“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)
Maybe you've heard of the Mindset List. It's the creation of Beloit College Professor Tom McBride and former Beloit administrator Ron Nief, originally created to keep faculty members aware of how quickly “contemporary” references in lectures can become dated. Each year a new list for the entering freshman class is created, and its main function for non-college students or professors seems to be simply to make us feel old. I’m especially interested this year since my son is a college freshman. (One of his friends is at Beloit.) Some excerpts from this year’s list, in case you were thinking that you really aren’t all that old…
For this year’s entering freshman class, there has always been a digital swap meet called eBay. They have never heard Harry Caray try to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” (At least not live.) West Nile has always been a virus found in the U.S., and Vladimir Putin has always been calling the shots at the Kremlin. The Euro has always been the coin of the realm in most of Europe. They have never seen a billboard ad for cigarettes.
For their generation, Ali/Frazier means a fight between their daughters, and Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles. Women’s basketball players have always had their own Hall of Fame. John Elway and Wayne Gretzky have always been retired athletes.
They have never had to watch a TV show at its scheduled time. For them, Bluetooth has always been keeping us wireless and synchronized, and there have always been iMacs on desks. Airline tickets have always been purchased online. Ice makers on refrigerators have never been a novelty to them. They’ve always preferred text to email.
They disagree with their parents over which is the first Star Wars movie. War films have always shown horrific battle scenes inspired by Saving Private Ryan. Michael J. Fox has always been better known as an activist for Parkinson’s research than as Alex P. Keaton.
In their lifetimes, Exxon and Mobil have always been one company — that doesn’t own any gas stations. Presidents have never had line-item veto power. A Bush and a Clinton have always been campaigning. While chads were hanging in Florida, they were potty-training in all fifty states.
And, Newt who?
It seems that we instinctively freak out about change and the passage of time. We don't like it when things change around us. Hang around an office one day when they upgrade the computers and you'll see it. Or a church when they change – well, pretty much anything. As a rule, change makes us uncomfortable. We develop little shortcuts in life, routines that revolve around things staying generally the same. It can be downright unsettling when things change and those little shortcuts don't work anymore.
And, of course, the most unsettling changes of all are the changes that we see in the mirror. A few more lines in the face. A few more gray hairs. A little more width around the middle. The inability to hold what you're reading far enough away from your face to get it into focus. All evidence of the one change in the world that affects all of us most deeply: that one day we won't be here anymore.
Our world screams hysterically that we have to resist the passage of time. It sells us creams and dyes and exercise equipment and clothing and surgeries that will make us look – more or less - like the passage of time isn't affecting us. But that's an illusion, of course, as evidenced by the fact that it gets harder and harder to pull off as the years go by. However loudly our culture screams that we must look untouched by age, over the din you can still hear the rush of the river of time.
“People are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field,” the prophet reminds us. It's a good thing he does, otherwise we might forget what really matters. We're not built to resist the passage of time, any more than the grass and flowers in a meadow are. We navigate a changing world in dying bodies, and all the hair coloring and pilates in the world won't alter that. In some cases we can improve a little on Job's “three score and ten,” but not forever. “The grass withers and the flowers fall,” the prophet says. “Surely the people are grass.”
Our world calls that depressing, but it isn't. Depressing is people going about their lives like they're going to be anything but a hazy memory a mere century from now. Depressing is not being able to read the writing on the wall. Depressing is living for wealth and influence and control. Depressing is forgetting that we are mortal. And forgetting what does last.
“The word of our God stands forever.” Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, what God says is true. What he speaks, exists. Isaiah's point in reminding us of our mortality is to remind us of God's glory. “The glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it,” he says. “For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5)
And this God never forgets his people. That's our hope – not in holding on to our youth, because “even youths grow tired and weary.” (Isaiah 40:30) “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” So while our world changes around us, we trust in the God who never does. When our strength fails, we trust in the God who renews our strength. And when our bodies fade and die like a flower dropping its petals, we trust even then in the God who lives. And who gives life.
So bring on your Mindset List, Beloit College. You don't scare me. I know how to make ice in a tray.