Week 2

Ch Ch Changes

by Meg Riley, Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship

Here’s how I wish change happened:

Change says to The Universe, Hey, I’d like to happen now! And The Universe replies, with ease and joy, That’s terrific! Happen, then! And change happens, a tiny sweet bud opening to a beautiful flower.

Here’s how it seems change mostly does happen:

Change says to The Universe, Hey, I’d like to happen now! And before The Universe can have an opinion, Resistance says, No! And Change says more loudly, trying to reach The Universe, I’D LIKE TO HAPPEN NOW! And Resistance jumps in and screams, NO NO NO NO NO!! And The Universe, hearing some ruckus off in the distance, says What? And Change says, I AM GOING TO HAPPEN WHETHER RESISTANCE LIKES IT OR NOT. And a drama unfolds, Change Versus Resistance, with some amount of change as by-product, though not always the change that asked to happen.

It’s not always like that. I mean, I love small changes. I am a person who creates and enjoys small changes just for the sake of variety. I never drive the same way when I go to familiar places. I like to try new recipes and new products. If there is an exotic fruit or vegetable I’ve never heard of, I’ll buy it without having a clue what to do with it, just because I like its looks. By now, I’ve had short hair, long hair, curly hair and straight hair; brown hair, black hair, blond hair and grey hair. And I never met furniture I couldn’t rearrange in a hundred ways.

There are people who enjoy the variety that this kind of surface change brings into life, and people who loathe it. In particular, people who work or live with me have strong reactions to this tendency. At home, my propensity towards rearranging the furniture has been known to make my family scream in frustration when they try to sneak through a familiar place in the dark and suddenly run into an unmovable object that has been moved.

But for me, these small changes bring life. Moving the furniture and new hair arrangements—usually carried out on the spur of the moment and without much forethought—almost always accompany my semi-conscious process towards deeper changes. They give me something to do on the journey, because in the move towards deeper change, resistance almost always shows up and slows things down.

Most major changes in my life have occurred over the course of years, not moments. Usually I’m on the baby step path through life. And sometimes the one step forward, two steps back path. Changes have not been accompanied by flashes of lightening or sudden enlightenment. They have been more of a slow drip, drip, drip, until the bucket overflows and dumps out and causes something large to move.

Oh sure, occasionally it’s different. There are moments that stand out even years later—love at first sight; or a time when I suddenly realized something I had not known a moment earlier, and the world tilted on its axis. But mostly that’s not how it works.

For me, haircuts and furniture rearrangements, new friends and new hobbies, are a way to practice the inward big changes. Getting out of ruts so that I have to be more alert and pay attention—as I walk through my living room, say—gives me practice getting out of the larger, deeper ruts I can fall into, even the ones I was born into and just called reality, such as family systems, systems of oppression—beliefs of the fish-don’t-know-they’re-in-water type.

In the US there’s been a lot of talk about change lately, and how it takes place. Many of us who want the centuries-old systems of oppression to change are tired of asking politely, tired of watching people we love be hurt or even killed. The Black Lives Matter movement is advocating disruption of business as usual, so that the disruption that racism brings into everyday life for the Black community spreads out into the wider world. Others loathe these disruptive tactics and suggest there are better ways to get things done.

Me, I am a reader of history. I see that no gain for any people has happened without friction and the escalation of conflict. I think over and over of these words from Frederick Douglass, which I first encountered in the UU hymnbook: 

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will.

Plowing the ground, thunder and lightning, roaring oceans—sometimes I truly loathe these things and want a placid lake on a sunny day. For me, it’s important to create stability when things are changing around me—to create spiritual practices and steady relationships and small creature comforts, so that I can face another day of agitation and struggle.

It’s in that daily balance of urgency and resistance, the daily practice of comfort and risk, the tiny moments around the edges, that I can really know change.