Thursday, October 10, 2013

Traditions are like oranges

Isn't it funny how siblings brought up within the one family can be so totally different from each other? Logan, my eldest, has had a wonderful linguistic memory from the time he was a toddler. Emma, my middle child, has more of a hands-on, creative style. She loves working with textiles and visual images to express herself. Blake, our youngest, is turning out to be more of a factual, mathematical, dry sort of character.

Anyway, Logan, as a toddler, had a wonderful memory and a great flair for words. He used to want me to read him his favourite books over and over again. One of them was Dr Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." Even though he's now a young man of 18, I can still close my eyes and remember his cute, high-pitched voice reciting, "From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere."

I remember the time he sat on my sister-in-law's knee, supposedly 'reading' books to her. Whenever she turned the page, he'd rattle off all the words on them. This happened book after book, and she thought he was amazing. We told her that he wasn't really reading, he'd just memorised all the books because he couldn't get enough of them.But to all appearances, this 18-month-old boy was actually reading words on a page. Even though it looked impressive, appearances can be misleading, because Logan wasn't really reading at all. He was just reciting what he'd heard so many times.

It makes me wonder how often we get the wool pulled over our eyes by people who sound informed, intelligent and even passionate, but are really just spouting stuff they've heard over and over again. How often do we do it ourselves? As a high school and early Uni student, I had a deep desire to know more about God. In retrospect, I went about it the wrong way. Joining like-minded groups seemed a great things to do, but I wanted so badly to fit in, be part of the group and not show up any ignorance that I just listened to the 'Christianese' words, phrases and terminology others were saying, and started copying. I fooled myself into thinking that I knew quite a bit and sounded wise. Nothing more sad than the illiterate who genuinely think they are reading. At least baby Logan knew he couldn't really read.

 I did genuinely believe that as these people had been Christians for longer than I ever had, what they were saying must be right. It took some time before it dawned on me that I hadn't really much of a clue about what I was talking about. Although I still have a long way to go, I've been amazed that a bit of personal further study has revealed aspects of which I'd been completely ignorant. And the scary thing is, during that earlier time in my life, I used to think I knew quite a lot. It reminds me to never get cocky about anything, because in another few years, I may still look back thinking how far I had to go. We'll probably all be doing this until our final days.

Imagine two A-students, Dux-of-the-School types standing together. One of them likes to genuinely think about the content of what he is studying and make informed decisions about the material to the best of his ability. The other is simply a parrot with a good memory who can easily spout off stuff for exams. And you can't tell them apart by looking at them, so you're equally inclined to ask either of them for advice.

It makes me think what a double-edged and potentially dangerous sword tradition can be; both misleading and wonderful. I'm talking about all sorts of traditions, including church rituals, holiday customs and educational institutions. They can be misleading as it is so easy for people to simply switch off their brains and go through the motions, especially after participating thousands of times since they were young. Parents possibly don't teach their children the deeper meaning of traditions, because at the start, they seem too young to understand, then later, because the child has been going along for so often, you assume the answers must just simply be part of their mental fabric. But it isn't.

 You may even find that the parents themselves are a bit sketchy on the deeper meanings of the traditions, because their own parents and teachers assumed the same thing about them. This results in a crazy culture like "The Emperor's New Clothes."  We're all going along saying, "Isn't his suit beautiful?" or the equivalent, "Wasn't that a lovely service?" while others are nodding and saying, "It sure was." Yet it may surprise us to really find out whether we are penetrating the depth of the tradition, or just mouthing the motions, as Logan, aged one year, did with Dr Seuss. Maybe we just don't like to admit to anybody, including ourselves, that we seem to be looking at a big, fat naked guy.

On the other hand, traditions can be wonderful when they really are saturated with meaning. It's great when we take time to peel back some of the layers to get to the juicy flesh. I guess traditions may be a bit like sweet, juicy oranges. I'm positive that when we ask, enquire, research and delve, we'll find that even the inane-seeming traditions are based on true meaning that has lasted for centuries. I'd encourage us all to seek for meaning of all sorts of traditions we may enter into illiterately and mindlessly. Traditions about the upcoming Christmas season, traditions about the old tunes we sing, sayings we quote and nursery rhymes we recite, traditions concerning our church services and school customs.  I like the thought of being literate in regard to the traditions we spout.

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