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New and Old

When is newer better?  Perhaps when you need a map, when talking about the latest technology or device, when drinking milk… 

When is older better?  When you need someone to give you advice, when enjoying delicious cheese, when drinking wine…

Maybe you have never thought about it, but we live in a culture that is convinced that newer is almost always better.  Sometimes this is a subtle message in the background, but everywhere you look, you can find evidence to back this up.  The truth is, we value “newness.”  This is not surprising, and in many ways it is the plague of every generation that thinks that it somehow must be better than the last, closer to the ideal, and further along than those before them.  In some cases this may be true.  Many times it is not.   

This has been an especially common phenomenon since the age of reason, when culturally we began to think that somehow if we just looked hard enough and learned enough, we could understand anything and everything in the universe.  We became obsessed with “progress.”  Perhaps somewhere along the way we began to see things differently than cultures and ages before, where time was thought to be circular, where the world moved in cycles.  Somewhere it changed, and the thinking became, “If we are moving in a straight line, it must mean that we are further ahead than those who came before.”  

I have to admit, the first time I realized that I was influenced by this ‘progressionist’ thinking was in seminary church history class.  We were reading Augustine, Jerome, and Irenaeus – some early church leaders and theologians, and I was struck by their brilliance and wisdom.  I realized how foolish I had been to think that somehow people were smarter now than they were back then.  I had not even been aware of my subconscious bias until that very moment, when their wisdom caught me by surprise.   

But the truth is that newer is not always better.  There are ancient truths that stand unchanged by the passing of time.  There is knowledge and wisdom that can only be gained with age and time.  We live in an age that tells us newer is always better, but sometimes the old is valuable and durable in ways we couldn’t imagine.  God works with us in the old and the new.  God breathes life into the old, redeeming it for new purposes.  God blesses the new in our lives and invites us hold it up against the templates that have proved faithful.  So this season, looking back at all we have lived and learned, let us give thanks for it all, and see how God will use it to guide us, to encourage us, and call us forward on our path.  

In the same way, we often believe in the “myth of the clean page.” This myth tells us that when we start over, we get to start afresh, that the past is behind us, and we are free to navigate into some new future.  The truth is that when we start something new, we do so amidst the rubble of the old.  We cannot suddenly start from a different place – the rubble of the past surrounds us where we stopped, no matter how we wish it magically cleared away.  We never truly get a clean slate in our human lives.  We are left where things left off – often messy and broken.  We can never just start over; but what I have learned about my faith is that we do have another option.   We can redeem that which came before.    

Sometimes the families in which we were raised leave us standing in the rubble.  Sometimes a marriage has built up so much damage, it’s hard to imagine moving forward.  We might be tempted to start anew.  But the truth is that we still start where we left off, with all our baggage at least.  Maybe it’s a bad job or unemployment, the crazy church, or something else.  We live in a messy world, that is just part of the deal.  But no matter how messy, no matter how deep the ruins we stand in, God is always able to work with us to redeem what we have, to bring dead back to life, to make a new thing from the old.   

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