Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, 11 August 2013

What are the things that endure?

Address for 11th August 2013

I came across a snippet of poetry the other day that really spoke to me:

Nothing is permanent
Except the change
Change is a necessary phenomenon
In an active system
Changelessness is deadly

So often I have spoken about the necessity of change and how it is important to allow for change in our lives, in our faith and in our worship but today I am asking you to consider not what it is that changes but what it is that endures, what lasts despite the changes that occur.

I have to admit that I struggled to find a story for today and before finding the story of Geppetto, the puppet maker I toyed with one or two other stories first.  At first I considered the story of The three billy goats gruff and had we a congregation with children attending then maybe I would have stuck with it.  I am sure you are all familiar with the story about three goats who risk their lives to get to the greener grass on the other side of the river.  In that story the goats succeed in defeating the troll and manage to walk into the lush meadow and feed on the grass there.  Often we associate this story with the idea of the grass being greener on the other side but it begs the question, is it always greener on the other side or are things always better when we make those apparently necessary changes.

This idea was explored by Ralph Helverson in my first reading when he told the story of the imprisoned senators. Sometimes it really is a case of “Better the devil you know. . . . . “

Katy Cowan wrote an article “Why the Grass is Never Greener and How to Be Happy Today”

In it she says:
“Lifestyle. Opportunities. Wealth. Just think how far we’ve come in the past 100 years—especially when you look at what we have today compared with our great grandmothers’ generation.”
She said, “My great grandmother married very young, lived in the same place her whole life, and had 11 children. She never had a “career” and never got a chance to go on (holiday). Her life was hard, poor, and lacking in any real opportunity.”

When I read that it could have been my great grandmother who had thirteen children and lived in the same place all her married life.

Katy says, “I wonder if she ever dreamed about moving to another city, or transforming her life, or about seeing the world with just a backpack. I bet she did, but back then there weren’t as many opportunities as we have today.
Thanks to technology, the Internet, and an improved society, our lifestyles are completely transformed. We have choices. We can live pretty much anywhere we want. We can travel and see the world.
We can secure jobs on the other side of the planet. We can start our own businesses and serve clients thousands of miles away. It’s definitely an exciting time.”

Well yes it may be an exciting time.  The changes that we have experienced in our lifetimes may have opened up a completely new world that was unthought-of of in our grandparents or even our parents time.  But it has not necessarily always been for the better – the wonders that we are offered by the new technologies. The internet and social networks have brought with them a whole new series of threats and problems to our lives.  We cannot fail to have heard the tragic story of the young girl who took her own life after experiencing on-line bullying.  And there is also the case of women suffering online abuse and threats just because they wanted to have the image of a woman on one of our bank-notes.  Then there are the cases of online grooming and the horrors of pornography being all too available, even to our children and to the vulnerable within our society. All these wonderful changes have brought with them a whole new set of threats and horrors that we could never have imagined when the internet and the World Wide Web was first invented. I often wonder if Tim Berners Lee, a Unitarian and inventor of the World Wide Web, could ever have envisaged how his ideals of a system free and uncontrolled and uncensored at the point of use would be used and abused as they are today.  Maybe, if he had had some foresight he might have built in some restrictions that could have offered some protection to us today.

Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the first people to sing the praises of the internet and I certainly could not envisage my life without access to it, but ....  and there it is that huge, huge little word  but.
I do wish there were some rules, some safeguards to ensure that those values that have always played such an important part of all civilised life could be upheld in this modern, interactive world of ours.

This makes me ask the question about what it is that endures, what is it that remains constant in this ever-changing world of ours?

For me the thing that endures is my faith.  But that too has undergone much change over the years.  As I have told you all before I began in the Anglican Church where I was confirmed at the age of thirteen.  I have spoken of my journey from there into Unitarianism many times and I do not want to tell it again but I do want to tell you one of the reasons why I could not return to the Anglican Church when I went on my spiritual search.  It was because when I went back to a service in an Anglican Church I could no longer recognise what took place there.  The style of worship had changed, even the language had changed and the changes seemed to highlight the problems I had with the faith in the first place. I, personally, could not find the presence of God there.

I, of course, found my way back to God through my encounter with the Unitarian message and the values of Freedom, Reason and Tolerance that I found underpinned all the differences and diversity within the different churches and chapels.  No two Unitarian places of worship are alike in their worship but all are underpinned by those all important values.

Now I know that Unitarianism is always changing, that nothing remains static but I hope that the values that underpin the faith will remain constant and endure long into the future.

I know that in the words of that poem I quoted at the beginning of this address:

Nothing is permanent
Except the change

And that:

Change is a necessary phenomenon
In an active system

And yes:

Changelessness is deadly

But I also know that the grass is not always greener on the other side of change, that what endures from the past is important too.

Robert Fulghum, author of that classic book "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" put it this way:  "The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are." 

It is the same idea as the puppet maker Geppetto, constantly striving to make the perfect puppet. All the time building on and improving on the previous model not being satisfied until he was sure it was right.

And so may we tend the grass by bringing our everlasting values to bear upon the present world no matter what the future may hold for us.

So may it be.    Amen