Over the last couple of years, I have revisited Octavia Butler's books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents through audiobooks. Unfortunately, they feel incredibly timely. They are based in a not-too-distant, post-apocalyptic future where America is taken over by religious conservatives, vowing to "Make America Great Again". I kid you not! In the face of this, Lauren Olamina endeavors to start an alternative community built around Earthseed, a religion/philosophy that she has developed around the tenants that "God is change".
"All that you touch, you change
All that you change, changes you.
The only lasting truth is change
God is change." - Parable of the Sower
I've been thinking about these words a great deal lately. To a large degree, I subscribe to the ideas. I've been thinking about how I have changed. I have been thinking about the things I have touched and the ways that I have changed them and the ways that they have changed me. It's not always been pretty. "Change" itself is value neutral. That we'll change is inevitable. How we will change is the product of numerous factors, some out of our control, some not.
Usually when thinking about change we are reflective. Looking backwards, we can see all the ways that we have grown and maybe a few of the ways that we have regressed. In the Parable of the Sower, Lauren's ideas about change are future-facing. "The destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars". She believed humanity was intended to travel and colonize space, and thus the actions taken in the present should be with an eye toward that goal. That included creating a community of people who could live together in harmony and that would be dedicated to science and exploration.
My forward-looking isn't that futuristic. I just turned 39. I'm thinking about how I will change the world and be changed by the world as I approach 40. Yes, 40 is just an arbitrary number, given weight by society because it ends with a "0" or "5", but these milestones give opportunity for reflection and evaluation. How will I change the little piece of the world that I touch? How will I let it change me?
I am starting this year with two jarring losses. My stepbrother died the first week of the year, two days before his own birthday. This morning I learned about the death of Al Denman, a mentor and friend from my time in Ohio. These two losses mean the world is down two very kind men. During the remembrances at my stepbrother's service, person after person expressed how he made them laugh and made the time to make people feel special. Al was a brilliant man, who thought deeply about the life of the spirit and philosophy. He invited me to gatherings where I found myself incredibly out of my depth in terms of the concepts being discussed. But beyond his intelligence, I and I think most people, will remember Al for his gentleness and kindness. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and incredibly considerate. He adored his wife and seeing them together made you believe in love. The world has lost two very kind men.
"Everything you touch, you change"
I have been changed by the kindness, humor, and gentleness of these men. In return, I feel compelled to think about how I will change the pieces of the world I will touch. I guess I have always thought it would be my intellect that would change the world. Perhaps my creativity. Maybe even my humor. Turns out, I'm not that smart, I'm not that clever, and I'm certainly not that funny. When I think of how and when my life has actually had an impact on people, it has been in those places where I was kind to them. It was in those times and places where I was, gentle, non-judgmental, and accepting. People haven't always been touched by my humor, but they have been touched by my smile.
Unfortunately, it has been my anger that I have most often used to change the world. Anger in and of itself isn't a bad thing (I think?) but, as I described to my therapist, anger is a horrible friend. At some point, you have to stop hanging out with it. My anger has cost me relationships and caused me act in ways counter to my declared goals of sharing love and peace with people. My anger has been toxic. I've come back to the epistle of James a few times lately. "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness" (James 1:19). In other words, anger can't produce the change I want to see in the world or in myself.
We do have some choice in what touches us and therefore what changes us. What I am allowing to touch me is the legacies of these men that are now suddenly gone, legacies of goodness, kindness, humor, and gentleness. Those things, it seems to me, have more power than anger ever could. Those things are things for which I believe I have a greater capacity. Those things produce God's righteousness (or justice).
I came across this quote from Abraham Joseph Heschel whose birthday is the day before mine: "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people". I'm not exactly "old" but the sentiment remains. If the things I touch are changed by me, I want them to be changed by kindness. And if this world of ours is going to change, maybe kindness is the only thing that can make it happen...