Been thinking about tradition |trəˈdi sh ən|:
1 the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.
• a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on in this way.
• [in sing. ] an artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others.
Tradition gets a bad rap in churches these days. Especially in fellowships who live on the “cutting edge.” The thing is, if we did something last year, and do it again this year, and plan to do it next year because we think it’s important, sorry to break it to you honey, that’s a tradition.
In other words, traditions are inevitable. But look at the definition again: Is transmission of belief from generation to generation important? Yup. So traditions can actually be indispensable. The problem isn’t with traditions, per se—but with traditions that won’t die when they are no longer the most effective way to preserve and pass on what they were born to preserve and pass on.
Why do we find it so hard to “break” with tradition? Because whatever it is we’re doing worked at one time, and because it worked, it grew roots in our emotional memory. Those emotional roots have a name, actually. It’s called nostalgia. Here’s the definition of nostalgia:
nostalgia |näˈstaljə; nə-|
a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
• the evocation of these feelings or tendencies.
Going deeper, here’s the origin of the word:
ORIGIN late 18th cent. (in the sense [acute homesickness] ): modern Latin (translating German Heimweh ‘homesickness’ ), from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’
Simply put, nostalgia entrenches our traditions because familiarity begins to feel like home, and leaving home (or feeling homeless) is painful. The problem with emotion, as we know, is that it’s not logical. So, the new idea might be better. It might be more effective and demonstrably more pleasurable in the long run. But we don’t care about that. Bottom line? It’s not home, so we don’t like it.
That’s why people in churches resist change. We’re kicking them out of the nest, giving them a sense of homelessness. They can’t understand why the younger generation can’t feel at home in the house that they built growing up. It feels like an insult, even though they did the very same thing to the generation that came before them. And because nostalgia is by definition emotional, we are capable of highly irrational decisions and reactions when we’re in the grip of it.
I’m reminded that we’re to live as strangers and aliens in this world, not conforming to it and not loving it more than we love God. Maybe that attitude will help us not to get too comfortable in the “homes” we build for ourselves. Because Christianity was never meant to become a domesticated ode to suburbia. The Kingdom of God has always been, and always will be, frontier.
What's interesting is when the younger generation begins to adopt ancient traditions and rediscovers meaning in them. It is a profound experience when you imagine christians from all parts of the world have been engaged in a ritual for thousands of years.Sometimes change for the sake of change doesn't really make things more meaningful. I think of technology in worship, sometimes it adds to worship, but other times it becomes a distraction. Has powerpoint and projectors really added more meaning in worship? Maybe, maybe not.