Complicated simplicity …

Sam-TCgradMy son Samuel graduated from high school this week, and one of his final projects for Drafting 3/Engineering was the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine.

For folks who aren’t old enough to remember, Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist, inventor, and artist who had a quirky sense of humor. Though he won a Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons in 1948 and an annual cartoonist’s award called “The Reuben” is named for him, he is best known for a long-running series of comic cartoons depicting complicated contraptions designed to do simple things — like the self-operating napkin below. Games like “Mouse Trap” were inspired by some of his more zany ideas.

Rube Goldberg Machines aren’t efficient, but the beauty is in the playful complexity. Competitions are held annually in which high school or college students are challenged to come up with the most intricate way they can think of to accomplish an assigned task in a machine no larger than a six foot cube and utilizing at least 20 steps. This year’s winner, a team from Purdue University, contrivedRube-napkin a 75-step method of zipping a zipper, impressive enough to land them a spot on the Jimmy Kimmel show.

Samuel and his partner managed to integrate seven or eight steps in their machine designed to flip a switch, and theirs was one of the few that actually worked. (see it here if you like: RubeGmachine)

I suspect some of us may have used Rube Goldberg’s name in vain when considering how complicated it can be to get things done in church, even fairly simple ones. Baptists have a liking for congregational rule, which generally involves multiple people and sometimes multiple committees, commissions, or ministry teams — plus a church conference or business meeting at the end. The process is not as efficient as having a dictatorial pastor or a small board of elders make all of the decisions, but it involves more people and builds ownership in what’s happening.

I’m not suggesting that we should intentionally make things as complicated as a Rube Goldberg machine, but sometimes the beauty is in the process as multiple people work cooperatively toward the accomplishment of a goal. Perhaps we could have a Baptist competition for the most convoluted process for heating water and filling a baptistery just before use. That could add some interest to worship!

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths.

1 Comment

  1. The greatest authenticity would be accomplished by flying in a container of River Jordan water, but that would be s-o-o-o simple. The better method for convolution and fellowship would be building a pipeline from the River Jordan to the appropriate church. This might take centuries and mega-numbers of committees, commissions, and countless psychiatrists, not to mention theologians.

    Reply

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