“It’s better than nothing,” I used to say when I sent an email birthday greeting to a friend because I forgot their birthday was coming up and didn’t get a card sent.
“It’s better than anything,” I might say now when I send that same birthday greeting to a friend on Facebook.
What changed? Well, for one thing, the price of birthday cards has gone up quite a bit. Another big change is that Facebook — along with Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok and numerous other forms of technology — has become ubiquitous. Probably the biggest change is the change in attitudes as our culture has shifted and adapted to the changes brought on by the continuing march of technology.
Social scientists will tell us that our world is in a constant state of change as we try to find better ways of doing things. Some changes are small, while other changes seem to be cataclysmic. There seem to be two common responses to changes. One is, “It’s better than nothing,” which may be translated as “The way we used to do it is better.” The other response is “It’s better than anything,” which might be translated as “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
Dealing with change is stressful for everyone involved. Think about walking into Fareway or Hy-Vee only to discover the layout has been changed. “Where are those products now?” Similarly, Facebook is filled with memes about Wal-Mart and other stores as they switch from checkout lines to self-checkout. Is it “Better than nothing,” or is it “Better than anything?”
Dealing with changes is one of the biggest challenges for churches as well as businesses, schools and families. It is also a source of the biggest opportunities. How much do we hang on to the past, and how much do we adapt to the future?
I recently had a discussion with someone about a number of issues they were struggling with. The issues were not new and all revolved around the changes in attitudes, beliefs, expectations and morality. I’ve had many of these conversations with many different people as we deal with issues from homosexuality, immigration, abortion, and unmarried children and their partners to interpretation of scripture, church doctrines and what hymns, prayers and decorations are used in church. I actually enjoy these conversations, not because I claim to have all the answers but because they reveal the struggles each one of us has as we encounter the changes in our world, nation and culture.
I have observed that often in these internal struggles the first thing we do is justify our actions. We may say, “This is what I was taught the Bible says,” or “This is what my parents said,” or “This is what I’ve always done.”
Like the rich young ruler who approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to get to heaven, we can quote the rules. Yet, like him, we also know that may not be the right approach. We find ourselves struggling with the question, “What does it mean to love my neighbor?” I would also add, “What does it mean to love God?”
One of the ways I have found an answer to that question is in 1 Corinthians 13 where the Apostle Paul wrote, “If I have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I have found that my choices are seldom perfect, but when I let God’s love flow through me, my actions turn from being "better than nothing" to being "better than anything."
Galen Smith is pastor at Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church.