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Beyond Pagers and Placeholders

When summer comes, I cannot help but think of my first summer as an assistant principal. I remember I was so excited about my new gig that I gave up several weeks of my summer working off-contract cleaning out a couple of supply closets that had only been touched when people needed a place to put something they never planned to use again but didn’t want to throw away…or didn’t want to follow procedure to surplus it. Nothing had ever been thrown out.

I discovered forgotten office supplies such 1.8 million staples, 750K paper clips, and reems of colored paper. I found old files such as receipt books for long-ago field trips, lesson plan books and thousands of tardy slips and doctors excuses for absences, which I boxed up and sent to the county warehouse for shredding. I discovered textbooks that still had the United States with 48 states and considered Shakespeare a modern author; those were sent to curriculum for recycling.

I filled a dumpster full of items that were beyond out-of-date and useless like extra VHS tapes of kindergarten graduations. (1 copy of the 1991 seemed sufficient, not 73.) And towards the bottom of the pile, I discovered a pager that once belonged to the school’s principal. It was a Motorola SkyTel about the size of some current cell phones. I boxed it up and returned it to the Cherokee Technology Department. I imagine they got a laugh out of it just like I did.

My time cleaning out the supply closets was certainly a trip down memory lane. It was sweaty and dusty but also reminded me of just how far we have come. Ditto paper is no longer needed, and chalk and chalkboards are a thing of the past as are those weird-looking things teachers put chalk into draw lines across blackboards for cursive handwriting lessons.

Schools aren’t the only places where things get outdated and folks have a hard time throwing them out and moving on.

When World War II broke out in Europe, all of the major powers had to move quickly to muster their armed forces, and all available weapon systems had to be utilized. In the case of the British Army, this meant re-activating equipment that had not been used since the Boer War in South Africa a half-century earlier. One piece of light artillery in particular had an interesting firing procedure. Per the operating manual, five men were assigned to fire the cannon. But two members of the crew were required to perform an odd ritual. When the piece was loaded and ready to fire, two members of the crew would snap to attention and remain this way until after the cannon launched its round. The artillery officers were baffled by this routine and saw no need for those two men. Finally, a long-retired artillery officer was called in to watch the firing procedure. After watching the crew fire the cannon several times, he exclaimed, “I have it. They are supposed to be holding the horses.”

During the Boer War, horses were still the principal means of transporting artillery and moving it into firing position. This particular light–artillery piece would have required two horses, and therefore two soldiers had to hold the reins of the horses during the firing of the weapon to keep the animals from running off. Horses had long since been phased out, but the five–man crew was left intact. This meant that two of the five men functioned merely as placeholders. (From Jonah Goldberg, “Dan, Done,” National Review, March 28, 2005.)

One of the benefits of the pandemic is that we have been forced to do things differently. Most churches, including ours, went to streaming worship services and now the idea of stopping this service would be counterproductive. We sometimes now have double digits of folks watching our service from places hours and hours away. Committee meetings, Bible Studies, Fellowship Hours, conferences, trainings and more are online or in hybrid models and the process is saving a lot of time, allowing more participation and even saving money!

The challenge for us today is to recognize the areas in which we need to continue change and evolve and grow. And also to recognize those things we need to throw out. We need to determine if we are still utilizing pagers in the era of smart phones or if perhaps we have forgotten resources which might be used to reach folks for Jesus Christ.

We need to discover when we need to stop being “placeholders,” so we can maximize our impact in the world as Christ’s faithful disciples. Change is inevitable. We must move forward with Jesus, lest we lose our true reason for living and end up reaching for the reins of a horse from yesteryear or trying to figure out why the pager in our pocket never beeps.

Wishing you a great week.



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