June 11, 2015

I’m sentimental. I don’t really know how to quantify that, but I think I am a little more than most. So I have a question: What do we do with sentimental “stuff” that has no practical value any longer. You know, stuff you can’t even put on a shelf and show off. I mean how do we get rid of it? Or should we get rid of it? I don’t think I’m a pack rat or “hoarder” like we see on those weird reality TV shows. But I have my share of junk/sentimental stuff that has accumulated over the years that I just don’t know what to do with. I guess on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being a sterilized somewhat empty house and 10 being… well… one of the aforementioned TV shows, I’m probably a 5 or 6.

For example I was looking for something this morning in a closet and I came across my letter jacket from High School. I’m 60 years old. I doubt I’ll be in need of that jacket any time soon. And truth be told, it hasn’t fit me since… oh I don’t know… 4 months after I graduated. So what do I do with these sorts of things? Seriously! Somehow throwing it in the garbage is just… I don’t know… beyond me, or disrespectful, or something. Giving it to my kids makes no sense. They have their own letter jackets and other paraphernalia with which to deal. What should I do with these things? Frankly… it’s really hard.

Some people seem to have the ability to deal with this “stuff” better than others. I know folks who seemly don’t have a sentimental bone in their bodies. Consequently, there are no “letter jackets” accumulating in their closets. And they have little if any concern for that. Throwing things in the trash is a simple reality for them. I’m not being the least bit critical but I confess I don’t get it. And likely they don’t get me either.

Ellen and I saw a play some time ago entitled something like “Grandmothers”. It was all about the reality of being a grandmother and growing older. One scene depicted the adult daughter working with her mother (the grandmother) to clear out her house. The daughter was rapidly stuffing her mother’s belongings into a garbage bag to be disposed of. The older woman finally screamed, “This is my life you are throwing away!” It was a painful and uncomfortable moment.

So, let me make a difficult transition here. What do we do with “sentimental” things in the church? I don’t mean material things (although that can be an issue). I mean the things that we generally refer to as “traditions.” Ewwww… that is uncomfortable isn’t it?

Allow me to tell one brief revealing story about material things however… when I started at my first church over 30 years ago one of the members of the church came to me the first week and said, “So, what do you need? Do you need anything changed? Anything moved? Whatever you need….” There was a giant Bible on the pulpit that was no longer used since they had updated the versions in the pews. It was lying open and my notes would slide off the sides. So I asked (since it had not been used in years), “Can we move the pulpit bible?” He responded, “No problem. Anything else?” That was all I asked. I will never forget him coming back to me a few days later with his tail between his legs and saying, “Um… I didn’t know that the Bible was a memorial gift and some folks (read that “important folks in the church”) would be upset (read that “would go ballistic”) if it was moved.” I said, “No problem”. Frankly it wasn’t an issue worth making a scene over. Keep in mind however that no one knew any longer who had given the Bible! For 12 years I used round rubber Tupperware mats (used to take the lids off of jars) to keep my notes from sliding off the “sentimental” Scriptures.

But what about “traditions”? They are just as hard to know how to deal with aren’t they? Sometimes we try to make our traditions sound Biblical. That way we are justified in keeping them. “You know, organs are the only Godly instrument that should be used in church! Anything else is blasphemy.” Seriously? Might it be more accurate to say “I grew up with the organ in church and it’s what I’m used to and what makes me feel comfortable”? That is, “It’s my tradition.” I think that better describes the reality. But that doesn’t make it any easier to know how to deal with it, does it? How do we cross generations from people who have a strong tradition with those who could care less about that “sentiment”? Some contemporary churches look and sound entirely different from the “church” in which many of us grew up. Does that make them wrong, or less Godly? Of course not! One day they will have their own “traditions” to deal with.

So how do we deal with this dilemma in the church? Honestly, if I had a good answer I probably wouldn’t have a letter jacket in my closet. But I would suggest this: We need to be honest with ourselves about what is indeed required in scripture vs. what might be our “traditions, or sentiment.” If it’s Biblical then we need to heed it. If not, well… that’s likely a different answer for each church.

That being said, it is still painful to get rid of or adjust our traditions and sentiment. Thus I still have a jacket in my closet.

Let me conclude with one question: Should church and worship be designed for the people we have, i.e., please them by keeping tradition, or for the people we want to have, i.e., be less concerned with tradition? Saying “both” isn’t very possible. What do you think?


2 thoughts on “Sentimentality

  1. Excellant post Bill. As new church attendees that some of traditions almost prevented us from being involved in church. If it isn’t in the Bible it is likely a tradition.

    You could always send your letter jacket to me and make it my problem. I tend to donate stuff like that to homeless shelters so sometime maybe I can see my old jacket keeping someone warm. John >

  2. Sorry, Bill. But I do think there needs to be some of both. Tradition is what led to the formation of the various denominations and local churches. Being mired in tradition, or stuck in the past, however, is not a good thing. For example, I’m glad that you don’t still wear your letterman’s jacket or talk about how many touchdowns you scored. But tradition is what makes things and places special. Without tradition of some sort, what foundation is there for anything one does or believes? At the same time, we can remember or observe traditions in a more modern way. Take the Lord’s Supper, for example. We don’t lay around a table a pass a chalice around, but we do celebrate it. Some folks no longer wear their letterman’s jacket, but they do use their experience (and tradition) to teach young kids the game. (We’ve moved on from Knute Rockne hats, too, probably for the good.) Without tradition, we can make whatever rules we want, because the basis would be whatever we are feeling at the time. Hmm, now that I think about, that’s where we are today. Could that be in part because we want to forget about those old traditions, because we know better?

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