A Living Tradition: Part 2—NOT Fake News
In the March edition of the newsletter (see below) I shared a parable from author Peter Rollins about how tradition needs to stay fresh and to be updated in order to keep its relevance and vitality. In this issue I hope to unpack that a bit more.
In a few weeks we will celebrate one of the most sacred holidays on the church calendar – Easter: the resurrection from the dead of Jesus and his defeat over death and despair. But have you ever asked yourself what if Jesus did not rise from the dead? I mean we would still have his insightful and wise teachings, right? We would still have his example to show us how to live. There is enough there to make a very compelling Sunday School story at the very least, and a religion out of, even without the resurrection. So is the resurrection of Jesus just the ancient version of “fake news”? It may be a unique and incredible event, for sure but the disciples testified with their very lives to its veracity and actuality, not to mention the hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw the risen Christ. But anyhow, the resurrection of Jesus tells us something very important about Christianity. We don’t just have access to the memories ABOUT Jesus. We don’t just have copies of his words and teaching. The good news, i.e. “Gospel”, is that we actually have a genuine and vital connection to the source, the LIVING Christ! Thus, we are a part of a living tradition of faith. So how does this actually play out for us? Well in part it means we are called to…
Look back, as Christ’s Spirit leads us, in honesty, reflection, and humble sorrow where appropriate. We acknowledge that part of our history as the church is dark, bloody, oppressive, elitist, and myopic. We also acknowledge that the past has not always passed and that some of that darkness is still casting its ugly shadow over us today. We need to do as they say in 12 step programs: “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself“. We confess that we have screwed it up. Really bad in some cases! It’s hard to do this honest inventory. If it were easy, though, our Founder might have asked us to carry a bouquet of flowers instead of a bloody, splintered, and heavy cross. As we look back in sorrow and genuine repentance we then are able to freely…..
Let God’s Spirit help us to look forward with open eyes, minds, heart, and hands. I appreciate so much the living tradition of our faith. In addition to times of darkness and sin, there have been times of great innovation, generous love, and amazing courage while standing with some of the world’s most marginalized and oppressed peoples of the time. As we look forward we see we are being invited into a life of compassion, creativity, and Christ-likeness and to abide with a sense of deep joy and undiminished hope.
I am convinced the early disciples would have laughed out loud had they known their experiences with Jesus would eventually become a WORLD religion. So how did that happen? Short answer…. their hearts of faith saw Jesus joyfully dancing out from his grave and leading them (and us) into a world we are called to serve, challenge, inspire, and love. As we celebrate Easter this year my prayer is that you will participate in the great and joyful dance of love with the triune God; this living tradition of faith we are being invited into. Happy Easter!
A Living Tradition: Part 1
When I first went to church as a teenager I heard the word “tradition” thrown around a lot. The way people spoke about it I always thought they were referring to something flat, boring, colorless, inflexible and dull. It would take me many more years in the church to see that it was actually something much, much more interesting.
Author Peter Rollins in his book The Orthodox Heretic tells an interesting parable. Now this is not quite the strict scriptural account you may be used to, but as you read it I think you might understand why. Here goes….
“One day a small group of disciples who had embraced the way of Jesus early in his ministry heard him preaching by the side of a dusty road. As they crowded round they heard Jesus say ‘The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.’ The disciples were deeply impressed by these words, for at that time a Roman soldier had the legal right to demand that a citizen carry his pack for a mile as a service to the Empire. This teaching not only allowed the disciples to turn this oppressive law into an opportunity to demonstrate kingdom values, but also presented them with an opportunity to suffer in some small way for their faith. As it was common for soldiers to evoke this law, the small band of believers soon developed a reputation for their actions.
“Roman soldiers would often hope that the citizens they asked to carry their packs would be among these disciples and often a small bond of friendship would develop between a soldier and these followers of the Way. After a year had passed this custom had become so established in the group that it became a defining characteristic of their shared life. The leaders would frequently refer to the teaching of Jesus and emphasize the need to carry a pack of the Roman soldier for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God. It so happened that Jesus heard about this community’s work, and, on his way to Jerusalem, took time to visit them. The leaders eagerly gathered all the members of the group to hear what Jesus would say. Once everyone had gathered, Jesus addressed them: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first. Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles. My law says, ‘carry it for three.’”
Do you see what is happening in this semi-fictitious parable? An important truth is being revealed. Christianity is more than just an ancient religion to be followed with preciseness and exactitude. It’s a living tradition! Moldable! Fresh! Moving! Vibrant! Alive! Relevant! Anything but boring!
My son and I have a bedtime tradition in our household. I sing him to sleep. We have two special songs. A similar thing was done by my father for me when I was a child. Same two songs. However, there are differences. I have changed some of the words. I have even changed some of the tune. Gasp! 🙂 The tradition of singing my son to sleep at bedtime remains. I am passing along a living tradition to him. Someday I hope he will keep this tradition alive with his children. I even HOPE he makes changes to it to make it better and meaningful for his children.
In April I will share Part 2.
Questions? Comments? Contact: Chris Archer, Director of Family Ministries