Defending Tradition (Sort Of)

Erik Cooper —  August 10, 2011 — 2 Comments

It’s July, but I can still smell them.

Swedish meatballs.

Every Christmas Eve my mom buries the already overcrowded dining room table in an obscene pile of them. Her mom’s recipe. My grandmother Helga (yep…Helga) was the only one of her siblings not born on Swedish soil, and every 24th of December we celebrate our family with a not so subtle reminder of our heritage. And my grandma.

(Cooper Family Trivia: We’re Swedish. This is why my first name ends with a “k”).

A beautiful tradition. A tradition that grounds us. Reminds us. That brings us together.

My life is full of these rich expressions, yet the word tradition still summons bad vibes for me. Probably because of my history in the church (and as a music pastor). Tradition became a battleground of personal preference. A barrier to creativity. A breeding ground for bad theology.

The enemy.

So in much the same way that worship has morphed into a musical genre, “traditional” became synonymous with the early morning hymn-sing we moved to the church annex.

I’m not so sure tradition is the problem. Lack of meaning, forgotten purpose, and just plain selfishness are the real issues.

The Old Testament is full of tradition. Yearly feasts, cultural celebrations, monuments of remembrance, designed and implemented by God Himself. But by Jesus time, corrupt spiritual leaders had manipulated them into religious rules, political posturing, and a means of controlling people.

Life. Meaning. Purpose.

Abused. Emptied. Hijacked.

If we’ve seen it abused, we’re prone to kill it. It’s easier to flip off the light switch than to step into the tension. But the truth is almost always found there.

Tradition can become a cemetery of empty ritual, or it can overflow with richness and meaning. A chip for brokering power, or a portal to deep awe and reverence. A strengthening from the past, or a selfish refusal to embrace the future. Oppressive and evil, or a pathway to the foot of the cross.

Tradition can help us find God, or it can become our god. What is it to you?

2 responses to Defending Tradition (Sort Of)

  1. For me, to the disdain of my family, tradition has long been something that I have wanted to aggressively throw off of myself, like an unbroken horse does with a saddle.

    But that is probably not because I resent tradition, it’s mostly because there is only so much room in life and I have wanted to reject those traditions that cloaked me to pursue the better things that I sense drawing me.

    It hasn’t taken me long to realize that traditions are unavoidable, because they closely resemble habits, and habits are like weeds. They grow whether you intentionally place them there or not.

    So now, instead of exfoliating them off, I am just trying to integrate them in a God honoring, concentrated way in the areas where they will do the most good!

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