Old and New
“Each generation praises your deeds to the next, proclaiming your wonderful works. They remember them all…” – Psalm 145:4-5
Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) was a Congregational minister, entrepreneur, and antiquarian. Appalled by the shoddiness of machine-made things, he championed old things made by hand. ‘Whatever is new is bad!’ he cried, ginning up nostalgia for an idealized past, creating the modern antiques business, and amassing a fortune.
‘Whatever is new is bad’ is the credo of some churches, too. But they don’t flourish like Nutting did. And they don’t even mind their moldering, as long as adored traditions remain intact. A pastor I know says that in his church the dead out-vote the living all the time.
Traditionalism is unreasoning loyalty to old things because they’re old and they’re ours. The church needs a much wider, wiser love for all that came before us—not traditionalism, but Tradition, the still-living past.
A grateful love that knows we didn’t invent this thing called faith. That it was alive long before we were, and handed down, generation to generation.
A humble love that knows we are recipients and products as well as agents and creators.
A wondering love of all the stories, peoples, ideas, songs, events, rituals, institutions, and witness that made us who we are.
A discerning, critical love of our vast, inspiring, often sinful, surprisingly creative, endlessly challenging, beautifully diverse Christian inheritance.
To embrace the still-living past is to welcome a resourceful companion. To spurn it is to be left to our own devices. We know how well that works. Those who love only the new end up as stuck and sterile as those who love only the old.
We’ve been entrusted with a hope that’s more than merely contemporary. It’s also yesterday, tomorrow, and forever. Everything new is not bad. Neither is everything old.
Holy Spirit, from your vast treasure, draw out for us the gift and challenge of the old, the gift and challenge of the new.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.