THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
-A. Ralph Johnson
“The old order changeth, giving place to new,
Lest one good custom,
should corrupt the world.”
-The Passing of King Arthur
It is early Sunday morning. Yesterday was work day at the church grounds and last night I couldn't sleep, so I got up and looked out the window across the parking lot at our building next door. It had been a long day and I was tired. My wife was sleeping and somehow I felt in a kind of strange mood --like when you get to thinking bout the old place where you were raised and things you did as a kid. In the lights around the building I watched the rain gently falling, sparkling and dancing off the leaves of the trees. I had a sense of being in a long night in Coos Bay, Oregon, where I was brought up, with one of those damp, chilling, coastal fogs drifting in.
The day had begun early with taking care of reading and responding to my E-mail. I looked outside and already there were a couple of cars in the parking lot. My wife remarked that it looked like the “team” was already getting started.
For many years we have set aside one Saturday a month to work on the church grounds. We have several acres and it takes a lot of maintenance.
Accordingly, the previous Saturday the deacons met with the Elders, Darrell Chase, Chuck Mitchell, and myself, to report on their plans. They listed the projects to be done. We are getting crowded and they would re-wire the sound system, in preparation for removing the back wall and opening up another twelve feet to auditorium use. Nice stackable chairs have been ordered and new carpeting is planned.
Unfortunately, whenever something is changed it intrudes on someone else’s territory. The daycare would have to make concessions. Some classes would be affected. Different views about the choice of carpeting and drapes must be resolved. Progress requires that everyone give.
Well, it was time to go. I got ready and went out onto the back porch. The big garage door was open and some of the guys were busily coming and going. I went down the stairs and walked towards the shop to see what was being done.
The garage is especially my territory. I have stocked it with tools. It is the “engine room” that keeps everything on the property working. It houses a couple of riding lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and all kinds of tools. -Got to watch things close.
Don Berg, one of the deacons, met me. He is the cheerleader of the team. He was already getting people busy, and greeted me with his usual, “Ain’t things great!” and started ticking off what was being done. The young guys were getting the mowers going to cut the grass. Others were working on the sound system. A woman was starting to repair a broken seat in a boat we have in the play yard. “Ain’t things great?”
I began touring the property, checking on what was taking place – “mothering,” they call it. At the same time my wife came back from my son’s place next door, saying that he needed some advice replacing a garage door with some glass doors to turn it into a room. I felt a little frustrated. How could I keep watch on what was going on at the church and help him too?
I went over and he was having trouble with a tool he had borrowed that uses 22-shells to drive nails into concrete. It wouldn’t work. It appeared to have no firing mechanism. After fiddling with it for a while, he took off to rent a tool to do the job. I went back to check on how things were going at the church..
Things were humming right along like they didn't need me at all. More people had arrived, and Darrel Jones, our second Deacon, and another fellow, were trying to get our John Deer riding lawnmower going. The starter would not work. Finally! Something to which I could contribute. I told him that the last time that happened they used a hammer and a rod to bang the starter. He cracked a joke about it and went for a tool, and soon it was going.
I noticed the Nursery door open and stopped in. Some of the women were busy sorting things. They had plans to make some big changes. That ugly carpet had to go!
That always makes me nervous. I am a saver. That is part of how we got where we are with no debts, other than a few payments on the parsonage. I had saved, cut costs, and made do for all these years. I was born in the year of the Great Depression and had learned well the importance of not wasting anything.
These women just don’t have any sense of value. They want to throw everything out. One of them has a slogan, “If something is not used in five years, throw it away.” She is positively dangerous! They kid me that they are going to send her over to clean up my garage. Horrors!
The nursery has been a sore point for some time. Along one wall there are cabinets, a clothing closet and a food storage area. The clothing and food storage had been my pet projects to provide for the needy but they had finally sent the clothing to some other outlet, and the food was rarely used. It seems no one needs much. I hate to see it abandoned. Aren't we supposed to clothe and feed people? So many things are going now. People just don't seem to care about my projects.
They have changed our music. They have changed the order of services. They have changed our Wednesday night prayer meetings at the building to small groups in the homes. Changes, changes, changes! All people seem to want is change.
I have spent so much effort managing and doing things that almost any change is to something in which I have been involved. I have done plumbing, built walls, and put in heating systems. I installed a bell system, burglary system and the fire alarms. When we bought the property, I even made modifications to the building and lived in one end for a year. I put a lot of effort into those things. People just do not know what they are doing when they make changes.
Tear this out. Throw that away Replace something else. Doesn’t anybody like things the way they are?
What about the cost? And, why don’t they care about how it is going to affect others? This is a multiple use building. The daycare uses it, days. On Sunday there are different classes for Bible School and worship services. Again, it is used for evening worship. On Mondays it is used by the youth group and our college classes. Some outside groups also use various areas at different times. You have to think of how others will be affected. Nobody seems to care about anything but what they want.
I wondered back to the Nursery and saw a sliding cabinet door that needed repair. I went after my little handy-dandy battery operated drill to fix it before they decided to throw it away. When I returned, one of the ladies collared me about changes they wanted to make. She pointed out that we did not need the closet and food cabinet, and the room really needed the space. Yah, but... I must be slipping. I reluctantly conceded, internally let a tear drop for my projects, and relented, making a quip about her being able to soften me up. Another lady standing by said they needed to remember to use her more often.
I walked into the auditorium where some were talking about changes they would need to make in arranging things when they removed the back wall. One of the fellows called attention to some long low cabinets used for day care storage. About fifteen years ago I had found them someplace, cut them in two, and put on casters so they could be moved easily. Some wanted to get rid of them but I objected that they were needed. I had spent a lot of effort on them and here they wanted to throw them out!
He suggested that they remove the casters on one and attach it to the top of the other. That way it would not take up so much floor space. It seemed ridiculous to me but I said nothing. These people are obsessed with throwing things out. The next thing, it will be me!
I went outside and noticed they had discarded a lot of toys. Here we go again. Some time ago we had purchased walkers, children’s beds and furniture, and they had been dumped. Some even wanted to get rid of the display of books for sale I had put in a cabinet in the entrance area to encourage use of religious materials in the homes.
I walked towards the garage and noted that the dumpster was full and a pile of discarded things was growing beside it. There was a child’s playpen--in perfectly good shape! Worst of all, there was this wonderful big baby changing table that someone had given us, with drawers underneath where you could put lots of things. True, they tended to fill up with junk, but it was solid. One lady actually called it a “monstrosity.” There it was in the trash heap, and they had not even asked me! To replace it, they had bought a flimsy infant change thing that could not be used for older children.
I went to the garage. They were working on our Sears riding mower. What was wrong? Oh, the pulley had seized up. They put it in a vice to pound out the rod that holds it. A couple of whacks with the hammer and the pulley bent. -Throw it away and buy a new one. Darrell went to phone to order new parts.
I could see no nailing hammers in the garage so I went back to the church. A couple of fellows were putting up wallboard. Don had one man lined up to build a mobile cart on which to place the new sound controls so that they could be rolled out of a closet where they would be locked. He explained how they were going to organize the new mike sockets on the stage and showed the progress they had made. It was pretty impressive -Quite a change. Of course, all of the old things upon which we had spent thousands of dollars, would be replaced.
I have trouble understanding the importance of a “perfect” sound. When I began, we learned to preach from our diaphragm and put the sound in the bleachers! It was a real change when we got a mike and amplifier. We were happy to have them, but now they are “obsolete” because they do not have the proper “impedance.” They are installing a square yard of controls and huge black boxes to blast out all over the auditorium. With all the banging, wailing and thumping, what difference does it make? You can't hear the words of the songs anyway. At my age I can't hear those fine distinctions they talk about.
Then he really blew me away. They were going to get rid of that “ugly old pulpit” and replace it with a new one. That hit a sensitive spot! That pulpit has been with us from the purchase of our very first building from the Christian Science Society back in 1955. It is a huge old thing, wide enough for two people to stand side by side while alternately reading the Bible and Mrs. Eddy's writings. It was large enough that we even used it to hold our overhead projector. We had done some refinishing Chuck Mitchell had put, “Do This In Remembrance Of Me” across the front, for the Lord's Supper. I even put casters on it to move it around when we had plays on the stage. That thing represents a lot of memories of our past.
I cringed inwardly but only suggested that the new one be on wheels and that the top be capable of being raised and lowered for speakers of different heights -- since I am so short.
Then I asked the whereabouts of the hammers. We could find only one --with a wooden handle that was cracked. I told them I would go to the hardware store and buy a half dozen more. Maybe eventually everyone would have one and we could keep a few around to do the work!
Don asked if I was going right away. If so, he would go with me. He had some things to get to finish the wiring conduit. So, we made a list and grabbed some checks. We piled into his Bronco, and headed off to Eagle Hardware where we walked through the tool department, coveting some of the latest equipment, bought our hammers, a couple of measuring tapes, his conduit, and went to the checkout stand.
While there, he got a call on his cell phone about some parts his company needed to do a job in Louisiana. On our way back to the church building I mentioned how fantastic it is that, while going to the store for things for the church, he could manage a project for his company on the other side of the nation. Amazing, how the world has changed in my 67 years!
I had been raised in a log cabin with moss used to chink the cracks, starting out with no plumbing or electricity, much less a telephone. We had used a horse to plow, drove rutted dirt roads in a model T, and now this! Things today are really moving fast. Don remarked that you couldn't do what he did even five years ago.
Back at the church property, my son sent my grandson to get me. He needed help again. I went over for a little while, but I just had to get back and watch over things.
As I returned, a couple of the young fellows were looking at our wheel-mounted blower used for clearing the parking lot of leaves. They were huffing and puffing, pulling on the starter cord, but the thing just wouldn’t make that last kick-over to get going. I told them that the “Old man,” Chuck Mitchell, starts it every Saturday and kidded them that all it needed was a “big JERK on the end of the line.” I suggested getting a can of starter fluid from the garage. They did, and it roared to life.
And so it went, as I split my time between the church and my son’s project. Things rolled right along without me seeming to be needed at all -- and that pile of things they were throwing out continued to grow.
About two o'clock the ladies had lunch prepared and we stopped to eat. We serve it late because as soon as they eat they begin to think it is time to go. Eating that late drives Don Fleming, our director of evangelism, up the wall. How that guy can eat so much and not get fat, like me, is a real puzzle!
Finally, after everyone had gone and I was doing my usual job of getting the tools back where they belonged, I felt alone, tired and moody. I had done so much on that building and property. Now, things were being changed and thrown away right and left. It looked like the day would come when all the work I had done would be discarded and forgotten. Couldn't they at least wait until I was gone?
It seems like everything is going that way these days. The men who brought me to Christ and influenced my life are “Passing One By One” (Bill Paul's poem at the Funeral of Burton Barber). There are only a few hangers-on left of the old leaders. Now those my age are also beginning to go. Recently, Bill and I had lunch with a brother who was in town for the week, who we knew when we were in Midwestern School of Evangelism, back in Iowa. I listened as they listed a number of other classmates who had died, or were struggling with cancer, heart problems or some other ailment. I had the overwhelming sensation of a loudly ticking clock in an empty room, counting off the hours of life as we are irresistibly drawn toward the end. I must hurry and get things completed soon.
And then what? I could see them taking my meager possessions of any value, distributing them among the family, and sending my socks and cloths to the Good Will. This was unsettling. Many things I have saved are “important” --letters, little momentous of my past, pictures, videos, and tapes. There are nice notes or poems that people have written. These are a part of me. What value will they be to those who are left?
Most of all, what about the church? There are so many files on the computer and in my cabinets. Some are very personal. Who will have the time, or care, to go through all of this and decide what to save and what to dump? Yes, I must to hurry to get things sorted.
Will the college program be scrapped? Will the daycare be abandoned? What will happen to our churches? These young bucks who are taking over make me uneasy. It seems they want to change or throw out everything we have struggled so hard to accomplish. They could care less about what we went through to get where we are. If they keep on we will be right back where we started, involved in every worldly activity, playing “footsie” with the denominations, --even disregarding baptism into Christ and ignoring the authority of God over our lives and the church.
Then, as I sat there, gazing into the lonely night, my thoughts began drifting in a different direction. It has not really been a waste. Many are faithfully serving and a lot has been accomplished. God will complete His work.
It is not the “things” that matter, or even what I think or like. The real importance is those people. The “things” are dead objects that will pass anyway. Those living, eager children of God, working and taking the initiative, --that is what will last. That is what I have really been working and praying for all these years. There is the true value. They are the fruit of all of the time and effort spent planting and cultivating.
These are my brothers, sisters and children. They have been taught the scriptures and are now making decisions and changes to meet their thinking and needs. That is why I came to Seattle. The junk they throw out is nothing. What they have saved is vision and hope, and a caring for God. As I am the result of efforts of countless men before me, so now they are taking up the baton to run a ways and, in turn, pass it on to others.
When I began, I caused no end of concern to the older fellows, with my rambunctious and challenging behavior. I seemed dissatisfied with everything and totally reckless about what must be thrown out. Now it is my turn to hover, wringing my hands anxiously, as younger and less experienced men take over the driving. Slowed by age, I find myself standing on the sidelines catching my breath, watching as the younger generation goes racing past. There they go, charging forward, eager to change the world. Change it they will, for good or for bad, just as we did, and then in turn, they also will step aside and yield their place to others.
As I quipped to one of my kids who started telling me how she was going to do things “differently,” “When you grow up, you can make all of the mistakes you want. RIGHT NOW IT IS MY TURN!”
It is ordained, the new generation must have their chance to test their ideas and skills. We have had the privilege of sharing in God's work, teaching, counseling, and praying for those who will follow. Now their hands must grab the tools and go to work. Yes, the old order is changing. So it has ever been, and so it shall be.
“This too shall pass.”
-Until Jesus returns to remove the old and bring in the new.