Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stuck in the Trenches

A British trench near the Albert-Bapaume road ...
If we could hop into Mr. Peabody's WABAK (pronounced Way Back) Machine -- remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the dog and his boy from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? You can see original episodes on Hulu, revealing Bullwinkle to be not nearly as stupid as he was depicted in the movie, definitely an insult to tall people with big antlers everywhere. Anyway, if we could enter the WABAK and take it way, way, way, back -- hold on, it wasn't that long ago -- to my high school days, we'd find Dylan's The Times They Are a'Changing was one of my favorite songs.

As a fairly normal teenager with a fairly normal desire to separate from parental influence and declare my independence, I particularly liked the second verse:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
and don't criticize what you can't understand;
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
your old world is rapidly agin';
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand,
for the times, they are a'changin. 


Naturally, this drove my father crazy, which was not my conscious intention -- unconscious is another matter. In some ways, though, I'm the same person now I was then. Not that I'd attempt to drive my dad crazy if he was still living; we'd gotten long past that conflict of interests by the time I was in college. What I mean is, I haven't lost my sense that change is a pretty good thing and it's even better to try and keep up with it.

I'm probably thinking about this because one of my housemates showed me his ipad over breakfast yesterday and it was the first time I'd seen one up close. Out loud, I wondered, tongue in cheek, if I shouldn't genuflect in its presence. Have you see one yet? They are something. Steve Job's crew outdid themselves big time. Surf the web, watch movies, make a phone call, you can even connect with your home computer and work on files at a distance. In the words of Will Smith at the helm of an alien spacecraft (Independence Day, 1997) "Man, I have got to get me one of these!"

The willingness to embrace and even promote change expresses the essence of the term, "liberal," or so I was taught in high school. Conservative, in contrast, was about preservation, and holding onto what's good about the past. A wise person, I reasoned, does both, since history forms the basis for whatever lies ahead. So, on the drive home yesterday -- turns out I had the day off, as well today, and it made no sense to spend the time up north when I could more comfortably spend it here with sleeping dogs around my chair -- I began thinking about something Jesus said. "The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath."

The context for his statement was a conversation involving the religious leaders of his day, some of whom accused him of violating the laws concerning Sabbath observance. He countered by saying, the needs of people outweighed tradition. It was a pretty radical assertion, especially to make before a group of people who depended on maintaining tradition for a sense of meaning and purpose. Suggesting something else might take precedence, naturally drove them crazy.

Just then I switched the radio station and came upon a message from James Dobson's Focus on the Family, one of many contemporary organizations that seems intent upon codifying behaviors as either acceptable or unacceptable, and doing so on a religious basis. I thought about comfort and discomfort with change and it struck me that it's easier to become entrenched in what one believes than to expand one's beliefs to accommodate new ideas. Once we're entrenched, we have limited options for maneuvering.

Recognizing that none of us possesses the absolute, final word about anything and any description of ultimate truth is partial at best, might help. Not that there isn't a final word or an absolute truth, but how we speak of it reveals more about us than the truths we espouse. Even if we deny the existence of absolutes, that says something about us. I guess it's just hard to see that sometimes. Especially if we're stuck in the trenches.


(Image of unknown licensure via Wikipedia)

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