Change happens. Every day. Approaching a new year always reminds us of that, whether we want to be reminded or not.

Indeed, where there is no change, there is no life. We know that, though we sometimes resist.

Change can be as incremental as a pound gained or lost, or a new haircut, or another semester completed. It can be as substantial as a new job in a new place, a new life after divorce or the death of a loved one, a new disease that threatens life altogether.

Change can be something we initiate, or something that comes to us. In either case, successfully negotiating life’s changes requires self-awareness, intentional action, and an attitude of openness to the future.

It was 40 years ago that I first heard a sweet-singing coed playing her guitar and crooning the lyrics to folksinger Phil Ochs’ “Changes” (an old video of Ochs singing it can be found here). The song was pretty, I thought — especially the way Elaine sang it — but the lyrics struck me as rather depressing. For example, in the first full verse Ochs wrote:

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow they fade
And then they have to die, trapped within
The circle time parade of changes

It went downhill from there. Ochs, perhaps best known for his political activism and for protest songs against the Vietnam war and in support of immigration reform, had reason to be frustrated. He struggled with his mental health, and at the age of 36, took his own life.

Obviously, that is not the only option, or the preferred option, when confronting change, or frustrated by the lack of change. As we make our way into 2011, each of us must give some thought to how we will deal with the changes that surround us. Will we just float with the tide, or will we be proactive? Will we strive to make our world better by living out Jesus’ teachings, or will we just let it happen around us?

We only have so many years to make a difference in our world, something I’m reminded of in the words of another Phil Ochs effort. In a song called “When I’m Gone,” each verse deals with potential actions, and concludes with “I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”

May we all confront the changes of the new year with courage and commitment to do what we can do for the kingdom, knowing that we have to do it while we’re here.

[Click here for a nice performance of “When I’m Gone” by Allison Crowe.]

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