Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tradition

RevGalBlogPals today asks about tradition and the unwillingness to allow folks to change or let go. As I responded, it occurred to me that the inability to let go of tradition is a sign of death. When we are young and looking toward the future, we readily let go of traditions and forge our own new traditions. In fact, the young may worry older folks with their disdain for tradition. But as we face death, we hold tighter to our traditions because they represent life to us. I think this is true of organizations as well as individuals. We individuals and institutions become ossified and less flexible as we age. Organizations can live only if they return to their earlier flexibility.

"The War on Christmas" has fascinated me. For reasons that escape me the use of the phrase "Happy Holidays" has become the focal point of all that is wrong (according to some) with society. I walked out of Kroger a couple of weeks ago behind some teenagers (who are not immune from ossification of just not thinking just because they are young, my prior statement to the contrary notwithstanding). The young man was railing against the clerk who had wished him "happy holidays". I wanted to catch up with him and wish him "happy Hanukkah", but didn't. The congregation I pastor is unwilling to let go.They are too small to do what they have done before, but can't let go. Perhaps letting go is a sign to them of their death. I realize that is a contradiction, but life is paradox.

The particular circumstance cited in the RevGalBlogPals entry was a church that decided (I think) not to put up two tired artificial trees. And that generated criticism from the community. So, why do people feel free to criticize others for letting go of traditions? How does that impact them? And why this need to hang on to what are, at base, pagan traditions. A Christmas tree has nothing to do with the Christmas story. It is a pagan custom. As are our lights at the soltice. What matters is our hearts and our hopefulness in the face of God's unexpectedness.

Our God is a God who does the unexpected, the unimaginable. Our God does not seem to be bound by tradition, or by human ideas of who God is, what God should be doing. Why do we feel the need to be so bound?

5 comments:

cheesehead said...

Every year there is some kerfuffle about the sanctuary Christmas tree. It does represent some other anxiety, I'm sure.

This year there was an "all ages" Hanging of the Greens event planned before the 1st Advent Sunday's worship,(earlier that morning) but a crew of teh power-brokers came to church the Friday before and did it in secret so that nobody else would have any say in how it was done.

Talk about control.

Two new-ish families with young children walked in after getting their kids up and ready early, ready to decorate, and their faces just fell. I kind of decided right then and there to deal with some other church's tree trauma next year, God willing.

Songbird said...

I'm messing up other people's traditions for a living these days, but I continue to struggle with the ties that bind me. In the Tarot deck, the Devil card shows a devil and two naked people in chains, but they aren't actually chained to the devil after all; they could get up and go, if they wanted.
Thinking of you, and sending my best at Christmas.

Joan Calvin said...

Yes! Chained but not really.But isn't that how we are much of the time. We are chained by chains of our own devising. We make them and then can't break them. This is what I think Jesus came to teach us: how to break the chains that we forge for ourselves.

Jennifer said...

I struggle with the who tradition-or-not discussion. Traditions that exclude=must go. Traditions that invite and include: I'm for 'em.

Cheesehead's comment is heartbreaking. Too often we seek to control our world and others' by holding fast to tradition, when what's really happening is that harm is being caused.

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