Transforming the Tipping Point

Ancient Testimony - Pslam 133

August 08, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Things are always tipping.  And I am not talking about what we do in restaurants.  I am talking about how things change.  They change by adding weight, ounce by ounce.  They change by shifting weight, the way the Chinese women did Tai Chi this morning by the East River.  They shift from side to side, balancing their power with energy in their bodies and energy that calls to their bodies.  Their bodies tip into health over time, by the accumulation of shifted, activated weight and energy.  They direct their energy and tip into health.  Trees fall from the 100th chop at the base of the tree.  The first 99 also had their impact.  But the 100th tips the tree over.  The 100th is not necessarily the most important but it definitely gets a little more notice.  Tipping points happen as weight shifts and rebalances and adds to one side and subtracts from the other.  Tipping points also happen when you create and multiply energy, the way Tai Chi does and the way great movements do.  From a little comes a lot, when energy is activated, and the next thing you know, things change.

Malcolm Gladwell made The Tipping Point a famous idea in his book, and today I’d like to make it a popular one in spiritual terms.  Here is the strategy: we shift our weight.  We shift it ritually, as in Tai Chi, paying attention to how we move and where we focus and what calls us, internally and externally.  We shift weight politically, by the emails we send and the noise we make, by what we affirm and what we protest.  We create energy by digging deep for it, in ourselves and in each other.  We create energy by making sure we aren’t wasting it on what Martin Luther so famously called adiaphora, the non-essentials, and refocusing on the essential.  Energy is diluted when adiaphora is our day.  Energy is concentrated, expanded, and multiplied when we focus on essentials.

We tip psychologically by the 80th or 8th therapy session.  For some of us it is the 888th session—but truthfully, if you haven’t tipped by then it is usually time for a new therapist.  As one of you said this week, “It only took a week in AA for the albatross to fall off into the sea.” I loved the language.  An albatross falls into the sea.  There is a tip into freedom.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all tip in a week and become who we wanted to be with a snap of the finger?  Remember the way Marian the Librarian sang, “There were bells on the hills, and I never heard them ringing.  No, I never heard them at all, till there was you.”  She tipped into joy.  It happens, but more likely the albatross will need 100 whacks before it is pushed into the sea.

Consider the Supreme Court.  There are now three women on the Supreme Court of the United States.  I have to admit that I never thought I’d see the day.  And here it is.  Note also that the Supreme Court no longer has any Protestants on it.  It is 100 % Jewish and Catholic, completing a kind of historical cycle for our own movements.  We no longer own the public square.  We have tipped into a minority religious movement in the nation that we founded.

The Open and Affirming Movement in the United Church of Christ tipped us from open to affirming.  It was a tipping point, saying that tolerance was not enough and that affirmation was much more Godly than tolerance.

Many argue that the biggest underground action today is not climate change or health care or the great recession, considerable as each is, but instead it is the steady tip of the nation toward majority minority status.  What does that mean?  That by mid-century, if not much earlier, we will no longer be a white majority nation, but instead a multicolored nation with white people in the minority and a rainbow in the majority.  This tipping point is coming—as Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, seems to know way too well—slowly, steadily, every time a minority individual or family has more babies than white folk do.  I love the idea of the tipping point coming by way of sexual unions and their fleeting, if magnificent, joy. 

I bring up Senator Graham because he apparently is so frightened of the tipping point, although not in so many words, that he wants to change the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Now the Constitution has been amended before, with good results; so I am not opposed to amendments to the Constitution.  But Senator Graham wants to scrap birthright citizenship.  Why would he want to do that?  Apparently he is concerned about the magnificently shifting of the population and doesn’t want things to tip any more than they have already tipped.

Personally, I look forward to the day when the nation tips.  I look forward to the picture of the tip baby on the front page of the New York Times, with yellow or brown or black skin.  While I am not a big fan of large families or population explosion—I actually think a couple of kids per family is a better idea than more—I am also aware that such considerations are actually none of my business.  Still and all, I like the idea of a more colorful nation.  I am excited about being a minority.  As I have said before, I just hope that the majority minority nation will treat white folk better than we have treated those we call “them.”

To manage all the other issues that face us—the economy and the climate, immigration and health care—I think we need a serious advocacy of the great tip.  I want to start an open and affirming program for the great tip.  I want nothing to do with Senator Graham’s dangerous fears.  His is the stop history approach, the arteriolosclerotic heart of a once great nation.  Arteriolosclerosis: the hardening of the arteries; the loss of elasticity; the rigidifying; and eventually the heart disease, followed by the heart attack, followed by the premature death.  The making sure that everything stays just the way it is and worrying your way into ill health.  Arteriolosclerosis is a spiritual and political disease as well as a physical one.  If we had an open and affirming project for the great tip, we would be whacking away at the racism and xenophobia that still threaten to destroy our great nation.  We would say there is a great future that is coming and that we want to see it soon.

I would like a similar open and affirming program for Muslim-Americans.  The flap about the Cordoba Institute is breaking my heart.  Then the news arrived that on Friday so-called Christians were demonstrating outside a mosque, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with placards that read “Jesus hates Muslims” and “Islam Is a Lie.”  A similar thing happened in Virginia.  Why would people think that Jesus was a part of such hate?  Apparently heart disease is very widespread in our nation.

You will want to know the particulars of this open and affirming program for the great tipping point of race and religion in the United States.  It would start with how we raise children.  A friend of mine told me that she tried to talk a young mother in a store out of buying kneepads for her toddler.  Yup, knee pads for toddlers.  Again, I think my friend was being pretty nosy, that it was really none of her business that the mother wanted to protect the child’s knees while the child was crawling.  But nevertheless, I think we have to prepare our children for the great adventure that is coming their way.  We may even have to teach them how to enjoy struggle and scraped knees. 

The program would continue with how we wore our bras.  We would not always fit into them all the time.  I don’t know if you read Aarti Shahani’s poem in the meditation portion of the bulletin, but in it you will see that she is worried about not fitting in.  We would help each other conform less, fit in less.  Don’t let me tell you stories from my high school reunion last weekend.  They are just too scary.  We all wanted to fit in so much that we had to have tables dedicated to approved subjects, like Knees and Knee Surgery, and Florida Real Estate.  Americans want to fit in.  As the great tip comes, we will not find that as easy as we do now.  Or at least we’ll have to talk about bikinis, bras, and burkas, knees and real estate, across racial and religious lines.  High schools will have to help.  There will be fewer approved subjects.

We will have to learn how to truly network.  I love that word, actually; work the net.  There is a wonderful book by Ronald Burt titled Neighbor Networks: Competitive Advantage Local and Personal.  In that book, he argues that networking is good for personal and social profit, for sure, but that its real advantage is that you hang out with varied people and in doing so you learn how to talk.  You get smarter.  You learn how to wiggle your arguments with a little more rhythm.  You learn what other people are thinking and how they think it.  Bill McKibben, the great environmentalist, swears that the only way through the climate change catastrophe—by the way, he says that the planet has already had a heart attack—is to maximize our skills of neighborliness in a great program of relocalization.  He also says we have to do it quickly and elegantly, or we won’t survive.  I love the idea of relocalization coming in along with the great open and affirming program for a more global America. 

Another way to talk about what Burt is arguing for in networking comes to us from music, and here I want to shift to that great subject and back to the text.  The biblical text tells us there is music playing and that we just can’t hear it.  The unheard flute is the core of our problem.  It is the core of Lindsey Graham’s problem with so-called “anchor babies,” as though people who worked all day didn’t get in bed at night and make love and have children.  They don’t do that to anchor themselves.  They do it for the fun and the flute of it.  Anyway, musicians tell us that multiple meter is the heart of good jazz or good soul or good gospel.  Multiple meter.  When we tip, we have a chance at even more multiple meter than we already do here in New York City, what some call the African Atlantic.  I was at a great dance party on Friday night.  What I noticed was not just the multiple meters in the music but the fact that the really good dancers were moving different body parts differently.  Me, I had all I could do to get my feet and hands in rhythmic motions.  Other people there were moving their hips one way and their waists another way and their right leg and left leg differently at the same time.  Multiple meter.  I look forward to the tipping point because I think it will multiply meters.  I may still be dancing the lindy or the shag, but it won’t be the only dance out there. 

So how do we who are white pick up a hearing aid?  How do we admit that we don’t hear that well?  How do we admit that we may have a little hardening of the arteries of the heart and that we may need a balloon angioplasty of the soul?

We change the dial on our radio station.  We learn to listen to the flutes that are playing.  When we use our Pandora, we don’t just get stuck on one selection.  We put on our hearing aids and listen deep for the mambo or the tango or the hip-hop.  We also turn off the right-wing noise machines.  They are not good for our hearts.  They steal our elasticity.  They make us rigid.  They harden our hearts.  We also incline our ears.  That great language from the Psalms, where we pray that God will incline God’s ear to us and grant us great peace, becomes our own.  We incline our ears.

The news came this morning that Tony Judt had died on Friday.  Our great neighbor, whom some of you knew, was one of the most articulate people on the left.  He showed us something amazing, which is that you can be very sick with Lou Gehrig’s disease and still contribute.  This last point is in his honor.  Maybe you have serious heart disease.  Maybe pieces of your heart are already in such shape that you are just not that excited about any more tipping points.  Been there, done that.  If so, it could be that your contribution to the great tip is to just enjoy it.  Just listen to the great song of the Silk Road of the Spirit, just listen to the world’s heartbeat in your ears.  You don’t have to do anything but shift your energy toward the good music.  Just a little shift.  I only beg you, no matter how broken your heart, not to hate, not to fear, not to get in the way of the goodness that is coming and the flute that is playing.  In certain funny ways, the more heart disease you have, the easier it is for you to relocalize.  There are bells, all around.  Be careful that you hear them ringing.  I had a member in Riverhead who lived her last twenty years in a nursing home, using her arthritic fingers to dance to the music she could still remember.

Listen a minute.  It was the morning after Spain won the World Cup, 1 - 0.  And my son Jacob’s Boston team came in 5th in the World’s Frisbee Tournament in Prague.  I was in a very Pentecostal mood—difference all around, even some Germans yelling at a woman who came off a train with a big Spanish flag, which she waved in their faces.  Then there was 92-year-old Mandela’s face smiling, even with all the vuvuzela music in the background, on the big screen.  We had watched the earlier World Cup games from Jan Huss Square in Prague.  So funny, no Protestants on the Supreme Court and Jan Huss, a great early Protestant, in the middle of the Prague Square.

We were to take three trains, from Prague to Barcelona.  Jacob warned us the European trains were often late but we found that incomprehensible.  Indeed, the train was late and we missed our connections.  We were in Basel, which is one city in two countries.  The “service” man, representing the Grand European Lines, did not speak English.  The conductor had told us to get off in Basel, Switzerland, to change our arrangements.  The Swiss Basel people told us to go back to the German Basel people because of where our ticket had been officiated.  And that is why on the day of the World Cup, after the World’s Frisbee Tournament, we had to cross the river at Basel four times, carrying the lunch I had bought on the Swiss side all four ways.  You never want to miss a meal. 

Tipping points take you back and forth.  They shift your weight, then they shift you again.  Tipping points are wonderful, even when the train is late.  No matter what, though, don’t miss your connections.  Their web, their net, their neighbor-ness will keep you well.  They will tip you into health and joy.

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