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01 November 2008

Talking about... Change

Talking about... Change

Whether we are talking from a pulpit or over a garden fence, Tony Watkins helps us to give relevant answers to the big issues raised by contemporary popular culture...

"Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," said Benjamin Franklin. He could have added change to his list. All around us, things are in flux. New ideas spring into life, products become obsolete, established companies collapse. And we grow inexorably older.

We live in a world where things change faster and faster, a world where more and more of yesterday's certainties are up for grabs today. And then some event comes out of the blue and leaves nothing in our lives untouched, as in the film Incendiary, the story of a terrorist attack and its impact on London and those connected with one of the victims.

But whatever the cause of change, the crucial question is how we respond.

Many people feel threatened by change. Things like new homes, new jobs or ruptured relationships are never easy to handle. We are familiar with the old situation, we feel secure in it and we know what's expected of us, whereas the new makes us feel lost, alienated or even disabled.

We easily end up fighting hard to hold on to the status quo, even when we shouldn't. Finally letting go can feel almost like a bereavement, with feelings of anger, grief and despair.

We handle change best when we're in a supportive environment, with others helping us make sense of the changes and adapt to them. When we feel like we're facing them alone, they become an even greater challenge.

There's a powerful metaphor of this in the harrowing film Blindness. When people mysteriously start going instantly blind, the connections between people break down and society soon crumbles. Their inability to adjust isn't just because of the enormity of what's happened, but because the connections between people were not strong enough to start with.

Essential for growth

Change may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is essential for an integrated life. Growth is all about change, and unless we are content to become stagnant or decline, we need to embrace it.

Real transformation usually requires patience and perseverance

George W Bush's life was well and truly on a downward course, according to Oliver Stone's controversial biopic, W. Living in his father's shadow, Bush (Josh Brolin) was not only failing to make anything much of his life, he had sunk into alcohol abuse. He needed the deep desire to grow as a person before he could transform his lifestyle and become who he is today.

For many of us, working life is fundamentally about change. Doctors, cleaners, teachers, union reps, managers and accountants are all trying in different ways to improve something, bring order out of chaos or make the world a better place. To do so is to reflect the God who made us.

Some people, of course, positively relish things being shaken up. Either the idea of everything being the same day in, day out has no appeal, or they are deeply aware of the inadequacies of the current situation. Politicians and governments are naturally preoccupied with changing things, sometimes even breaking the rules to get what they want. Which of course often results in regime change.

In Body of Lies, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio play CIA agents attempting to bring down an Al-Qaeda leader by framing him as an ally of the USA. It sounds like a legitimate goal, but the snag with trying to change things in unconventional ways is that you don't always get the result you want.

Governments want quick results, but real transformation usually requires patience and perseverance. In the BBC's Saturday evening family drama Merlin, the young wizard (Colin Morgan) is desperate to change things in the kingdom of Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) where magic is banned. But he knows that if he is to succeed, he must keep his magical powers under wraps, especially from the young Arthur (Bradley James). He knows his time will come.

A crucial question

But not all change is good, which raises a crucial but very difficult question: how do we know what change to embrace and what to resist?

We should always be humble enough to admit that we might be wrong about something, and be prepared to re-evaluate it. Refusing to countenance the possibility that things should be different is woefully arrogant.

However, there's a difference between being innovative in the way we do things and abandoning the underlying principles and values. Methods always need to be adapted for different contexts, and the rate of change in our world is such that we probably need to review them frequently.

But beliefs and values should be true for every context, assuming that they're the right ones, of course. We sometimes forget that it is possible to change outward forms without jettisoning the essentials.

Unlike most religions, Christianity has been marked by incredible change - not in the beliefs (at least in mainstream churches), but in the way churches function in all their different contexts. When a church fails to do adapt its methods to the surrounding culture, it easily becomes an irrelevance, or even a barrier to people hearing its message. When a church abandons its beliefs, it always becomes both.

We should have the courage to see change not as something to be feared, but rather as something to actively engage in. We need to identify what should change, and work out how to transform things while remaining true to our principles.Tony Watkins

  • Find out more about the issues raised in this article at www.damaris.org/ideamagazine
  • ToolsForTalks.com provides a one-stop shop to help teach the Bible in the language of contemporary culture. The site contains quotes and illustrations taken from the latest films, music, magazines and TV - updated weekly.
  • Photo: Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks star as George and Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's controversial biopic W © Lionsgate.

Tony Watkins is resources and training co-ordinator for the Damaris Trust

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