Tradition: Friend or Foe? – Jeremy Austill
Tradition: Friend or Foe?

When I was younger, every hill I came to was one worth dying on. The longer I revolve around the sun/Son, the more difficult it gets to find a hill actually worth dying on. Growth is not the diminishing of passion, but the increased wisdom to know where to apply passion.

In my youthful zeal, with a deep passion for the presence of God (a wise place to apply passion), and a longing for revival, I settled my crosshairs on “religion” and “tradition”. They were the presumed arch-nemesis of the moving of God’s Spirit. I spent a healthy amount of time waging war against the two entities. I felt, to a degree, this was my assignment.


“Religion”, expressed through the idea that God is perpetually frustrated or disappointed is a hill to die on.

“Religion”, expressed through the idea of emotionless ritual, is still a battle I am willing to fight. “Religion”, saturated in pride, anger, and immorality is a worthy foe.

Tradition”, expressed through the idea that God is limited to its parameters…sign me up to contend.

Now that the disclaimer is behind us, I want to confess that much of my righteous zeal was misplaced. Specifically, tradition is not an adversary. Tradition has a beauty. Tradition carries within it the capacity to keep us from losing ourselves. In a world where ideas are easily accessible, and many of those ideas are shouted loudly and convincingly…tradition can be a friend which never allows us to go too far astray. Tradition has the ability to soothe the soul and calm the chaos.

I have come to deeply love tradition.

I am a Tennessee Vols fan. For better or worse, it is my plight in life. Fandom rarely is chosen; it sort of just happens to you. Ideally, once a year I find myself embarking on a Saturday journey East on I-40. I will spare you all the details, save for a few. Every home game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, there is a protocol…a series of traditions consistently upheld. The “Vol Walk”, at which the players and coaches walk through the crowd of adoring fans on their way to the stadium, takes place like clockwork, 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. Once inside the stadium, “The Pride of the Southland Marching Band” takes the field and does the exact same routine each home game. It is concluded with them forming the “Power T” and playing “Rocky Top” as the team runs onto the field. The crowd roars and the energy is at a fever pitch.

I go to Neyland Stadium with the absolute expectation that these traditions will take place. As a matter of fact, if they left something out I would probably be upset, or at the least, disappointed. These traditions are a part of what makes the experience so special. Each time I go, when the team runs through the “Power T”, I get chills and admittedly, I tear up. I’m not sure what that says about me…Truth be told, as a Vol fan, for the last decade, you better enjoy the tradition because what takes place after is routinely disappointing. On field results aside, the tradition…the repetition…the dependability…the doing it each week the same way…is what gives the routines their meaning. And instead of being stale, they invigorate.

Tradition has this unique gift. It opens the soul to receive.

For instance, I am responsible for overseeing our summer camp experience. The objective, in its simplest form, is to create an environment where students and leaders can encounter God. Many would debate the actual, inherent spiritual value of the camp property itself. Does God move there any more than he does other places? Is God more concerned with people or places? I would say both…why? In part, because of tradition.

A person who has come to Camp Jackson for several years likely has some very special memories about their experiences with God in that tabernacle. Many students and leaders have been coming to Camp Jackson for years. It has become a tradition. Whether the presence of God is more rich in that room than other places, or not, is not really a matter I’m interested in discussing today.

What I do know for certain…that place is so connected to God moments for so many, that when they enter the room their soul opens in a way that is uncommon for their everyday life. Their personal tradition with God in that place causes them to be open and receptive in a special way. The tradition provokes them to engage. Their heart swells as they are surrounded by the nostalgia of their personal history with God. The same thing happens with specific songs. If a song is tied to a special season of your life, it opens your heart. Some make the mistake of believing older songs, or older ways, are “more anointed” than newer songs and ways. I think the more accurate occurrence is the tradition, the history, shifts your heart. 

The next time you are looking for something to jump start your passion or to reignite a waning fire on the altar of your heart…instead of looking for something new, look for something old.

While you are at it, create some traditions with God…some routine and ritual. Tradition has this potent ability to sustain your spiritual trajectory. Often what got you there, will keep you there.

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