Earlier this week I spoke at the funeral service of a good friend. He had grown up as a “PK” — a preacher’s kid — in the San Francisco Bay area. Since his dad was a preacher, David went to church. So did his siblings.

When David was in high school, and even college, music in church often involved two things seldom seen today: an organ, and hymns.

The church organ was a mighty instrument, and still is. For many today, their only interaction with organ music might have been Phantom of the Opera. As for hymns, if you’ve never experienced them, you owe yourself a little time on YouTube listening.

David learned to love both hymns and organ music, and he had both at his funeral service. The organist was the nationally renowned Charles (Charlie) Frost. He was a long time friend of David and his family, and he flew from South Carolina to Arizona for the service. I’m glad he did. He was incredible.

The hymns, chosen by David, were also classics: How Great Thou Art, published in 1885, and It Is Well With My Soul, published in 1876.

(If you don’t know the story of It Is Well With My Soul, imagine saying those words after contemplating the loss of your four daughters in a shipwreck.)

All of that — the incredible organ music, the amazing hymns with everyone singing together — made me think about “the old and the new” and ask the question: Are things really getting better?

New new and artificial

Some of you will have seen the title of this article and remembered a book by Michael Lewis titled The New New Thing. Amazon tells me I bought a copy of it 24 years ago. I was interested in it for several reasons, not the least of which was that I was working in Silicon Valley, a major theme in the book. Much of the focus was on Netscape and its co-founder, Jim Clark.

Only once did I go into the offices of Netscape — which seemed to double as sleeping quarters — but the high tech company I worked for did some work for Netscape.

Our company wasn’t in the book, but I had been close enough to the story that I had to read it. Fascinating stuff.

In the preface, Michael Lewis says,

The new new thing is a notion that is poised to be taken seriously in the marketplace. It’s the idea that is a tiny push away from general acceptance and, when it gets that push, will change the world.

The new new thing for Jim Clark was Netscape, his second company and the first really solid web browser. One of those things you are using to open and read this post.

The point of the preface — indeed the point of the book — is that some people are all about trying to discover, or perhaps create, the new new thing.

I am not among them, but I lived and worked in Silicon Valley long enough that I get it.

Back in the day, one of my friends in Silicon Valley was invited to help create a new new thing. He saw the potential, understood both the incredible upside and the certain downside, then declined the offer and moved to Colorado. It was a brave choice. The new new thing, by the way, was eBay.

The new new thing today: Artificial Intelligence.

I suppose you might think of ChatGPT as having been a new new thing. Now, a lot of people are trying to leverage AI in order to create a new new thing. I wonder if the snake will eventually eat its own tail?

Meanwhile, back in time

The hymn Amazing Grace was published in 1779, with the lyrics first being made public in 1773. My friend and fellow songwriter Bob Kilpatrick once said, “Every time I write a song, I try to write Amazing Grace.”

That raises the question: do we need a new new thing, or do we need to rediscover what we already have and seem to have forgotten?

I’m not suggesting that our churches abandon modern worship music, but that those who write it try to write Amazing Grace.

One of the most popular wedding marches, even today, is The Pachelbel Canon in D. No one knows exactly when it was written, but it was probably some time between 1680 and 1710.

Have you noticed the dates of the music I’ve written about? They are sequentially older. The youngest of them, How Great Thou Art, is almost 140 years old, the oldest, Pachelbel, perhaps 340 years old. Do you think AI will ever write a song that can touch either of them?

I have no doubt that people will find uses for AI — in fact they already have — that are very useful and very good. You can call me many things, but I am not a Luddite. At the same time, I am (these days) not much of an early adopter.

The last time I was really quick on the draw was early in the social media experiment. I had accounts on everything almost as soon as they were available. My wife has never had any, and she got it right.

Bringing back the good

Here is one of the more important sentences I’ve penned in a while:

I don’t want us to live in the past, I want the best of the past to live in us.

We should remember and celebrate and enjoy the old hymns. Most of all, their words, which actually say something and mean something and have depth, should remain in us. Grace (undeserved favor) is still amazing, and God is still so great that our souls have to declare it.

That is true with much of what has come before. Read the great books, and discuss what they teach.

At the foundation of it all, of course, is the desire to do good and the willingness to follow through.

In fact, I believe we can make the ancient practice of doing good the new new thing.

Let’s do that, and let’s change the world.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. steveneil

    Love the quote and will surely use/reference it!

  2. steveneil

    Agreed! Love the quote and will surely use/reference it…

  3. Mark Starley

    I don’t want to live in the past either, but it’s a good idea to have the good things from the past carry on with us.

    1. Lewis Greer

      Agreed! If I could only remember that great drive I once hit. 🙂 And, on a more serious note, the positive consequences of trusting God rather than me.

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