Friday, 13 March 2009


I went to an excellent Lent group on Wednesday, part of COTHA (Churches on the Hill, Amersham) which was using the Bible Society study on the BBC Passion broadcast on television last year.

This week it showed the overturning of the tables in the Temple and that led on to a debate on "tradition" - in the film one of the money changers says "we have been doing this for 30 years".

It struck me that we have three kinds of tradition:

Accidental Tradition:
Best described by the story of the teacher who was teaching his disciples, but found a stray dog interrupting the lesson, so each lesson he got his disciples to tie the dog to a post before he began. The years passed and the teacher died and a new teacher took his place. A few years late the dog died, and the disciples took a collection to buy a new dog!

Tradition without understanding:
I recently read an article in the Slate about a " lax, non-Hebrew-speaking Jew" who read the Bible through and was staggered to discover that there were so many references to it in common usage of which he had been unaware.

He went on "Reading the Bible has joined me to Jewish life in a way I never thought possible. I trace this to when I read about Jacob blessing his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh at the end of Genesis. I suddenly realized: Oh, that's why I'm supposed to lay my hand on my son's head at Shabbat dinner and bless him in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh."

This is tradition without understanding - there is meaning in what is done, but people are unaware of the meaning.

Tradition that is core:
Tradition without understanding might be worth keeping - although to make this sensible perhaps requires explanation so that it stops being "without understanding". What is left of tradition though is that which is at the heart of that tradition, which has meaning and is understood by those whose tradition it is.

When we are trying to draw others to God how can we make sure that we hang on to "Tradition that is core" whilst allowing them to jettison the other kinds of tradition - even if they are an important part of our own understanding of God?

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