And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5).

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).

Certain sectors of our society seem to love euphemisms. “Outplaced”=“fired.” “Furloughed”= “laid off for an indefinite time.” “Wardrobe malfunction”= “supposedly accidental, but actually intentional, exposure of a usually hidden body part.” “For your convenience”= “for our convenience.” “Negative outcome/success”=“failure.”

One of my favorite euphemisms these days is “upgrade.” My first question is “according to whose standard?” Like the “software upgrade” on the pumps at a gas station I frequent that will allow customers to buy only 35 gallons per transaction. Why should how much gas I can buy be limited? For whom is such a restriction an “upgrade”? Certainly not the person with the RV.

Sometimes upgrades are really just that. Something better. The way the laptop on which I’m typing is far better than the other two I used to have. Or the way IE8 improved on earlier versions, once the bugs were worked out. And, oh, by the way, I chose to upgrade in those cases.

What I hate is forced upgrades. Like when my Internet security software is completely upgraded with a new layout, and the old one was just fine. Or when my local cable company decides they are going to “upgrade” my service and everybody else’s, and of course it will cost more, require additional equipment, and defeat some of the functions of my old-fashioned analog VCR. (But “we have a DVR available for an additional charge,” said their rep.)

Whenever changes are made, whether in cable service or an organization’s life, I believe we have to ask: who stands to benefit from this change? Who decided to make it and why? Are those to be affected given a chance to decide if they want the upgrade/change? If not, are they provided a viable, attractive option if they don’t want it? (Unlike our cable company, that would deprive us of all but basic service if we did not accept the upgrade.)

I’m not against change. In fact, I like it, if I get to have a say in how/when/what. If it’s not imposed, but negotiated or at least explained. If I can see that it will genuinely make my life better/easier/simpler. I don’t need or want change that makes an already complicated world more complex or an already difficult to comprehend process or form more frustrating to deal with. And I especially don’t like change if my freedom to choose is restricted by it.

For all my complaining about upgrades, though, there is one upgrade I’m looking forward to and praying for: the day when God makes all things new.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham



Thirty-seven years ago, in the fall of 1972, the skinny nineteen year-old kid you see at right—me—stepped onto the campus of the University of Georgia for the first time.  I had taken no tour, asked few questions. Up to that time, I had never been awayTAC UGA pic 001 from home, not even to summer camp. I would have gone to a school only 35 miles away, instead of four hours, had not my community college advisor convinced me that maybe I needed to get out and experience the world a little.

And over the next two years I did meet a few people who were different from me. There was Charles, my assigned roommate my first year in Reed (AKA “Weed”) Hall; he was the first gay person I ever met. Then the guy who roomed with me in the basement of Reed one quarter, whose name I can’t remember, but who loved to skateboard, and had done so in Switzerland. (“Il skie sans neige!”  [“He skis without snow!”] he reported the Swiss saying of him.) He had also read Paul Tillich, of whom I had never heard. There was Katie, with whom I managed to have two dates (I was usually a one-date wonder), and who had traveled abroad also, with a symphony orchestra. She was surprised when she found out I was a Presbyterian, given my ultra-conversative theo-babble. “Presbyterian!” she exclaimed. “They’re some of the most liberal people I know.” Uh, not me, honey.

But mostly I hung out with the familiar crowd, namely conservative evangelicals, even as I felt a stirring within me to push those boundaries a bit. (Typical young adult stuff, but I considered my pushing to be sinful, given my upbringing in a fundamentalist church.) I got “strokes” from the Campus Crusade ministry I became part of, like playing guitar for worship or being part of a Peter, Paul, and Mary-ish singing group; meeting and listening to Mark Heard and Pat Terry, soon-to-be-famous “Jesus music” singers who were my classmates; and being complimented on my “boldness” against professors whom we all considered pagans who were distorting God’s Truth. Most importantly, I found friends.

What has occasioned all this nostalgia? On a recent vacation, Susan and I took a side trip to the university, only 30 miles off our route. I got to show her my old dorm (excuse me, residence hall), which had been vastly improved with a new lounge and access for students in wheelchairs. It looked so small. Reed was and is in the shadow of the stadium, which had had a good many gates and fences added. We saw Memorial Hall, where I remembered going to some Crusade events. It had been repurposed for offices. The old Union had been renovated and also augmented by a new plaza and bookstore. I became disoriented for a moment, because the shopping plaza had been built on the hill I used to walk down to get to the cafeteria, and there was nothing of the former landscape to be seen.

The memories were nice, but in the end, I was ready to come back to the present. I didn’t mind that the old landscape had changed, because that’s the nature of universities and of life, and the change seemed for the better. It was OK that buildings were repurposed, expanded or even torn down and replaced. And I was really glad not to be that skinny, shy, clueless, sheltered kid anymore.

For some, change is an enemy, if not the enemy. They try to look younger, sometimes going to great expense. They keep reliving the past, remembering those halcyon college years. They refuse to consider new ideas that challenge their established way of thinking.

I don’t like change for the sake of change, but I have been by and large glad for the changes life has brought me since college. Sometimes the lessons have been hard-learned. But if I am wiser, mellower, more tolerant, and a little more sensible, I thank God for whatever and whoever have made me that way. I like being a grown-up.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham


“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it” (Isaiah 43:19a)?


“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5a).


I have a digital acoustic guitar processor (AKA a “stompbox”) that I bought a few years ago to supplement my little 15-watt amp and Korean-made Ovation guitar. It features thirty-six pre-sets, each with ten adjustable parameters, modeling various kinds of guitars. I can dial in and save settings that suit my tastes, my playing needs, and/or my sense of how something should sound. Or I can leave the pre-sets just as they are. In short, the processor is eminently tweakable.


I went on a kind of tweaking binge recently with the stompbox. I picked up one of my guitars, then another, and plugged them in turn into the unit. When I started playing and listening closely, I found that some of the factory models which I wanted to use left something to be desired. Others were irrelevant to my style of playing.


The twelve-string simulation, for example, sounded too processed and not like any such guitar I had ever heard or played. But with a bit of fiddling with this and that, I got a tone I felt was much more authentic. So that was a little bitty tweak.


Another whole set of simulations (to make my electric sound acoustic) needed moderate tweaking, but then I tried one that was supposed to sound like an instrument from the Far East. I didn’t need that, so I decided to almost completely rewrite it to make the pre-set useable. Nearly every setting got tweaked. All I retained were the bare bones of gain and pre-amp characteristics. I kept at it with minor adjustments till I had something useable and very personal. It’s now one of my favorite pre-sets. But it took extensive tweaking to get it.


Reflecting on that process, it occurred to me that we may also need to do some tweaking from time to time in the Church with our “pre-sets.” That is, documents, rules, and traditions that somebody else put in place at some other time and offered (or insisted on) to/for us for use in our life in the community of faith. These are ways of thinking and acting and governing that somebody thought worked pretty well and considered reasonable approximations of what Jesus wants us to do and be. Rather like the manufacturer of my stompbox selling me thirty-six models that their engineers had worked hard on perfecting.


Suppose, for example, that a church board has an out-of-date Manual of Operations that once was fine, but now keeps the governing body bogged down in inefficiency and bureaucracy (major tweak needed, such as eliminating committees, reducing the membership of the board). Could be that the order of worship is largely OK, but still doesn’t quite flow properly (minor tweak, like moving the location of a prayer or a hymn). Perhaps a procedure is in place that has the pastor or a committee chair having to consult the entire board before he or she can take care of a routine request for property use (moderate tweak, such as authorizing the pastor and a lay official to make the decision). Maybe there’s a tradition that one lady prepares the flower arrangements for Sunday, as she has done for 30 years, and nobody else (perhaps more talented and faithful in worship attendance?) has a chance. (OK, that one takes more than a tweak!)


My point is, we don’t need to be stuck when procedures no longer fit our needs, the language or order of worship isn’t user-friendly, our buildings aren’t welcoming, and our traditions don’t authentically reflect the Gospel of Christ. Sometimes just a little change, and the imagination and boldness to try it, can mean a great deal.


Well, gotta go. Time to plug in and play with my tweaked stompbox, user setting B4.


© 2009 Tom Cheatham