I read an article this week in which a journalist began by lamenting the sense of her life ebbing away having reached the age of 44. Having moved on to the idea of ‘mid-life crisis’, she concluded that ‘mid-life’ takes different meanings for different people. It set me thinking – and not for the first time – about changes that I’ve seen during my lifetime.
It has become common-place to hear people speak of the exponential nature of change. This is usually quoted with regard to technological change and it is certainly true that the number of transistors that can be fitted on a integrated circuit has doubled every two years. The layperson might quibble that commercial supersonic flights have been curtailed as have manned lunar missions, however, the general point seems well-made and it is extraordinary to think that less than 70 years after the first manned aeroplane flight Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. A friend who works in the aerospace industry has told me that it is almost a certainty that within 200 years there will be a Mars-based human colony.
My grandparents were born into a world in which no one had flown in a plane and Victoria was still on the throne. Two of them died having seen a man step on to the moon. I presume that any grandchildren I might have will see even greater changes in their lives and yet change is still hard to accept …. and especially at a trivial level.
The goal celebrations of modern footballers is often in the news. Long gone are the days when Denis Law acknowledged the crowd by walking back to his own half with one hand in the air.
Two players were criticised for dedicating their goals to respectively a friend and a relative in prison by running around with a wrists-together-in-handcuffs gesture. A Brentford player was initially included in this criticism, until he revealed that it was aimed at his young son who is a fan of X Factor.
Referees customary now give out yellow cards for over exuberant celebrations – such as when a 15 year-old playing for Wycombe Wanderers was carded for running to where his parents were sitting in the crowd. This somewhat stingy response wasn’t repeated when Bill Sharp scored for Doncaster against Middlesbrough recently. Sharp’s baby son had just died at two days old and when the player scored he pulled off his shirt to reveal a tee-shirt dedicating the goal to his boy. It’s hard not to feel for a man having suffered such a loss, but removing one’s shirt doesn’t seem the most natural way of celebrating anything.
Until the advent of TV close-ups it was impossible to know what players said to one another, but the recent furore over what John Terry did or did not say to Anton Ferdinand was an eye-opener. The argument seems to hinge on whether Terry referred to the opposing defender as a f****** blind c*** or a f****** black c***. Racism has no place in football or anywhere else, but the general way in which one player’s feelings were expressed to another might still shock some. Educating Essex, the documentary about a high-achieving school in Harlow, showed that such language is not unusual in schools when a teacher and a female pupil were seen discussing whether the pupil had called a member of staff a f****** p**** or just an ordinary p****.
How does one react to these changes in the world? One way is to embrace it. Not that I’m suggesting that we should all join Terry et al in their use of English, but perhaps we should work with change rather than resisting it.
This has implications for Christian people in that while we believe that we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus, there are many areas of life about which Jesus made little comment. Many areas of Christian lifestyle are dependent on tradition and so are open to pressure to change. There are also instances when the Biblical witness is challenged. For example, few people still accept that the earth is the centre of the solar system, despite the Biblical understanding of the universe. The same is not quite true regarding Creationism, as this still exercises a hold on many Christians.
The issue, it seems, is which tenets of our faith are temporal and which are eternal. I wonder whether this is, and perhaps has always been, one of the Church’s most significant challenges.