To Read: Click on song title to watch a video
from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’
A fiddler on the roof.
Sounds crazy, no?
But in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof,
trying to scratch out a pleasant,
simple tune without breaking his neck.
It isn’t easy.
You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?
We stay because Anatevka is our home…
And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word…
From the Scriptures:
Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’
For good reason I have not included all of Tevye’s words for the song Tradition!’ here as they are, like the man himself just a little long-winded! Fiddler on the Roof is one of those rare theatre pieces in which the Narrator is also one of the main characters. Moving between his two audiences, those in front of the stage and his family and the people of Anatevka, we are drawn into the dilemmas of his life and his faith.
Three times as each of his daughters – Golde, Hodel and Chava – contemplate a marriage that wasn’t the one set for them by the Matchmaker, the beleaguered father indulges in the Fiddler’s roof balancing antics ‘love’ by putting his daughters’ loves on ‘the one hand’ and tradition ‘on the other hand’.
For Golde and Hodel all goes fairly smoothly and Tevye tells his long suffering wife Golde about this love which is ‘the new fashion’ and together they ask each other the question Do You Love Me?
…then Chava falls in love with a ‘goy’, the gentile Fyedka, and
then ‘Tradition!’ becomes immovable with Chava being regarded as ‘dead’ by her own father. Perversely, as the pogrom closes in on Anatevka, it appears as if it is the outcasts Chava and Fyedka who help the family move to safety in America.
Tradition is a wonderful gift. It gives us identity and a foundation from which we can grow and blossom. It can also stifle us and become so all consuming that the only changes that can occurs are those thrust upon us by others.
Sometimes I find the different traditions within churches attractive and a valuable record of the faithfulness of God with one or other part of the Body of Christ.
Sadly, I more often find church traditions used as an excuse for egoism, arrogance and triumphalism! Not at all the marks of those who worship a wounded Redeemer who knew that the only way to offer salvation to everyone was to put everyone else before His own status and authority and humbly walk the path of obedience all the way to death on a cross’.
My seminary in Imbali Township outside Pietermaritzburg was at its best a shining example of Black and White, seSotho isiZulu Afrikaans and English speakers, Methodist Presbyterian Congregationalist and Anglicans, all living learning and worshipping together. Our crest of an Aloe plant and its motto ‘One in Christ’ could be a powerful force for change in a divided nation.
Sadly, because ‘Tradition!’ was valued perhaps a little too highly, we wasted endless amounts of time arguing over the incidentals of church life. Wine or Grape Juice? Bread or Wafers? Silver chalices or pottery bowls? These trivia became tokens of orthodoxy as we allowed our eyes to wander away from Love and our Lover.
We have not learnt much since then. For nearly 70 years the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain have struggled to move towards reunion. Tertullian’s words ‘See how these Christians love one another’, all too often rings hollow.
And to justify our disunity we all too easily sing with Tevye “Tradition!’ as if the old mantra ‘we’ve always done it that way’ were, instead of being a mark of our ego and desire for control, the ‘ipsissima verba Christi’.
Some of my seminarian friends from all tribes and languages and denominations have got home to heaven ahead of me and are already singing in unison. Much as I cherish the traditions of the church that has nurtured me, I am not so committed to them that I do not long for this new song we will sing for eternity.
I make it my aim to spend time with sisters and brothers of other traditions sharing word and deed together and practising our parts for the choir of heaven. Where else can we learn this song if not from each other?
God of new beginnings,
free us from the fear of change.
May our experience of Easter
so change our lives
that they express your boundless love.
Joy Tetley, England
1) Worship in a church not your own, or at least visit one and pray in it.
2) Look at traditions you hold perhaps a little too close to your heart and ask our Beloved to help you to let go of them if you need to.
Encore: Click on song title to watch a video
Tevye, a most human man, after a hard day asks of God If I Were a Rich Man as if wealth would solve the challenges he faces. The goods of this world, if not wisely used (and I know I don’t have the wisdom to be very wealthy) lead to the control of others and a destruction of the very society we wish to preserve. Perhaps learning the difference between being rich – possibly only to a few – and being wealthy – possible for everyone – is the greatest of lessons?
Prayers are from ‘Prayers Encircling the World’ and are copyright © SPCK: 1998.
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘A Song for Lent – 40 Days in the West End’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2018