Notes on “Tradition in Action”

the cover of the book Awake to the Moment
Tradition is something to draw on, not just discard

As I continue slowly wending my way through Awake to the Moment1 in the short breaks between working on class, here are a few summary notes of the first couple of pages in the next chapter, “Tradition in Action”:

Tradition needs to be flexible enough to enable its adherents to respond to a changing world faithfully and responsibly. Tradition affects what we know, it has always been the case that in some parts of the world people grow up informed by more than one religious tradition, and that is increasingly the case in the West as well. Traditions are never as monolithic as we sometimes think they are. How should theology deal with all that?

We usually think of traditions as somehow connected to “continuity with the past” (70). We can say that religions are, themselves, traditions. And while many people see religious traditions as negative or harmful, constructive theologians affirm the healing and life-giving, or at least potentially healing and life-giving quality, of the tradition that is Christianity. A core commitment of constructive theology is that “we grant privilege to the witness of those who have been hurt and harmed in our world and found faith to be the source of life, over the dictates of those who have been set upon thrones by the workings of religion” (72).

Rather than being an unchanging thing, tradition may be something that continually draws upon the resources of the past to develop new responses to new situations. That makes tradition something alive, and a constant source of new life. That seems to be the spirit in which constructive theology engages the ancient and contemporary Christian tradition.

[One of the first sentences of the chapter struck me as extremely peculiar at first: “How do we approach the spiritual traditions that have formed us such that they become neither prisons chaining us to small-mindedness nor comfort zones so binding that we cannot creatively meet the challenges of our times except by abandoning those traditions” (69). What made it strange was that it followed the initial contrast the authors had set up, between one common view of tradition as something comfortable and appreciated, to be kept, and another as something so suffocating and imprisoning it needs to be abandoned. So this sentence broke the parallelism, setting the prison in the place of the comfort zone and the comfort zone in the place of the prison. It took me awhile to make sense of this – assuming I have. But if I have, the authors are suggesting that these common views might obscure the true character of our relationships with tradition. Our sense of comfort with tradition may become, imperceptibly, a prison. Our conviction that tradition needs to be abandoned may arise from our inability to recognize tradition as more or other than what we’ve been comfortable with in the past. Hmmm.]

1 Laurel C. Schneider and Stephen G. Ray Jr., editors. Awake to the Moment: An Introduction to Theology Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

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