Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Something Borrowed, Something New

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. --excerpt from Isaiah 43: 16-21

One of my new favorite TV shows is called "Something Borrowed, Something New." In the course of a half-hour episode, we see a bride shop for a new wedding gown and also oversee the alteration of an old wedding gown borrowed from a loved one. In the end the bride must choose: will she wear a brand-new gown all her own, or opt for the (re-fashioned) old gown? In either case, the bride in question will both embrace tradition (because she is getting married, and wearing a traditional style gown) and reject it (because even the old gowns are vastly changed during the course of the show.)

Our lives are filled with choices like this: will we recover our old sofa or replace it? Will we try to get a promotion at work or seek out new opportunities elsewhere? Will we seek to revitalize our relationship with our current romantic partner or return to the single life? Life does not stand still. No matter how much we love the past and enjoy the present, we must continually accept changes that come our way.

In the show, embracing a more drastic change (here represented as a new wedding gown) tends to be easier for the young brides and their young friends than for their parents. Some mothers of the bride cry when the seamstress begins ripping up the old wedding gown to re-fashion it to better fit and suit the bride. At these times the bride tends to smile with delight to see how even little changes can begin to make an old, out-of-style garment seem more fashionable. The entire drama is kind of a metaphor for the real change the show is about--the fact that this marriage marks the symbolic end of childhood and a permanent change to the family dynamic.

This trend is also common in church life. The young people in a church often embrace change, while older church members tend to resist it. To a certain extent, the older church members need to reign in the impulses of youngsters. It can take a long time to fully understand the wisdom of the tried and true. And to a certain extent, older people need young people to help them continually re-evaluate which practices are truly timeless and which are merely fads that can pass away without harming what is essential.

In short, the generations need each other. I'm guessing that Isaiah's "new thing" is kind of like new wedding dresses--new and different, but not so new and different as to seem unrecognizable.

Everyman's Journey

And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:  "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.  A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. --excerpt from Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Arnel Pineda's story follows the familiar lines of a modern rags-to-riches, rise-to-fame story. A member of the rock group Journey, seeking a new lead singer, finds videos of Arnel singing Journey songs on the internet. Eventually the group hires Arnel, who has already overcome a lifetime of poverty and hardship.

The famous story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible begins as a story of a young man whose life goes in the opposite direction--from riches to rags. The story of the Prodigal Son can be frustrating for most good Christians to hear. Being good Christians, it is hard for them to relate to this son, who has everything and throws it away, seemingly on a whim. One possible explanation is that, having been born into a sheltered atmosphere, he does not appreciate his own good fortune and does not understand how quickly money disappears when not treated with respect and frugality. Some people need to learn things the hard way, and this young man appears to be just such a person.

In real life, most of us relate best to the other son in the story, who feels that his father fails to adequately appreciate for his loyalty and dedication and general lack of flakiness. Which brings us to Jesus's point: how do we really feel about new or returning people in our communities of faith?

Every church says they want to grow in numbers. They want more people to to give money and to volunteer on church committees. They want to hear more voices joined together in the singing of hymns. But when new people do show up (or former members return after a long absence), resentments can form. Old timers can think, "Why is the church electing a new person to a position of leadership, when I've been quietly serving on that committee for years?" Churches tend to be filled with sons and daughters who resent the embrace of Jonnny and Janey Come Lately types. This is human nature, but for in order for a church to grow, it needs to be overcome.

A new or returning person brings new gifts and changes, which can fuel resentment and rejection. Arnel had to overcome the skepticism of old fans of the group Journey, who feared he would not be as good as the previous lead singer and founding group member Steve Perry. Some fans, no doubt, turned their backs on him, but others stuck around and came to accept and appreciate him.

You cannot please everyone. And change is never easy. But it never hurts to give someone a chance, or even a second chance.