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Friday, February 7, 2020

The Line Separating Tradition from Cement Overshoes

It has been said, I think by Jaroslav Pelikan, that tradition is the living faith of dead people while traditionalism is the dead faith of living people. What he meant was that blind adherence to the way things used to be, or "always have been," eventually leads us to stop growing - to die, if you will. The truth is that every living thing has two basic choices - to grow, or to die. There is no real choice of equilibrium in a living thing. It must either continue growing - replacing dead cells, processing nutrition, breathing in the way appropriate to its species, and so on - or it will die.

For religious and spiritual people, this truth represents a challenging reality. There are things to which we have sentimental attachment. Our mother's favorite hymn, Grandma's prayer beads, the translation of the scriptures we used when we first understood our faith, the third pew on the left, a pipe organ that shook the rafters, and the clothing clergy and religious wore "back in the day" are all examples of things to which we become attached - and these are good things. They are also things that will change, and that is a good thing too. Each new generation needs to find things that speak to them, that help them feel at home in their spiritual journey. Some of these will be the same as their parents, others will be different. We parents need to see that our children and grandchildren finding their own meaningful symbols isn't a rejection or us or our symbols, but rather a discovery of their own unique paths.

Sometimes when I am reading a spiritual "classic," I find myself wondering how the text in question could ever have spoken to anyone. I sometimes face the same question when reading contemporary texts. The problem often is that my world, my reality, just doesn't contain the same concerns as those of the author of the text in question. This is why we have a constant need of new classics, classics in training if you will, that do speak to contemporary people. It's also why we need to constantly be mentoring new, younger leaders to one day take our place. For those of you in leadership today I ask, are you mentoring someone or have your cement shoes already been delivered?

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