Tradition - Handing On/Handing Over

In a section of the book "Invitation to Research in Practical Theology, the authors write the following about tradition.

Tradition is a key religious word. It is an ambiguous word: carrying etymologically the meaning of ‘handing on’ but also ‘handing over’ - passing on or betraying: ‘traditio’ in Latin, ‘paradosis’ in Greek. Paul hands on the witness he has received to the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3) and to the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23); Judas hands over Jesus to the authorities (Matthew 26:45-46).

They go on to explore how we wrestle to be faithful to develop traditions so to not hand them over (betray) but to hand them on to the next generation.

Photo by  Justin Main  on  Unsplash

Photo by Justin Main on Unsplash

What stirs in my soul is not just the ways we are to be faithful to not betray tradition and how we ought to faithfully hand tradition on to the next generation, but the ways that tradition betrays us.

Traditions hand us deep wisdom and knowing that is valuable and important. We tend to idealize and romanticize the tradition of the past. Everyone has “golden years” they remember as the best times of their life and many of us work hard to try to get back to those times or lament that we are no longer in those glory days. And this is where tradition can betray us.

Tradition, like other living things, do not like to change and are biased toward self preservation. Tradition’s evolutionary advantage, if you will, is to convince us that they are powerful and that change is deadly. For instance in the United States the tradition that argues the Civil War was not about slavery is still very much alive and those who would change this tradition are faced with very harsh words and actions. (For those outside the United States, the Civil War is complex like all wars, but it was chiefly about slavery.)

Tradition is a big reason that I am dedicated to the Church. I love the tradition and believe there is deep wisdom and Truth contained within them. But until I come to grips with the reality that traditions are not just handed on but they also hand us over, they can betray us, they can enslave for their own existence.

Do not forget that tradition is never dead, it is alive and tradition is using every advantage it has to breathe and spread. Let us not be fooled, tradition is powerful and beautiful. But tradition can also betray us, leading us down a dark road, for the sake of it’s own survival.

The People Without a Right or Left Hand

Guugu Yimithirr is a language of some aboriginal people of Australia. I know nothing about how to speak it. What I have come to learn about this Guugu Yimithirr is that it does not have a word for right or left. When giving directions, a native speaker might say, "go north, then turn south and there will be my house on the east." The speaker may also say something like, "raise your east-side hand and touch your west-side foot." 

The people who speak Guugu Yimithirr have a language that is geographically centered. Conversely, English speakers have an egocentric language, where right and left are words used in relation to the person rather than the outer world. Those who speak Guugu Yimithirr do not have a right or left hand, only hands that are north, south, east or west. 

(This wonderful little article from 2010 goes into greater detail on the limits of language and where 20th century thinking got a little off when considering the role of language. However, the article also points out that just because someone does not have the word left or right does not mean they are incapable of understanding the concept. The article is more a discussion on the axiom, "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.”)

The language of the Church, at her best, is Christocentric. This Christocentric language is designed to not only draw our eyes to beyond ourselves but also to reorient our lives. There is a difference in saying, "look what I am doing" and "look what Christ is doing though me." The first is egocentric, the later is Christocentric. The first implies that the individual is paramount, the latter implies the self is a small part of something larger. The former props up the ego. The later puts the ego in proper location. 

For all those weird Christians we meet who want to "give God the glory" or say "it is by God's strength," just consider how weird it would be to listen to someone ask you to raise your north-side hand. It is a different orientation. A different orientation does not always mean a misguided, wrong, evil, sinful or heretical orientation.

How egocentric is your language? Are you willing to be re-orientated?

A psychic, convict, billionaire fisherman that does not exist

Take three minutes to watch this commercial made by Canon.

He stood on his soapbox and told us a parable
of a man with eye-glasses so small they’re unwearable.
And the moral of the story is that it all looks terrible,
depending on what you look through, what you look through.
— The Grandson of Jesus - by Cloud Cult

Within this video you saw one man walk into the studio six different times to meet a different photographer each time. Each photographer was given a backstory of the man. One photographer was told the man was a former convict another was told he was a billionaire and another told he was a psychic. After each photographer heard a backstory of the man, they then took their photos. After developing the film each of the six pictures were hung on a string side by side. The photographers all came into the room and examined the different photographs. It was at this time that the photographers were told that the man was not any of the things they each heard in the backstory. 

That is when the video comes to it's point: a photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than what is in front of it. 

So taking this metaphor out a bit, it is important to be mindful that how you see is influenced by what you think. The world is broken in areas, however this does not mean the world is going to hell in a hand basket. We are more inclined to see what we want to see and we are more blind that we want to believe we are. 

What story are you telling about yourself? What stories are you telling about those you work with? Live with? Dislike? Admire? God?

Prayer, why we may fear it

Tefilah is the Hebrew word English translates as "prayer". Recently it has been revealed to me by Rabbi Chava Bahle that this is a poor translation. In English, the word "to pray" means to beg or beseech. The problem is that tefilah does not mean that. Rather it means to 1) self-reflect and 2) taking a wide range of things and unifying them. 

The point being that prayer is a tool God uses to change us rather than a tool we use to change God.

leaves changing.jpg

Prayer is also the practice of being able to step back and reflect on how it is that contradictory things are actually unified in some way. Being able to "see" the unity in the midst of a broken world is very important. The genius and beauty of the Lord's Prayer is Jesus' ability to take a wide range of things (thankfulness, the greatest commandment, hope, dream, praise, etc.) and put them all together. Additionally the prayer takes things that seem contradictory and unites them, such as praying that heaven will come on earth. 

Prayer changes our hearts and helps us see. This is why those who pray know the power it has to change us. Perhaps that is why many of us do not pray - at some level we know it will change us and we fear that change.