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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Entries in change (3)


In living color ...

It happens every year, about this time.

The bright green leaves hit every shade on the spectrum involving yellow and red, and it seems the sunsets have a little extra punch -- or maybe it's just that, with the time having changed, we're more likely to see them.

As the leaves come down, the Christmas decorations go up -- a nearby shopping center is already decked out with giant wreaths, and my mailbox and newspaper are packed with catalogs from hopeful merchants.

With a chill in the air, the thought of firing up the gas logs follows quickly. That proved to be a conundrum this year when the pilot light refused to remain lit. I managed to take the assemblage apart and diagnose the problem -- or at least guess that the thermocouple had gone bad. Trying to avoid a service call, I had to go to the fifth place before I found someone who had something similar. It didn't fit the mount, but I managed to wire the thing in place and, voila! Toast city.

I gave thanks, not just the the satisfaction of a small victory in the self-sufficiency department, but for the guy who helped me find the thermocouple. It came from a bin of old parts and was out of its wrapper. The gentleman didn't charge anything, but said, "Just take this home and try it. If it works, 'Merry Christmas!'"

Where the spirit of generosity is, Christmas can't be far behind.

[Speaking of which, if you haven't seen this video about a real "Secret Santa," it's well worth 3 1/2 minutes of your time.)



Change happens. Every day. Approaching a new year always reminds us of that, whether we want to be reminded or not.

Indeed, where there is no change, there is no life. We know that, though we sometimes resist.

Change can be as incremental as a pound gained or lost, or a new haircut, or another semester completed. It can be as substantial as a new job in a new place, a new life after divorce or the death of a loved one, a new disease that threatens life altogether.

Change can be something we initiate, or something that comes to us. In either case, successfully negotiating life's changes requires self-awareness, intentional action, and an attitude of openness to the future.

It was 40 years ago that I first heard a sweet-singing coed playing her guitar and crooning the lyrics to folksinger Phil Ochs' "Changes" (an old video of Ochs singing it can be found here). The song was pretty, I thought -- especially the way Elaine sang it -- but the lyrics struck me as rather depressing. For example, in the first full verse Ochs wrote:

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow they fade
And then they have to die, trapped within
The circle time parade of changes

It went downhill from there. Ochs, perhaps best known for his political activism and for protest songs against the Vietnam war and in support of immigration reform, had reason to be frustrated. He struggled with his mental health, and at the age of 36, took his own life.

Obviously, that is not the only option, or the preferred option, when confronting change, or frustrated by the lack of change. As we make our way into 2011, each of us must give some thought to how we will deal with the changes that surround us. Will we just float with the tide, or will we be proactive? Will we strive to make our world better by living out Jesus' teachings, or will we just let it happen around us?

We only have so many years to make a difference in our world, something I'm reminded of in the words of another Phil Ochs effort. In a song called "When I'm Gone," each verse deals with potential actions, and concludes with "I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here."

May we all confront the changes of the new year with courage and commitment to do what we can do for the kingdom, knowing that we have to do it while we're here.

[Click here for a nice performance of "When I'm Gone" by Allison Crowe.]


Stopping traffic

In yesterday's foggy dawn, as I drove Samuel's carpool to school, we noticed traffic beginning to back up at an unusual spot on the road. We're accustomed to backups, for the formerly rural area in which we live is now peppered with subdivisions and shopping centers. Leave five minutes late, and you can add an additional 10 minutes to the ride.

As I noted, however, traffic backed up at place that's normally clear, and we crept along behind a string of tail lights for some time before the holdup became apparent: a dog was sitting in the road.

The dog was rather large and nondescript, with a dark coat of mottled black and brown. He sat on his haunches dead in the middle of the eastbound lane, erect but unmoving, with a mournful expression. Parents who drive their children to a bus stop nearby were standing by the road, patting their thighs and pleading with the dog to move out of the traffic. No one, however, was venturing into the road to lead him off.

I surmised that the dog had probably wandered into the road and been hit by a car (that was later confirmed by a witness). The car had kept going; the dog remained. Though it had no outward signs of physical damage, the canine must have had a blow to the head that left it temporarily traumatized: it just sat down and refused to move.

Like most of the traffic, we were going westbound, so we were able to proceed slowly by (sorry, eastbounders). I don't know how they finally got the dog out of the road or whether a pet ambulance was necessary.

After depositing my glum passengers at school, I drove through the fog toward my own teaching assignments and pondered how that dog in the road reminded me of folks I've known who react to change as if it's a blindsiding blow to the head. Unable to accept the notion that the world is moving on around them, they choose to become obstructionists, planting themselves firmly in the path and daring anyone to try and move them. I've met some of those folks in churches. The U.S. Congress is loaded with them (especially when it comes to judicial appointments). We've all met human roadblocks.

I appreciate others' pain and try to be understanding -- sometimes changes come that I don't like, either. Sometimes a bit of obstruction is necessary to slow things down and ensure that we make good decisions. At other times, it's an unnecessary obstacle designed mainly to clog the process and feed someone's need for attention or influence.

In either case, few people want to risk getting bitten, granting the dog in the road surprising power. It's worth pondering, when our obituaries are written, if we'll be known for something other than blocking traffic.