Wednesday, January 22, 2014

But we've never done it that way before!

In 1951, with television being a fairly new phenomenon, a daring Hollywood couple would take a gamble on trying something that had yet to be done.

They would use a live, studio audience.

They would not film their show in New York City and rely on the kinescope method (basically setting a camera up in front a television monitor to record the action for country-wide distribution), but film in Hollywood using actual 35mm film and a three camera setup, in essence bringing into television a cinema quality production.

On top of that, they would take what had been a very popular radio program with an established cast of characters, and change it. Now, instead of what might be considered an "All-American couple", the wife would want more for herself than what had been the traditional wifely type duties. And she would be married to a foreigner, a Cuban, with a really thick accent.

"I Love Lucy" would become the most talked about television show, having set the early standard for what a television comedy should be, over the course of the decade, and along the way establishing many firsts, some of which are still standards to this day.

The success was very surprising, considering television was still very much an adolescent. In Hollywood it was seen as a last resort for has-been movie actors. And the studios weren't willing to commit their resources, and the early broadcasting networks weren't willing to pay for what they considered to be luxuries.

What might have happened though had those new things never have been tried? If the old way of doing things had won out?

There tends to be a handful of common reactions when something new is suggested: "it won't work"; "it will work"; "it might work, let's give it a try" tend to be the three most common, and each is based on how what has preceded it is perceived.

Those who say "it won't work" often have a strong affection for the old way of doing things. The old way has been proven. There might be little tweaks needed here and there, but we know it works and that's what we need to stick with. Anything that presents a challenge to the old way of doing things is looked on suspiciously.

Those who say "it will work" aren't necessarily saying the old way is bad (although they could be), but that there are better ways of accomplishing the goal. Maybe the solution requires out of the box thinking, new ideas, new procedures.

Those who say "It might work, let's give it a try" are cautiously optimistic. They aren't ready to scrap the old way of doing things, but they're not fully sold on the new either.

I can't think of any place where these three views are more prevalent than in the church.

Some people might say "Well God doesn't change and neither should we." They might be quite proud of their tradition and believe that it was handed down to them by angels from heaven. But what they sometimes fail to realize is that even their long held traditions began somewhere, and that they might have even replaced something else.

If you think about the "King James Bible only" debate, you might ask yourself "what did they use before the year 1611?" Well, the Geneva Bible was the preferred English Bible before it, but even before that there was Jerome's Vulgate, which was the ONLY Bible for roughly 1000 years. Before that there was the Greek translation of scripture known as the Septuagint. And each had their own camps that claimed superiority over what came before.

Of course now there are many translations of the Bible, some certainly much better than others, most easier to understand. It's also probably safe to say that the patriarchs, the prophets, kings, and apostles didn't speak in 17th century English.

Most people who want to hang on to the old do so because, in my experience, it's comfortable, it's what is known. While it's true that God doesn't change, imagine how God changed how He communicated with us! When humans were first created, there was a close relationship. Sin entered and God suddenly revealed Himself through intermediaries: the patriarchs of Israel, the prophets, and so on. But then the Word was made flesh! God stepped out of heaven into humanity and communicated with us directly, experiencing the things we do! God had not changed, but the way He communicated His message did! But to the scribes, pharisees, sadducees, and other entrenched leaders, such revelation ran up against their tradition which they were comfortable with.

Those who want things to change probably recognize that the world is in flux, that time marches on, it doesn't stand still for anyone. New ways of doing things emerge. They may appreciate what has gone on in the past, though that's not a guarantee. But whatever their appreciation for the past doesn't prevent them from pursuing new things. By stepping out of heaven God was doing something new, something different. But he was communicating the same thing He had been all along. Just because something is new doesn't mean it is bad.

Finally there are those who may want to proceed but they'll do so cautiously. They may want things both ways. They may recognize there is room for improvement but want to pursue something new when it becomes inevitable the old way just isn't sustainable, but they are hesitant to let go of the old.

My own thought? Things change. The way we do things change. The way we think about things change. It comes with maturity. My mom no longer lays out my clothing or does my laundry. And I don't do those things the way she did. We cannot allow human tradition to trump what God calls us to do. Tradition is wonderful, it gives us a sense of who we are, what we are, where we have been, but at the same time it isn't the gospel message. We have freedom to try new things as long as it doesn't change the gospel message. The church of the 1950's doesn't address the concerns of today in a way that the people of today can understand.

I don't want this coming across that I am anti-tradition, or that I am for change for its own sake. Rather, I am of the opinion "let's appreciate where we have been, what God has brought us through, the experiences we have had that we can learn from, and go into the future, trying new things and declaring that God still matters." 

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