“People don’t like change.”
“I miss the good old days.”
“That’s not the way we do things around here.”
I’ve heard these kinds of statements for over three decades of full-time ministry. I’ve worked for Youth for Christ, three different churches, a seminary, and a charter school. It’s pretty safe to say that churches & Jesus people tend to gravitate toward what “worked” for them. You know, that Young Life program they were involved with, that youth group they were a part, that church that welcomed them. In their way of thinking, the way that appealed to them is the way it’s “supposed to be.”
Oh, and it’s not only church folks. I’ve heard refrains about my old neighborhood’s gentrification & ruining the fabric that made it cool, that the music of today isn’t as good as it was “back then,” that today’s athletes aren’t as tough as yesteryear’s heroes, that our country is “going to hell in a handbasket.” So it goes.
And, to a certain degree we all like what we like, right? We’ve learned a few things along the way, too, and wisdom from experience informs our beliefs, right?
I mean, I know what I like when it comes to the “way church is done.” I have political leanings like everyone else. I was drawn to the cool neighborhood for the same reasons others were. I still like the music I liked years ago and probably don’t know any artist nominated for 2022 Grammys. I have preferences about purity in college athletics or the on-field celebrations of pro athletes.
But deep down, we all know that change is inevitable.
And maybe it’s the over-two-decades of working with teenagers talking, but I decided a while back that I didn’t want to be the “get-off-my-lawn” or the “these-kids-with-their-rock-‘n-roll” older guy. Because, well, my daughters both pointed out areas where they saw me becoming that kind of guy. They were doing what young people are supposed to do: ask questions about the status quo. What status quo, you ask? Pretty much all of it from politics to music to everything in-between.
Their suggestions: Try reading/listening to other voices from different places and stations. You know, like get news from differing perspectives, read books from authors from different nations/experiences/genders/ages/religions other than your own, experience other traditions of not only church, try new music & movies & such. So, I did. And I do.
One of those books was Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, by Rutger Bregman. It has a lot of ideas that challenge my previous perceptions…and some really good arguments for implementing things like universal basic income for everyone, healthcare reform, educational improvements and other ways of “fixing” the things that are broken. Some ideas I like. Some I don’t. Some I want more information about. But a fantastic read that challenged a lot of my previous assumptions.
What I’ve noticed, especially on social media and in hearing conversations in the circles I spend most of my time in, is an unwillingness to even consider that another opinion might be valid or that our own opinion might be suspect. And Bregman brought to mind a few comments that caused me to wonder why people don’t seem to engage in kind, thoughtful exchanges of ideas these days.
Here’s a couple of quotes:
As people and societies get progressively older they become accustomed to the status quo, in which liberty can become a prison, and the truth can become lies. The modern creed–or worse, the belief that there’s nothing left to believe in–makes us blind to the shortsightedness and injustice that still surround us every day. (page 14)
The widespread nostalgia, the yearning for a past that never really was, suggests that we still have ideals, even if we have buried them alive. True progress begins with something no knowledge economy can produce: wisdom about what it means to live well. (page 19)
But here’s the one I want to focus on:
When reality clashes with our deepest convictions, we’d rather recalibrate reality than amend our worldview. Not only that, we become even more rigid in our beliefs than before. Mind you, we tend to be quite flexible when it comes to practical matters. Most of us are even willing to accept advice on how to remove a grease stain or chop a cucumber. No, it’s when our political, ideological, or religious ideas are at stake that we get the most stubborn. We tend to dig in our heels when someone challenges our opinions about criminal punishment, premarital sex, or global warming. These are ideas to which people tend to get attached, and that makes it difficult to let them go. Doing so affects our sense of identity and position in social groups–in our churches or families or circles of friends. (page 236)
Notice that when we watch a YouTube video on a better way to carve a pumpkin for Halloween or whatever, we’re wide open to those kinds of things. Or maybe how convenient the new air fryer is compared to the old way of making chicken tenders. Or downloading library books onto the Kindle. That’s simply showing us something different than the way our parents showed us or whatever.
But we dig in our heels when we get challenged on something that affects our identity and/or status in our circle of friends.
That power of identity shows up when someone suggests that we make some changes to our worship services like styles of music–remember “worship wars?”–(or in some cases, simply redecorate the building). Or when the neighborhood we love starts getting clubs, restaurants or housing that appeal to a different demographic. Or when someone says new music is better than our music. Or when the opposing political figure has an idea that might actually benefit the greater good even if it doesn’t help (or might even hurt) me a little bit. Or even when we see an athlete celebrate an important moment in a manner we were taught never to do.
And it dawned on me that we’ve lost the art of having thoughtful and engaging conversations on these kinds of things because we view these kinds of things as a part of who we are. And if we were to start talking about change or maybe realizing that the “other side” has some legitimate points worthy of discussion…
…maybe we could be a bit kinder. Maybe a bit gentler. Maybe a bit more gracious. Maybe a bit more loving. Maybe a bit more humble.
…if we simply asked the question “what would it have to take for me to change my mind about this?” And realized that maybe we don’t have all the “right” answers. And maybe, just maybe, some changes might be good for everyone involved even if it means I don’t get my way.
Because, maybe, just maybe, we’re looking for identity and peer approval in all the wrong places.