It’s amazing how an odd memory, heretofore stashed away on the forgotten shelf in the closet of things past, can come to light. A mason jar filled with discarded chewing gum is one such memory for me. I’m not sure what brought back the memory, ironically I’ve forgotten the circumstance: maybe stepping on a piece of sun-warmed gum on the sidewalk that then stuck to the sole of my shoe or finding a grandchild’s chewed piece on the back of a bench.
At any rate, I remember, from when I was a child, the mason jar filled with discarded chewing gum being held up in front of the congregation by our pastor, Rev. Nevin Haines. The ladies of the church had done a thorough cleaning of the sanctuary and found stuck to the bottom of the church pews a significant amount of gum. Apparently they decided all the chewed gum should be placed in a jar for the pastor to hold up before the congregation the following Sunday.
Rev. Haines was a soft-spoken, gentle, and kind man, so for him to hold up the jar of gum and speak as a prophet about the disrespectful practice of sticking your chewed gum to the under side of the church pews really made an impact on me. I don’t remember what he said, I just remember him holding up the jar of chewed gum.
I’m sure every kid in the First Congregational Church of Parkersburg, Iowa, who stuck their tasteless used gum under their pew thought little of it at the time, such a small action of seemingly little consequence. Rev. Haines holding up the filled jar and chewing out the chewers of gum undoubtedly re-framed the thinking of a lot of kids that Sunday morning.
The wrongful discarding of chewing gum is a lesson we try to teach kids once they’re old enough to chew, to chew gum that is. It’s a lesson that needs to be applied beyond chewing gum, however, and a lesson for adults too. So much hurt, so many problems, so much sin, starts out as something small and seemingly inconsequential. But, like the effort it took for a number of ladies in the church to be on their knees, bent over, and scraping for a long time at removing all the accumulated gum under the pews, our “little” mistakes, our white lies, or our slip of the tongue does more damage than is realized at the time.
Having spent a lifetime as a pastor working with people who’ve had broken relationships and broken lives, I can testify that major brokenness in the human condition doesn’t usually happen suddenly in one catastrophic event. Brokenness almost always comes on slowly, in bits and pieces, a slipping a little at a time in the wrong direction. It’s a cumulative process, as mentioned in the Song of Songs in the Bible, for instance, of how little things can threaten love between two people like little foxes ruining a vineyard.
Deciding what to do with chewed gum seems to be a small choice, and it is. Still, kids have to learn the proper way to dispose of their used gum. Otherwise they and everyone around them will be “stuck” with their bad choice. The reality is, for all of us, it goes way beyond the choice of how to dispose of used gum!
“Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Song of Songs 2:15