Tradition as a Spiritual Foundation

Since marrying almost 11 years ago, I have entered the realm of another family’s traditions. It’s nothing new. Ever since Cain met that girl from somewhere else, family traditions have always come and gone and evolved. As a child, I never thought much of the traditions of my family. They seemed plain and were less taught than assumed. During holy seasons, you went home, gathered around the table and talked about life. The food was good, the company was quiet but dependable, the conversation polite, the mood warm.

Now I live out west and the holidays are spent elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. The food is still good, the company is less quiet but still dependable. But the people are different, and my people are “back home”. The routines that feel familiar out here are not illogical…they’re just not my routines. As our family grows, the tradition changes and all of that is okay.

But I feel foreign. And I am foreign. Even if someone were to ask me about my traditions…well part of my traditions were the unspoken-ness of them all.

As it stands, the only tradition I have left is my religion.

What is Tradition?

Tradition binds us to space and time. Tradition recognizes my connection to my ancestors. Tradition also is my gift to give to people who will come after me. Tradition is the community of time. It is the wisdom database that is stored within my bones containing all the lessons and tendencies of those who have gone before me. And I am contributing to that wisdom database by simply living. I reinforce the wisdom that I understand to be true by practicing the traditions of my ancestors. I also correct the wisdom database by exposing the falsehood within it. Finally, I add new practices and tendencies for my offspring based on my living in my environment in my time. Hopefully, my descendants will inherit a more true and fulfilling wisdom database because I contributed.

It seems to me that the sources of tradition are family, location, culture, religion (both formal and folklore) and history.

Rootless Society

I wonder about a populace that is maniacally mobile. I wonder if our mobility is the cause or the result of our societal restlessness. I wonder if our mobility contributes to the ideological silo-ing of America. I know that I moved because my ideas and beliefs were not welcome where I was. And neither party was interested in further conversations to work out differences. So that population of uprooted people includes me.

But rootedness feels good. It feels safe. It gives me guidelines for how to act and what to decide. Of all the things lost in my various moves, gained is a surer rootedness in my religious tradition. Now people want to break that up.

The United Methodist Church, Tradition and Transcendence

In 2017 the momentum within the United Methodist Church will continue toward a showdown over human sexuality. This year will be a bridge year between General Conference 2016 and a specially called session of General Conference in 2018 to address all matters of human sexuality. It is a shadow that hangs over me and my family in a particular way. After bouncing wastefully around the connection for better part of a decade, we both find ourselves in positive and fruitful appointments. We fully expect that in short time, we will have to make very tough decisions about our callings and our appointments. The irony is that we are both skilled enough to lead our congregations through such moments. But we could end up on the outside.

Add to this the emerging uneasiness politically in America and you have a recipe for tremendous upheaval. For any aspect of my tradition to give me wisdom for this particular journey, I’d have to go back to my ancestors who fled the homeland to come to the New World. That is a very murky time to me now. More apropos is going back to the very roots of my faith: to Jesus touching the leper and eating at Zacchaeus’s house.

I’ve been working on this idea of ‘sectlessness’ for a while now. It is a feeling that all the divisions between humanity are ultimately arbitrary and meaningless. That among the lessons of Christ is the oneness of earthly life. We all need each other and we’re built to be bound as one. Jesus transcended the divisions of his day and joined humanity together through his life, death and resurrection. Trying to be like Jesus means also transcending these divisions.

[My hesitation is that this feels very easy given my privilege. I am aware that people in minority groups often cannot and do not want to escape their distinctions. I know many embrace their distinctions as a matter of pride and identity and I see nothing inherently wrong with that. I think for me, my desire to transcend may actually arise out of my place of privilege. I often feel entrapped and minimized by the privileges assigned to me. This is an unresolved dilemma for me.]

So What?

All of this rootlessness, both forced and sought, leads me to the only rootedness that seems trustworthy…my identity as a child of God in a universe of siblings. I give thanks to God that my church tradition has propelled me to this revelation. I also fear that this revelation will outlast my church. The ultimate tradition is that of innovation and growth and why should I not embrace this reality.

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