February Anglican newsletter
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Change in big and small ways seems to be all around us, but fundamentally, we are the same.
My daffodils are two or three (some even more) inches - or should I say, with respect to change, 10 or more centimetres – above the ground. But the snowdrops are hardly showing yet – surely that is the wrong way round? Last winter, we had snow in November and early December, not much, but it stayed on the ground for several days, instead of disintegrating into slush within minutes. This year we have had a mild Christmas and only as we come into the second half of January are we getting some hard frosts. It may the be la même chose, but my garden is totally confused.
Recent news suggests that the climate change we are currently experiencing may in fact be a stabilising factor, rather than the reverse. Some scientists are now suggesting that the next Ice Age, due to start in about 1,500 years time (I did not realise that it was so imminent!), may be deferred indefinitely by the temperature increases now happening. Question – where is the stability – in hanging on to our current climate, which is, in geological time, a very temporary phase – or in making sure that the cycle of Ice Ages is permitted to continue as ever?
When I was a lad, there was nothing that I could do as well as my Dad. He was not only the fount of all knowledge, but also of all skills. He could turn his hand or his brain to anything. Nowadays, if I want to find out how to make the best use (or even any use) of some of the equipment that litters the house I need to go to the children or the grandchildren for advice. If the TV and its attendant gadgets is in some way wrong, they can pick up the manifold handsets and within seconds (without looking at what’s in their hands) they can find what I want. I have not noticed that it is very obvious yet, but I suspect that the evolutionary flexing of the thumb so that it can be used opposed to the fingers, that has enabled the great apes to learn to use tools, may be progressing even further at present, as kids spend so much of their time holding their mobiles in both hands, with the thumbs whizzing away.
Our economy is faltering at best – in fact the economy of the West is faltering. It’s interesting (or is it?) that we seem to have been on the verge of recession for two or three years now and we hear the prophets of doom foreseeing the end of civilisation as we know it. The same happened in the 1920s – 90 years ago. I stand to be corrected by better economic historians that I am, but I am reasonably sure that something similar happened 90 years before that in the 1830s. If it also happened in the 1740s (which I have not tried to check) or the 1650s (which is about when the powers that be were seriously worried about high unemployment and the increasing incidence of vagrancy that ensued!), then perhaps this is some fundamental social cycle that we can’t beat – no change at all in fact!
Our superficial social structures are changing. It’s not just the different dynamic between adults and children, but also the relationships between adults. Marriage (by which I mean formal legal marriage between two adults of different genders) was the norm when I was young – but I hesitate to suggest that it is now. There always were some ‘irregular’ unions – almost certainly more than was widely apparent. But now, they really are normal, not irregular. Same gender unions and civil partnerships (whether regularised or totally informal) are widespread. Both my sons are married, but two of my daughters are in long term happy relationships, blessed by children but not by marriage vows. As a Christian I suppose I am expected to be unhappy about this. I can’t say that I really am. There is very little in the Bible about the necessity for marriage – although there is an awful lot about the sin of adultery! What does sadden me, is that without a formal engagement and then a formal wedding (civil or religious), there is not the public statement of commitment before witnesses and before the community at large; there is not the semi-formal opportunity for the friends and families of the couple to get together, meet and create a larger community. My wife and I can still find a wedding present or two. My two daughters, referred to above, have no engagement or wedding presents, and have never had any. They have had house warming presents etc, but they don’t carry that same specialness.
So, I like many of the changes I see around me, but I am saddened at the loss of much of the social cement of the past – the default position that an elder was to be deferred to by the younger – the formalisation instead of the casualness of personal relationships – and so on.
One of the more fundamentally important changes going on around us is not really a change at all. As the fulcrums of power shift inexorably from the West of the last several centuries to the East of the 21st century, we, in the West, are feeling the draught. But empires have always fallen, whether as quickly as the greatest (geographic) empire ever known on earth (ie Ghegis Khan’s) or as slowly as the Roman’s, they always fail in the end. So, no real change there.
I am beginning to feel more comfortable. There seems to be an underlying stability to mankind’s existence and progress that current fluctuations and crises barely affect. It does seem to remain true that happy societies have to be based on its members being free to love and care for each other, without suppression by a small class or group.
That is actually the message of the Christian Church (far more important than the detailed (and statutory!) rules about which Vicar may or may not marry you in his or her Church!) - that we should love and care for each other.
That has not changed in 2,000 years!