I have a pair of wooden shoes on my bookshelf in my office. I’m not Dutch. They were a gift to me from my first summer internship back in 2002. They’re pretty big–size 15 wooden shoes to be exact. Many see wooden shoes as a symbol of Dutch heritage. Many see them as symbols of the past. I see them as an example of what is and can be when we stand boldly on the past.
That’s why I have a cross in the middle of them. To remind me of the fact that there is something more to the wooden shoes than just being shoes made of wood. I’m part of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). A church that has its roots in the immigration of Dutch peoples from the Netherlands in the late 1800’s. It is a denomination rich in history. And I’m not Dutch.
I came into the CRC accidentally and through a strong evangelism effort. I wound up in this denomination that has become my spiritual home town. It is where I grew up spiritually. It is where I matured spiritually. It is my home and I love it.
Many struggle with it. They struggle with the past. They want to break from the past and they want to say that we need to move completely into the future. Others want to cling so hard to the past that it hurts. It hurts them and it hurts the church.
Some thing that the CRC’s in a panic mode. That it’s freakin out and doesn’t know exactly what to do. Others think that it’s good to have some anxiety as we figure out the next few years of our life as a denomination. Many are anxious because so many people (especially 18-30 year-olds) are leaving. Why? It’s freakin’ scary to tell the truth.
I love the past of the CRC. I love the good solid Reformed theology. I love how there is an over arching meta narrative (a big story) attached to my own personal spirituality and walk with Christ. I’m not afraid for the CRC. I know that it will do well when it gets its bearings. I know that it is going to do something amazing for God’s kingdom.
And so I look fondly on my wooden shoes. I look fondly at the past. But I don’t let it control my present nor my future. Jarslov Pelikan once wrote that tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
Tradition is good. Having a past to stand upon and look back and say that what you believe has been handed down to you from generation to generation. That you have a huge spiritual family. That’s amazing. But we can get stuck in traditionalism. We can get stuck in the rut of traditionalism and not even realize it. We can make our own “new” traditions in what things should be like. On how things should be like. And not even realize that 1) we’ve created a new tradition and 2) we’ll defend living in that way no matter what the cost.
This new traditionalism is what will cost us dearly. What many see as something good because it is new and flashy are doing the same as those who say we need to do x,y, and z because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Its the same rut just dressed differently.
Traditionalism can rear its ugly head in places least expected. In churches just 10 years old. In churches just a few years old. Not just in churches a century old or older. When we begin to do things because it’s the new thing. When we stay with doing things because it’s how we’ve always done it, then we need to be on guard against traditionalism.
Now, those wooden shoes. I’ve walked in them. They are comfortable. But I don’t use them. I’ve met people–farmers and dairy men–who use their wooden shoes for work. They actually use them for something practical. When something is practical. When something is theologically practical and functional then it is something we can use for the betterment of the local congregation and the denomination as a whole.
I like the past. I’ve learned a lot from the past of the denomination. I’ve learned a lot about the past of people in the local churches I’ve served. I think Bill Hybels is correct when he says that the local church is the hope of the world.
So let’s start locally and work our way up. Let’s start by standing on the tradition–the living faith of the dead–and work our way up to seeing what we can do.
We have wooden shoes in our past. Let’s wear them practically and boldly. We have thing sin our past that are helpful and give others a greater story to be part of. Let them know that story. But don’t stop at the story. Give them the ability to now write part of the next chapter of that story.
How can we do this? Heck if I know. I just have a pair of wooden shoes on my shelf with a cross between them, reminding me that I’m part of something bigger than myself. I’m part of a bigger story and my local congregation is part of that story as well.
My question is this: How can you be an active part of this story and add to it?