Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Breaking Tradition

Some days my posts will relate to the daily lectionary passage. Other days, it won't. Today, it does.

"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?"
A question posed to Jesus by the Pharisees and scribes--the frequent critics of Jesus, his followers, and his ministry.

Jesus' retort:  "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?.... For the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God"[Matthew 15:2-3, 6].


But I don't want to enter into argument here. That's not what I intended for this space. I've had my share of heady arguments, religious and theological in nature. Instead, I want to focus on the heart of the matter here.

Breaking tradition.

Some of us may have never dared to commit such an offense.
Others have charged, swords raised, at the fortress of tradition on our quests for truth and justice and exposing systems of oppression.
Others still have broken it without meaning or wanting to.

In all honesty, I have found--and continue to find--myself in all three camps.

There is a part of me that does not want to ruffle feathers, that does not wish to move, that wants to sort this thing out, that wants to make nice with tradition and all its adherents.

There, too, is within me a warrior who rails against structures of oppression and systemic evils.

And then there are times when I can't help but break tradition by simply being and affirming the person I was created to be.

My calling into ministry (among other things) was cause to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, the tradition of my upbringing, and find a more moderate Baptist group, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. My "coming out" drove me, yet again, to find my place within a more progressive group, the Alliance of Baptists (for which I am extremely grateful).

I had to leave home behind a couple of times, but I never settled outside the Baptist camp.

"Why not just leave Baptists altogether?" I have been asked this many times.
And I think the answer has to do with breaking tradition.

Yes, I've broken tradition--both intended and unintended--many times.
I've let loose of structures that held me and that held me down.
I've moved out and moved on.
I may convince some people that I am good at breaking tradition.

But I'm not. It's an uncomfortable thing to do. It can be lonely.

Surely Jesus felt this kind of isolation that only breaking with tradition can bring. He felt it every time the Pharisees and keepers of tradition reminded him of his difference and unwelcome freedom of interpretation.

Jesus had many careful words for those who opposed him. He knew there was more to life than finding acceptance among those who held the power, who upheld the systems of the day.

Life demands of us certain breaks with tradition. But true maturation does not end in a reactionary stance. Jesus did not just shout, "To hell with all of you" and leave his Jewish faith and tradition altogether. (He did wipe the dust of some towns off his sandals.) No, he broke with certain traditions, and he held on to some.

There was something that caused him to both rail against and feel compassion for those who did not, could not break tradition. Jesus believed it possible to carry within both "the commandment of God" and tradition. Where tradition did not match up with the word of God (Jesus himself being that Word of God), Jesus exercised freedom--freedom from the grips of institutions and their commands, freedom toward prophetic action.

Jesus sought balance. He broke with tradition when he had to, when it was harmful and unhealthy to remain within its false securities. And sometimes the choice was made for him. Tradition broke with Jesus, casting him from its comforts.

May we live into the wisdom and discernment of Jesus, knowing when to break with tradition for the sake of the Kingdom and the Word of God. And may we also know when to put down our weapons and pursue unity and peace with those with whom we disagree.

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