This $0.29 clamp cost our ministry $15,000.
The clamp, which had fastened the water line to the back
of A-State Wesley’s ice machine, gave out quietly on a Saturday evening last October. By the time we discovered the failure on Sunday morning, the open line had dumped hundreds of gallons of water into Wesley. Several volunteers pitched in to clean up, attacking the problem with a veritable army of mops, shop vacs, and even repurposed dust pans.
But the damage was done. By the time Wednesday rolled around, we had gutted the building—baseboards, laminate, carpet, cabinets, and half our drywall reduced to a dumpster full of mush and mildew. We lost the space for nearly three months while we made plans and organized work crews. Our community had to meet elsewhere. Our staff worked in chaos.
All because of a half-inch clamp that didn’t hold on quite tightly enough.
This has made me reflect a lot in recent weeks on the impact of little things. I come at it from two perspectives.
One is, for lack of a better word, a destructive perspective. It takes into account the loss that results from little things. A tiny virus invades cells and causes widespread suffering. A penny costs double its value to mint, and adds up to a yearly deficit of $55,000,000 in monetary productoin. A cheap clamp wrecks a campus ministry for an entire semester.
Much of the religious jargon in my part of the world reflects this perspective. “Give the devil an inch and he will become a ruler,” so the bumper sticker has it. Allow for the smallest of sins, and you open yourself up to an avalanche of ruin.
And this perspective is, in a sense, true. But it’s also incomplete.
Another way to consider the little things is from a constructive perspective. Under the right conditions, a tiny seed can grow and bear fruit, from which more seeds emerge. The seed can be a choice, an idea, a kindness, a photograph. The form does not matter so much as the premise: every good thing, from love to life itself, first manifests itself in the smallest of ways.
I think it’s significant that Jesus chooses this second perspective to talk about the kingdom of heaven. He did not shy away from calling out evil, either in individuals or in socio-political structures. But his teachings about God’s great endeavor among us usually focused on the potential held within something small: a healed woman, a recovered coin, a mustard seed.
Here’s another way of looking at our Wesley flood: a $0.29 clamp provided new opportunity. We were (thankfully) insured for the mini-disaster, and so had enough to fix the damage. We found ways to use what space we had left in a more functional way, and we learned that much of what we had in storage really wasn’t worth the space it cost us.
The tiny clamp, which I have cursed with a thousand curses while cutting laminate and grouting tile, gave this generation of Wesley students something no amount of planning could ever provide: a uniting memory. The flood will forever be something that brought us together.
It just goes to show not all tiny things are germs. Some are seeds.