Many of us in the US and Canada grew up with the words of Bob Dylan’s anthem The Times They Are A-Changin’ freshly inspiring us. Although the world did not develop in quite the way Dylan hoped, the sentiment that we were in the vanguard of exciting, new, changing times remained.
And, of course, we were; we still are; we probably always have been. Heraclitus around 500 BC said, “there is nothing permanent except change” and, more poetically, “you cannot step into the same river twice.”
There is nothing sacred in change itself. Change might mean that apartheid has ended; or the Berlin Wall has come down; or it might mean that the world’s temperatures are increasing and life as we know it is threatened. Change might mean waking up to celebrate a year addiction-free, or it might mean leaving the doctor’s office with a cancer diagnosis. Change itself isn’t good or bad.
I confess there are some changes I am impatient to have happen and others that I resent and grieve. In the changing church there is much I welcome and do my best to hurry along, even while I also feel caught in tides not of my choosing or liking.
I wonder if Psalm 46 might be a faithful guide in times of change. The Psalmist knows change: the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, the mountains shake, the waters roar, the mountains tremble, the earth melts, but “though the earth should change we will not fear, for God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
When faced by earth-melting change, the people look to God and find the One who does not eliminate the change but grounds it, centres it, orients it, judges it, embraces or fights it, the One-with-us no matter what else changes.
Living a life of change is simply a given. It comes with being born. The gift before us is living without fear embraced by the God of Jacob and Rachel, who has been faithful and trustworthy through long generations and who promises to be so to the end of time.
Doug Goodwin is Executive Secretary of British Columbia Conference (United Church of Canada).