Deconstructing the Tradition

Musings /Part 2/ on the Practices of a
Resurrection (Expansive) Spirituality

"Creative Commons Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons Interpretation by Christopher is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“You have heard that it was said… But I say…”
(Matthew 5:21f, 27f, 33f, 38f, 43f)

Yeshua had no hesitation in filling the inherited traditions of the Hebrews with new meaning. When the tradition constricted the possibilities and potentialities of the people, Yeshua challenged the tradition, offering an alternative option.

One could argue that Christianity itself is an expansive re-interpretation of (a reform movement within) Judaism. Paul, as Christianity’s first theologian, was no stranger to the need to re-interpret tradition: Never damp the fire of the Spirit… By all means use your judgement.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, 21 J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, 1962 edition by HarperCollins).

The church has always struggled with the intersection of sacred tradition with the growing knowledge base available to the human community. “The entire post-canonical tradition of the church has been marked, on its theological side, by a series of attempts to come to grips with secular knowledge.” (B.A. Gerrish, Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline, 2015, page 28) ) For Gerrish, the primary interpretive norm is “the authority of the Apostolic witness.” He suggests a secondary norm “to test the adequacy of Christian doctrines [namely, using] present day thought and experience,” but only for re-interpreting tradition. I disagree!

Too often the history of the church’s theological presentation of the Apostolic witness has relied on the tamed down Yeshua. For example, Yeshua’s self-designation as the Human Being (“Son of Man”) in Mark is transformed by other scriptures and the early church into a Christological title. [For more information, seeWalter Wink’s the Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man and Herman Waetjen’s A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel.] Thus, instead of a radical Yeshua who relocated divine authority to an inner and relational dynamic, we get a domesticated heavenly figure who is outside the realm of real life, waiting to save souls who believe and practice the right things.

A Crucifixion (Narrowing) Spirituality is necessary for those early in their faith journeys when they are dependent on a close attention to tradition. The disciplines of a Crucifixion Spirituality are reinforcers of traditional theology, rituals, practices. Resurrection Spirituality is going to challenge the tradition – its theology, its Biblical authority, its practices – especially in the minds of the tradition bearers.

One of the practices of an expansive spirituality is deconstruction – that is, breaking open the traditional thoughts, beliefs, and practices associated with faithing. Opening these is not to destroy them, but to invigorate them with fresh meaning for a new day. Some will see this practice as an assault on the Faith. It truth it is only an assault on those constricting and stagnant approaches to faith. When deconstruction breaks open a theological idea, a belief, a practice, or even scripture itself it provides gracious space for us to sigh, to dream, to dance, to grow, to be our true selves.

I believe that the best way to honor scripture and tradition, is to see its effects in the lives of its followers. When believers exhibit hatred toward others or the world… when followers use scriptural authority to discriminate because of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation… when Christians become violent in the defense of scriptural authority… then it is clear that massive deconstruction and reinterpretation must happen.

Deconstructing scripture (as well as other traditions, beliefs, and practices) means using Francis of Assisi’s norm – seek the “marrow of the Gospel” – then replant marrow into today’s setting.A tricky process fraught with traps? Of course! Not deconstructing, however, can potentially set the church up to be irrelevant to increasing numbers of people who find more wisdom in contemporary secular knowledge than in the church’s sacred traditions.

Actually deconstruction is not a negative process, unless you believe that all wisdom has already been distilled and beliefs beliefs are fixed, once and for all. Deconstruction is necessary in order to breathe life into tradition and to give traditional ideas and practices the opportunity to take flight in today’s world. Perhaps that is what is behind the mission statement of the monks of St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, CO: “Through daily life in our Cistercian community, we aspire to be transformed in mind and heart by embodying Christ Jesus in ways appropriate to our times [italics mine]..

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