A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Butterfly Effect, Rumors and Community

I am fascinated by the idea of the Butterfly Effect.  According to this idea, first presented by Edward Lorenz, the flap of a butterfly's wings could alter conditions in the weather pattern and could eventually bring about effects as large and as far away as a tornado on the other side of the earth.  This could be an argument against cynicism.  If a butterfly's wings can have such an impact, what effects could our small acts of kindness have?

Unfortunately this also applies in a more negative way: we don't know what effects our negative words and actions can have.  Several times recently rumors have caused stress, hurt, and anger for people whom I care about.  This is a tricky topic.  Gossip is so easily spread that even talking about the topic I risk spreading it.  (I can just hear it now, "Do you know what rumors she is talking about?" "I bet she is talking about....")  So, I will leave it at a reminder that we do not know the effects rumors can have.  I can not think about this topic without thinking of the  Lost and Found song: Heard.  Check out the link.  It's worth a chuckle.

Community is another example of a place the Butterfly Effect is sometimes illustrated.  The community of which I am currently a part is gifted in the fact that many young people choose to return to this community to raise their families.  This helps the enrollment numbers at our schools, helps keep our churches alive, and helps our businesses stay in business.  It is very important to a community that its children want to return.  My husband grew up in this community and wanted to return.  Some of the experiences he told me about, as we made plans for our future, were instances of neighbor helping neighbor.  These small acts of kindness have effects that extend into our schools, businesses, and throughout our communities.  Likewise when conflict rocks a community the effects may be felt for years to come.

It is easy to become cynical in our day and age when we are bombarded with images of tragedy, political corruption, violence, poverty, etc.  Just as the wings of a butterfly could effect the trajectory of a tornado, so our small acts of kindness, our small acts of courage, our small acts of forgiveness and humility could make a tremendous difference in ways we may never know.  Scripture tells us similarly, "'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?...'  And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these ...you did it to me.'" (a portion of Matthew 25:37-40)


Cristina said...

Hi Sheri, I've greatly enjoyed reading your blogs. Thanks for sharing. I am blessed to get to know a deeper side of you that our brief interactions have not given expression to.

The butterfly effect is near and dear to my heart and mind. It was integral in my meteorological training, that the flap of a butterfly's wings could affect the weather on the other side of the world. Weather is a non-linear system (or system of systems). We scientists and meteorologists use the non-linear Equations of Motion to try to better forecast the weather. With those equations (through complex computer models), we can predict with some degree of accuracy what the weather will do in the near future when the butterflies' effects are smallish. But as they grow, the forecast becomes harder to predict with all the infinite possibilities, some very different from others. To me the Butterfly Effect is good example of God: both in the order of the equations and the disorder (non-linearity) of the butterfly's flap.

I had breakfast and conversation with Ed Lorenz several years ago - a highlight in my life. I still treasure his book on my shelf.

Relating this also brings to mind an afternoon that I was standing in a wide-open field of the Texas panhandle watching a thunderstorm supercell churn into an awesome tower of energy, cloud, precipitation, wind and tornado above the plain. As my colleague/professor and I stood in awe, soaking it in with all our senses (and camera, recorders, instruments and computers), he said, How can anyone see this incredible display of nature and believe there is a god? I replied, How can anyone see this and not believe there is a God?

I am grateful for the Butterfly Effect and that our lives, world, weather and faith still hold some mystery. And as you say, that small acts of kindness might have significant effects far down the road, beyond our attempts at forecasting, in ways we’ll probably never know.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Cristina, how terrific to have had a chance to actually speak to Ed Lorenz! Thanks for speaking to the scientific/meteorology of the Butterfly Effect. I don't have the expertise in that area and so just briefly summarized a bit of what I know. It is good to have a better framework for all of that. It is indeed wonderful that God is both steadfast and surprising. Thanks for your comments!