By Jessyka Dooley
Every good business, church, school, etc., will have some kind of vision and mission statement they cling to as their compass for their journey forward and as a metric of success. In the Rocky Mountain Conference Youth Department, our vision is for every kid, teenager, and young adult to “Live the greatest story.” We dream of making that vision a reality by working diligently on our mission to “Make it easy for kids to know God.”
Maybe you’re beginning to think of your company’s vision and mission, or maybe you personally have your very own “motto” that you live by. Normally, I love a good mantra, but recently I read one that made me throw up in my mouth a little. As we were driving through a neighbor- hood, I saw a beautiful school building. On the front of the school carved in stone read, “Douglas High School: Defend the Tradition.” Once my nausea subsided, I turned to tell my husband, Kiefer, about this school and promptly spat out, “Man, it would be terrible to have to attend that high school.”
I love traditions, and I bet you do as well. My family has a handful of incredibly special traditions during Christmas time. One of our traditions is to cut off a slice from the bottom of our Christmas tree and write the year on it. Each year we lay out all the past years and add the new one. Traditions make things extra special. But I cringe when I hear the word “defend” in front of “tradition.” Why? Because I feel like it elevates the tradition itself over the culture the tradition creates.
Looking back on history we see many beautiful traditions and many harmful ones. I, for one, am thankful we have blotted out many traditions which have caused other human beings harm and, in many instances, death.
In his article, published in the Human Rights Watch 2013, “The Trouble with Tradition: When ‘Values’ Trample over Rights,” Graeme Reid points out the flaw with the idea of defending traditions. He states, “In countries around the world, Human Rights Watch has documented how discriminatory elements of traditions and customs have impeded, rather than enhanced, people’s social, political, civil, cultural, and economic rights.”
The idea of tradition in itself is neither right nor wrong, but it is what we make it, and so many times, we become so glued to traditions that they become our idols, our gods.
Let me point out that it would be easy to begin ragging on the church and how we place tradition over love, creativity, and our communities, but I want to take it a step deeper. You see, it’s too easy to find the flaws on the bigger scale, such as in religion and government. It’s more difficult to look in the mirror and see how each of us places tradition over people and the greater good.
We not only expect but also demand that our pastors and leaders pull us through troubling times. That they fix the wrongs of our church’s or country’s traditions that no longer fit for real time. We challenge our communities to be authentic, real, and vulnerable, but are we all those things ourselves?
I honestly have no clue what it would be like to walk through the doors of Douglas High School. I don’t know what it looks like for the faculty, staff, and students to “defend the tradition.” I don’t even know what their “tradition” is. What I can tell you is that the Jesus I read about in the Bible defends people first and traditions last. He is constantly in conflict with leaders in the church who adamantly “defend the tradition.” If we genuinely believe that the character of God was fully and perfectly revealed through Jesus, then we cannot ignore the very obvious idea that our God is for others.
As I think of traditions, ideas, beliefs, and values that I hold near and dear to my heart, I’ve felt the need to hold them up against the question, “Does this tradition, value, belief, [you fill in the blank], bring someone else harm, or does it bring life, joy and peace?”
Authentic Christians, genuine followers of Jesus, will always, first and foremost, be defenders of the people.
–Jessyka Dooley is RMC assistant youth ministries director. Email her at [email protected]