Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Praise of Tradition II

This morning, I drove by a Catholic parish and noticed there were kiddie rides set up in the parking lot, and big tents lining the edges. Ah, another Catholic summer festival. Instantly, memories filled my mind of being a teenager, visiting the many summer church festivals around town, eating lots of roasted chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and playing games.

I thought about those days and how they served as markers in my life, bringing joy and security at the same time. There is something very comforting about seasonal rituals and tradition.

I found my original non-denominational pastor online. He's now a pastor of another non-denominational church in Florida. He had a video that talked about his church's "differentiators." All churches, he assured the viewer, are good but they're all different in some way. Watching the video now from a Catholic perspective, I wondered to myself why - why are so many churches different? What makes them different and is this good?

I thought about the Catholic Mass and how it has endured throughout the centuries, despite mockery and persecution. How the Mass serves as an anchor for our faith. How there are few "differentiators" from one Catholic parish to another. Some may call that boring, but I call it something else. Encouraging. Comforting. Strong. I believe there is room for the church universal to consider tradition and how it binds us together. I believe other churches are starting to understand the importance of tradition.

Where are we going when we attend a church worship service? When I attended my brother's church a few weeks ago, it felt nebulous, as though I was plopped in the midst of a food court and told to just buy whatever I wanted. The worship team was technically great but overall, it was a performance. The congregation dutifully clapped once a real show-banger, was over. We celebrated communion (which was my favorite part), and then the pastor preached on homosexuality.

It made me think of the Catholic Mass, rich with meaning and tradition, and how I knew there was a direction to our worship. We are headed toward remembering. Remembering the cross, the sacrificial death, and the life Jesus brings to us through His Body and Blood.

I mentioned it to my husband this morning. I said "church" is mainly to help me remember each week, who I am in Christ and what He has done for me. It is by remembering that I am reminded to abide by His commands. And the traditions help me remember. Each week, they are the same. The traditions have helped me get back on track, straighten up and fly right.

When there are no traditions in a church, what is left? Doing "whatever" may have been fun at the time but was anything spiritually substantial being built? It's akin to a child growing up. A parent can allow the child to do whatever they want, as long as it's legal and doesn't hurt anyone. Does this build maturity? Or is maturity built by discipline, challenges, and rituals?

When I was in the non-denominational churches, I remember how often I was looking to be challenged. I wanted the hard teachings because I knew that was the only way to grow. Students rarely learn from the teacher who dotes on them but instead, grudgingly admit they learned the most from the tougher teacher who confronted them.

Tradition grabs self-absorption by the throat and says, "Too bad. We're staying on track, today." It knocks the stuffing out of "but-I-don't-wanna." It gets us out of our own navel-gazing and trains us to pay attention to what's going on around us. Tradition is beautiful, if we take some time to study it. I am so glad I've been given the opportunity to do just that.


Maggie said...

Another of the many things I love about our tradition is that the Lectionary rotates through most of the Bible in about three years. This way, I get to hear obscure passages from the Book of Haggai occasionally, instead of my previous Prot pastor's habit of only using Gospel passages or excepts from Paul (which are good, but you miss the whole picture of the Bible!)

Shirley said...

Tradition is like a rock standing strong in a stormy sea, a place of refuge and safety.