Saturday, March 12, 2011

Foundational Necessity of Law and Tradition

I've been hearing a lot about anarchy and such of late.  I'm not totally sure what this means.  But, I do know that when everything and anything goes there is chaos, and chaos may have its place, but not as the foundation for our existence.  Remember that in Genesis 1, God takes chaos and orders it. 

I am reading an advanced proof of Richard Rohr's latest book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey Bass -- out in May 2011).  In it he talks about the foundations that are built in the first half of life (unfortunately we tend to stay put in this half of life and don't move on to the 2nd half).  In this period of life we develop our sense of identity and security, to name a couple of key elements.  As he develops his understanding of the first half of life he speaks of tradition and law as the foundation, the starting point of our journey.  He notes that "we cannot each start at zero, entirely on our own."  The traditions that we inherit not only help keep us from falling, but they help us understand how to fall and how to learn from our falls.  We don't truly help our children if we prevent them from falling and failing.  They have to learn how to recover from falling, but falling.  

This leads me to the piece I'd like to quote at length, for it underlines the value of law and tradition to the spiritual journey.   I should note that when we read Paul, we need to remember that Paul didn't reject Law, he didn't want us to remain so tied to Law that we couldn't move on into God's future.  But consider this:

Law and tradition seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity, and to make at least some community, family, and marriage possible.   When you watch ten-year-olds intensely defend the rules of their games, you see what a deep need this is early in life.  It structures children's universe and gives them foundational meaning and safety.  We cannot flourish early in life inside a totally open field.  Children need a good degree of order, predictability, and coherence to grow up well, as Maria Montessori, Rudolph Steiner, and many others have taught.  Chaos and chaotic parents will rightly make children cry, withdraw, and rage -- both inside and outside.  (Rohr, pp. 28-29). 
Thus, the Ten Commandments aren't the end of the journey, they're the beginning, the foundation.  Without law and tradition, we experience shapelessness, and that, as Rohr suggests, could lead to the "death of any civilization or any kind of trustworthy or happy world" (p. 30). 

I'll just add something into the mix -- to parents who believe that you shouldn't give your children a foundation in a particular faith, but that you'll just let them choose when the time comes -- you're taking away the foundation upon which they can make that choice when the time comes. 

Law and Tradition -- they are essential foundations.  They cannot, however, be the end of the journey!  As Rohr notes, the second half of the journey involves much greater freedom, but you have to have the security of the first half foundations under your belt so you can take the step of faith to take this journey.

1 comment:

John said...

Whenever I hear people say that they don't want to force their (or any particular) religious beliefs on their children, I challenge them, because I don't think they really mean that - I think they are either just lazy, or they have little or no personal sense of spirituality, and they are using that line as a justification for doing nothing. Alternatively, they are just so bewildered by the whole of religion or intimidated by the judgmentalism of Christianity as portrayed in the media, that they just take a pass. In any event, their decision has nothing to do with their children's spiritual welfare and is more driven by the parents' own issues.

I think that faithful people should take it upon themselves to encourage the spiritually uninvolved to see church as an additional aid in the project of child rearing, an opportunity to enhance the child's quality of life socially, educationally, and spiritually. No more burdensome than a soccer game or ballet lessons.

And let your neighbor see how your faith impacts your life, so that you neighbor can learn that there is a theology of grace in operation in contrast to the theology of judgment which has been made so prominent in the media by the Religious Right. If we can show them that Christianity is a generous faith, of love, of forgiveness, affirming and accepting of people with all their idiosyncrasies, the unchurched will be less put off and more enticed to introduce their children into such a faith.