Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Parable of the Turnbuckle

Last weekend I joined Santa Barbara Quakers in worship. Before settling into the silence, I gazed around the meeting room with its gracefully arching windows and two skylights. As my eyes swept across the ceiling, they rested on two parallel stay cables poking out of the ceiling. Each had been tightened by its own turnbuckle.

The modest fixtures were essential to holding the building together.

I stopped to ponder the turnbuckles to consider just how they did their job.

Because Quaker meetings often are trying to shore up this or that, I sought to apply to Friends the simple mechanics of the turnbuckle.

The key to the operation of a turnbuckle is that it is tightened by rotating a collar that is threaded on both ends to fit attached threaded screws, which are, in turn, hooked to the cables.

The telling point is this: the threads at one end go in the REVERSE direction as those on the other.

Without the reversal, the turnbuckle wouldn’t pull inward to tighten the cables. Of course the collar needs to be turned in the “right” direction. Turning it the other way loosens the cables.

Friends are notoriously, but thankfully, “threaded” in opposite directions (MANY opposite directions!). If we were all threaded the same way, neither tightening (nor loosening) would happen. We’d just unscrew ourselves, as it were.

So, like the turnbuckle, we are stronger for our “oppositional” threading, just as long as we learn to agree which way to twist our collars.

Sometimes learning requires loosening first before we discover which way to turn to make ourselves stronger, but in the end, together, we get it right.

All of which may sound familiar to those familiar with the old hymn "Simple Gifts"...

"...To turn, turn 'twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right."

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