Friday, February 04, 2005


Matthew 15:3-8 (New International Version)

“3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[
a] and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’[b] 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6he is not to ‘honor his father[c]’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I read an amusing little piece in Wednesday’s Emporia Gazette. It was titled “Phil Sees His Shadow.” I think you can guess what it was all about. Punxsutawney Phil has spoken. We’re going to have six more weeks of winter.

The title made me chuckle. I told Nancy that I went outside here in Emporia on Wednesday and I didn’t see my shadow. I guess that means that here in this part of the world spring is coming. In fact, I told her that I just might start a competing tradition. So here it is, my banner headline. “Phil Did Not See His Shadow.” I therefore proclaim that winter will be over very soon.

Well of course the neither my proclamation nor my Punxsutawney counterpart’s are really going to effect the weather. One’s an enduring tradition and the other is a startup venture and neither has anything to do with the weather. They’re just harmless fun.

Now I hope you don’t think that I’m picking a fight with a groundhog, or tradition for that matter. First, I learned about ten years ago not to pick fights with groundhogs. In the fall of that year Nancy had planted some bulbs and a couple of shrubs behind our shed. In the days after she planted them she kept noticing mounds of dirt piled up behind the shed. She asked me to investigate. For a few days I didn’t notice anything unusual. But I was determined to find the source of the mounds. A week or so later I got the evidence I needed. I was out behind the shed picking up a few tree limbs and I saw dirt flying from underneath the shed. Something, or someone, was furiously digging and throwing dirt. I’d found the source of the mounds. I got a shovel and starting scooping up the dirt that was being thrown from under the shed. I began hurling the the black earth back under the shed. As I did I kept muttering, “Two can play this game.” My nemesis was undeterred. The dirt was flying back at me faster than I could put it back where it belonged. This little war went on for about ten minutes. Then, in what turned out to be a fit of rage, my nemesis showed herself. It was a groundhog. How did I now that my nemesis was a female? She was “fat with child,” or children (later events validated my observation), and she was absolutely furious. She began to waddle, purposefully in my direction. Seeing that she meant business I kept backpedaling as she approached. Her message was clear. “I’m building a home here and you will not stop me!” I made one last attempt to hold my ground, lifting the shovel above my head to show her that I too meant business. She was undeterred and took a few more steps toward me. It became very clear to me who was going to win this battle of nerves so I decided, discretion being the better part of valor, to put the shovel down and resume picking up limbs. About an hour later Nancy came outside and went to the back of the shed. She noticed the mound of dirt and asked me if I had found out what the source was. I told her that I had and that the mound was going to remain. I think I put it this way – “I’ve learned in life that a man should never argue with a pregnant woman.” Fortunately for me, Nancy agreed.

Now as far as tradition goes I am, proudly, a traditionalist. I love them. I love traditional Christmases. I love traditional weddings. I love the core traditions of the church, the kerygma. I just love tradition. But there are times when our reliance on our “understanding” of tradition can get us into trouble.

In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” there’s a number that expresses some of the tension that over-reliance on tradition can create. Tevye and the men of his village see tradition one way. His wife and the women of the village see it another. And so do the sons and daughters:


Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?


Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa's free to read the holy books?


At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they've picked a bride for me. I hope she's pretty.


And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix,
Preparing me to marry whoever Papa picks?


There are times when tradition is assumed to be the core truth itself. Now the tradition may not be all bad, but it can lead to other assumptions that are. Take marriage, for example. Traditional weddings almost always include the ceremonial father of the bride giving her “away.” The words are probably very familiar to you. “Who giveth this woman to be married?” In some traditions the mother and father of the bride are asked the question. I think it’s a wonderful tradition. But does it square with Holy Writ? Let’s look at the root of the tradition. At the dawn of creation God has created Adam. Seeing that the man is incomplete God creates a woman, a help-mate. When Adam sees what God has graciously done he declares:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh.”

This, I believe, was the first human expression of love. Adam had named the animals, but this was a very deep, very personal, and special expression. This woman was very close to his heart and the expression of love Adam made reveals that.

But there’s something else that’s revealed. There’s leaving and there’s cleaving and it’s interesting to see who is doing the leaving and cleaving. Is it Eve? No, it’s Adam, the man. Now if the tradition were to be true to Holy Writ maybe we should change the litany. Maybe we should hear the words, “Who giveth this man to be married?”

Now I’m not suggesting that we need to turn this wonderful tradition on its head. But I believe we also need to understand that the tradition doesn’t give men the right to be lord over his wife or family. And yet there are some who take this tradition and assume that because the woman is “being given away” that the man is the stronger, and therefore the ruler of the home. That is, the tradition, as beautiful as it is, has become for some a breeding ground for tyranny within the family. I think there are some who even say that the Bible says that it gives men that right. I find it interesting to note how Jesus Himself used the word “ruler” when he spoke of marriage. His use of the word in every case he spoke of marriage (kathistemi) is best rendered someone appointed, designated, or ordained. In almost every other case Jesus uses the word “ruler” it is the word “archon,” which means chief, magistrate, or ruler. It seems obvious to me. God’s intent in marriage isn’t tyranny. Marriage is not a laboratory to see exactly how much power one person can exert over another. It’s to be a model of love, service, and grace that weave together to make a circle so strong that it can’t be broken. If the tradition is not built upon that foundation, then it will crumble.

I really am a traditionalist at heart. I subscribe to G. K. Chesterton’s words:

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

But I also subscribe to this piece of Chesterton wisdom:

“The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice.”

I’ll continue to cry at weddings when I see the father of the bride placing the hand of the daughter he has nurtured and loves into the hand of the man who is now to be a new and wonderful expression of nurture and love in her life. But I cringe when I hear far too many men say, “I’m the boss around here.”

And so, dear reader, I believe that while we need to enjoy our traditions, we also need to examine them. They’re meant to be wonderful vehicles of understanding, love, and service. They were not meant to be avenues to power and tyranny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...nor to maintain a wall between ancient error and God's Truth. Old error is still error. God's Truth needs no humanistic gilding or ritualistic volume.

History as history is a meaningful salute to heritage. Following generations need no additional burdens in the name of respect for the past. Salute!

a Choicemaker
Joel 3:14