Tradition has always seemed stale to me. It wreaked of thoughtlessness. Doing something over and over again simply because someone before you did it felt like such a waste of time. But as I mentioned in a previous entry, I have since recognized that tradition is the glue that holds us together. It is a thread that connects the beginning to end. As Chesterton says, tradition is the democracy of the past. Rather than tradition being a gift we give to our ancestors by appeasing them in our actions - an obligatory nod to their archaic practices - tradition is really the recognition and celebration of a gift our ancestors have given to us.
For one year, on each major holiday, our family ate a mascot of that holiday. We ate reindeer sausage on Christmas day. We ate chicken hearts on Valentine's Day. We ate rabbit on Easter. We ate whatever we wanted on Independence Day (weren't really sure what to do about this one). We had pumpkin pie on Halloween. We ate turkey on Thanksgiving. We loved the tradition. It truly embodied the weird people that we are. Even more than that, though, it embodied a deep truth we wanted to convey to our kids in a fun way.
The truth teaching that eating the mascot instilled was the importance of being counter-cultural. I don't mean the type of counter-culture that simply revolts just to be contrary. Rather, it is a counter-cultural push at just the place that culture needs to be opposed - at the outworking of its worldview claims. We do not accept as true and celebratory that which society tells us is true and should be celebrated. For instance, society's message at Christmas is that the good prosper and you too can be good enough. But that is not what we believe. We believe that we are all broken and in need of a savior, and sometimes having integrity actually costs us everything. Many times the good faltar and fail while the wicked are prosperous. We reject the culture's worldview at Christmas and eat Santa's reindeer because his message of moralism holds no power over us.
Society's message at Easter is that a cute, fluffy bunny brings me lots of little goodies. It's springtime and nature's beauty is on display. Get out and enjoy a nice egg hunt and think happy thoughts. But this Easter message is in stark contrast to the true appreciation Christ's Easter message brings. The secular message is that life is great, so just enjoy a day of beauty. The Christian message is that this broken world is so harsh, it can't help but murder God's son - yet in this darkness lies our hope. Our hope is not in this world as it is, but in this world as it is being redeemed. And the sovereign, self-sacrificial God we serve uses the harshest of realities to bring about the greatest of goods. This is not costless beauty, it is a weighty beauty. Such a message elicits more wonder and more awe at the same time it elicits sorrow and somberness. I am to be thankful for my blessings and content in my circumstances, but never without the tempering of hope that comes from looking at a broken world I know will be restored. The world's Easter message is too fluffy, so we devour the rabbit. Sentimentalism and naivete hold no power over us.
Society's message on Valentine's Day is equally as damaging to our view of reality. The message today is that love is what you feel. It is eros, erotic love; it is not agape, unconditional love. Cupid may have shot you with an arrow yesterday that attracts you to your wife, but tomorrow he may shoot you with an arrow that attracts you to another man's wife. So be it. You deserve to be happy. If you don't really love your wife it's not fair to her if you continue in your marriage. But we reject such notions of love. Love may be felt in the heart but it is fed in the mind. On days when you don't feel love, you choose it. In seasons when you don't feel love, you build disciplines to foster it. Binging on love is like binging on alcohol. The experience may be fun and you may be able to ride the excitement from one weekend to the next, but you will likely never acquire a palate that can distinguish the beautiful nuances in the most magnificent wines. Being a user of alcohol and enjoying drink are two very different things. Being a user of love and taking joy in your lover are two very different things as well. On Valentine's Day we eat the heart to remind us that our momentary, fleshly feelings hold no ultimate power over us in our choosing of what is good.
Interestingly, the central Christian tradition - the Eucharist - involves eating the mascot as well. To partake of the Eucharist is to eat the body and blood of Christ. It is a memorial that reminds us of the body that was broken and the blood that was spilled for us. In this sacrament, we are celebrating the death of our mascot, the savior, Jesus Christ. That seems an odd thing to do, as unlike the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, we actually want to celebrate Christ and his message. What we are celebrating in the Eucharist is the death of Christ - but only as it pertains to our knowledge of the resurrection. When we partake of the Eucharist in view of the resurrection, we are acknowledging that just as the death of our savior had no power over him, so it now holds no power over us either. Unlike the reindeer sausage, the rabbit stew, or the chicken hearts we eat on their respective days of remembrance, Christ's death brings with it a message of lasting hope. Whereas the deer, rabbit, and chicken merely feed my body, the Eucharist feeds my body and soul. It is a remembrance of true sustenance. On the Lord's Day, we partake of the body and blood of Christ to remind us that death holds no power over us and Christ works his power through us.
Unfortunately, we only participated in our annual tradition of mascot eating for one year. It just wasn't sustainable. The reindeer meat was expensive, we weren't great at cooking rabbit, and the chicken hearts are disgusting. But in the short time we held our tradition, I was able to learn more about the importance of teaching truths through tangible means and the importance of establishing memorable traditions. Many of the traditions we perpetuate in our culture are not innocuous. Traditions carry with them very powerful messages. Whether or not we intend for them to train our children, they instill deep beliefs within them. I learned the importance of evaluating the messages I intended to send to my children and the messages I wanted to discipline myself to hear. In the end, I learned that while nearly all traditions involve feeding the body, very few nourish the soul.
As we approach Ash Wednesday, I encourage you to consider the truths our ancestors placed so clearly within this great tradition. There is a humbling, mournful message we are to hear, that we are dust, and to dust we will return. We are not living, as Lecrae says, we're just breathing to death. But at the same time we mourn this broken world and our broken selves, we also look to the past with sobriety and hope as we await the promised restoration our savior assured us when he conquered death. This is not a fluffy message, but neither is it an empty one. It is a weighty truth of substance that fills our souls and leaves only tombs empty.