There’s an old saying that is supposed to be a Chinese curse (but isn’t actually Chinese at all), “May you live in interesting times.” The thinking is that peaceful times are boring and secure while interesting times are full of chaos and insecurity.
Curse or not it does seem we are living in interesting times.
I had breakfast the other morning with one of my dearest friends, Prakash, who is a philosophy teacher. I think we’re such good friends because we both love to argue and rarely do we agree about anything. That’s what made the other morning so memorable – we actually agreed about everything.
The University where Prakash teaches is currently in a state of retrenchment, which means no one’s job is safe as the school desperately tries to stay solvent. I remarked how similar my position is. With all of the changes in healthcare no one’s position is safe anymore, least of all a chaplain.
This led on deeper reflection to the changing state of our North American culture. So many of the pillars that have provided safety to our way of life are simply falling apart.
Universities and other forms of higher education are scrambling to keep enrollment up, while the landscape is changing because of the demand for on-line learning. Hospitals, doctors, medical insurance – the whole healthcare system in our country is in major flux and no one can predict where it will land. Journalism, i.e., newspapers and magazines are almost obsolete. Even the New York Times is struggling to stay afloat. Then there’s Churches, people are leaving in droves and many pastors are forced to become part-time. And Politically, not only is Washington in disarray but even major American cities and States are near bankruptcy.
Higher Education, Healthcare, Journalism, Religion, Politics – all are shaken and are shaking. The moorings of our culture are crumbling and no one knows where it will end. Making a five year plan is no longer possible when you don’t even have a clue what next year will bring. The only thing for sure is change – and change is coming fast and furiously.
While taking to a doctor friend yesterday I recounted the conversation with Prakash and she looked at me and asked, “I have two young children, how do I prepare them for all of this?”
As I’ve considered that question my only thought is to stay flexible. One of my favorite passages in the Te-Tao Ching is Chapter 76. Lao-Tzu (the old master) writes,
When people are born, they’re supple and soft;
When they die, they end up stretched out firm and rigid;
When the ten thousand things and grasses and trees are alive, they’re supple and pliant;
When they’re dead, they’re withered and dried out.
Therefore we say that the firm and the rigid are companions of death,
While the supple, the soft, the weak, and the delicate are companions of life.
If a soldier is rigid, he won’t win.
If a tree is rigid, it will come to its end.
Rigidity and power occupy the inferior position.
Suppleness, softness, weakness, and delicateness occupy the superior position.
This accords well with the wisdom of St. Paul who wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Similarly, I like to think this was also a Beatitude of Jesus that Matthew forgot to write down, “Blessed are the flexible, they shall not break.”
So my advice on this first day of 2014 is to stay flexible in the coming year. Bend so you won’t break. Who knows, these interesting times may even reveal to us what we really trust in?