Monday, August 10, 2009

Fear of the future

This article, Episcopal battle over homosexuals is about fear has been all over the blogs, and if you didn't read it yet, you should. And then go deal with the commenters.
The first votes were close, but the anti-change position has steadily lost ground. Not because the church came under an evil spell, but because people's minds and hearts shifted and their understandings of God and mission changed. That happens.

The anti-change minority fights on, however, for by now their fretful arguments against changing "Thou" to "You" and "he" to "he or she" have advanced to holy war against gays.

The battle isn't about God. It's about fear, control and property.

The anti-change minority wants to reclaim a world that no longer exists.
Fear abounds. Fear of offending longtime members and deep-pocket givers. Fear of speaking freely and dreaming grandly. Fear of trying hard and maybe failing. Fear of preaching a Gospel more radical than anything we've said.

But many are determined to get beyond fear -- by taking one brave step at a time, learning to be nimble and to listen, learning from our failures, taking risks.

I argue that it's all about fear. We all dread change, at some level. A hallmark of middle age, I think, is really resenting change. The kids aren't as hard working or respectful they used to be. Society has changed for the worse. The music is awful.... and we may well be right (at least as far as the music goes! ;-) The changes we experience may not be an improvement on everything that we loved or experienced in the past. But the past, as Shakespeare wrote, is prologue.

In Stephen Sondheim's musical Merrily we Roll Along*, one character sings,
Why can't it be like it was?
I liked it the way that it was.
You and me, we were nicer then.
Nothing's the way that it was.
I want it the way that it was.
God knows, things were easier then.

Trouble is, Charley,
That's what everyone does:
Blames the way it is
On the way it was,
On the way it never ever was.
I wouldn't want to go back to some parts of the past, even my past, including the lack of opportunities for women, or the criminalization or pathologizing of homosexuality. I wouldn't want to go back to the loneliness and emptiness of my life before BP entered it. Change is scary. It can be painful. It can also be liberating.

The point is, we can't go back. We never can. The wheel only runs forward, and so we have to run with it: good bad or indifferent. We can fight it with resentment, wearing ourselves out, or we can give ourselves up to the movement and adapt constantly, living fully in the present. But that means that we have to give up the fear too, or at least come to terms with it, look it in the eye, and show it who's boss.

*full points for anyone in the comments who can identify the structural conceit of Merrily....Hey, I'm gay,of course I do musicals!


Barry Fernelius said...

'Merrily We Roll Along' moves backwards in time, just like some of our good friends in the world wide Anglican communion.

IT said...

Heh. Nicely put, Barry.

Paul Martin said...

Nick Kinsley is the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of Phoenix, and blogs at Entangled States. He is originally from Pennsylvania, and A while back, he compared the two areas and their attitude toward change. The result was an amazing essay that I will remember for some time. I will post a link if I can find the original post.

In summary, one's attitude toward change depends on one's experience of change. To some, change means closed factories, lost jobs, decaying infrastructure, neighborhoods changing for the worse, and so forth. Visualize recent newspaper images of Detroit, or any rust belt city. To others, change means new opportunities, new jobs, new technology and so forth. Visualize silicon valley, Google, Apple, Phoenix (before the real estate crash) and so forth. My poor memory is no match for the original article, but you get the idea.

IT said...

Thanks, Paul. Excellent framing, that context can make all the difference.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

A very thoughful article.

Fred Schwartz said...

Well, you saidmusic sohere goes,

"When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head""

Change is constant, we adjust or we suffer the consequences. One cannot, some would argue, ought not, to resist change. But, change can be used for good or for evil. What we are seeing and hearing in many respects is the evil side.