After a long, restless night with croupy kids, I flumphed myself down on the couch with a cup of coffee and scrolled through Facebook, looking for something new and interesting in the world, something worth my attention.
I came across something I had posted on this day three years ago: an article by Jimmy Akin called “Is Pope Francis About to Eliminate Celibacy?” As with many of Akin’s articles, the answer was, “Nah. Nothing much to see here. But now that I have your attention, here’s a little history and theology.”
Twenty-five people re-shared my re-post alone, and 88 people commented on Akin’s article. Apparently it was a big deal at the time . . . and I don’t remember it at all. And sure enough, Pope Francis has not eliminated priestly celibacy, and no one is currently worrying that he’s going to do so. The topic simply evaporated like so much angry dew in the morning, adding its little load of dampness back into the air where it will eventually become heavy enough to fall to earth again, in the form of argy bargy over annulments or argy bargy over deacons or argy bargy over who-knows-what’s-next.
The same happens to 99.9999% of stories that everyone gets worked up about. Both left- and right-wingers are prey to this hysteria, mind you. Goodness knows I am. It’s almost like a sport, grabbing for the golden ring. We put so much energy into thrust and reach that we hardly notice we’re circling over and over the same ground. It’s fun!
But look-a here. You think you know this passage, but read it again:
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
Go ahead and pay attention to what’s on the news. Go ahead and keep a close eye on what is happening in our church, in our country, in the world. Other passages from scripture warns us to be alert, to be on guard, to be ready for when the Master returns.
But never think that there is anything new under the sun.
Most of the time, the changes (or, more often, the rumors of change) that seem so startling and portentous to us are really just subtle variations in the normal that’s been normal for more millennia than we know how to count. The rise and fall of the sun, the rise and fall of empires, the ebb and flow of righteousness and perversion, the ebb and flow of blood in the human heart — there’s nothing new, nothing new.
There are only two kinds of change that deserve our full attention.
One is the change that will be so big, there will be no missing it. When Jesus comes again to conquer the world and make all things new, it will be unmistakable to those who have faith. On that day, we won’t need to keep updating our Twitter feeds, mulling phrases over in com boxes, parsing unofficial transcripts, or watching and re-watching cell phone videos on YouTube. We’ll see something new, and it will look like something new. We’ll know it when it comes.
And the other kind of change is just the opposite: it’s so small, no one can see it but our own selves and the God who made us. It happens in the darkness inside us, and it is the tiny, creaking, miniscule, conversion of our own hearts, one cell at a time. No one wants to share headlines about this, because it’s not terribly interesting. It doesn’t get your blood pounding, and there’s nothing to argue about.
But boy, if it isn’t happening, then you are in trouble.
Everything else? All the argy bargy, hubbub, and foofaraw? Hear what the prophet Facebook is trying to tell us, solemnly pronouncing that “on this day” several years ago, we were all upset about something that turned out to be nothing and which no one even remembers being upset about.
I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
It took a night of dreary repetitions of waking, nursing, coughing, dozing, and waking again to help me remember how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable it is to endlessly argue, quibble, and chase after the wind of the latest, newest, newsiest news. The sun has risen again, the children are still wheezing, and lo, there is nothing I can change — nothing but myself.