This morning, I caught myself thinking that if you traced the motion of a leaf on the wind, you’d end up with something approximating the face of God.
More rationally, you’d end up with a bunch of squiggly lines, but then again, who are we to say that’s not a valid representation of the Most High?
It’s not a traditional representation, after all, of anything that relates to God. We think of God in the abstract. Most Jews don’t think of God as a concrete image at all, because of the injunction against graven images, so even the squiggly line might be out of bounds, if it’s considered an image of the Holy One.
But tradition is a huge thing in today’s Christianity, more than it should be.
There’s a huge movement in the church today to “revert,” to do what the original Christian church did; meeting in houses, fellowshipping in small groups. Less formal services, more direct communication among believers; it’s a model that you follow when your church has no money and no space.
Now that churches do have money and space, it’s not as necessary; we also have a professional leadership (seminaries train pastors, and we see “lay pastors” as different than, well, “actual pastors.”) Pastors no longer always know everyone in their congregation; the congregations are too large for “successful churches.” Productions are elaborate; services are more like performances.
This is our forward momentum now, this is our tradition.
The move towards small groups in today’s church is an oddity – a welcome one, but an oddity. Small groups enable believers (or, well, anyone) to minister directly to others, to connect with them directly, in ways the larger church cannot.
For example, in my small group (“life group,” or “study group,” or – in our case – “Truth Project group,” which deserves to be mentioned on its own in another post), one member recently found that his employment situation was unstable, and I had a death in my family – but neither of these things have a place in the larger church environment.
But in the small group, it’s natural and proper for those things to be shared and prayed over, commiserated with and understood. The result is that everyone feels closer and connected, and the Spirit of God is closer to each of us.
Yet this is something that’s both very old (in that it’s how the church existed in its second phase) and very new (in that churches are just now starting to encourage this kind of connection again.)
(Why “second phase?” Because the really early church was a collection of Jews, who met in the synagogue, who happened to think that the Messiah had come. The more traditional, non-Messianic Jews kicked them out, and they ended up meeting in homes. Thus, “second phase.”)
Forward momentum has a huge role in our lives, not only cultural but religious momentum informs everything. It creates our assumptions and it informs everything we think and do; much of how you believe and what you believe has to do with a sort of “belief trajectory” that incorporates everything you’ve experienced.
Thus, for me I carry the cultural mores and traditions that say who Moses was, and who Elijah was, and who Jesus was, even though the histories and descriptions we have from the Bible draw much less information than we have. These traditions and mores affect very much what and how I believe.
You, also, do the same thing; chances are very strong that there is some common ground in the traditions (because the same seed cultures created all of our modern cultures) but the differences inform everything we do.
The main thing for me to remember in all this is that momentum is good because it exists; the willingness to revert or try new things is also good, but the measure of propriety is how much any change glorifies God.
Originally posted on December 27, 2011.