I’ve been thinking about words. I have no idea why, but one word has been running through my head the last few days. It is a rather simple word, but with a lot of baggage attached to it. The word is “change,” and for such a simple word it seems to be a difficult one to deal with. I don’t mean thinking about changing my socks or the arrangement of furniture in my house, not even change in the weather, although it would be nice if it would get down below 90 and stayed there for a little while. That would be a welcome change.
Change is word that seems to have a lot of meaning for people. I work in a business where change happens. Like a lot of things and situations, it’s an inevitability. One of the hard parts of my job is to tell people that have been accustomed to things being one way for a number of years to suddenly have to deal with things not being what they considered normal and comfortable. I can’t say too much to them about why these changes take place, partly because I don’t know myself, and that’s hard. I want to be able to explain to people why these changes have happened so that they can understand and accept the situations, but it’s far above my pay grade to do that. To me, it emphasizes how the word change can create fear, hard feelings, anger. If you want to see people angry, change something that impacts them. If you want an example on a smaller scale, change the location of the cat’s litter box.
When it comes to the word change in a religious sense, things can get even more precarious. There are a number of people like me who came into our church or denomination because it was so different from the one we had grown up in. In my case, it allowed questions, and encouraged them. It had a beauty and rhythm and language that was far from what I would hear on the street, and it felt uplifting to me simply because it was in the same style of speech, to a certain extent, as the Bible I grew up reading, the King James Version. It has taken time for me and probably many others to get used to using “you,” instead of “Thou,” or use a -th on the end of words that we wouldn’t normally add, like “standeth” or “lovest.” Of course, when most of us pray these days, we still recite the version that we grew up with which was the King James Version. Somehow, it’s familiar, it’s safe, and when it changes, we feel like something has shaken the world, and made it mean something different than what we were taught. It’s been a change it’s been hard for a lot of us to get used to, but with time, change becomes easier and so does acceptance.
This week, a friend was one member of a congregation who was moving from one church building to another, participated in deconsecrating the building that they had known and loved and worshiped in for years. It had been a planned move, one designed to better serve their church community and their internal and external ministries. Still, it was a wrenching moment time for all concerned because it represented change, and change was and is something uncertain, unknown, and occasionally, something to be feared. Even though the congregation will remain the same, the liturgy will remain the same, and the people who worshiped in one place to meet in community in the new place, still, it’s going to be different and sometimes difficult, but, working together, all will be well, as Julian of Norwich would say.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a critic, journalist and novelist once said, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which means something like “The more it changes, the more it is the same thing.” We see that in a number of places. In government, the change of administration has changed a number of things, even though the balance of power in the government hasn’t changed all that much. What has changed is the feeling that the government desires to change anything that has were deemed beneficial in previous administrations. It seeks to benefit the 1% of the population who can manage extremely well on their own while cutting down the safety net for a great part of the 99% who are less able to weather changes economically, physically, environmentally, and politically.
This kind of change produces the potential of life and death for groups of people who live on the margins, who are elderly and frail, who are children who are hungry and ill, and those who believe the message of the Statue of Liberty, “Bring me your tired, your poor, your hungry masses looking yearning to breathe free.” They believed, and now changes are making them pay for it, and pay dearly.
When Jesus talked about change he talked about the kingdom of God and the changes that it would bring. He talked about traditional Jewish values of caring for widows and orphans, the sick, the needy, the imprisoned, the aliens, all sorts and conditions of people. TheTaNaKh and the Prophets quote again and again words to the effect of caring for these people and treating them with kindness, helping them whenever they needed it, and not looking to either make a profit for ourselves or use them in ways that were cruel or that demeaned them. Jesus talked a lot about treating people well, loving people, even enemies. Lord knows, that is one of the most difficult things he could ask us to do, but he did ask. I wonder how many of us really try our hardest to love someone we fear, or dislike intensely, or have other negative feelings and emotions about. Should we love a serial killer? Yes, I’m afraid the answer is yes. We may not like the person’s actions and we may hate his motives, but as a human being, the serial killer is a child of God, and so we are told to love him or her. That’s an almost impossible thing that requires real change in how we think, act, and react.
One thing that is certain about this world is that change is going to occur, whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, whether we’re all for it or not. The change that we most need to make, though, is that change to thinking in terms of kingdom thoughts rather than just political, economic, climate, and any of a number of different categories of thoughts. We need to ask “Is this a valuable change? Is this a change that will help people or hurt them? Is this something of which God would approve or is it something contrary to what we are informed as God’s will?” In order to make those decisions, we need to be able to sit down and think and reason, discern from tradition, and also look at how our culture informs the changes that we consider and may ultimately make. Above all, it might be a very dated saying, but “what would Jesus do?” That in itself would give us a number of answers to what we need to change and what can remain more or less intact.
Change has come. Change is coming. Change will come, and will we change with it or will we remain the same? God knows. We still have to ask.