Traditions are odd things. They sprout from the circumstances of time, situation, and/or condition. Their existence likely meant more to the originating practitioners then than they do to practitioners now. Traditions also don’t change very much. They’re like the silverware set you received at your wedding… forty years ago. When new, they were nice, fancy, a symbol of newly married life. Today, they’re scratched, tired, and held on to only by nostalgia.
You may then say that the silverware old and new have one important commonality: it’s functional, it works.
But functional has no emotion. It’s manilla vanilla. It’s a base-spec Toyota Camry. It’s an appliance.
Now, functional traditions in of themselves are fine and dandy, but add (for the purpose of this discussion) the church and suddenly you have your church family taking sides (or just standing idle) – elderly vs youngerly, “conservative” versus “liberal”, introverts versus extroverts – it’s dangerous stuff. More souls have been lost over these battles than even some wars.
So what’s your point, Leong?
Well, perhaps I don’t have a point, as this topic has been beaten to death. Stirring this pot is already risky business as it is; I’d much rather stick my head in a jar of angry scorpions than face an irate mob of church-going benchwarmers. What I will do is throw in some personal pain-point Christian traditions and rely on you, O wise reader, to share you own pain-points and/or comments. Here are some of mine:
- Sitting on benches at church, all forward-facing, like we’re taking a ferry ride together to…somewhere. I mean, c’mon, I totally dressed up nice and put on my pants just for you today – why don’t you want to look at me? I guess I’m making a fuss for nothing – worshipping with your church family in symmetrically-aligned pews does share the same intimacy and warmth of sitting around a dinner table, or a warm roaring fire, or the couch in the living room. I would definitely love to visit your home, complete with courtroom-style seating.
- While we’re on the topic of sanitized worship structure, am I the only one who feels that the average worship service resembles attending a funeral? If you’re still reading, then please humor me a few more moments:
- You park in a well-manicured parking lot. (You might also give a nod or a weak hello to someone you recognize nearby.)
- You solemnly walk towards the entrance, where you are met by greeters. Some chit-chat ensues. Hugs are exchanged.
- With program in hand, you take your seat and wait for the coffee to kick in.
- The service itself consists of emotive music, a few prayers, some kind words spoken by friends of the deceased, and a commemorative sermon. If you’re lucky (of which there is no such thing), one of the speakers deliver a humourous speech.
- Everyone adjourns to the reception for coffee and snacks.
- You quietly walk back to your car, eagerly waiting to get home and out of your tight clothes.
- Automagically bowing heads when it’s prayer time, and raising them when “…in Jesus’ name” is (oftentimes meaninglessly) muttered, also automagically. This apparently is the modern world’s standardized prayer posture. Or as I like to call it – the penitent robot. Moreover, the emotional connection to God during prayer is usually implied rather than explicitly expressed. This is deemed acceptable and remains the counterpoint for many worshippers. In contrast, we’re told in counselling that voicing our feelings for one another – to openly communicate – is a key to making relationships work. Yes, even divine ones. The old silverware ain’t gonna cut it, then.
To cap: it’s probably easy to deem this as another attempt to shake the peace, to drive change in the name of modernity (I don’t even think more than a handful of people will read this to realize that), because that would be missing the point. The truth is that shared tradition is pointless if there is no strong beneficial and intimate basis for its existence – and that is the awareness that needs to happen.
What do YOU think? As you compile your thoughts and comments, do excuse me while I stick my head in a jar of angry scorpions.