To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. (John Henry Newman)
Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou, who changest not, abide with me. (Henry Lyte)
It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change. (Charles Darwin)
We are living through times of unprecedented change. Just look what has happened in our own lifetimes. There are those who welcome change and those who feel threatened by it. In fact there’s probably a combination of both of these things in most of us. Among the unprecedented changes is climate change. “You haven’t changed a bit”, but of course we have.
One arena which literally portrays change, is that of art. In 1972 John Berger produced a BBC television series, “Ways of Seeing”, subsequently published as a book. In it he explored the ways that art has changed over time and in doing so has changed our perceptions. He began with the advent of perspective, to portraiture such as Rembrandt’s which seeks to reveal the inner dispositions of the sitter, to impressionism which invites us to look at familiar scenes in new ways, to the art of the twentieth century, which asks us to look again at basic things such as colour, shape, pattern, and art which is intended to shock us into rethinking our way of seeing the world. Popular art is reassuring, nice to look at, and comfortable to live with, but great art makes demands on us to change the ways we think, feel and behave.
Examples of art from different periods will be shown at the meeting on the 18th of May
What makes us resist change?
What excites us to welcome change?
What art has challenged us to change?
What changes have been important or even life-changing for us?
Christian faith may seem to be about the changeless - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NRSV). But, both in the Old and New Testaments, faith is related to a journey – a journey through a wilderness to a promised land. Christianity was first known as The Way, and is based on the necessity of change, both individually and socially. The prophets demanded it in no uncertain terms – change or else! Jesus too calls for change – “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV). Here change may be seen as something new or a reversion to some past ideal – the days when we were truly God’s people, or the days before the church compromised its integrity. But more significantly it looks forward to a time and era in which we shall all be changed.
Are there unchanging aspects of faith?
Can we say that God changes?
What changes does Christian faith require?
Change in the Church
The church is “a communion of struggle” and from its history always has been. Changes arise when people become aware that what is taking place doesn’t speak to them as being authentic in their lives and the lives of others anymore; that they are being damaged by ancient and embedded concepts and attitudes that do not consider them as being part of the “norm”, and treat them as something “Other”.
Those who want change for inclusion, to find themselves fully accepted as Christians in this diverse world that God did, after all, create, must be the agents of that struggle. It comes slowly and unevenly.
Change, especially in the Church, is a slow development of consciousness that often takes many years. It comes unevenly, in different ways, through incidents that jolt people into a growing sense of injustice, rejection and untruth, from weariness, or, righteous anger that can no longer be tolerated but are allowed to continue. But it becomes evident, that if anything is to change it must be carried out by those at the grass roots who experience these things, along with those who support them. Change rarely comes from the top (unless they are pushed by a growing and increasingly vociferous minority which has happened and will continue to do so). Once raised, the issues highlighted will never go away. A challenge to people’s consciousnesses once expressed marks the beginning of change. For some it brings a recognition, a relief, a welcomed opportunity for further exploration and action; for some it is a cause of anger and threat; for others, who initially see change as a threat to the beliefs they have been brought up to see as an important part of their faith, it can be seen as either a betrayal or an awareness. They may be initially upset but once made aware, it doesn’t go away. What is important is that individuals and groups of people are reached out to, within and beyond their groups or churches, that space and time are found to bring out, recognise and discuss what they feel, and that they have the chance to hear the thoughts, frustrations and experiences of others, and to develop the language and concepts with which to identify and express their feelings and plan for change so that we can try to live together the ideal that, “Although we are many, we are all one Body”.
From Mark’s Gospel
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (Mark 1:14–20, NRSV)
About the Public Square Group
Towards the end of 2020 a group of us, mostly from the organisation ‘Modern Church’, expressed a deep concern about the breaking down of relationships at a number of different levels and also a sense of anger and frustration at the amount of injustice that nobody seemed to be addressing. We decided to write a manifesto which mentioned issues such as the breakdown of unity, nationally and globally, the strong economic challenges that lay ahead and the need to avoid placing the burden on the poorest sections of society, the need to work internationally to fight against climate change, greater integrity in politics and the media, and the provision of generous hospitality of welcome towards refugees and asylum seekers. The Public Square Group has held a number of zoom meetings, and has created subgroups to address these issues.
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