by Lincoln Sayger
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Each society has many traditions. Even if a new society is being formed, its members bring the traditions of their old societies and their family upbringings to the new group. More often, the societies in which we find ourselves are old and thoroughly encrusted with traditions.
But people often find themselves wondering why those traditions are followed and what their value is.
Traditions give us anchors for our faith and behaviors, because the traditions grew out of some truth, whether it's a truth of the faith, as with the lighting of candles or the parade of the Bible or Torah into a service, or a truth of relationships, as with a particular method or recipe for a main holiday dish.
When a tradition has become stale, the tradition needs to be changed, but it needs to be replaced with something that reminds us of the same truth, or in a familial relationship, of the current truth. Traditions should never be eliminated altogether, unless the tradition duplicates another tradition's truth.
Many churches try to eliminate traditions and rituals, thinking that this move will make their services more friendly to those unfamiliar with the traditions, but it's like inviting a new family member home and refusing to put a string of popcorn on the tree or to put away the dishes because we're afraid they won't understand the traditions.
The people of ancient Israel understood this paradigm much better than we do. They set up standing stones specifically so there would be something the children would not understand. Because that curiosity about what's been set up would lead the children (and strangers) to ask questions. They would ask, "Why is this stone standing here?" and the elder or local would have an opportunity to tell the story that went with the standing stone. They could tell about the passage across the Jordan River or the reason the leaven was removed from the household.
That is the proper way to deal with unfamiliarity. The Israelites were open to answering questions. They would explain why things were done in the manner they were done. Churches should do the same: encourage the asking of questions, and answer them honestly. When we do this, the traditions will make more sense to newcomers, and we will not abandon valid traditions but understand and appreciate their value.
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