The Maasai tribe, found in parts of Kenya and Tanzania, greet one another by spitting.  When greeting elders, tradition demands a tribesman must spit upon his hand before offering a handshake, thus showing respect.  Men even spit on newborns and fathers spit upon their daughters at weddings.  I have attended many weddings, and while I recall many father’s sobbing as they gave their little girls away, I have never seen one spit upon his daughter.

The Toraja, meaning “People of the Uplands,” are a group that live in mountainous regions of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  By all accounts, they are fascinated with death.  Funerals in the Torajan tradition are luxuriant events that would more closely resemble the fanfare and pageantry of Mardi Gras than the average American’s vision of a burial.  Noblemen have the more elaborate ceremonies that can last for several days.  For the poor, funerals can be postponed for days, months, even years as the family collects enough money for the event.  In the meantime, the deceased is wrapped in cloth and placed under the family home.  It is believed his or her spirit remains with the family until the funeral celebration and he or she then departs for the afterlife.

Both of these events seem very odd to me.  I do not wish for anyone to spit upon me, and I most certainly did not want a doctor or nurse spitting on my children when they came into this world.  However, these are the traditions of the Maasai and Toraja tribes.  From all the accounts I read, the Torajan rites are a wonder to behold.  I can, from afar and comfortably in front of my computer, respect the traditions of these peoples from Africa and South Pacific Isles.

I think of my own family traditions which may seem odd to other people, especially those not familiar with American culture.  I remember my great grandmother making all of us eat black-eyed peas and collard greens every New Year’s Day.  A single new penny was cooked along with the black-eyed peas and good fortune was supposed to be with the lucky recipient throughout the year.  It is not a tradition that I have brought with me into my own family.  My wife and I are in the process of creating our own family traditions.  We certainly give homage to those before us and even incorporate many from our past into the lives of our children such as family devotions, personal quiet time, and even reading the Nativity on Christmas morning.  If Clemson and West Virginia play one another on a regular basis in the college football season, we will add the tradition of awkward silence in the week following the game (FYI:  It was my year to wear sackcloth after the Orange Bowl).

Traditions make us feel comfortable and connected.  We feel comfortable because we are familiar with what is happening around us.  We feel connected to those with whom we share traditions, whether they are family or friends.  I fully support both of those elements!  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  With exception of that crazed uncle your family whispers about, everyone seeks to make a connection with those around them.  Traditions give us both.

There has been a great emphasis upon “traditional values” over the past few weeks.  In truth, the cultural wars of conservatism versus liberalism have been waged in varying degrees for millennia.  The recent firestorm erupted over an American CEO’s honest response to a question concerning marriage.  I have no desire to rehash all of the clichéd accusations and assertions from the Right or the Left on the issue.  But it made me question, what are traditional values?

As I have shared, traditions vary from country to country, culture to culture, and family to family.  The ever-flowing streams of time take their toll upon all things.  Once mighty statues are worn smooth and nations rise and fall.  What is rejected by one generation is embraced by another.  And yes, even traditions come and go as the years rush forward.  With such wide variances of peoples, cultures, and traditions, the concept of absolutes appear unattainable.  Or at least absolutes are unattainable if I confine myself to these fluctuating models of people, culture, and tradition.

  • Job 23:13 – “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.”
  • Psalm 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
  • Malachi 3:6a – “For I am the LORD, I change not; . .”
  • Hebrews 13:6 – “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

I could go on for quite some time citing the many Bible verses that speak of God’s immutability.  What is immutability you ask?  A. W. Pink defines it best when he states, “It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”  In short, God is not tossed to and fro in the various streams of human culture and tradition.

As a Christian, I take hope in God’s immutability.  Positively, I know God’s promises are guaranteed because He is unchanging.  Negatively, I know that God’s warnings are true for the same reason.  The blessings and judgments of God are not based upon what is trendy or politically correct.  He is not swayed by popular opinion or boycotts.  Only He can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exod. 3:14).

Traditional values?  I don’t know how to define traditional values.  Those elements that are en vogue today may be socially unacceptable tomorrow.  I have heard the cries already, “You’re just a traditionalist.  You have to change with the times.”  In some instances, this cry is correct.  I enjoy the fact that plumbing has moved indoors and I can drive from one city to another without the need to nurse saddle sores for my effort.  However, when it comes to the Word of God, there is no room for variance on those principles that are as immutable as the God that spoke them.  So for those of you that have branded me a traditionalist or one who fights for traditional values, you’ve got me all wrong!  I don’t support traditional values.  I support biblical values!

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