When God Threw His Wallet on the Table

Jess Perry, from a caricature by Vulcan’s graphic artist, Carol Carr, in the 1970’s.

One of the many “characters” in Vulcan’s long (144 year) history was Jesse H. Perry, Vulcan’s senior field service representative right up until his sudden deathAs I mention elsewhere, it took a very special kind of person to do what Jess did.  Construction is a high risk activity, and that’s especially true with offshore construction; as one recent published technical paper notes, “Offshore pile driving is a high-risk activity as delays can be financially punitive.

This was especially true in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the capabilities of oil companies, contractors and equipment suppliers were being stretched as the demands of the work outstripped the capabilities of existing technology.  Vulcan had its learning curve with its early offshore hammers, a learning curve which led to some hot confrontations between contractor and manufacturer.  In one of those Jess finally had enough, threw his wallet on the table and told the contractor that he’d bet the contents that the hammer would work.  (It did, I’m not aware that Jess ever lost his wallet in such a wager.)

Ingram personnel and equipment picking up their Vulcan 040, 1967. Note the absence of cables; the column keys were ultimately unable to withstand the punishment of the offshore environment and were superseded by cables, part of Vulcan’s learning curve offshore.

If there’s one thing that bothers me about the time I live in, it’s how people, for the most part, are so risk averse.  And I’d be the first to admit that minimizing risk is important.  One of the reasons why Vulcan hammers, some 120 years and more old, are still in use is because they minimize the risk of the hammer not starting and running on the job.  But there are times when one has to “throw one’s wallet on the table” (digital now) to move things forward.

But we’re not the only ones doing the wallet throwing…

Another characteristic of our time is our propensity for things to always go well and for those around us–including God–to make that happen.  It wasn’t always that way.  In the ancient world, the gods of Olympus, for example, were immortal and powerful but could be downright mean when they took a notion.  The Roman historian Tacitus noted that “…the gods care not for our safety, but for our punishment.” (Histories, I, 3)  Educated people lost faith in these gods, preferring to varying degrees a more aloof god separated from the condition of the material world.

RELCR003It was thus a surprise when Jesus Christ came into the world as a baby.  The shepherds were probably a more receptive audience to the message of “Glory to God on high, And on earth peace among men in whom he finds pleasure.” (Luke 2:14 TCNT)  God had offered an improved condition before, but I leave it to the great Bossuet to document the results of that.  Once again, however, God had taken a risk–thrown his wallet on the table, in a sense–to send his son to bring us back to the place he had intended in the first place.  The pushback from that led to the Cross, but it also led to the Resurrection–another event the ancients had a hard time accepting, not because they doubted its possibility but that this material world was so inferior in nature that it wasn’t worth God’s time or him lowering himself to do it.

The nature of the material world, with all of its problems, gives us choices.   Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes bad ones.  For God to enter into this himself as he did the first Christmas involved risk.  The question that remains is this: what are we going to do about it?  How we answer that at Christmas and all through the year will determine whether we, for whom God threw his wallet on the table, will throw ours there as well and risk following him in this life for his eternity in the next.

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