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On Faith: Indeed, change itself has changed dramatically

June 08, 2012|By Rabbi Mark S. Miller

As I am about to retire after 35 years as senior rabbi of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, I am inclined to consider the ceaseless flow of change.

Everything changes. The paths along which we come back are never the same as the paths by which we went out. Though the tides rise and fall, their flood time never washes the same beach.

Things change around us, slowly and incrementally, or abruptly and rapidly. Our bodies change in ways we desire, as when we grow and mature. And in ways we resist, as when the force of gravity makes its effects evident. We may adopt imaginative and desperate strategies to perpetuate youth, but we struggle against change, which will inexorably continue until the end.

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Society changes perpetually, sometimes so quickly that the changes are not easy to accept. Behaviors that people would hide at all costs but a few decades ago are now proudly displayed and advocated. How swiftly and broadly have social stigmas been transformed into acceptable conduct!

As Helen Keller said, "The heresies of one age become the orthodoxies of the next."

Change may provide relief or vexation; we may welcome it or be wary of it, respect it or resent it, be tranquil about it or troubled by it. Change can be liberating — as the day man landed on the moon — or horrifying — as on 9/11.

Some changes are for the best, like airline travel and the collapse of communism. Some are for the worst, like telemarketing and managed care, and the verdict is still out on some like genetic engineering, email and cell phones.

Often, the older we become, the more resistant we are to change. As Pearl Buck wrote, "You can tell your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come into contact with a new idea." Every leader knows that the surest way to make enemies is to try to change something.

Change itself has changed, accelerating at a rate beyond any previous transformations. It seems that the more things change — upheavals of modernization, complexities of globalization, terrors of nuclearization — the more they stay insane.

But amid all this change, the human condition is unchanging. As ever, we are thrust without our will into a world not of our making, only to be expelled against our will from that world. In between, life is often, to quote Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." We are moved by the same forces and swayed by the same passions as the people who walked the earth in antiquity.

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