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.
What stirs in my soul are 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 also 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.
Traditions, 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 was 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 its own survival.
The Rev. Jason Valendy, along with his wife the Rev. Estee Valendy, serves as co-pastor of Saginaw United Methodist Church in Saginaw, Texas. This post is republished with permission from the author’s blog JasonValendy.net.