November Note from Dri

Theology and Traditions

While Sept 21st marked the first day of Autumn, the start of November feels much more officially fall to me. We’re into cold weather and planning for all the coming holidays. It’s the perfect time to plan out our intentions with Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. Now, smack in the middle of the fall semester can feel like the worst place to start something new. Or try to add something. But hear me out… 

This season lends itself to traditions, from the silly to the serious. And traditions, whatever they are, have the power to build profoundly strong connections. The question is, what are they connected to? And what do we want to connect our children to through our traditions?

I recently attended Christ in Youth’s brand new WRKR conference. Its intent was to bring church and business leaders together to mobilize people in the workplace to build the Kingdom of God wherever they are. I think this applies to parenthood and inside our homes as well. This quote from one speaker, Dr. Shane Wood, has stuck with me because it applies to more than just the workplace. It applies to our families and holiday traditions as well.

If your theology doesn’t impact everything you do and are, then it is worthless."

It sounds a bit blunt, but James 1:22 says the same thing:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” 

Dr. Wood went on to share an example in his own life. He grows his hair long because of his theology. I know you’re thinking, “like Sampson or something?” It started that way as a vow while he finished his doctorate. When that finished and he went to cut his hair he found out he could donate it to make wigs for people who have lost their hair, whether they be cancer survivors or people dealing with alopecia, etc. Often these people have suffered much, and losing hair on top of that is quite demeaning. His theology that people are made in the image of God and that wigs can restore dignity to those image bearers, informed his decision to keep growing, cutting and donating his hair. His theology of humanity informed a simple thing like how he wears his hair.

It’s easy to look at this and say, “good for him,” and move on with our lives. Maybe we don’t have to grow out our hair and periodically chop it off, but if our theology impacts our lives, we can think about how we might approach our holiday traditions. What connections are our current traditions building in our children? What is informing those connections? What ought to inform those traditions to build the right connections in our children? Are there any traditions we need to stop to make room for the ones we want?

A simple thing like lighting the Advent candles at home each week while reading scripture can build strong connections in our children of waiting for and anticipating Jesus’ coming. It can reinforce our theology that Jesus is the center of Christmas, and that just as they waited in the Old Testament for his first coming, we wait for his second. Try following the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent schedule, or reading related scripture in the International Children’s Version, or even the NIV or ESV.

If we truly believe that God is abundance and that he provides all that we need, like the manna in the desert (see Exodus 16) that there is always enough, then we can give to others without feeling Scroogy or focusing on wanting and getting. A simple thing like taking goodies to our neighbors or packing a Thanksgiving bag for Manna Center, or bringing coats for Bright Futures can build strong connections to our theology of God’s abundance and provision and our theology of honoring and bringing dignity to those fellow image bearers. Or not going through that giant Walmart toy catalog to stir up feelings of discontentedness and scarcity can redirect us to God’s abundance.

We also have to say it out loud, though. Living it is good, really good. We want our kids to see our example, but we also have to explain that we’re not doing these things just because they’re nice things to do, or good activities, but because what we believe actually changes the way we live. Anyone can do good things, but when we explain how our theology informs our daily living, we are teaching our children to articulate their faith in a deeper, more meaningful way. They can connect our belief and our action, and see how what we believe changes who we are.