There are little things that can make a big difference. That is the gist of the sub-title of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, “Tipping Point.” As Gladwell points out, it is the context, the people, the nature of the thing itself, and other factors, which contribute to a tipping point. Merriam-Webster defines “tipping point” as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.”
Remember Hush Puppy shoes? First introduced to the marketplace in 1958, the line of shoes enjoyed some success, but by the early 1990s sales were down to 30,000 pairs a year and the shoes were only sold in backwoods outlets and small-town family stores. The company was thinking of shutting down production. But suddenly in late 1995 everything changed. Sales orders were coming in from New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; by the end of 1996 sales were up to 430,000 pairs. Today, shoes in the Hush Puppy family are sold in 120 countries and sales are in the millions and millions. What changed? It seems that a tipping point was reached. The shoe brand now seemed unstoppable.
I admit a degree of fascination about the topic, so use of the phrase “tipping point” catches my eye. The term seems a bit ubiquitous in the media these days. The term can be overused, but perhaps it rises to the occasion in key moments. Several articles have wondered if Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, On the Care of Our Common Home, represents a tipping point moment in world awareness of climate change and the human responsibilities associated with the planet and the poor. Was the financial crisis in Greece the tipping point for European Common Union?
More recently, newspapers proclaim that the shooting of “Cecil the Lion” has brought animal rights activism to a tipping point. Pro-Life advocates hope that a tipping point will be brought about with the recent series of videos revealing conversations, recorded covertly by pro-life activists posing as fetal organ buyers, in which officials from Planned Parenthood discuss the procedures for extracting organs intact during an abortion and
the prices they command. Will the shootings in the Charleston AME Church be the tipping point in which the battle flag of the confederacy retreats from public use?
In a recent op-ed piece, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, wrote about the moral reluctance of citizens when faced with the disturbance of order and what makes a civilized society. Douthat is writing about the Planned Parenthood videos and the reaction from people in the street. He offers that there is reluctance on the part of every person to acknowledge information that impinges upon the comfort zone of our lives.
This has all lead me to muse about tipping points, reluctance, our sense of order, and the life in faith. Every corporate leader wants to reach a Hush Puppy-like tipping point. But there isn’t a formula for it. Every pastor wants his parish to reach a tipping point where our faith pours out the front doors of the church into our own lives and the lives of the community. There isn’t a formula. But I think there are barriers. Is there a reluctance to bring our faith outside into the world because we are concerned it will disturb the peace at our dinner tables and places of work? Is there a reluctance to risk more of what little time we have during any given week? I could continue to speculate, but how would you answer: what keeps you from your personal faith tipping point? What is keeping the Holy Spirit from taking you beyond the current order of your life to a significant and unstoppable change? It is often the little things that can make a big difference.