The Screw

Ten years ago, my grandfather wrote a book called “Do You See What I See? Musings on Life at 83.” In the book are 723 entries; most only a few lines. Each one a perception, interpretation, reaction or comment. Entry number 714 stood out to me this morning, so I share it with you now: 


The Screw. The space shuttle Columbia was on a mission toward the end of 1996. It was an important dress rehearsal for the building of the space station, the first ever for humankind. Among other projects, it called for two space walks. Everything on the ship was ready, the astronauts were excited, their families could not help but be worried, the networks would give prime time to photos of crew members moving freely in space. Suddenly a hatch on the shuttle jammed and could not be opened. After working on it for a while, everyone gave up. The crew could not get out of the shuttle, and even if they were successful, there was the danger that the hatch would jam again upon their getting back to the space craft. The shuttle returned to the Kennedy Space Center after an unfulfilled 18-day mission. What happened to that hatch? A loose quarter-inch screw. The screw fell from its hole and got stuck in the hatch’s gears. Now, how can something so common, so… unassuming, stop a dream? Because life seems to be that way. Everything in both the mechanical and the social world is interrelated. The big depends on the small. There is a role for all things in the structure of the universe. All it takes at times is for a little something to go awry, and the tightly structured building cracks or crumbles. An inconsiderate word can destroy a friendship, a forgotten birthday can throw an intimate relationship into a spin, a refusal to be there for someone can shut down all future communication. A loose screw can stop a space shuttle mission. Oh the power of a quarter-inch screw!
–Dr. Mario A. Benitez, 2009

I think this one sticks out to me because I know that I’ve carried a couple of these little screws around with me…and sprinkled them into the dreams of people around me…jamming up their dreams and best ideas. As a husband, father, pastor, colleague or friend…on my absolute worst days I am capable of toxic pessimism. (I sugarcoat it by calling it realism or pragmatism). I’m pretty good at figuring out why things won’t work. 

“That won’t work”
“Uhh…Screw that”
“Maybe later”
“That’s dumb”

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the sound of my voice…but those words fall heavily on eight and ten-year-old ears when they come from my mouth. To be fair…to myself…those are my worst days. I try to be conscious of my nay-saying, screw-sprinkling attitude with varying degrees of success. 

On the flip-side, on my best days, I am infinitely more hopeful. I’m reminded of a quote by William Sloane Coffin:

“Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”
–William Sloane Coffin

I am good at figuring out why things won’t work, but I’m way better at troubleshooting and solving problems to get something working that isn’t. The best things happening with local missions in our church right now all reflect a concerted effort to meet our neighbors, learn about their dreams, and then say, “Yes.” Thus, I’m becoming aware of the immense power of “Yes” and “No” for either helping or hurting what God is doing in our community. My “Yes” is laced with hope and expectation while my “No” shuts it down…

“Teacher we want to see a sign”
“Teacher, tell your disciples to stop”
“Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

“No” is safe and comfortable. It maintains the status quo and avoids change. “Yes” invites disruption and uncertainty, perhaps the very hallmark of what it is to be a follower of Jesus. So I’m working on being better at saying “Yes,” and crushing fewer of the dreams around me. It’s a work in progress. 

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