Testing Our Traditions

Shiraz on the Shelf.jpg

“But we always have turkey for Christmas dinner!”

“But we always have pistachio pudding salad (the traditional dish when I was a kid) for Christmas dinner” 

“But we always open one present on Christmas Eve!”  

“But we always go see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve!”

Whenever someone tries to replace, remove, or reform a tradition, the change is probably met with a “But we always…”

What is your “always”?

Do something two years in a row and you’ve got a set-in-concrete tradition. 

Traditions are not just a holiday thing. They are a theology thing. 

Tradition. There’s a whole song devoted to it in Fiddler on the Roof.

Tradition.  It was the context of many of Jesus’ collisions with the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-8).

Tradition.  It has been the context of many of my own church collisions in my early years pastoring:

*Singing songs that weren’t in the Baptist Hymnal.

*Bringing a guitar and drums to the Sunday morning service.

*Replacing the denomination’s Adult Sunday School curriculum with a study of Charles Swindoll’s “Improving Your Serve.”

I could go on…

More recently, and more importantly, I’ve been dealing with traditions of what to think, what to believe, how to see God, how to see others, how to see myself.  

There are traditional ways of doing and there are traditional ways of thinking.  

 Both need to be “examined.”  Hold on to that word – “examine.”

First, let’s examine why we hang so tightly to traditions.  Why does the mantra, “We’ve always done it that way” fit so many so well?  There are two reasons:

 1.  We are copycats.   We tend to follow the crowd in both doing and thinking.  Instead of thinking for ourselves we want to be told what to think.   “Welcome to church.  Leave your brain at the door,” is the culture of many.   We count on pastors to tell us what to believe.  We follow their words in an automatic and robotic way. Pastors count on people to not question what they’re told.  Pastors can have an exalted opinion of themselves.  

Be a free-thinker!  Jesus told his followers that the Holy Spirit is their teacher (John 14:26). You’re walking around with the teacher within!  Listen to the Spirit.  

John writes that “the true light gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).  Did you catch that? “Everyone”  Yes, me.  Yes,  you.  Wake up to the light.  Be aware of the light.  You have in you the light of understanding. 

2.  We are scaredy cats.   Our world can be scary, stressful, uncertain.  Having traditions, when we do the same things over and over – like shampoo, “Rinse and Repeat” – we know what to do, when to do it, how to it, gives us a comforting sense of control and stability.  But is the comfort an illusion? A shadow?  Is there something more solid to which we can hold?  

Let’s examine the traditions themselves – not just the traditions of putting trees in our house or hanging our socks on the fireplace – but the tradition of thinking a certain way, of believing a certain thing. 

Ask questions about, critique what you believe and what you have been taught.

Paul tells us to “examine the preaching” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).  

Does it pass the test?  
Here’s the test:

When it comes to hearing a sermon, Paul says,  “Examine it and hold on to that which is good.” 

Listen carefully.  Listen critically. Give it a test. A beauty test.

The Greek word translated “good” (kalos) means “beautiful.”  

Does the preaching pass the “Is it beautiful?” test.  The test is not, “Is the preacher beautiful?” (I’m glad because there’s not much I can do about that!),  but is the preaching “beautiful?”

Kix Cereal is “kid tested and parent approved.”                                                              Preaching is to be “beauty tested.”

When listening to teaching/preaching, if it’s beautiful, hold on to it. If it’s not beautiful, let it go.

Traditions are about:

  • Priority – what/who is first in my life?
  • Authority – what/who will have authority over my life?
  • Beauty   

Jesus calls us to connect with something bigger than our traditioins.  He calls us to connect with love.  When traditional thinking, traditional views, clashed with love,, Jesus always came down on the side of love. 

Healthy religion always pulls us away from traditions of exclusion to inclusion, from scarcity to abundance, from a God with only enough love for my group to a God for the universe.  

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.