Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Traditionally Speaking

Happy Firecracker Day!There are two holidays each year that make me homesick. One is Christmas, and the other is the 4th of July.

Looking back I can easily see how our family traditions shaped the way I do things as an adult. Our typical 4th of July would often consist of something barbequed, at least one watermelon, rain, and nifty box of fireworks purchased from the pee wee sports fireworks stand up at the little convenience store on 6th street. The store was called Noah's when I was growing up, and even though the name was changed to Midtown Grocery somewhere in my late teens, it was still called Noah's by folks who'd been shopping in there for years. I suppose there are still folks in west Bremerton that call that store Noah's. I'm pretty sure Kenny's mom & dad no longer manage that firework stand like they did every year growing up, as they were elderly folks even then.

I'm no longer in Bremerton, and I'm no longer in a country that even celebrates the 4th of July - and that's pretty strange to me. I've been here 9.5 years and I'm still not used to it, and I don't suppose I'll ever get used to it. That's how strong our traditions shape our lives. It's a matter of "this is what we do, because this is what we've always done". When it comes to the non-essentials in life, that's really not a bad thing. Birthdays are always the same at my house and everyone expects (at certain ages) balloons, streamers, cake & ice cream and presents. This is the way we do things, because this is the way we've always done things. A birthday celebration around my house without these things would indeed seem very odd.

I thought about the different kinds of traditions we have, as I was reading Scripture Alone last night. I'm almost done with this book and I'm so glad I decided to read it, even though I thought I already knew as much as there was to know about Sola Scriptura, at least on an "entry level" sort of scope.

The thing about traditions is that if we let them dictate to us the way things MUST be, rather than the way we LIKE things to be (and there is a monumental difference there), then we are simply slaves to our own personal preferences. As they pertain to family holidays and such, if we're not able to adapt the way we do things due to such circumstances as maybe an illness, or financial difficulty, then we only set ourselves up for supreme disappointment. Could you have a 4th of July without fireworks, barbequed burgers and watermelon? Of course you could - it might not be the way you prefer it, but you could still enjoy the day without your traditions, if you had to. If you chose to not let your traditions be your slavedriver, that is.

When it comes to reading and understanding Scripture however, we enter a whole new playing field. If we enter that arena determined to hang on to our traditions (i.e., what we think the Bible already says or means, based on what we've always understood it to mean, or what we've always been taught that it means), we're never going to be open to let the Scripture plainly speak and come to a deeper understanding of what the Word of God actually has to say. We blind ourselves to the word, by our own preference. What a shame that truly is to stifle the word of the Lord just so that we can comfort ourselves in the (false) knowledge that we already know what it says, and what it means.

While we were away this weekend, one morning I did what I used to do when we would go to the cabin by the lake. I used to take my Bible outside very early in the morning and with the sound of loons calling out to each other on the lake, I'd read through the book of James. We didn't have any loons but I did go outside and in the stillness of the early morning, I let the word minister to me. I don't know how many times I've read James, but each time I do I come away with something new. There is nothing new in James that wasn't always in James, but each time I read through it, a little more is revealed to me, as I grow up in Christ. I love it when that happens, but I know that if I approached the word with the arrogant idea that I already know what it says (and indeed I do know what it says, as any Christian should), I'd be in danger of stunting my own growth. Of course I know what the Bible says, but that doesn't stop me from reading it again and again and again.

I can't even count the number of times I've come across a passage or a verse and think to myself "I don't remember reading this before" or "I don't recall seeing that there before". Maybe I read too fast and didn't notice the way a certain phrase was worded, that this time I read slower and saw it for the first time. Or maybe I read with "tradition blinders" on at some point and skimmed right over something really important.

I don't recall who it was, but someone once told me that you must approach the Bible fully prepared to be changed, taught, molded and have your traditions blown out of the water. If you approach it any other way, you're not nearly as humble as you like to think yourself to be. I really liked that little slice of wisdom and I try to have that attitude when I read the Scriptures. Funny thing is, it actually works.

Imagine that.