20 June 2010

Tradition and us

Something I shared with my church today.

One of the concern I had when coming over to Australia to study was whether I would be able to adapt to the huge change of lifestyle from Malaysia. How would the Aussie culture be? Will I be able to adapt and accept it quickly? How will it clash with my Christian background?

My other concerns were, which church should I attend? And if the new church I was going to attend be the right one for me? What if God asked me to attend a traditional church which sings hymns played by an elderly on an pipe organ? How would I from a charismatic church background adapt? No reference to this church or anyone

What is tradition? 
Cambridge Dictionary defines it as a belief, principle or way of acting which people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time. The many traditions make up a culture. People make traditions. Because PEOPLE, affect the way things work in the society. 

And when outsiders come into the group, they are influenced too. They conform to the way people in general behave. We, behave the way, You behave. Like HUGGING, I like the HUGGING culture here. The two girls I hang out with, loves the loving husband culture of the church. Doesn't put much pressure on the guys. Nope.

To elucidate the formation of tradition, here is a monkey illustration. There were four monkeys in a large cage with a pole in the middle. On top of the pole was a bunch of bananas. The 4 monkeys were kept there for some time and soon, they became hungry. They decided to climb the pole to grab some bananas to eat. But when the monkeys climbed to the half way point, freezing water was sprayed at all of them and they quickly hop off and ran for cover. 

Confused, they wondered what just happened. So they waited for a while, then decided that one of them should try climbing again. The volunteer, bravely set off for the pole. AGAIN! The freezing water was sprayed at all monkeys as soon as the monkey climbed halfway. 

After a while. The monkeys no longer dared climb the pole. But as time past, the monkeys became hungrier, one of them decided to have a go. When the brave monkey got near the pole, the other three quickly ran up to beat the monkey, to prevent him from climbing. Out of fear of being sprayed with freezing water. 

Soon, one of the monkeys was taken out and a new one came in. Inexperienced, when the new one decided to climb the pole for food, the other three veteran monkeys, pounced on him, beat him up. That happened each time the new monkey climbed the pole and soon, the new one conformed to the ways of the group. 

A little while later, one of the three veteran monkeys were replaced with another new monkey. The same thing happened, when the newest monkey tried to climb the pole, the two veteran monkeys, joined by the experienced monkey will beat the new one up. 

The same happened with the third replacement. And when the fourth replacement came, all the monkeys knew that they are not to climb the pole where the bananas are for the fear of being beaten up. 

That is tradition.

So what happens when a radical comes along? Lets open up the Book of Mark, Chapter 7: 
1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 
2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 
5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

What is happening? Verses 3 and 4 explains: 
3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

How did Jesus reply?
6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
   " 'These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
 7They worship me in vain;
      their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

HUH? What is Jesus trying to say?
8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 
15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "

Why?
18nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 
19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body."
20..."What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 
21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 
22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 
23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "

That is just one example of tradition which Jesus challenged. Other examples include:
1. Mark 7:10-12 When the Jews used the excuse of giving to God to NOT honour their parents.
2. Matthew 12 Jesus' disciples picked grain and ate during Sabbath. You are not suppose to do that on the day of the lord. 
3. Matthew 12 Jesus healed during Sabbath a man whose hand has shrivelled. 


What does Jesus say about traditions and law?
Was Jesus there to break all the traditions and laws? No, he is here to fulfil them! Matthew 5:17 
So what are traditions for? Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
        (and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.)

It does not matter what we do, how we do it or when; but it is crucial why we do it and who we do it for, who we do it with. Something which I only began to understand better, that when you love and care for somebody, you would want to spend time with that person, no matter what it is you are doing. 

A few months ago, my grandpa passed away after a long struggle with prostate cancer. Our family knew the end was coming, and got ready. When the day came, we were still caught unprepared, and grieved. As the Chinese/Buddhist family background dictates, the tradition for honouring the dead is a lengthy and complicated process. As an ignorant younger generation Chinese Christian, cut off from all family contact other than the handphone and regular but brief e-mail updates, I was utterly lost as to what needs to be done.

Should I wear black? Or should I wear a bright colour? Should I pray? How do I pray? What about my family? What about my grandma? How would she cope? How would they cope? What needs to be done? To fight this grief? So many questions; so little answers. 

A clearer picture of what needs to be done came a few months later when a CD arrived via post. My aunt and uncle has compiled all the photos into CD and sent it over. Showing parts and pieces of the entire funeral and grieving procession. One thing that stood out was, grandma was smiling in many photos. So were my dad, aunt and uncle. Many of my relatives and friends were too. 

I am quite sure the funeral rituals played a big role in why people were smiling. One of the reasons was, it brought people together. Even neighbours and friends whom you have not seen for ages. Apparently many of church friends visited grandma during the two days of funeral. And the togetherness allowed people to catch up and encourage each other. Tradition became a side issue. 

Just a few days ago, my friend's college mate and his family were killed in a traffic accident back in Malaysia. There was nothing much he could do being so far away from home. He was simply devastated. A couple of us, spent some time with him over a couple of days. Neither could we do much for him. But it surprised me pleasantly, that he felt appreciative of the time spent together, for being supportive.

God feels the same way too. God doesn't care what you have done, or NOT done. But when done it in mind of Him, and His Grace and Joy, that would be the greatest thing you can do. Matthew 18
20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

Let us not be dictated by the standards of man and the world but by what pleases God. Paul, who wrote Colossian 2:
8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 
Surely there are times when we are compelled by our colleagues or friends to do things that we are uncomfortable with. "Oh, it is Uni Night, lets head down to the pub for a drink. It is a Uni Tradition." And some of them could be critical of the ways we live as followers of Christ. Nevertheless, we can still engage our friends, classmates or colleagues at a different time or from a different standpoint. 
To sum it up, Peter once shared this quote from Gorge Bernard Shaw "A rational man adapts to the society, an irrational man makes the society adapt to him, thus are we depended on the irrational man for the world to make any progress"
Just like Jesus, He was and is one really influential man. Jesus was irrational and radical to the Jewish society in so many levels. He followed the standards set by the Law (of God), fulfilled it and managed to set a newer and higher standard.

BUT, that is not Jesus' goal. He came to bring the good news of God's love for us and die on the cross for us. A big portion of His ministry was to spend time with people around him.

Let us be a follower of Christ doing things or following a tradition, not because it is there; but because we are compelled by the way Christ has lived. Let us pray: Lord, may the traditions and rituals that we live by be of Your way. Let Your standard of Love, Mercy and Righteousness be our guide. Use us as an instrument for Your Kingdom, that all may know of Your promises. Amen.

6 comments:

Georg said...

Bonjour,

One of the possibilities you might consider is that god and religion is only a phantasy (like the Harry Potter stories).

What about growing up and move around on your own legs?

Georg

JLTan said...

I posted a note on one aspect of Australian culture here: http://noconvert.blogspot.com/2011/05/sharia-law.html

You might find it interesting.

Georg said...

Bonjour JL Tan,

You should answer a bit earlier, not wait six months.

You didn't answer my post. Nothing to do with the billboard in Australia.

Georg

JLTan said...

No. You are right. I just thought the post was interesting to share, given your 2nd paragraph "One of the concern I had when coming over to Australia to study was whether I would be able to adapt to the huge change of lifestyle from Malaysia. How would the Aussie culture be? Will I be able to adapt and accept it quickly? How will it clash with my Christian background?"

No offence intended.

ek hazron mein meri behana said...

so nice blogger i like all the posts

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