that change.
A carcass, reclining sleep-like on a grassy South African plain, gives graphic evidence of the fate of an endangered species – the Black Rhinoceros. Two oozing wounds on top of the rhino's face testified to the work of the poacher's machete. The prize was the larger and the shorter horns that certain Asian cultures valued as a powerful medicinal ingredient. Although there is no data supporting any medical benefit, the immense amount of money willingly paid for these horns that are believed to be possessed of some magical quality made the risk/reward ratio highly favorable. Against the fiendish acts of the poacher stand government wildlife agents and animal rights activists. The stakes for the rhinoceros are high: survival or extinction. This is a story often repeated over the years. The movement of the machinery of moral change regarding these animals has been phlegmatic – the promise of riches gumming-up the works. But the struggle to save these beasts goes on, yet here the pace of the tortoise reigns.
The ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened over a few years. Were Gladwell's requisites for change present? The New Testament presents the momentous tipping point of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ has arisen and the event is meant to change the lives of all humanity. First, the lives of the apostles and other disciples are rapidly changed. The events of Pentecost would launch that change into the world. The "Good News" had all the "stickiness factor" one could ever hope for through the anticipation of the Messiah in the Jewish world and the vapid and variable deities of the pagan world. Saint Paul, Saint Peter, and innumerable other followers of Christ filled the ranks of connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Contrarily, the deep, authentic devotion to living the Christian life has yet to take effect universally. Historically, the promises of Christ are quickly and enthusiastically received (hare), but the interior transformation and the moral witness of the faithful are sluggish (tortoise).
The response to the events of Jesus' life, death, and Resurrection are a testament to the vicissitudes of human nature. Jesus' sacrifice for the sins of mankind and his gift of eternal life for his beloved humanity is constant and everlasting. Whether the tortoise or the hare, all of us must respond to the power of Easter with a profound and all-encompassing change.
May the grace and blessings of the Risen Lord live within us. Have a blessed Easter!