I am all for tradition. I crave routine. I like knowing exactly what to expect in a given situation. Maybe it’s because my mind constantly runs at 180 mph and can go in any direction at any given moment, but I work well when I know what to expect.
However, I’m enough of a realist to know that things rarely go as planned. I spend the majority of my day working with people. People are unpredictable; needs change, moods fluctuate. That’s just how life is. What might work for one person won’t always work for another.
As a whole, people like structure. There’s part of us that likes checklists and standards, that likes knowing exactly what we’re supposed to do. Knowing what needs to be done makes life a little easier. We know exactly what’s expected of us, what we should and shouldn’t do. But life changes. Different seasons come and go, and what may have worked at one time won’t work the next. We grow, we mature, we learn new things. Our methods, our traditions, our “Checklist to a Perfect Life” will have to change to make room for the growth we experience.
As much as I appreciate tradition and routine, I am constantly questioning methods and searching for better ways to do things. I’m sure this stems from my creative way of thinking, but it also comes from my experience in education which constantly throws me into situations where I have to adapt based on the needs of those around me.
Tradition is great, but there is a time and place for flexibility and adaptation. Our culture is ever evolving. The influx of technology and social media has connected a complex and complicated world, providing instant contact with people who hold different beliefs and values. As eye-opening and progressive as this is, it has provided us with the chance to re-evaluate our traditions and methods.
In order to show why we can’t get completely wrapped up in tradition, I’ve included an excerpt from Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer (I could fangirl about Sanderson all day, but I’ll have mercy on your souls). For a little bit of context, the main character Dalinar has been questioning the very foundation of his religion. Kadash, one of the religious leaders, has difficulty letting Dalinar openly question his beliefs.
“Tradition?” Dalinar said. “Kadash, did I ever tell you about my first sword trainer?”
“No,” Kadash said, frowning, glancing at the other ardents. “Was it Rembrinor?”
Dalinar shook his head. “Back when I was young, our branch of the Kholin family didn’t have grand monasteries and beautiful practice grounds. My father found a teacher for me from two towns over. His name was Harth. Young fellow, not a true swordmaster–but good enough.
“He was very focused on proper procedure, and wouldn’t let me train until I’d learned how to put on a takama the right way.” Dalinar gestured at the takama shirt he was wearing. “He wouldn’t have stood for me fighting like this. You put on the skirt, then the overshirt, then you wrap your cloth belt around yourself three times and tie it.
“I always found that annoying. The belt was too tight, wrapped three times–you had to pull it hard to get enough slack to tie the knot. The first time I went to duels at a neighboring town, I felt like an idiot. Everyone else had long dropping belt ens at the front of their takamas.
“I asked Harth why we did it differently. He said it was the right way, the true way. So, when my travels took me to Harth’s hometown, I searched out his master, a man who had trained with ardents in Kholinar. He insisted that this was the right way to tie a takama, as he’d learned from his master.”
By now, they’d drawn an even larger crowd. Kadash frowned. “And the point?”
“I found my master’s master’s master in Kholinar after we captured it,” Dalinar said. “The ancient, wizened ardent was eating curry and flatbread, completely uncaring of who ruled the city. I asked him. Why tie your belt three times, when everyone else thinks you should do it twice?
“The old man laughed and stood up. I was shocked to see that he was terribly short. ‘If I only tie it twice,’ he exclaimed, ‘the ends hang down so low, I trip!’”
The chamber fell silent. Nearby, one soldier chuckled but quickly cut himself off–none of the ardents seemed amused.
“I love tradition,” Dalinar said to Kadash. “I’ve fought for tradition. I make my men follow the codes. I uphold Vorin virtues. But merely being tradition does not make something worthy, Kadash. We can’t just assume that because something is old it is right.” (Oathbringer, pg. 179)
Just because something has always worked does not mean it is the only way.
Sometimes things need to change in order to progress. Our grip needs to be loose enough that we are able to change our methods if needed. When we refuse to acknowledge growth and the need for adjustments, we create the perfect breeding ground for legalism. Traditions in and of themselves aren’t wrong. The problem arises when we start holding other people to our views and labeling them as wrong or inferior because they use methods different than ours.
The one thing I know for certain that will never change is Jesus Christ’s redemption plan for humanity. There is no checklist or series of achievements I have accomplished in order to gain His acceptance. All I have to do is believe that He is who He said He is and did what He said He did. Jesus’s message is a revolutionary one, one that transcends any transformation of culture.
Jesus knew God’s plan was radical. He knew it would disrupt the flow of the religious community. This new, unimaginable message of love and grace and forgiveness wouldn’t fit the old restraints of the Old Testament Law. A lot of religious leaders balked against this infringement on their traditions, but Jesus wasn’t afraid to shake things up a bit.
My prayer for our churches today is that we don’t get caught up in our methods and traditions. The radical message of Christ’s sacrificial love for humanity should always be the cornerstone of our beliefs; this should be what propels our actions and how we interact with others. Our traditions should never be stumbling blocks that keep others from seeing Jesus. If what we’re doing to reach people in the name of Christ keeps them from actually seeing Him, then maybe our motives aren’t as pure as we thought.