It’s July, but I can still smell them.
Every Christmas Eve my mom buries the already overcrowded dining room table in an obscene pile of them. Her mom’s recipe. My grandmother Helga (yep…Helga) was the only one of her siblings not born on Swedish soil, and every 24th of December we celebrate our family with a not so subtle reminder of our heritage. And my grandma.
(Cooper Family Trivia: We’re Swedish. This is why my first name ends with a “k”).
A beautiful tradition. A tradition that grounds us. Reminds us. That brings us together.
My life is full of these rich expressions, yet the word tradition still summons bad vibes for me. Probably because of my history in the church (and as a music pastor). Tradition became a battleground of personal preference. A barrier to creativity. A breeding ground for bad theology.
So in much the same way that worship has morphed into a musical genre, “traditional” became synonymous with the early morning hymn-sing we moved to the church annex.
I’m not so sure tradition is the problem. Lack of meaning, forgotten purpose, and just plain selfishness are the real issues.
The Old Testament is full of tradition. Yearly feasts, cultural celebrations, monuments of remembrance, designed and implemented by God Himself. But by Jesus time, corrupt spiritual leaders had manipulated them into religious rules, political posturing, and a means of controlling people.
Life. Meaning. Purpose.
Abused. Emptied. Hijacked.
If we’ve seen it abused, we’re prone to kill it. It’s easier to flip off the light switch than to step into the tension. But the truth is almost always found there.
Tradition can become a cemetery of empty ritual, or it can overflow with richness and meaning. A chip for brokering power, or a portal to deep awe and reverence. A strengthening from the past, or a selfish refusal to embrace the future. Oppressive and evil, or a pathway to the foot of the cross.
Tradition can help us find God, or it can become our god. What is it to you?