Monday, August 24, 2009

The tradition of the elders...

As I was getting ready for sleep last night, I kept thinking about the gospel passage of this week's lectionary from Mark. I had just read an internet colleague's reflection on how hard it is to simultaneously appreciate an other's spiritual tradition while also noting that sometimes we don't even know enough to know what we don't know? So, she celebrated the common ground of feasting and telling stories within the wider family... and committed to go deeper.

As a straight, white, middle class guy who has been preaching for 25+ years, I know I have some bad habits to unlearn: I guess I will be unlearning them for the rest of my life. This week, for example, one of the habits that I have learned from my tradition has to do with Jesus overturning the Jewish dietary laws. I KNOW that this is not the whole story - and simplifying it only deepens the misunderstandings between Christians and Jews - but this is what I've been taught since before I was born. Thankfully, I know enough today to question old and bad habits... (although sometimes I forget.)

So I was grateful to read David Ewart's overview of this text at:

Not only does Ewart offer perspective re: "the tradition of the elders" - 5% of the elite vs. the path of Moses and the super majority of Judaism at that time - he also offers an image and process re: celebrating the wisdom of tradition while moving past what no longer serves life in our present lives. Ewart writes:

The struggle that every community in every age - including our own - faces is how can the "tradition of the elders," which has given us our identity, now be changed so that what was good in it - the desire live according to the will of God - can actually be expressed in our current circumstances.

The "tradition of our elders" did not drop down, fully formed, from heaven. The tradition of the elders is NOT the will of God. Rather the tradition is our elders' distilled wisdom through generations of trial and error. Because it is distilled wisdom, it is instructive and worthy of careful regard...

But the truly respectful response to the tradition is for each generation to take its place in the dynamic process that leads to the creation of tradition. To take our place in the process of distilling wisdom through trial and error as we too seek to name the "best practices" for loving God (whose love is unchanging) and our neighbours, strangers, enemies, and one another (all of whom are constantly changing).

This is going to be a fun and challenging week as I wrestle with tradition, scripture, prayer and living for this moment in time. I give thanks to colleagues in all faith tradition who help me know something about what I don't really know... I love this little insight from Peter Rollins.

credits: 1) modern jesus @; 2) unknown @


Black Pete said...

I suspect that "tradition", as in the "distilled wisdom", becomes "tradition", as in the stultifying unwillingness to change and favouring of form over substance, when communities are in stress.

Many religious communities are stressed right now, and I observe in many countries, the seizure of religious copyright by groups that typify for me the latter mode of tradition.

In the US and (increasingly) Canada, conservative Christianity (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant); in Israel, Chasidic Orthodoxy; in Islamic countries (with few exceptions), conservative Hadith-oriented sects: unfortunately, our media, largely uninterested in the diversity within the religions, seizes on the most vocal, most "newsworthy" (usually for negative reasons), the so-called "majority", at the expense of such entities as liberal Christianity, Renewal Judaism, and the sectors of Islam who are reaching out and willing to dialogue with other faiths.

We must continue to nurture one another and talk with one another, under the media's radar.

RJ said...

I am soooo with you on this... and so grateful for colleagues - and the internet - to help me dig and learn and challenge my fears and ignorance. Thank you for being one who helps me...

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