The Constructive Value of Re-Traditioning

I had the honor of officiating a friend’s wedding at the beginning of this month.  They chose, with great intention and care, the ideal location to match their vibrant personalities, an outdoorsy place that needed little adornment beyond the splendor of creation around them, which would have seemed crazy in December except that you just knew that the warmth of these two people would manage somehow to defrost the entire crowd of witnesses; it did.  We worked together on the words, with great intention and care, and what I loved was the ways they wanted to honor great traditions of marriages past, giving their ceremony coherence and belonging with their own parents’ vows, their friends’ vows, while infusing for them what was necessary to speak and sing in their own hearts.  It’s why worship songs do not get old across church after church.  It’s not that every worship leader is a cover band, chasing a commercial dollar.  The same words, chords, prayers alight anew in each mouth, in each repeating and telling of it, enfleshed in every life and moment.

Similarly, I am amazed at my wife’s knack for this.  We have made Christmas a grand thing in our family.  Individually, I might be grumpy about it, wondering why we join the world’s hullabaloo (“Easter’s the one we should be spending a month anticipating and celebrating, and can you imagine preparing for the new creation by stocking up on items from the old?”).  But my better half has taught me the precious value of traditions re-traditioned.  Family gathering to compel the children to sing the same songs their parents did as children of immigrant families, trying to make coherence out of American lives.  Ornaments pre-dating our marriage, our adulthood, even our lives themselves, going up year after year as a reminder of the accretion of love.  And with my wife and now our kid, we established a tradition of making, rather than buying, the gifts we give each other.  For a person as un-handy as I am, and as quick-triggered to “bolster the economy” in gift-buying, it has been a weirding tradition that has forced me to give early and earnest thought to trying to do something I’m quite uncomfortable with.  For love.

The gospels seem laced with constructive re-traditioning.  Entirely consistent and entirely surprising are the ways God moves, the way he appears, the way he speaks and teaches, the world he unfolds, the kingdom he casts.  Yes indeed he speaks out to sinners; no sirree, he does not judge them but embraces them.  Yes he upholds the wisdom of ages; not at all does he misinterpret them to prevent him from healing.  Yes he is the newborn king, born of the tribe, gathering the nations, reconstituting the flock; yes he vanquishes his foes, he restores the splendor, he ascends a throne, he makes a new people.  No, it does not look like anything we expected, unless we are gifted to be guided by a strange, bright star.

The misapprehended arrival of the messiah reminds us that God’s radical re-traditioning is not haphazard, fluky, clever.  With great intention and care, it communicates the profound reality and pares away the misleading externalities.  Beautiful.


Pope Francis on Dialogues with Jesus

Like many, I have been moved by stories about Pope Francis, ones describing actions with symbolic resonances and statements which subvert expectations, in their reflection of a kind of Christianity that seems true to me, one that smells like Jesus but is still, at root, not quite conformed to the world’s demands.  So I decided to read a book by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, pre-Pope, knowing that much of what he had written was devotional in nature.

The first chapter of the book, “Dialogues with Jesus,” urges priests to attend to the contemplation of Jesus, and in particular he points to the various encounters where people dialogue with Jesus and identifies three ways they come to him.  There are the conditional dialoguers, the ones who would follow him but for certain factors, famously in Luke 9:57-92, but also the Samaritan Woman and Nicodemus.  Then there are the devious dialoguers, the ones looking to test him and trap him, to whom Jesus “responds simply by assertion the sublimity of the glorified life,” as in Luke 20:27-40, or with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, turning “the condemnation back on the schemers… then [restoring] to the woman her very life, encouraging her to live from that point on responsibly.”  Finally, the last group of dialogues are the loyal dialoguers, those who come to him “without duplicity or conditions” but with an open heart.

First, I am cut to the heart with how rarely I interact with Jesus, whether his stories or by faith or whatever, without duplicity or conditions.  I have become well trained in skepticism of all varieties.  I am eager to disprove the text, eager to hedge or qualify the commands, eager to justify myself.  But Jesus’ words and actions have a way of laying us bare.

And yes, I have a bit of hopefulness and a bit of skepticism, perhaps healthy, perhaps destructive, perhaps both, about Bergoglio.  How come all these good works and smooth words find their way into the media?  I suppose it’s because he’s the Pope.  But I realize that it is not mine to judge the man, his papacy, Catholicism, or even the authenticity of veracity of those publicized actions, because their force is not in who did them or whether they happened as the stories say, but in their resonance with a manner of living and being in the world that calls forth the dialogue.  We are faced with an alternative culture, a paradoxical citizenship, a different kingdom.  Are we going to engage it in order to trap it?  Are we going to put preconditions on our own participation?  Or are we willing to hear, with simplicity, the forceful truth of Jesus’ words and actions, the blunt blow to our vanity of Jesus’ humility, mercy, and love?

Daily Gratitude Log: Studying

Daily Gratitude Log: I can understand the feeling folks have of being tired of school, feeling shut down or exhausted with it.  I can get that.  But I’ve been a lifetime student, and as a teacher, the classroom has also been my battlefield, my front lines.  Today, I’m grateful for being able to study.   I’m grateful for my teachers, memorable or forgettable (or regrettable), grateful for the support and opportunity to read, learn, think, talk, and write, grateful for my formation and sense of belonging to the world that has come through education, grateful for today being able to continue studying now as a graduate student.

DGL: willful children

Inspired by Free, I’m keeping a daily gratitude log for a month.

Today I’m thankful for the fierce independence children can exhibit, which reminds us that our protective and sometimes controlling love must persist and adjust for human beings with their own wills and destinies, making it necessary to reshape our love into greater integrity and tougher, firmer stuff.