The Dojo Nabe is a restaurant with a long history. For over eight generations, the Watanabe family have served the hungry of Tokyo. There are no tables and chairs in the restaurant. Patrons sit on bamboo mats, and the dishes are served on a wooden board in front of them.
Every morning, the proprietors place three piles of salt on the street in front of the restaurant. The practice dates to a time when Tokyo was not a hyper-urban metropolis. When farmers would bring their cows to town, the cows would stop to lick the salt. The farmer, having extra time on his hands, would notice the restaurant and perhaps stay for lunch. Thus, sales were increased. Over a hundred years ago, it was a clever marketing tool. Today, no one is driving their cows through the streets of Tokyo. Those three piles of salt on the street have no practical value. It has become merely habit or a tradition.
Call me crazy, but I think such traditions are a good thing. Traditions help us maintain connections to people and places long gone. They suggest that life is more than our moment in time. We share something in common with the people who went before us. I realize that I am different from many Americans. As a culture, we don’t think much about traditions. We are wired to focus on the “new and improved.”
Still, for one time a year, even Americans turn to habits and patterns long established. During the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we don’t mind sharing our lives with the past. Many get nostalgic about this time of the year. Even those who rarely come to a worship service find themselves singing the old hymns and hearing the old stories. We take comfort that the holiday worship services look the same as the ones we attended when we were children.
I would never trade the tradition of the holidays, but I wonder if we are missing something. Is it possible that we have fallen in love with the things of God, rather than God himself? In the poetry of Luke’s gospel, in the familiarity of Silent Night, and in the pageantry of the candlelight service, we sometimes forget the real purpose. God entered history, and nothing, not even death, could stop him.
This holiday season, we should seek a re-connection to the meaning behind the ritual. Our worship does not venerate the dead who remain safely dead. Instead, we worship a living God who claims our very lives. Discipleship is more than putting salt on the streets.
Grace & Peace,