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Tradition

I’m writing to you from a car in the middle of 35 in southern Minnesota.

We’re passing field after field, the afternoon sun dropping lower in the sky, and everything’s a hazy grey-brown color today. The trees haven’t budded yet, and they stand tall and dead, cracking their branches against the sky. Water towers, fences, cows, a few small towns and soon we’re stopping for dinner.

We are on the way back from spending this Easter weekend with friends and family. After eating a beautiful spread of dinner on Saturday, communing over hot coffee and cinnamon rolls this morning, and spending some talk time together with the breeze blowing lightly in through the window, we are headed home. There’s nothing I love more than being with people simply to be in each other’s company.stained-glass-windows-cathedral-of-beauvais-9

The last couple Easters, I’ve had a lot of questions. I’ve wondered about how our culture presents Easter–both within Christianity and outside of it. I’ve thought a lot about the phrase, He is risen indeed! And I’ve thought a lot about the supernatural depth of Christ’s death and resurrection.

If I’m honest, there’s a lot about how our culture approaches holidays like this that annoys me. I can get pretty cynical in a church service, and I can get pretty caught up in analyzing the traditions that seem pointless or for show. This however, in reality, does nothing for me in understanding or remembering the depth of what Jesus has done. It also does nothing in helping me cultivate gracious thinking. When I get wary and skeptical about evangelical culture, traditions, or actions, I try and remember that just because these things seem overly familiar or overused to me, they’re not bad.

It all makes me think of a blog post I read a few months back by Rachel Held Evans called Vulnerability and Christianese. She discusses tradition and speech in Christianity and points out how the beautiful, insightful language that is found in churches across America isn’t all counterfeit. She points out, however, that it “becomes unhelpful the moment we use it to protect ourselves from being honest with one another, the moment we use it to escape vulnerability.” I’d encourage you to read the post to understand the full spectrum of what she’s saying.

Common customs of language and action can quickly lose their depth if they simply become routine. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s okay to be legalistic about tradition and assume that you have to feel something crazy deep every time you light that candle or shake hands with those church members welcoming you at the front door of the church. The point of tradition is to observe, to remember. Tradition is part of what makes different cultures unique, and in regards to the Lord, it can be what helps us recollect God’s promises and keep them in mind. Often, these traditions happen in a communal setting where you can remember together. There’s something really holy and glorious about that kind of togetherness.

If you struggle with church conventions or get caught up in the little things that Christian circles seem to say or do, some other great questions to ask yourself are If this was a tradition I had never experienced before–from another culture or country–would I be more alert and in tune with it? Am I simply looking for something negative to latch on to or am I letting the posture of my soul sit grace-filled and open, ready to receive what God might want to teach me during this sermon? Am I focused on judging others and what they do and say, or am I focused on loving people like Jesus did? 

I like that knowing God has never been something that was supposed to be safe and neatly wrapped up with a pretty ribbon. I like the roughness, the profundity, and the vulnerability that is required for us to truly know Jesus and truly know other people and the depth inside of them. I like that Jesus himself observed tradition, and that since we are made in His image, we too can appreciate how sacred and distinctive these customs can be.

What are your thoughts on tradition?

 

 

Photo by CyArk, Cathedral of Beauvais

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Tradition

  1. Love the thoughts. I think growing up in the evangelical world, the worst thing to do was “go through the motions.” Wasn’t that like half of our NLA chapels, messages on not going through the motions? So tradition seemed like going through the motions, and non-traditional things seemed to give more room for honesty and realness. But, I’ve been going to an Anglican church since moving to Denver, so almost everything we do in the service is steeped in tradition, and I’m learning a new appreciation for tradition. I think you hit it on the head when talking about having a posture of grace and openness. There is an incredible depth and beauty in doing things that people have found to be valuable for thousands of years, but it does require a certain perspective. It’s like the opposite of Wallace Stevens’ “Not ideas about the thing, but thing itself.” Tradition is not about the thing itself, but about the idea about the thing, and if you focus on the thing itself, you end up being critical. At least that’s been my experience. And, something else I enjoy about tradition is it doesn’t try to conjure up emotions. It lets people experience it however they experience it. And I appreciate the honesty in that. Thanks for sharing, Lauren!

    • Couldn’t agree more. I like what you said about tradition not trying to conjure up emotions and that it lets each person experience it in their own way. Thanks for this.

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